The Age of Accountability

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Our job is to teach children; theirs is to responsibly apply that knowledge when they’re older.

Deuteronomy 11:18-20

I recall an interesting conversation I once had with a young first-time mom while she allowed me to hold her infant son. I commented, “It’s hard to believe that they are born with a sinful nature.” She protested, and I thought it best not to argue with her. But I would have liked to call her a couple of years later when the boy was a toddler to see if she thought any differently!

At one point or another, all of us have felt a tug to do something that we knew was wrong. As adults and believers, we’ve learned that giving in to temptation is a sin against God. But small children do exactly as their nature dictates. Mother says, “Don’t touch,” but they reach out anyway. Little ones do not yet see the wisdom of following a parent’s rules. Boys and girls must be taught to recognize the difference between good and evil before they can make the wise choice to do right.

In the early years, a child is in a state of innocence. He is neither righteous nor saved, but he is safe from God’s wrath—if he dies, he goes to heaven. We saw in yesterday’s devotion that this state of innocence is referenced in Scripture (Deut. 1:39; Isa. 7:16), confirming that there is a period of time when children are not morally accountable for their conduct.

The age when a child comes to understand moral responsibility is different for each one. As children grow, they develop the spiritual capacity to pursue righteousness or knowingly give in to evil. The years of innocence are the time for parents to impart sound biblical training and lessons on obedience so that when they’re older, they “will not depart from it”(Prov. 22:6).

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