The question of when a child is ready to commit their life to Christ is one which must be answered by each individual. There is no clear cut standard, but I hope to give some helpful thoughts here. I have always wondered how Jesus acted growing up. I know he was sinless, but does that mean he never expressed any “why not, Mommy?”s to Mary or if Jesus ever complained when Joseph told him to stay away from the sharp tools of his trade? Did they ever have to deal with the rebellious tantrums of a two year old trying to learn the boundaries of right and wrong?
What does it mean, that Jesus was sinless? What does it mean, that a child is under the age of accountability? If they are not held responsible for their rebellion as a 7 year old then can we really call it a sin? When is sin really sin? It is interesting that we call this the “age of accountability” and not the “age of sin.” The point is not if children do things their parents don’t want them to do, but at what point are people old enough to be held accountable for that wrong?
There are two things very important for people to understand before they can commit a sin:
- The knowledge or understanding of a command to be obeyed is the command of God.
- The knowledge of the penalty that will come from God if that command is violated.
Until a child understands that what they are doing is a violation of the command of God and will ultimately result in their being separated from God and in need of a savior, they are not accountable to God. That is not to say that they are not accountable to their parents, however. In fact, it is through the child’s developing understanding of being accountable to the authority of their parents that they are able to mature into a deeper understanding of what accountability to God means.
I read something about this (sorry for the lack of citation) that helped me to get a better handle on this matter. Accountability “refers to children (and the mentally handicapped) who do not yet perceive moral rules as coming from God (rather than parents and teachers) and are not conscious of the eternal penalty attached to them.”
That is important, and makes sense to me. When children are growing up, their initial introduction to the world of do’s and don’t come from their parents or teachers or other humans in authority. They are perceiving the rules to be coming from humans. They recognize the discipline and punishments to be carried out by humans. That does not make what they are doing RIGHT. It might be called “a” sin. But it is a sin against who? The parents, or in other cases, to human authority figures such as teachers. But it is not a sin against God. Why not? Because the child does not yet trace the source of the ethic to go all the way back to God. It stops at the will of their parents. They do not conceive of the punishment ensuing from wrongdoing as coming from any source other than their parents or teacher. They can’t yet comprehend the eternal nature of wrongdoing. All they can understand is the physical and emotional nature of the pain they experience when (or if) they are disciplined.
When does the age come when kids finally understand that the rebellion they are showing to their parents extends into the spiritual realm of God? When do they understand the eternal effects of their sin? That is the difficult part. That part we never really can nail down at a certain age. It depends upon the child. It depends upon the environment in which the child was raised. Usually children raised in Christian homes with a focus on spiritual matters is more quickly able to understand the relationship between their disobedient actions and the righteousness of God.
Until that time, rejoice that God has them covered in his wings of mercy. And be praying that you can have perceptive eyes and ears to hear the conversations of your child as they make that shift into a new realm of understanding.