Christian Living

#STRask: September 11, 2017

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Published on 09/11/2017

Greg’s on a timer and answers questions about the age of accountability, knowing what Bible passages refer to us, and children trusting Jesus.


  • Is the idea of an age of accountability biblical? At what age or stage do we start sinning? Is it possible to sin in the womb?
  • Is Jesus speaking to all believers in John 15 & 16? It sounds to me like it is just to his disciples. How do I know?
  • Is it possible for a child to be filled with the Holy Spirit before they can trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins? Luke 1:15


Melinda: Hi there, I’m Melinda, the Enforcer. I’m with Stand to Reason, and Greg Koukl is sitting next to me. This is the #STRask Podcast.

Greg Koukl: Right.

Melinda: Yes. You know which podcast this is?

Greg Koukl: Yes.

Melinda: It’s the short one. You give short answers.

Greg Koukl: Right.

Melinda: Of course, on the other podcast, I’m sitting on the other side of the window, so that helps distinguish them, too.

Greg Koukl: True.

Melinda: You’re just going to give one word answers?

Greg Koukl: Yes.

Melinda: Okay, good, even shorter. We can get a lot of questions in that way.

Greg Koukl: Maybe.

Melinda: So, the way this works is you send us your questions on Twitter using #STRask. That’s how we can identify them and then I pose them to Greg. We generally get to them over the course of probably about four to six weeks, just with the backlog, but always good questions coming in. So keep sending them in. Interesting ... Why are you just looking at me amused like that?

Greg Koukl: Did you just snort?

Melinda: Yes.

But why are you just staring at me like that?

Greg Koukl: I’m waiting for you to finish so I can give you another one word response, but see now I’ve broken my pattern.

Melinda: There you go. I’m ... Yep, broke you out of that.

Greg Koukl: Right.

Melinda: We post new episodes every Monday and Thursday for this podcast. Greg still does the long podcast on Tuesdays, that’s live call-in.

Greg Koukl: Correct.

Melinda: The key is live call-in, you have to have callers to talk to.

Greg Koukl: Live.

Melinda: 4:00 to 6:00 p.m. on Tuesdays, Pacific Time. So let’s get going on this.

First question comes from rolfrums…sounds like a dog or something, a bark. So, is the idea of an age of accountability biblical, and at what age or stage do we start sinning? Is it possible to sin in the womb?

Greg Koukl: Well, if there is an age of accountability, then the nature of the concept is that prior to that age, you are not accountable for behavior, because you are not morally ... You are not ... How can I put this? Developed enough in a certain sense, to be morally held responsible.

So, if there is an age of accountability, you can’t sin in the womb. What happens in the womb is you are born into sin, “In sin my mother conceived me,” David said in Psalm 51, identifying ... Since this is a confession Psalm, identifying that his sinful condition started from the very outset of his existence. So he’s not just apologizing that he had an occasion for sin, but he is deeply sinful from the very outset. It’s built into his nature, so there’s a full-fledged kind of acknowledgment before God of our sinful condition.

Melinda: We have condition of rebellion before we even commit an individual sin of commission or omission.

Greg Koukl: Right. That’s right.

Melinda: That is something to confess, too, right from the beginning.

Greg Koukl: Well, I think he is ...

Melinda: Well, David is doing ...

Greg Koukl: Well, I don’t ...

Melinda: ... or acknowledging that.

Greg Koukl: He is acknowledging that. This is the state of his condition. Therefore you are justified when you judge, and etc., he says, based on ... You know, well, you have to read Psalm 51. I’m looking for another verse here. So my memory about the details of Psalm 51.

This is Isaiah 7 ...

Melinda: The thin ice you put an age of accountability on ...

Greg Koukl: Isaiah 7, there is a famous passage about the virgin “who will be with child and bear a son, she will call his name Immanuel”, all right? That’s verse 14 of chapter 7. The next verse says this ... And this has to do with a localized circumstance that Isaiah was facing. “He will eat curds and honey at the time he knows enough to refuse evil and choose good.” Or, “Before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose two kings you dread will be forsaken.”

Now there’s a broader point that’s being made here historically, but notice the phrase that there is a time when he will know to refuse evil and choose the good. So this seems to identify biblically that there is a time that we call the age of accountability. It doesn’t identify when that is, so I think it’s actually different for different people. People with developmental problems or congenital defect, or things like that, everything progresses much more slowly, and it may be that sometimes the mental faculties do not progress far enough to even qualify in some people’s cases for an age of accountability. So, they aren’t held accountable because they don’t even understand the difference between right and wrong, and that particular case, I think is very rare.

But the notion here, I think is pretty well-founded in Scripture. Then the question is when that happens, and we don’t know. It’s different for different people. I think what it identifies is the mercy of God, reflecting that accountability is tied to our mental capability of understanding it. Okay, and this is one reason that I hold the view that infants who die are still going to Heaven by the mercy of God, even though they bear the sin of Adam. I think that’s covered through God’s elective grace in those cases, because of comments like this that there is an age of accountability after which there are deeds that are accredited to our account as evil and culpable.

