When can a child make a decision to become a Christian? This seems to be the question every parent asks at some point. And often times the question is directed to you. Just this past weekend one of my best friends asked me if I had an opinion on the appropriate age for a child to make a profession of faith. I shared some of my thoughts, but you know… that’s really not an easy question to answer.
What age a child can make a profession of faith is not answered with a number or a school year. The age of accountability is not a biblical term. You won’t find it used anywhere in scripture. So we are challenged to approach the question with what we do know.
We do know that very young children are concrete in their thinking and the idea of eternal salvation is very abstract. Therefore, we know that most young children will not be mentally and emotionally ready to understand and accept.
We do know that 3rd & 4th grade children are beginning to recognize the difference between fantasy and reality and seem to be connecting the reality of their sin and its implications to their need for a savior.
We do know that there’s not one way for an adult to receive eternal salvation and another for a child. Therefore, we can conclude that before a child can accept Christ as Lord and Savior, that child will need to have (at least in part) the ability to understand and accept the basic concepts sin and the Gospel.
We do know that before a person can be saved, he must understand his need for a Savior. He must know what sin is, that he has sinned, that his sin is against God, and that his sin separates him from God. He must recognize his need for a Savior.
We do know that a person must be able to deal with (both mentally and emotionally) the basic truths of the gospel. She will have an appropriate understanding that Jesus came from God, was killed by man (according to God’s plan), rose from the dead, and that she will sense in her heart the need to accept what God in Christ as done for her (the work of the Holy Spirit).
BOTTOM LINE: Each child’s journey is unique and should be handled individually.
There are great Christian men and women whose testimony is that they made the decision to follow Christ early in life; their salvation is obvious and is seen through their testimony and life. I would never question that.
What I do say is that it is unique for a very young child to possess the emotional and mental ability to understand the concept of sin and the basic truths of the gospel. Therefore, we tread carefully, spend a lot of time with the child, ask lots of questions, and prayerfully discern not emphatically prohibit a child’s desire to follow Christ. Remember, often times it’s a journey not on overnight sleepover.
“When Can I?” by Thomas Sanders
“When Can A Child Believe?” by Eugene Chamberlain (out of print but worth hunting for)
“Children and The Christian Faith” by Cos H. Davis (again, out of print, but worth the hunt)
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