Is Ignorance a Sin ?
When we talk about ignorance of God’s will, it very well CAN be sinful. At the very least, remaining ignorant of God’s will, and of His LAWS, will definitely make it impossible for us to keep from sinning. If we don’t even know what things are sinful, how can we ever expect to keep from committing sin?
God’s very purpose for giving us His laws to live by, is to protect us from sin. Gal 3, verse 19 says; “Why the law then? It was added because of transgressions..” God’s laws protect us from the consequences of sin, IF we obey those laws. There can be physical consequences for disobeying God’s laws. But most importantly, there are spiritual consequences, for being ignorant of God’s word, AND for ignoring His word.
In our previous study, titled “Sins Of Ignorance”, we spent quite a bit of time talking about Luke chapter 12, verses 47 & 48..
“And the slave who knew his master’s will, and did not get ready, or act in accord with his will, shall receive many lashes. But the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of blows, shall receive but few. And from everyone who has been given much, shall much be required. And to whom they entrusted much, of him they shall ask the more.”
Two points are made in these two verses. First; Being ignorant of God’s will, does not take away our guilt. If we commit sin (deeds worthy of blows) we WILL receive punishment (lashes).
Second; There are degrees, or differing amounts of punishment. Those who were ignorant, will receive a lesser degree of punishment (shall receive but few lashes), while those to knew God’s will, and still didn’t do it, shall receive a greater degree of punishment (shall receive many lashes).
Of course the way to avoid any punishment at all, is to LEARN God’s will, and to OBEY God’s will. But that’s the ONLY way to avoid punishment. We have a responsibility to KNOW God’s will, and to DO God’s will!
God Requires Knowledge
1 Tim 2, verse 4 says that God, “desires all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Being saved, is definitely linked here, to the knowledge of the truth. You can’t have salvation, without the knowledge of the truth.
There is simply nothing in the new testament, that teaches that we’ll be forgiven of sins, just because we were ignorant about the sins we committed. Rather, the bible DOES indicate that it is OUR responsibility to make sure we LEARN the will of God, so that we can use it to direct our lives.
We’re told in Jeremiah 10, verse 23; “I know O Lord, that a man’s way is not in himself. Nor is it in a man to direct his own steps.” That knowledge alone, should be enough to motivate us to learn God’s will.
The punishment for the one who sins in ignorance, may very well be LESS severe, than for the one who sins knowingly. But there remains the obvious implication that those who are ignorant, should have taken the time to LEARN God’s will. Since they are still going to be held responsible for their sin, it’s obvious that they had the responsibility to learn the will of God. So then we are ALL responsible, to learn God’s will.
“From everyone who has been given much, shall much be required. And to whom they have entrusted much, of him they shall ask the more.” If God has given us the ability to LEARN His will, then He will require us to KNOW His will. And if He has entrusted us with His word, then He shall ask that much more from us, in obeying His word. And the punishment will be MORE for those who have been given much, compared to those who have been given little.
But this brings us back to the scenario that we’ve considered at other times. What about the person who has NO capability of knowing the truth? For whatever the reason; Whether they’ve not been given the mental capability of knowing God’s will, or if they’ve had absolutely no opportunity to lean His will. Will they be lost, when they’ve had absolutely no chance of knowing God’s will? Where does this person fit into God’s plan of salvation? How does a perfectly “just” and “fair” God, deal with that person?
I know my answer to that question, and I think you know that answer also. Remember the verse in Romans 5:13 ? “For until the law, sin was in the world; But, sin is not imputed, when there is no law.” How can there be a law, for the person who is incapable, of knowing the law? My answers is; There can’t be! Therefore, if “there is no law” for that person, then they are not accountable to any law, and as a result, “sin is not imputed”.
