I have been asked many times about this doctrine. The question is usually something like “what happens to babies or children who die before they are old enough to really accept Christ as Lord”.
It is not going to take long as a Christian before any of us have to ask a question like this. We wonder, because if one is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and a child who is simply too young passes from this world to the next, are they saved or not?
Some have answered this question by saying “of course an innocent child will go to heaven”, and while I do agree that there is a point where one is too young to die and go to hell, I do not believe for a second that it is because they died innocent.
As a parent, I see that even the youngest of babies are far from innocent. Think about it. Do you have to teach a child to refuse, or to cooperate? Do you have to teach a child to steal, or to share? Do you have to teach your child how to lie, or how to tell the truth? Clearly in every parent’s experience we realize that we have to teach the right behavior, because it is natural and almost instinctive for the child to do the wrong thing first.
So a child is certainly not innocent, because we are all born with an inherent tendency to sin. (Romans 3:23), (Romans 5:12)
But I do see a biblical precedent for this idea of an age of accountability. It would seem that God is on to this issue that it is not right to judge a child the same as you would judge an adult. And this makes perfect sense, because if we humans can understand this issue, certainly our perfect God who judges righteously can understand this issue. (Psalm 7:11), (Psalms 89:14), (John 5:30), (1 Peter 1:17)
So let’s look at the scriptures to see if we find any support for this idea of an age where one is too young to die and go to hell.
Job 3:11-13 – 11 “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb? 12 Why were there knees to receive me and breasts that I might be nursed?13 For now I would be lying down in peace; I would be asleep and at rest
Here Job is lamenting of his life, wishing that he had never been born. During his rant, he says that if he would have died as a baby, he would be in a place that he describes as a place of rest and peaceful. That does not sound like the Hell I read about in the Bible.
Deuteronomy 1:39 – And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it.
In the context of this verse, God was telling the nation of Israel that because of their sin, that whole generation was not to enter into the promised land. Those who were alive at the time of the sinning who were allowed to enter into the promised land were the righteous leaders, and the children who “did not yet know right from wrong”. God was not going let the sins committed by children who were just following their sinner parents, and did not know any better, to stop them from receiving a possession of the promised land.
That tells me that God gets it. I look at it this way. If a toddler in a shopping cart in the check out line reaches over and grabs a candy bar that Mommy did not pay for, and the toddler gets caught, that toddler will be punished much differently then if a teenager steals. And if a teenager steals, they will be punished much differently then if an adult steals. If we understand the difference between a child’s ability to decide right from wrong, and an adults, surely our God does to. And we see a precedent for that in scripture, which is what is most important to me when identifying my position on a doctrine.
So it would seem that there is a point where a person is too young to die and go to hell, but there is a point where a person is certainly old enough to have to have made that decision for Christ on their own. I do not see a specific age in the Bible to be a definitive age, and I expect that is because God realizes that not all children are created equal. I mean that in an intellectual and emotional sense. Some kids may mature faster or slower, and reach the age which they are accountable for their decisions at a faster or slower pace then other kids.
We may probably be able to pass this concept along to the adults who are mentally incapable of intellectually understanding, the same as a young child, I assume.
I hope this helps you on your spiritual journey. Have a nice day