As a youngster, I hung out with kids who were all older than me. One particular day we were tossing rocks in between two houses. My cousin watched us from his bedroom window. Sixty-five years later I can still see my cousin diving for cover as the rock that I threw came crashing through his window. Fortunately, he was not hurt. The older kids immediately ratted me out to my mother. She disciplined me mildly due to the fact of my age and that it was not intentional. I just couldn’t throw accurately because of my young age.
Accountability is an important factor in life for many things. Rational caring people do not hold children responsible for things they do not understand. I believe God, who is infinitely more merciful and gracious than humans, treats us similarly when it comes to salvation. Scripture teaches us that we are accountable for what we know. Thus, when it comes to babies and children, there is a level of accountability based on their ability to understand the gospel. A child must first hear the gospel and be able to comprehend the gospel to believe the gospel.
Following are nine Biblical reasons why I believe that babies and children who have not reached a level of understanding are not held accountable for their sin and unbelief.
|1. God has removed the sin barrier for all people. Christ’s death paid the penalty for everyone (Heb. 2:9). This would include babies and children. However, they are unable to understand enough to make a faith decision. “The Lord is merciful and gracious…” (Psalm 103:8)|
|2. Romans 1:18-20 teaches that man is held accountable for their unbelief when they fail to respond to the revelation of God in creation… “They are without excuse.” The implication is that at some point early in life, they had an excuse. They could not cognitively recognize the truth of God as Creator.|
|3. When David’s young child dies, he responded, “Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” (2 Sam 12:23) David believed in life after death – “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” He knew that he would see the young child again (Psalm 23:6).|
|4. “For before the Child shall know to refuse evil and choose good… (Isaiah 7:16)” Doesn’t that imply that young children are unable to discern moral choices? That’s why they need parents for guidance. |
|5. Israel’s unfaithfulness kept them out of the Promised Land. Yet their descendants would go in; “your little ones and your children, who you say will be victims, who today have no knowledge of good and evil, they shall go in there…” (Duet 1:39) Because they had no knowledge of good and evil, the Lord did not hold them accountable.|
|6. Furthermore, only those 20 years old and older would die in the wilderness. Those younger were not held accountable and would live to see the Promised Land. (Num. 14:29)|
|7. Job lamented, “Why did I not die at birth? Why did I not perish when I came from the womb? …Then I would have been at rest.” (Job 3:11, 13) Job believed in an afterlife (Job 19:26). It seems he would have arrived there even as an infant.|
|8. Under the Old Testament law, the mother needed to offer a sacrifice for herself when she gave birth. An atoning sacrifice (sin offering) was necessary for the mother, but not for the child (Lev 12).|
|9. Israel had sacrificed their babies to pagan gods. God said they had filled the place with “blood of the innocents” (Jer. 19:4). How is anyone innocent unless they are young and have no awareness of moral choices before God? |
All are born separated from God because of Adam’s sin. At some point in time, and only God knows, every person becomes responsible before Him for his/her sin and unbelief. Infants and younger children do not sin knowingly and willfully against God. Although they do disobey, it is only apparent to us because, as adults, we can discern it.
Babies and younger children go to heaven because God’s grace through Christ’s death is applied to them. That fits with the character and nature of God who is “gracious and full of compassion; great in mercy; righteous in all His ways“. (Psalm 145; Psalm 36:5)
“Shall not the Judge of the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25)
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