The Old Testament and Unintentional Sin
In Leviticus chapter 4, we have some instructions concerning “unintentional sin”. The word translated “unintentional”, also means.. “mistakenly, in error, unawares, ignorantly, unwittingly, and inadvertently”. You could really make a case for differentiating between the meaning of some of those words. But the main point that all these words have in common, is that the sin spoken of, was NOT a sin that was committed WILLINGLY. It may have been an action that you didn’t know was sinful, which would be ignorance. Or it could have been that you somehow “forgot” that some action was against God’s will. Or maybe it could be that you truly didn’t understand properly, a command of God. So no matter whether you simply “forgot”, or whether you never really understood, it would still fall into the category of “being mistaken, or being unaware, or doing it unwittingly, or inadvertently”.
But whatever the case may be, listen to a few verses; Leviticus 4, verses 2 & 3. “If a person sins unintentionally, in any of the commands of the Lord, which are not to be done, and commits any of them; If the anointed priest sins, so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord, a bull without defect as a sin offering, for the sin he has committed.”
Here’s a slightly different wording of those verses, that makes it easier to understand.. “If a person sins unintentionally, in any of the commands of the Lord which are not to be done, and commits any of them.. And if it’s the anointed priest that commits the sin, so as to bring guilt on the people, then let him offer to the Lord… ” And then the type of sacrifice that’s required, is described.
V-2 introduces the subject of “unintentional sin”. Then V-3 deals with WHO is doing the sinning.
Verse 13 says very clearly; “Now if the whole congregation of Israel commits error, and the matter is hidden from their eyes, and they commit any of the commands which are not to be done, and are guilty..” Then here’s how to handle it..
Then Verse 27 very clearly says; “Now if anyone of the common people sins unintentionally, in doing any of the things which the Lord has commanded not to be done, and is guilty..” Here’s how to handle that..
So then in verse 3, we have an anointed priest committing unintentional sin, with guilt following, and the appropriate sacrifice being described.
Then in verse 13, we have the whole congregation committing unintentional sin, with guilt following, and the appropriate sacrifice described.
And then in verse 27, we have anyone of the common people, committing unintentional sin, with guilt following, and the appropriate sacrifice described.
So you can see the progression of what God is saying. No matter who does the sinning, a priest, or a common person, or the whole congregation, they are guilty, and a sacrifice has to be made to atone for that guilt. If we read the rest of the text, we find out that the atoning sacrifices vary with each case, but still, God has provided a way to atone for the sins which were committed in ignorance, or, unintentionally.
But notice again, that in each case, even though the sins are unintentional, the scriptures still speak about the guilt that’s involved. In the case of the whole congregation, and in the case of the common person (and by the way, the word “common”, properly means.. “of the land”, or, “the common sort”. So in the case of the whole congregation, and in the case of the common person, those verses both specify; “when the sin they have committed becomes known..” (Lev 4 verses 14 & 28) ..THEN the sacrifices were to be made. They wouldn’t have been ABLE to make a sacrifice for sin, before they knew that they had sinned. But yet the scriptures speak of guilt, and when that guilt was realized, when it became known, THEN a sacrifice had to be made immediately!
It’s kind of like when we as Christians, realize that we’ve sinned, we need to repent, immediately. There’s absolutely no time to wait, because nowhere in the bible does it teach that there’s a “grace period”. When we become aware that we’ve sinned, we MUST repent immediately!
We know that in the old testament, “when the sin they have committed becomes known” (Lev 4:14), that they must immediately offer a sacrifice for that sin.
Unintentional Sin In The New Testament
Now let me give you an example of that in the new testament, concerning when a Christian sins ignorantly.
We’re told in the new testament, that when a Christian learns of his sin, he must repent immediately. We don’t have to make a sacrifice, because the sacrifice has already been made by Christ, but our repentance is required, for that sin to be forgiven. And we need to repent immediately, because we don’t know when we might die.
A case in point, is that of Simon the sorcerer, in Acts chapter 8. Listen to verses 18 & 19; “When Simon saw that the Holy Spirit was bestowed by the laying on of the apostles hands, he offered them money, saying: Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone upon whom I lay my hands, may receive the Holy Spirit.”
