Ever hear about this mysterious “age of accountability” that seems to disappear once you open up the Scriptures? It’s a common and assumed teaching that believes all children go to be with the Lord in death because they are not held accountable for sins they commit without knowledge. Or that children whom have no knowledge of what is right and wrong (yet) are born in a state of “neutrality” (though not explicitly stated in those words) and not held accountable before God because they are “innocent” of any sins. What this alleged “age of accountability” is has yet to be determined by its proponents. One thing for sure is that it is foreign to Scripture!
I once held to this doctrine and then I ran smack dab into Romans 5:12,18,19:
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and
so death spread to all men because all sinned…Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
An interesting exegetical insight is that Paul starts off explaining how we all sinned “in” Adam- that is all humanity save Christ- God incarnate (God become man so that He is fully God and fully man), but breaks off his thought in verses 13-17 to explain some things and picks up his main thought back in verses 18-19. Paul is presenting two humanities- one in Adam and one in Christ. You cannot have people being both in Adam and Christ at the same time, you are in either one or the other. There is no third option of “neutrality.”
The Apostle lays the foundation that everyone is born condemned because “all sinned.” Most take this verse (12) to mean that all have personally sinned at some point in life which is certainly true but not Paul’s point here. Better go to Romans 3:9-23 for that. The whole context of Romans 5:12-21 is to contrast the work of Adam and Christ with the emphasis being on Christ’s work and how much superior it is to Adam’s condemning disobedience. The context calls for understanding that “all sinned” in Adam. The idea of our personal individual sins seems to be foreign to Paul’s main thesis in this context (however he does mention personal sins in passing in verses 14 and 16). In fact, the phrase “all sinned” (v. 12) is an aorist verb and as Leon Morris writes in his Pillar New testament commentary (Romans):
“The aorist points to one act, the act of Adam; we would expect the present or the imperfect if the apostle were thinking of the continuing sins of all people. Paul says that all sinned in Adam, not in imitating him (cf. Bruce)…Consider the fivefold repetition of this truth: “manydied by the trespass of the one” (v. 15), “the judgment followed one sin” (v. 16), “by the trespass of the one man, death reigned” (v. 17), “the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men” (v. 18), “through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners” (v. 19; this last statement is especially significant). All this does not mean that we have simply followed Adam’s example. The apostle’s tremendous emphasis surely forces us to some variant of the first view, that all the race is somehow caught up in Adam’s sin. Throughout this whole passage what Adam did and what Christ did are steadily held over against each other. Now salvation in Christ does not mean that we merit salvation by living good lives; rather, what Christ has done is significant. Just so, death in Adam does not mean that we are being punished for our own evil deeds; it is what Adam has done that is significant. This does not mean that our sinful nature or our many actual sins are unimportant to Paul. Nor does it mean that he is indifferent to the importance of individual responsibility. It simply means that these things are not what he is talking about here. He is concerned with what Adam did and its results. He is saying that Adam’s sin involved us all in a situation of sin and death from which there is no escape other than in Christ. We should perhaps notice a somewhat similar statement about Christ, “one died for all, and therefore all died” (2 Cor. 5:14). At this point Paul is laying down the opposite of this: Adam’s sin meant that he and all his posterity died.”
Again the emphasis is on the one act of disobedience of Adam, and his one act that plunged all humanity under condemnation from God and contrasted with the work of Christ. No one is born “neutral” or “innocent.” But the beautiful thing about the Gospel is that Christ overcame Adam’s failure through His act of obedience and graciously grant us acceptance with God as Paul goes on to say:
“Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads
to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were
made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Ro 5:18–19).
All that the repent and believe in Christ are no longer in Adam but now in Christ. There no longer remains the condemnation that came from our “sinning in Adam.” But rather we now have a legal standing before God as “righteous.”
Now whether or not all babies go to heaven- I know not. The Scripture is silent on this issue. I agree with Dr. James White when he say says something to the effect that God has the same amount of freedom in electing babies as he does adults. See Romans 9!
What I can confidently say is that all humans are born condemned and guilty before God. That is what the Bible teaches and why is most urgent that we pray and plead for the salvation of children (as well as adults) and why we share the Gospel with them. Cute little stories no longer suffice- they need the Gospel as much as we do! God is certainly most loving and gracious, in that, as he provided an atonement (a strong case can be made for imputed righteousness as well) for Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21, He sacrificed His Son for His people. We live because of Christ. Down with that sacred cow. Soli Deo Gloria!
For His Glory,