Both committed Christians and uncommitted skeptics often wonder whether young children can be genuinely saved. The skeptic questions it because he doubts the reality of salvation for anyone, and especially for those he deems too immature to understand the complex theological issues involved. The sincere Christian parent sometimes wonders because he knows salvation is real, and he is concerned lest his child substitute youthful enthusiasm for genuine conviction and commitment.
While some of the children brought to Christ were no doubt too young to understand the significance of their meeting, they could at least feel His warmth and love and thus be favorably disposed toward Him when they grew older. The Greek word used for “children” specifies that these were very young children, so was Christ’s effort in vain? No, for that same Greek word is used in II Timothy 3:15 to state that from earliest childhood Timothy had “known the sacred writings which were able to give (him) the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ.”
Some feel a child has to reach a certain age (often called the “age of accountability”) before he can make any spiritual decisions. Often the age of twelve years is advanced, because of Jewish ceremony which marked the twelfth or thirteenth year. Rather than assigning an arbitrary age, one would be more consistent with Scripture to realize that at whatever age a child is capable of learning simple Biblical truths, at that age he becomes accountable to God for acting on those truths.
Since children are susceptible to pressure from significant adults and peers, care must be taken to insure that their decisions are truly their own. Children can feel intimidated to “walk the aisle” merely to please a parent or to go along with a friend. This can happen without genuine repentance over sin or personal faith in Jesus Christ, amounting to no more than merely going through the motions. However, once a child realizes his sinfulness and responds to that sinfulness in repentance and faith in Christ, he can and will be saved, regardless of his age. Christ’s indignation at His disciples probably came because they thoughtlessly assumed that none of the children could understand.
Even adults are told to emulate the implicit, uncritical trust which children exemplify. When “mature” men jealously worried about who would receive the greatest reward, Christ responded,
In many cases, it is easier for a child to perceive and receive spiritual truth than for an adult to do so.
Children in Christian homes usually accept Christ earlier in life than do children in non-Christian homes, and the reason is obvious. The family that is truly Christian has the Bible as its center, and the children are taught its precepts. Since “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17), one should expect those who are consistently taught the Word to respond sooner than those who seldom or never hear it. For this reason, God gave numerous Biblical instructions for parents to take personal responsibility for their children’s spiritual education. Beyond this, it would be presumptuous indeed to set age limits for the work of the Holy Spirit, who effects repentance and faith.
God can and does call children to salvation. He called Samuel at such an early age that even the venerable and godly Eli did not think it possible at first (I Samuel 3). God’s salvation plan is so simple that children can understand and accept it.
Excerpt from The Bible Has the Answer, by Henry Morris and Martin Clark, published by Master Books, 1987.
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