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“Is there an ‘age of accountability’?”
Those of us who have reared children sometimes suspect that kids know the difference between “right” and wrong” at a very early age! We wonder, however, if there is a specific age at which they become accountable not only before their parents but before God Himself.
The Scripture is the starting point for guidance on this topic.
First of all, we can say that the phrase “age of accountability” does not appear in the Bible. There is no specific numerical age given in Scripture that applies to all humans at whom they become automatically accountable to God for their actions and choices.
Second, we can affirm that a person becomes “accountable” when he is able to respond to God in some sort of personal, intentional manner (Acts 17:24-31). John’s gospel refers repeatedly to people, who after hearing Jesus, came to believe in Him (Jn. 2:23; 7:31; 8:30; 10:42; 11:45; 12:11).
The Spirit has a role to play in this personal response. When a person can discern the convicting work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:8) and decides to turn from going his own way, putting his trust in Christ, he has reached that age.
Third, we acknowledge that such a decisive response may vary considerably with age, depending on one’s ability to understand and choose. Mental and spiritual (and to some extent emotional) maturity play a role in this response.
What about those who cannot choose and/or are not capable of understanding? We are always careful about drawing too tight a conclusion in an area where the Bible does not speak.
What we do believe is that God is loving and merciful and that Christ’s work of grace is efficacious for all. God, who loves children (Mt. 19:14), will always do what is right and good.