Christian Pilgrim


20. Ignorance of Sin No Excuse

The following passages seem to indicate that where people are ignorant of the law they are not responsible for sin:

Romans 4:15 - "Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression."

Romans 5:13 - "For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law."

Romans 7:7-9 - "What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died."

Romans 8:7 - "Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be."

But, this is not so:

Romans 5:14, 20-21 - "Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.... Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord"

Death (the "wages of sin" (Romans 6:23)) still reigned in all men even before Moses was given the law, even in all those who did not have a direct revelation of the law as Adam did.

In the Old Testament we have sacrificial rules for sins of ignorance only. Presumptuous sins could not be atoned for:

Numbers 15:24-31 - "Then it shall be, if ought be committed by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation, that all the congregation shall offer one young bullock for a burnt offering, for a sweet savour unto the LORD, with his meat offering, and his drink offering, according to the manner, and one kid of the goats for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for all the congregation of the children of Israel, and it shall be forgiven them; for it is ignorance: and they shall bring their offering, a sacrifice made by fire unto the LORD, and their sin offering before the LORD, for their ignorance: and it shall be forgiven all the congregation of the children of Israel, and the stranger that sojourneth among them; seeing all the people were in ignorance. And if any soul sin through ignorance, then he shall bring a she goat of the first year for a sin offering. And the priest shall make an atonement for the soul that sinneth ignorantly, when he sinneth by ignorance before the LORD, to make an atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. Ye shall have one law for him that sinneth through ignorance, both for him that is born among the children of Israel, and for the stranger that sojourneth among them. But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people. Because he hath despised the word of the LORD, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him."

Deuteronomy 17:12 - "And the man that will do presumptuously, and will not hearken unto the priest that standeth to minister there before the LORD thy God, or unto the judge, even that man shall die: and thou shalt put away the evil from Israel."

Only sins of ignorance have to be atoned for. Presumptuous, wilful sins CANNOT be atoned for (i.e. they are the "sin unto death" in 1 John 5:16). So, if, knowing the law full well, we still sin wilfully, we have sinned the "sin unto death" (e.g. gathering sticks on the Sabbath Day (vv.32-36)). People were told to put fringes on their garments so they would remember the law (vv.38,39). Therefore we must teach people the law, even though it would mean more wilful sins.

So also in New Testament times, only ignorant sins can be forgiven by God:

1 Timothy 1:13 - "Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief."

Presumptuous sin is the unforgiveable sin against the Holy Ghost:

Matthew 12:31-32 - "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come."

Mark 3:29 - "But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation."

Luke 12:10 - "And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall not be forgiven."

Christ was crucified out of ignorance, but the perpetrators are still called to repent:

Acts 3:17 - "And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers."

Acts 17:30 - "And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent."

Men in their natural state are willingly ignorant:

Romans 10:3 - "For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God."

1 Corinthians 14:38 - "But if any man be ignorant, let him be ignorant."

Ephesians 4:18 - "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart."

1 Peter 1:14 - "As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance."

1 Peter 2:15 - "For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men."

2 Peter 3:5 - "For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water."

Worship can be ignorant:

Acts 17:23 - "For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."