Age of Accountability
Q: I am in a Bible study group and we are trying to find the answer to something. What do you consider the “age of accountability”? We were discussing at what age are children not given a “free ticket” to heaven. We’d appreciate any feedback you could give us.
A: The Bible knows no “age of accountability,” since “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (Romans 3:23)” and thus are without hope. Nevertheless, “we are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24).” This is in line with other passages, including Psalms 14:1-3 and 53:1-3.
Romans 3:10-12 refers to these Psalms, as Saint Paul wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” None of these Scriptures distinguishes by age. Even more telling is the lament of David in Psalm 51, where he confesses in verse 5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
Even babies carry the stain of sin from our first parents and thus need God to create in them clean hearts and raise them to newness of life. Thus, baptism for the remission of sins is for babies and little children as well as for adults. In its waters, through the words and promises of God, sin is cleansed, faith kindled, and a new and right relationship established with the Father. He calls the baptized child by name and in turn gives the child the right and privilege of knowing Him by Name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Children — just like adults — only receive heaven through the merits of Christ. We are all justified by grace through faith in Christ, young and old alike. It isn’t because they are so cute, innocent, or youthful that eternal life belongs to children. We confess with Saint Peter the saving name of Jesus, “for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” God doesn’t tell us how infants can possess saving faith — we trust God’s holy Word that they do, as God’s free gift in Jesus Christ.
An earlier column, Infant Baptism, Baptismal Regeneration, and Original Sin, also deals with this topic and is linked to two earlier posts which also examined our responsibility from conception and birth for our own sinful state of being.
Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.
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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.
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