The Stage of Accountability

“Have you ever done anything wrong?” I asked my four-year old son.

“No,” he said.

“Never? Never lied or disobeyed?”

“No.”

“Then during nap time,” I said, recalling an earlier situation, “do you remember when you snuck out of your bed and hid under the desk in the living room?”

“Yes,” he said, lowering his eyes.

“Was that wrong?”

“Yes,” he mumbled.

“So, have you ever done anything wrong?”

“No,” he said, and he believed it.

He was serious. Although he had come to an understanding that some actions are right and some are wrong, he hadn’t reached the understanding that HE had done wrong things. This is the stage of accountability, the stage at which an individual comes to the personal understanding that he is a sinner. Some call it the “Age of Accountability” but “age” seems to imply that it happens at a specific age and it does not. Some children come to this understanding at the age of four or five but others might not reach this stage until they are seven or even older. It’s different for each person.

Nevertheless, if a child cannot yet discern right from wrong or doesn’t know that he has personally sinned against God, he is not ready to give his life to Christ. Before a person can be saved, he must first understand that he has done wrong things. For this reason, when you are talking with a child, always ask, “Have you ever done anything wrong?” Notice that I didn’t ask, “Have you ever sinned?” A child who has not been in church much may not understand the term “sin.” I was sharing Christ with a nine-year old at a camp and asked, “Have you ever sinned?” He answered “no.” “Have you ever done anything wrong?” I said. “Oh yeah.” He answered “no”, not because he had never sinned, but because he didn’t understand what I was saying. When talking with a child or with anyone who is unchurched, be careful to avoid “churchy” language.

If you are talking to a child that has not yet reached the stage of accountability, just plant a seed for the future by saying something like:

“You know, Johnny, there will be a time in your life when you do something that’s wrong. When that time comes, know that God still loves you and has made a way for you to go to Heaven. And, Johnny, if you ever start thinking about Heaven and how you can go there, come talk to me (or your pastor or Sunday School teachers, or parents if you know they are strong believers, etc.)”

At this time DO NOT pray with him that he’ll accept Christ when the time is right. Many people do this without realizing that they are dealing with a young child who may only remember that he talked with somebody about Jesus and someone prayed with him. We don’t want to do anything that might cause him doubt in the future.

I was preaching a revival and about twenty people came forward during the invitation at the end of the service. Immediately my eyes went to two small children. As those seeking to know more about Christ were led out of the worship center, I excused myself and turned the service over to the pastor. This was my first time in the church, I didn’t know how well trained their leaders were, and I wanted to make sure that nobody just talked to them for a bit and then led them in a prayer. Scooting through the crowd, I intercepted these two kids and sat down with them. They were both five years old.

“So, why did you come down,” I asked.

One shrugged. The other said, “Because I love Jesus.”

“That’s great,” I said. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“Okay.”

“Have you ever done anything wrong?”

They looked offended. Immediately one of them said, “No.” The other shook his head.

“So you’ve never said anything wrong or told a lie or disobeyed your parents.”

“No.”

“No.”

“Well,” I said, as was explained above, “I want you to know that there will be a time in your life when you do something that’s wrong. When that time comes, know that God still loves you and has made a way for you to go to Heaven. And, if you ever start thinking about Heaven and how you can go there, come talk to your pastor or Sunday School teachers.”

Then I gave them both a high five and took them back into the church service.

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"Jesus must become greater…" John 3:30