Simon had just sinned ignorantly! But Peter didn’t let him remain ignorant! He said to him; “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!” V-20.
Simon didn’t know it was sinful to ask to buy this gift of the Holy Spirit, but Peter let him know, in no uncertain terms. So then what was Simon told to do right then and there? V-22 says; “Therefore, repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord, that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.”
Simon was told point blank, in V-23; “For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness, and in the bondage of iniquity.”
“In the bondage of iniquity”.. That’s Sin! What would have happened to Simon, if he hadn’t repented of the sin, that Peter told him, he was guilty of? What if he had died, immediately after he had NEGLECTED to repent? He had sinned, he was guilty, he had been told about his sin, and he had the chance to repent in his heart at that very moment; But he DIDN’T repent immediately, and died instead?
He’d be lost, wouldn’t he? We have absolutely NO reason to think that he wouldn’t be lost, and every reason to believe he WOULD be lost.
What If We Die Ignorant ?
But here’s the difficult question that was posed.. What if a person dies, BEFORE he becomes AWARE of his unintentional, sin of ignorance?
What if Simon, had been struck with a heart attack, or a massive stroke, and died, BEFORE Peter told him, that he was in “the bondage of iniquity”? Would Simon be lost eternally, because of the guilt of the sin, that he didn’t know he had committed?
We could ask the same question about the Israelites who lived under the law of Moses. Concerning one of the “common people” who had unintentionally sinned, and become guilty; We’re told in Lev 4:28, “If his sin which he committed is made known to him, THEN he shall bring for his offering; A goat, a female without defect, for his sin which he has committed.”
But what if this person had died, BEFORE, “his sin which he committed, is made known to him.”? Would he be lost forever, because of the guilt of his sin, which had NOT been made known to him yet?
Oddly enough, the scriptures do NOT tell us anything, about this seemingly, possible scenario. Neither in the old testament, nor in the new testament, do I find a single example of what would happen to a person, who commits an unintentional sin, and then died before becoming aware of his sin.
Here’s what’s clear, in the scriptures.. The scriptures make it clear that when a person sins unknowingly, they do bear guilt for their sin. And the scriptures also make it clear, that we are all responsible to God, to learn what is sinful, and what is not. The scriptures tell us that not knowing God’s will, will NOT be an acceptable excuse. “The slave who did NOT know his master’s will, but committed deeds worthy of a flogging, WILL receive few lashes”. That’s what the scripture says! We might not agree with that, but that’s what God says in the bible.
So then, we need to ask the question; Is there a provision, in the plan of salvation, or is there a principle, pertaining to God’s will, that we can apply to this hypothetical situation , to give us the answer.. Will that person be lost, or not?
We can not rightfully say, that “this is where grace comes in”, because grace is ALWAYS present, it doesn’t “come in” only in certain situations. Wherever there’s forgiveness, there’s grace. Everyone, who’s forgiven, is forgiven by the grace of God! But the question is; Is there forgiveness for a Christian who dies after committing a sin, that they are unaware of committing? The fact that they’re unaware of it, makes it IMPOSSIBLE for them to repent of the sin. So is there forgiveness in this situation, without repentance?
To put it another way; Does God’s kindness and grace, cleanse a person of their sin, without repentance, since it was impossible for them to repent of their sin. Is that a part of God’s plan of salvation?
I’ve made the point, that I believe, a person is not under obligation to obey a law of God, when there is absolutely no possible way for them to KNOW that law. And I base that conclusion partly on the verse in Romans 5:13, which says; “but sin is not imputed where there is no law”. And I also base that conclusion on the fact that the bible says in Deut 32:4; “The Rock.. His work is perfect! For all His ways are JUST. A God of faithfulness and without injustice.” Psalm 18:30 says; “As for God, His way is blameless.”
Therefore, since God is blameless, and since His ways are just; How could He condemn a person who has had absolutely no chance of knowing His laws? Could God have blamed Adam, for eating from the forbidden tree, if He had never told him it was forbidden?
