From Kevin Funk…
“What happens to babies and young children when they die?”
This was a question posed to me from my daughter just a couple of weeks ago. I really enjoy talking to her about things like this. It’s healthy for our kids to feel comfortable to ask us grownups things, without the fear of getting judged or looked down on. I instantly thought of my dad and the concept of the “age of accountability”. I can remember my dad explaining this to me as a child growing up on the farm in Roanoke. I did some research to try to explain it the best way I know how.
The “age of accountability” is that children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the “age of accountability,” that child will, by the grace and mercy of God, be granted entrance into heaven. Is the concept of an age of accountability biblical?
In Psalm 51:5, David wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David recognized that even at conception he was a sinner. The very sad fact that infants sometime die demonstrates that even infants are impacted by Adam’s sin, since physical and spiritual death were the results of Adam’s original sin.
Each person, infant or adult, stands guilty before God; each person has offended the holiness of God. The only way God can be just and at the same time declare a person righteous is for that person to have received forgiveness by faith through Christ. Christ is the only way. John 14:6 records what Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through Me.” Also, Peter says in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Salvation is only through Jesus and is ultimately a work of God.
What about babies and young children who never get to choose Jesus or ‘repent and believe the Good News’? The age of accountability is the concept that those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is the belief that God saves all those who die never having possessed the ability to make a decision for or against Christ. It likely varies from child to child. A child has passed the age of accountability once he or she is capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ.
First John 2:2 says Jesus is “the sacrifice that atones for our sins, and not only our sins but the sins of all the world.” This verse is clear that Jesus’ death was sufficient for all sins, not just the sins of those who specifically have come to Him in faith. The fact that Christ’s death was sufficient for all sin would allow the possibility of God’s applying that payment to those who were never capable of believing.
On the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, to your children, and to those far away—all who have been called by the Lord our God”(Acts 2:38–39 NLT). Acts 2:39 indicates that forgiveness of sins is available to one and all, including future generations. It does not teach family or household salvation. The children of those who repented were also required to repent.
The main passage that I found and seems to identify with this topic more than any other is 2 Samuel 12:21–23. The context of these verses is that King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, resulting in a pregnant woman. The prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to inform David that, because of his sin, the Lord would take the child in death. David responded to this by grieving and praying for the child. But once the child was taken, David’s mourning ended. David’s servants were surprised to hear this. They said to King David, “We don’t understand you, while the child was still living, you wept and refused to eat. But now. When the child is dead, you stopped your mourning and ate food.”
David’s response was, “I fasted and wept while the child was alive, for I said, ‘Perhaps the Lord will be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But why should I fast when he is dead? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.” David’s response indicates that those who cannot believe are safe in the Lord. David said that he could go to the child but could not bring the child back to him. Also, and just as important, David seemed to be comforted by this knowledge. In other words, David seemed to be saying that he would see his baby son (in heaven) someday, though he could not bring him back.
Although it is possible that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to those who cannot believe, the Bible does not specifically say that He does this. Therefore, this is a subject about which we should not be adamant or ready to throw down about. God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy. It is our position as Christians that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to babies and those who are mentally handicapped, since they are not mentally capable of understanding their sin and their need for a Savior, but again we can’t be 100% certain. Of this we are sure: God is loving, graceful, holy, merciful, just, awesome, and sovereign! Whatever God does is always right and good, and He loves children even more than we do.