What do you teach concerning a child’s condition (sometimes called age) of accountability for responding to the Gospel? How would you counsel a parent who is concerned about a preschool aged child who seems disinterested in learning about Jesus? If you had to estimate (and you do), what is the chronological age that most children become fully accountable for their decision about Christ?
Some Christians and Christian traditions maintain that Scripture teaches an “age of accountability” before which young children are not held responsible for sin and are not counted guilty before God. But several Bible passages indicate that children (even before they are born) have a guilty standing before God and a sinful nature so that they not only have a tendency to sin, but God views them as sinners (Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Ephesians 2:3). Experienced parents know that children do not have to be taught to do wrong. It is their natural inclination to disobey, to lie, and to manipulate.
This is one of the strongest motivations for Christian parents and Christian churches teaching the gospel to their children from the youngest age. We teach about Jesus because children need Jesus as their savior from sin. As one famous preacher said, “The gospel is meat for men but it is also milk for babes.” But kids don’t always want to hear about Jesus and trust him. When a preschool age child isn’t interested in learning about Jesus, there isn’t necessarily a cookie-cutter answer, but here are some areas I’d explore with the parent: (1) I’d encourage the parent to examine his or her own heart. Does mom and/or dad get excited about Jesus and learning from his Word? Do they regularly pray and read Bible stories together with their family? Young children often look to and follow their parent’s example. Perhaps a parent has a satisfying relationship with the Lord, but it is private and not shared with the child. Invite the child into your relationship with Jesus. (2) I’d ask the parent whether or not he or she talks about sin with their child. Does your child know that when she disobeys you, she is also disobeying God? Do you just talk about your child’s misbehavior (taking a cookie, hitting his sister, not sharing), or do you talk with him about the heart attitudes and motivations that lie behind that behavior (greed, pride in performance, selfishness)? When our children have a more honest view of the extent to which sin is rooted in their hearts, they will be more likely to look for and respond to Christ—who provides pardon and provision for that sin. (3) Most importantly, I’d pray with the parent, and I’d encourage the parent to pray. Salvation is ultimately God’s work in the child’s heart. May God have mercy on our kids and help them to repent from sin and love Jesus.
As I stated above, I cannot justify an “age of accountability” from the Scriptures. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb (Luke 1:15). Since salvation is God’s work in a person’s heart, it doesn’t require any particular level of cognitive understanding or behavioral response to be present and real. Growth in faith is certainly evidenced by understanding and behavior, but it is not earned (or merited) by them. Faith is more than a decision, it is a gift from God. So, Tony, my age estimate is somewhere around conception.
See the answers given by other children’s ministers here.