When Are They Ready? The Age of Accountability

By Keith Greer

Whenever a congregation is blessed by having some young people obey the gospel, questions come up. While we rejoice at the decision of young men and women to turn to the Lord, some voice a concern by asking the question: “What is the age of accountability?”

Some desire to know at what age “must” one obey the gospel? These questions have been raised by brethren over the years, and varied answers have been given. The only way to come to an acceptable conclusion is to examine what the scriptures teach.

Many are of the belief that the “magic age” for one’s obedience is “twelve.” Luke 2:40-47, is the place they use for their answer. Jesus, at the age of twelve, sat in the temple among the doctors, both learning and answering their questions. Many who use this passage tell us Jesus was at the “age of accountability” when he began going to the temple. Therefore, one must be at “least” twelve before he can be baptized into Christ.

But are these conclusions correctly applying these pas-sages? If there has not been any specific age given by God, then the age of Jesus when he was in the temple is irrelevant. How do you know this was the child’s first time in the temple? Can you determine such by the text? If this was the age, Jesus sinned since he was not baptized for some eighteen years later by John! For others to “set” a particular age, is to do so without divine authority. God has not given us a particular “age” that men must abide by. If one waits until fourteen, has he sinned? What about if one comes to him at eleven? Is his obedience invalid?

When Jesus sent the apostles out into the world, he commanded them to “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:15,16). In Acts 8:36,37, the eunuch asked Philip, “. . . see here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believeth with all thine heart, thou mayest.” In either of these passages, is the age of the believer an issue? If the apostles and early teachers made no issue, why should we!

A person who is desiring to be baptized must have the capacity to be able to believe, and to understand what they are being baptized for. This is why infant baptism is not in accordance with God’s divine will. How can infants believe? How can they understand what baptism is? “And they shall all be taught of God ” (John 6:45). Look at all the conversions in the book of Acts. What took place before baptism? In every account teaching! Why? Faith has to be in something! It is in God’s word!

In Acts 2:38, the Jews were told, “. . . repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” A person must have the capacity to repent and have sins to repent of. Therefore, we have another reason why infants do not need to be baptized. What sin do they need to repent of? In 2 Corinthians 7:9, 10, we are taught that we must have “godly sorrow” towards repentance. A person must be able to be truly sorry to God because he has sinned against him, to understand what sin has done to his soul, and the need to have it cleansed from sin. One who cannot repent, cannot be baptized!

When Philip told the eunuch that he could be baptized if he believed, the eunuch answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). Also, in Romans 10:9,10, we read that confession with the mouth is made towards salvation. In order to become obedient to the gospel, one must be able to confess Christ and to under-stand what the confession means. It is an awesome step to take. One has now committed his life to God.

Like the conversions that we read about in the book of Acts, those who obeyed the gospel of Christ were willing to be immersed in water (Rom. 6:3,4; Gal. 3:27). One must understand what baptism does and why it must be accomplished. Does one understand that by rendering obedience to the gospel, the Lord adds him to the church (Acts 2:47)? Does he understand that this is where he comes in contact with the blood of Christ (Col. 2:12,13)? Does he under-stand his responsibility after baptism to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4; 2 Cor. 5:17)?


When is a person ready to accept responsibility? At what age does this occur? There is no fixed or set time that can possibly fit everybody. All people are different, all from different backgrounds, and they will reach the decision to obey God at different times. Some reach it much sooner than others. So, how can we tell if they are ready?

We must remember that becoming a child of God is a personal decision. Obedience to the plan of God must be done by the individual. If a person will humbly submit himself to God’s word and obey the gospel, then he is ready!

While it might be necessary in some cases to question the young person as to why he is desiring to be baptized, very often his background will give you a hint as to whether or not he has sufficient knowledge and is ready to obey the gospel. Personally speaking, I may ask: “What is baptism for?” “Why do you feel you need to be baptized?” “What takes away the sin?” “Are you willing to commit your life to the Lord?”

We need to remember Felix in Acts 24:25, when he said, “Go thy way for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee.” Sometimes we discourage the zeal and yearning one may have to obey the gospel, and then that zeal is never manifested again. One by being told he is “too young” may go in another direction in his life. Sadly, I have known this to happen on two occasions! We never want to tell a person “not to obey God,” especially when he has a desire to do so!

Remember, that Timothy was taught as a child by his mother and grandmother (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). He knew about God and his duty to God from a very early age. Many of our children are brought up with the knowledge of God and his word from the pre-school years and up. I believe they learn more than we give them credit for! If a parent brings up his child in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord,” this child hopefully has greater knowledge than one who does not have this benefit. But parents, please do not rush your children into being baptized. Let them hear the gospel, believe the gospel, repent of their sins, confess faith in Christ, and then be baptized for the remission of sins. Only by doing so in this manner and for these reasons, will they be true children of God.

“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine ” (Rom. 6:17). When they have done that, they have met the Lord’s requirements for salvation, whatever age they might be. “Can any forbid water, that these should not be baptized?” (Acts 10:47) My friends, if God would not, can we? G

Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 10, p. 14-15
May 19, 1994