“before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.”-Isaiah 7:12
The importance of this question is matched only by my inability to give it a satisfactory answer. At age seven, I would confidently say, “No.” At eight or nine, most young people are still innocent and not capable of rebellion against God. But as we get toward double digits, it becomes something to take seriously. This is important business. Let’s take a look at, “the age of accountability.”
The word accountable is helpful here. We must all give account to God one day (Romans 2:6-9; Hebrews 9:27). Jewish families have developed a ceremony called a bar mitzvah1. The phrase literally means a “son/daughter of the Law.” It is the age at which Jews consider their children accountable to know and obey the Law of Moses.
Most cultures have some kind of “becoming a man” or “becoming a woman” ritual that corresponds to puberty. It is no surprise that a good rule of thumb for when a child reaches accountability is 12-to-14 years old. Girls generally mature physically and mentally a little more quickly than those of us with a Y chromosome. An eleven-year-old girl may be ready to become a disciple of Christ while her brother may not have given it much thought by thirteen.
Children Are Innocent And Need No Forgiveness
The word of God teaches us, children are born innocent and have no sin (Ezekiel 18:20). This state of sinless innocence precludes an immersion based on a confession of faith in and service to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. What I have seen frequently is a conscientious boy hears the gospel preached and he equates it this way: baptism = heaven, no baptism = hell. A young girl may be able to answer all your Bible questions about Jesus, but we must consider a few factors.
Why does anyone need to be baptized? Sin! Immersion into the death of Jesus, submersion into his grave, and reemergence to new life is God’s appointed ceremony to demonstrate our faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. God sent his Son to save us from our sins and the punishment of hell we deserve. When someone is convicted of the sin in their life and where they stand concerning a Holy God, they are ready for a Savior. The gospel tells us about Jesus who died on the cross. The sinless Lamb sacrificed for sinful people by a loving Father. Do you believe, Jesus to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. The faith that saves is a faith that obeys. When we confess Jesus as Lord and submit to him in baptism, God delivers us, “from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”-Colossians 1:13-14.
Is my eight -year-old capable of understanding Jesus has a kingdom and needs citizens (Matthew 28:18-20)? Is she old enough to question whether Jesus was raised from the dead or not? Has he ever been tempted to sin. Does my child comprehend what sexual intimacy, drunkenness, and pride really are? Have they been tempted by those things, much less made a reasoned decision to indulge in or refuse them? Then, from what sin are they repenting? How are they in rebellion to God? A good question is, “From what do you need to repent?”
It would be easier if the word of God assigned a particular age to this question. But every human being is different. Every mind understands and every heart believes at a pace all their own. The verse quoted at the top of this article is prophetic of the Messiah. What it reveals about this discussion is this. There is an age before and after a child can, “refuse the evil and choose the good.” Is sin something your daughter can make a decision to refuse? Is your son considering actions and electing to follow Jesus? At that point, we must have the gospel at the ready (Ephesians 6:15).
Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”-Matthew 18:3. Our Lord also implored, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”-Luke 18:16. Children are born innocent and have no sin from which to be saved. The parent concerned about their young child’s eternity would do well to study these verses. As our brother Dave Owen says, “If little children have sin, then heaven is full of little sinners.” Amen.
May God bless us with wisdom.