Christian tradition holds that if a child dies before they have the knowledge and opportunity to choose between right and wrong, or to accept or deny the Biblical teaching relative to salvation, they will automatically go to heaven. The key word thus far is ‘choose.’ The relative question really is who chooses and when is the choice made. The Bible is very clear on the matter and the Bible must trump tradition.
Let it be said right up front that everyone who will spend eternity in God’s presence has been chosen by God before they were born. That definitely means before a child has the knowledge and understanding to make that choice.
“As it is written, ‘Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.’ (For the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her (Rebecca), ‘The older shall serve the younger.’” Romans 9:11-13
When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden of Eden, they were actually rebelling against their Creator. That rebellion separated them from God as evidenced by their being sent out of God’s presence from the Garden. That original sin of rebellion was subsequently passed on to all mankind, i.e. everyone born of the flesh would by nature rebel against God.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” Psalm 51:5
“The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God…there is none who does good, no, not one.”
“For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.” Ecclesiastes 7:20
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans
Therefore, everyone born in the flesh since the Garden of Eden was condemned to eternal separation from God. Man had quite a dilemma because he was impotent to rectify the consequences of his rebellion. A holy and just God demanded that such rebellion be paid for with the offender’s life, eternally.
The fact that anyone is reconciled to God is an act of mercy and grace on God’s part. A merciful God chose many to spend eternity with Him by paying their sin debt for them with the vicarious death of the sinless Christ. Not all, however, would accept that free gift of eternal life and God knew who they would be.
God’s choice of those to spend eternity with Him is called election. Recall that God’s election is in perfect harmony with man’s free will, i.e. all who God elected, or chose, for eternal life with Him would respond to His calling. Likewise, those who He didn’t choose were those who would have rejected His gift of eternal life when presented with the remedy for their own sin debt.
There are some who cry ‘foul!’ They claim that it’s not fair for God to choose some for eternal life with Him and not others. In other words, they are saying that God should overrule those who reject His remedy and force mercy on those who despise it.
“…Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! …You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? …But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay…one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory…” Romans 9:14-23
This passage confirms that no one is treated unfairly. While some receive the justice they deserve, others receive mercy in lieu of the justice they deserve.
We’ve established that God’s choice, or election, of individuals was made before they were born. How long before they were born?
“…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world…having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will…” Ephesians 1:4-5
“…brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation…” 2 Thessalonians 2:13
Thus the age of accountability tradition is exactly that and is not confirmed in the scriptures. And while that tradition may be a comforting notion to some it should be more comforting to know that a holy and just God has, from before the foundation of the world, extended mercy to all who would respond to His offer of grace whether three score and ten years of age, in the womb, or pre-conception.