We see that account there at the end of age, books opened. I call them the Books of Death in this story of reality, as opposed to the Book of Life that’s also there. These books of death have recorded our misdeeds against God and it is by these things we are judged.

Melinda: So you say this is well-founded in Scripture, but that’s the only verse I’ve ever heard you cite for the age of accountability.

Greg Koukl: It strikes me as pretty clear.

Melinda: I don’t know, I would think if this such an important principle, I would think it would be applied, especially in the New Testament, too, where we have more talk about salvation and repentance and stuff in the light of the cross. Because also, Isaiah, while he’s speaking to historical events, he’s also speaking prophetically and somewhat poetically. Poetically may not be the proper term or anything.

I just think it’s ... To formalize a doctrine like that, I just think one verse is not robust enough.

Greg Koukl: I guess the question would have to be how many verses that speak clearly of something are adequate to make a confidence, a robust statement about a doctrine. This strikes me as fairly clear, not ambiguous, and there doesn’t seem to be any verses that speak contrary to it.

But there’s another element that’s going on here, too. Some doctrines are doctrines of ... Biblical doctrines that we would not know about unless God told us about them, okay? Therefore, the important ones are repeated a number of times, because they’re the corpus of revelation of God about Himself. Other things we know, it seems to me, without God telling us, even though the text may make reference to it.

So I think the notion of the age of accountability is kind of a common sense moral notion that people have. That is, if you don’t know about the law, if you can’t even comprehend moral categories, then you are not held responsible for those misdeeds. So I think this is a common sense ... This is what we have even in our own law. We have things about whether a person has ability to understand the difference.

Melinda: Well ...

Greg Koukl: So, what I see here ... Just let me finish the thought real quickly. What I see here is just a biblical affirmation of an intuition that we already hold regarding moral responsibility.

Melinda: Well, I don’t hold to a specific age of accountability, but I tend to agree with you that there’s a principle that we can understand, we can draw conclusions from our own understanding. But I also ... Absent, I think, something clearer from Scripture, I would rather say that this seems to make sense, but we also then trust the mercy of God in some of these situations to be merciful to people who didn’t ... Children who didn’t or people who can’t confess or make a confession of faith at some point.

I would rather simply just rely on God’s mercy in those situations than, I think, pulling a verse out of a ...

Greg Koukl: Okay, so then what you’d have to say is ... Well it’s not just pulling a verse out. It actually repeats the phrase three times. Verse 14, verse 15, verse 16, okay? I’m not sure the virtue of saying, “Well, this just doesn’t solidify the notion of an age of accountability, but what we can say is that God is merciful to those kids who actually are guilty for sins they commit before they know what those kinds of crimes can be, even conceptualize the notion. However, the mercy of God applies to them.

The concept of the mercy of God applying to them in that situation is certainly not clearly taught in Scripture either. So the point I’m offering ... And I won’t argue this point anymore with you, you can have the last word if you want. But the point I’m offering is that at least in my case I have a straightforward reference from Scripture that seems to make the point. That’s all.

Melinda: Okay, next question. Emily Steele ... That doesn’t mean you’re right. I’m just moving on. Just so everybody knows, if we had a camera here, he’s making faces at me.

Greg Koukl: I’m not making faces at ... I didn’t even look at you. I’m going ...

Melinda: You’re making faces to the situation like, “Yay, I won!” I know that face.

Greg Koukl: Listen, I got the last word, even though I offered it to you, and it was a pretty good point, and people can decide for themselves what they think about it.

Melinda: Well it’s not exactly graciously offering the last word, even though I didn’t take it, when then you make a face afterwards, so ...

Greg Koukl: I’m playing around.

Melinda: I know. Yeah, people, this is how we play around all the time.

Is Jesus speaking to all believers in John 15 and 16? It sounds to me like it’s just to his disciples. How do I know?

So this is the high priestly prayer. No, this is not the high priestly prayer, this is the upper room discourse. Jesus’ last night before His arrest, in fact He was arrested later that night. So He’s giving his last message to His disciples before this happens.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, the high priestly prayer in John 17 is the end of this discourse, actually, before He goes to the Garden of Gethsemane. Well, it’s pretty broad to say in John 15 and 16, because it actually starts in John 13, it goes all the way to John 17. To whom is He speaking?

Well, He’s speaking directly to Apostles, and the question then becomes are the things that Jesus says in those chapters addressed, in a sense, uniquely to them as Apostles, and as the 12 ... Or which maybe the 11 is better because in the middle of this discourse, Judas takes his leave.

Melinda: Judas runs out.

Greg Koukl: Yeah. Or, is He speaking to the 11 as believers? See this is a distinction that needs to be made. Sometimes Jesus speaks to members of the Apostolic band as individuals or in virtue of their unique role, and other times he speaks to them, not in virtue of the unique role as being Apostles, but in virtue of the fact that they’re believers.

