After answering recent questions on the Age
of Accountability, I concluded that the Q & A format doesn't
lend itself to providing a comprehensive answer.
Here's the rest of the story.
Becoming An Adult
In the Jewish culture, becoming an adult
is one of the watershed events in a person's life.
At age 12 for girls and 13 for boys Jewish children reach
the age of accountability.
It's a point in their life that has both spiritual and
because they're approaching puberty at the same time.
So as they make the transition from child to adult they
also become responsible for their own sins.
They acknowledge their accountability in a
ceremony called bat mitzvah for girls and bar mitzvah for boys.
Now it's not that children don't sin before puberty, it's
that they're not held accountable for their sins. Judaism
teaches that fathers are responsible for the sins of their
children until they come of age. That's why in the bar mitzvah
ceremony, the father will often pray in effect, “Lord thank you
for giving me this son, and thank you for relieving me of any
further responsibility for him.”
We see hints of this transition, and its
consequences, in Romans 7:9.
Being a Jew who was obviously still alive at the time,
Paul wrote, "For I was
alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin
revived, and I died."
(The word for without also means "apart from".)
Since he was physically alive he had to have been referring to
the spiritual, or eternal life for which he had been qualified
before coming of age.
"The commandment came, sin
revived, and I died" means that as soon as Paul became old
enough to be accountable for his sins he was scheduled for
death, it being the wages of sin (Romans 6:23).
The Greek word for revived indicates Paul's sin nature
had always been there, but for accountability purposes it's like
it was dormant while he was a child.
As soon as he came of age, it woke up again, immediately
disqualifying him from eternal life.
No official written references to the method
for conducting bar or bat mitzvah ceremonies existed during
Paul's time. But the practice was obviously well known enough
that Paul could expect his Gentile readers to understand what he
was talking about. Since Paul was adamantly opposed to following
tradition for its own sake, he must have known that belief in an
age of accountability was legitimate from God's perspective.
Reaching the age of accountability
transformed children into adults but also robbed them of eternal
life. Since there
was no longer someone else upon whom to place the burden for
their sins, they became responsible themselves and an execution
order was immediately entered against them from Heaven. It took
their obedience to the Law and their annual participation in the
ceremonies of Yom Kippur to delay this execution, and then only
if these were accompanied by the belief that God would send the
promised Messiah to redeem them for good.
Becoming A Child
We get the rest of the story from the New
Testament. For Christians the watershed event is likened to
becoming a child.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become
like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of
heaven.” (Matt. 18:3) What He meant was unless adults
can somehow unburden themselves of the responsibility for their
sins, there's no way for them to enter God's Kingdom.
Since children are not held accountable for their sins,
adults have to become like children.
In the very beginning of his gospel account
John explained how we do that. Yet to all who did receive
him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to
become children of God—
children born not of
natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but
born of God. (John 1:12-13)
Believing that the Lord's death paid the
full penalty due us for our sins gives us the authority to
become God's children, and in that way we unburden ourselves of
the responsibility for our sins.
This is what it means to be born again.
But when the set time had fully come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
to redeem those under the law, that we might receive
adoption to sonship.
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son
into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since
you are his child, God has made you also an heir. (Galatians
Both this passage and Romans 8:15-17
convey the idea that adoption into the family of God is truly
the most important event of our lives.
God sent His son to die for our sins so we could receive
the right of adoption.
According to John 1:12-13 belief in Jesus gives us
the authority to claim this right and when we do God adopts us
as His children and we become heirs to his estate. When this
happens the execution order is cancelled (Colossians 2:13-14).
The responsibility for our sins is transferred to Jesus (Isaiah
53:5) and once again we're not responsible.
At that point we're born again as a child of God and have
According to 2 Cor. 5:17 we actually become a new
creation. The old
has gone and the new has come. This is what happened to Paul,
and has happened to every other born again believer as well.
This is not a new idea and was first acted
out in the garden.
Adam and Eve were created with eternal life.
God told them if they disobeyed (sinned) they would die.
But they disobeyed and were scheduled for death.
God promised a redeemer to save them, and by believing
God they were born again and restored to eternal life.
The Law is the story of death, because it
wasn't given to save anyone, but so that in trying to obey it
man could see his need for a Savior (Romans 3:20). Being
perfect it actually served to condemn
imperfect man to death (Romans 7:10-13).
Grace is the story of life because by faith
in the Redeemer man can be born again into eternal life, even
though he doesn't deserve it (Ephesians 2:8-9).
By the power of the Holy Spirit, David understood this
1,000 years ahead of time when he wrote,
Blessed is he whose transgressions are
forgiven. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count
against him, and in whose spirit is no deceit (Psalm32:1-2).
Only by God's Grace can we qualify for eternal life again
after losing it when we reached the age of accountability.
No place in either the Old or New
Testaments is the exact age of accountability specified.
The ages of 12 and 13 I mentioned above come from Jewish
culture and were chosen for reasons that have more to do with
tradition than the Bible.
But from both these sources it's clear that we're all
born as children of God, not responsible for our sins, and
having eternal life.
When we're intellectually mature enough to understand the
sin/salvation issue we become accountable for our sins and are
subject to spiritual death.
When we accept the Lord's death as payment in full for
all our sins, we are born again and go back to being children of
God, no longer responsible for our sins, and are restored to
eternal life. We've
come full circle.