The Age of Accountability—Romans 7:9
"Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died" (Romans 7:9)
Certain laws and guidelines do not apply to children because they are under age. Likewise, little children are unaware of many rules and laws in our society because they have no basis of understanding. Because of it, they are not ruled by these ordinances. For instance a five year old child does not know what a speed limit is, nor does this law apply to them because they do not drive. However, at the appropriate time, this law will apply to them. It applies when they start driving with a permit or drivers license. The speed limit laws will apply to them because they are of age and operating within the limits of our society. The law existed when they were five, but its application and authority over them comes later in life.
The same is true for mankind. Sin has been in the world since the time of Adam, however Paul said in Romans 5:13, "before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law." ( Romans 5:13 ) Meaning, God did not impute men with their sins before the time of Moses. He bestowed grace upon them the same way that he operates with us today. When the law came, so did our awareness of God's holiness. This understanding of God's righteousness brought about our separation from Him. Once the commandments came, so did our comprehension of what our sin was.
However, before this time, God did not hold sins against mankind because they had no bases of understanding His requirements. The same is true for children today. Every human being born into this world is born with the default nature of this world, the sin nature. Even in newborn babies the sin nature is evident. However based on their limited understanding, as little children, God does not hold their sins against them. Children can understand between right and wrong but there comes a time in their lives when that understanding is far deeper. A time comes when they understand that they are sinning against God and not just those around them. We call this the age of accountability. Before this time, God does not hold their sin against them and operates in grace the same way he did with mankind as a whole before the law was given.
This is what Paul is saying in today's passage, "Once I was alive apart from the law; but the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died." ( Romans 7:9 ). The law was given hundreds of years before Paul, so it makes sense that he is talking about the age of accountability. Notice that he said with the commandment sin sprang to life. The Amplified Bible says that sin lived again... meaning that it was revived and lived. It had always existed as we were born with the sin nature, but unconscious of the law we were alive because God did not count our sins against us. When we become aware that our sin separates us from God, that is when that sin is revived in our lives and we are held accountable to God for them. The Law merely shows us what sin is and condemns us to death before God.
In context of this passage in Romans 7, Paul is stressing that the law is not evil, but it shows us our inability to obtain the righteousness that the law prescribes as necessary to remain in fellowship with God. The result is that we are condemned before God. Sin took advantage of what the law said to awaken the desire within us to go contrary to it, furthering our separation from God. It was the awareness and knowledge of God's holy standards that produced the desire to sin against God. Before this, we sinned according to our sin nature out of ignorance but God was gracious with us. Paul is concluding that God's wrath against sin is based on willing intent and not ignorance. Because of this we will receive the penalty for our sin, which is death, prescribed in the Law.
Fortunate for us, Paul is using this argument to further stress that as born again believers we have been freed from the sin nature and are no longer subjected to the law ( Romans 6:6-7 ). In the previous verses, Paul stated that we have also died to the law with Christ so that we could belong to another ( Romans 7:4 ). Now that this has happened, we are released from it in order to serve in the new way of the spirit and not the old way of the written code ( Romans 7:6 ). God did this because he did not want to leave us condemned under the law subjected to the nature that makes us slaves. He did this because the loves us unconditionally and wanted to provide a way for union with him. God has always operated with us in grace, but he also allows us to choice him. He made every provision for us because he knew we could not do it on our own, however the choice is still ours to make. Today, may you choose life and live!
Original article published November 5, 2009.