The bible doesn’t specifically tell us, about the salvation status, of a person who is not capable of knowing God’s laws. But I believe, and I trust, that God is fair, and blameless, and just!
And the bible doesn’t specifically tell us anything about the salvation of a person who unknowingly commits a sin, and then dies before he ever becomes aware of it. But I trust God to be fair, and blameless, and just, in this situation also. God knows ALL the facts. He knows a person’s sincerity. He knows their capabilities. He knows what opportunities that He Himself has granted to each individual. And He knows what’s fair, and what isn’t fair.
So then, for me at least, the answer to that hypothetical situation is summed up with just three words..
I TRUST GOD ! I’m not even going to be concerned with that scenario for my life, because I trust God to do what’s fair and just, and right. I know that my responsibility is to learn all I can about God’s will. And I know that it’s my responsibility to DO, to the best of my ability, all that God has commanded. And I know that I will fall short and sin sometimes. But I also know that if I turn from any and all sin that I’m aware of, and repent immediately, and once again “walk in the light” as He is in the light”, then “the blood of Christ will cleanse me of all sin.” 1 John 1:7
I Trust That God Would Never Condemn Me Unjustly
In the hypothetical case of a Christian who sins unknowingly, and dies before becoming aware of his sin; I belief that one of two possible principles has to apply.
The first principle that may apply, is that if a person had absolutely, no possible way of knowing, that what he did was sinful, then concerning that particular sin, he may be just like the person who is not capable of knowing ANY law, and therefore the sin would not be imputed. God knows, what we’re capable of knowing, and what we’re absolutely NOT capable of knowing.
The second principle that may apply is what we call, “the providence of God”. God knows our hearts, and He knows our ways. It could be, that an obedient Christian, with pure motives, would not be allowed by God, to ever BE in such a circumstance, as to die, without having been given the chance to realize his sin, and to repent of that sin. God has made us a promise, in Romans 8:28. He tells us, “that we KNOW, that all things work together for good, to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose.”
A part of the “role” of the Holy Spirit, is “to enact”, or “to bring about” the providential care of God, by delivering to Christians, the blessings that they need. This fact is spelled out, in verses 25, 26 & 27, of Romans 8. Listen to the verses..
“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. And in the same way (with perseverance) the Spirit helps our weaknesses..” That’s a clear indication, that the Holy Spirit, is here to deliver to us what we need, by the providence of God. The Spirit of God, helping us in our weaknesses, IS God’s providential care. We can’t do all things, all by ourselves can we? But Paul says; “I CAN do all things in Him, who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13.
God Gives Us Responsibility
I realize that it’s entirely up to me to take God’s commands very seriously. And it’s up to me to take sin very seriously, and to take just a seriously, the need to repent immediately of each and every sin that I may commit. Grace came in a long, long time ago. Man’s salvation was planned in the mind of God from eternity. That’s what we’re told in Eph 3:11. Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s plan, was given almost 2,000 years ago. Everyone who is saved by the blood of Christ, is saved by God’s grace.
God has promised that “he who hungers and thirsts after righteousness, shall be filled”. (Mat 5:6) And he also promises that, “If we ask it shall be given, and if we seek we shall find, And if we knock, the door will be opened”. (Mat 7:7) In other words, if we truly seek salvation, and the knowledge of God’s will, He will enable us to find that knowledge, AND that salvation. All of this is made available by the grace of God. In other words it’s a gift of God, “who desires that all men be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.”
God Has Done His Part !
Now it’s up to each one of us, to do everything God has commanded us to do, in order to receive the benefits of that grace. Faith and obedience is all it takes to be saved. Obedience to every command of God; And faith in God, to be a “just” God. To do what’s fair, and to do what’s right, and to save us when we do His will.
Thanks for joining us in this study, and may God always bless you as you study His word.
I urge you to leave your comments or questions below