Children, no matter how young, are not “innocent” in the sense of being sinless. The Bible tells us that, even if an infant or child has not committed personal sin, all people, including infants and children, are guilty before God because of inherited and imputed sin. Inherited sin is that which is passed on from our parents. In Psalm 51:5, David wrote, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.”
David recognized that even at conception he was a sinner. The very sad fact that infants sometimes die demonstrates that even infants are impacted by Adam’s sin, since physical and spiritual death were the results of Adam’s original sin.
Each person, infant or adult, stands guilty before God; each person has offended the holiness of God. The only way God can be just and at the same time declare a person righteous is for that person to have received forgiveness by faith in Christ. “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 Salvation is an individual choice.
Children born during the tribulation are born of parents who rejected Christ prior to the tribulation. No different that the children of the Amalekites Saul was to destroy at the direction of God. (1 Samuel 15:1–35)
Babies and young children who never attain the ability to make this individual choice, or the age of accountability, which is the concept that those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is the belief that God saves all those who die never having possessed the ability to make a decision for or against Christ.
“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” Romans 1:20
According to this, mankind’s guilt before God is based, in part, on the fact that people reject what they can “clearly see” of God’s existence, eternality, and power. This leads to the question of children who have no faculty for “clearly seeing” or reasoning about God—wouldn’t their natural incapacity to observe and reason provide them with an excuse?
Thirteen is the most common age suggested for the age of accountability, based on the Jewish custom that a child becomes an adult at the age of 13. However, the Bible gives no direct support to the age of 13 always being the age of accountability. It likely varies from child to child. A child has passed the age of accountability once he or she is capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ.
With the above in mind, also consider this: Christ’s death is presented as sufficient for all of mankind. “And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
This verse is clear that Jesus’ death was sufficient for all sins, not just the sins of those who specifically have come to Him in faith. The fact that Christ’s death was sufficient for all sin would allow the possibility of God’s applying that payment to those who were never capable of believing.
Some see a link between the age of accountability and the covenant relationship between the nation of Israel and the LORD where no requirement was imposed on a male child to be included in the covenant other than circumcision, which was performed on the eighth day after Jesus birth (Exodus 12:48–50; Leviticus 12:3).
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” Acts 2:38–39
The word children here (teknon in Greek) means “child, daughter, son.” Acts 2:39 indicates that forgiveness of sins is available to one and all (cf. Acts 1:8), including future generations. It does not teach family or household salvation. The children of those who repented were also required to repent.
“Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:21–23.
The context of these verses is that King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, with a resulting pregnancy. The prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to inform David that, because of his sin, the Lord would take the child in death. David responded to this by grieving and praying for the child. But once the child was taken, David’s mourning ended. David’s servants were surprised to hear this..
David’s response indicates that those who cannot believe are safe in the Lord. David said that he could go to the child but could not bring the child back to him. Also, and just as important, David seemed to be comforted by this knowledge. In other words, David was saying that he would see his baby son (in heaven), though he could not bring him back.
Although it is possible that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to those who cannot believe, the Bible does not specifically say that He does this. Therefore, this is a subject about which we should not be adamant or dogmatic. God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy. It is our position that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to babies and those who are mentally handicapped, since they are not mentally capable of understanding their sinful state and their need for the Savior, but again we cannot be dogmatic. Of this we are certain: God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious. Whatever God does is always right and good, and He loves children even more than we do.