So the first type would only apply to them, and the second type would apply to all of us, because we’re all believers. It turns out, in my view, there’s a mixed bag. I think by and large the upper room discourse are personal remarks made to His people, anybody. Many of them have broad application to Christians.

A big part of what He does in John 15, is He gives the promise of the Spirit. He tells the disciples that He’s going away, but that’s okay because He’s going to send another Comforter. That is, One just like Him, who will be here with them always. Now the giving of the Holy Spirit is actually a detail of the New Covenant which He initiates that evening in the Lord’s Supper. “This is the blood of My covenant, this is the bread broken for this covenant for you, and for the forgiveness of sins.” So this heralded there, and actually launched officially on Pentecost. Those are all things for all Christians, all right?

But then when you look at particular things, and I think these are somewhat rare, but you notice when the Helper comes ... I’m looking for it. At the end of 15, here .... Maybe I can find ... Oh, here, chapter 16, verse 13. He makes a couple statements. When the Spirit of truth comes, He will do this, He will do that, He will do the other thing. These seem to be very general activities of the Spirit in the life of the body of the Spirit.

But then it says, Chapter 16 verse 13, “But when He the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you unto all truth. He will disclose to you what is to come.” Wow, is that something that every believer gets? That is, a role of the Spirit so that every believer gets all truth? Well, if that were the case, if that’s what it’s claiming, then it’s clear that the Spirit has failed, because that would result in a harmony of all Christian beliefs ...

Melinda: Certainly wouldn’t have all these denominations.

Greg Koukl: ... among all who are regenerate. Yeah, but there isn’t a harmony. You and I disagree on things. You know? It’s hard to find anyone who agrees on everything. It doesn’t mean that we disagree in a hostile way, but it just shows we have differences of opinion. If the Holy Spirit is meant to lead us to all truth, and many Christians claim this verse in that way, this creates a terrible problem for the veridicality of Scripture, the reliability, the truthfulness of it, because it’s clear that that hasn’t happened.

I think that particular statement is given directed at Apostles, identifying the fact that the Holy Spirit will work amongst them to give them all of the additional truth that needs to be communicated to the rest of the body of Christ after Jesus leaves ...

Melinda: In their unique roles as authoritative Apostles.

Greg Koukl: That’s right. Notice, I hadn’t mentioned this. I hadn’t noticed this so much before, but I did this time, “And He will disclose to you what is to come.” Well, I don’t think that most people think that that’s really the purview of the Spirit in the life of every Christian, we get all that inside info. But they certainly quote this other part of the same verse ...

Melinda: Did He tell you what’s coming? He told me. Just kidding.

Greg Koukl: Yeah, He warned me about you. Look out! It was actually in a fortune cookie.

Melinda: So Tim Keller and his preaching team preach through these two chapters, this whole year. They may have started at the end of last year, you know, on the principle that these were the last things that Jesus said to His disciples on Earth, so they’re obviously very important. So I would commend that series, if you go to the Gospel In Life website.

They came across some of these passages in that series. They discussed how we can understand some of these apply to the disciples at the table, as opposed to us.

Okay, we’ve already done ...

Greg Koukl: He identifies that that’s a fair distinction that I was making?

Melinda: Yeah.

Greg Koukl: Good. I’m glad to hear that he’s correct on that matter.

Melinda: Yep. We’ve already had 17 minutes, but I want to get one more in here, but you only have one minute on this one. The question comes from Carlo3999. Is it possible for a child to be filled with the Holy Spirit so they can trust Jesus for the forgiveness of sins?

Greg Koukl: Well, on terms of possibility, if you read Luke Chapter 1 or 2, John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit while he was still in his mother’s womb. That was a prophecy to his father that was fulfilled when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John, and the child leapt in her womb.

Interesting the way she puts it, because there’s this greeting, and then Elizabeth simply says, “How is it that the mother of my Lord ...” How’d she know that? “The mother of my Lord will come to visit me, for the moment you spoke, the child in my womb leapt with joy.” Now notice that it is the mother of the Lord and the child in my womb. Both are treated as full human beings, they are treated as themselves. John the Baptist as John the Baptist in the second trimester, and Jesus as the Lord in Mary’s womb in her first trimester. I think this is one of the best arguments biblically against abortion.

Melinda: Well, Carlo3999, I can also say from personal experience, yes it’s possible, because I believed as a child and I don’t remember when I didn’t believe. It was valid.

Greg Koukl: Were you filled with the Holy Spirit in your mother’s womb?

Melinda: I presume so. Otherwise I never could’ve believed. No. Not that early. So, I don’t remember anything then anyways. I mean, it’s possible, since I don’t remember. I doubt it.

Greg Koukl: I remember it was really warm and very dark.

Melinda: Okay. That’s it for this episode, folks ...

Greg Koukl: And crowded and tight.

Melinda: Ask your questions on Twitter, using #STRask. We will hopefully get some reasonable answers out of Greg now and then, in four minutes or less. I’m Melinda, the Enforcer, with Greg Koukl, for Stand to Reason.