Sins of Ignorance
Sins of Ignorance
One of the concerns that can cross the mind of a goodhearted believer is “What if I am sinning and I don’t even know it?” Or, “What if I am sinning in ignorance and never discover my error and I end up condemned at the Judgment without any chance to repent?” Are there any verses or principles in Scripture that address this concern?
The Consistent Nature of God
- “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked’, declares the Lord God ‘rather than that he should turn from his ways and live?’” (Ezekiel 18:23).
- “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
- “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
- “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
From these passages and others I learn that God is not in the business of trying to keep people in the dark or preventing them from being saved. God’s wish or desire is that everyone would end up in heaven. It would not make any sense for God to allow Jesus to suffer and die on the cross for us, to go through such agony, and then to purposely limit salvation to only those who are smart, clever, or lucky enough to decipher all the clues. From the book of Romans, the Holy Spirit emphatically makes the point that God purposefully placed salvation on a basis that all men can reach with the blood of Christ (Romans 4:16). Salvation was not based on race, and neither was it based on geography, the time in which you lived or the technology available.
God Is No Respecter of Persons
- “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (Acts 10:34-35).
- “And He made no distinction between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles), cleansing their hearts by faith” (Acts 15:9).
- “For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:11).
All these verses remind me that God gives everyone a fair or good opportunity to hear the gospel, learn the truth and end up saved. Now, from our limited human perspective, it might not seem like that. We might think that it is easier to hear the truth while living in America than living in Africa. Yet the reality might be that it is easier to obey the truth in Africa. Yes, the Bible is plentiful in America, but so are all sorts of sinful distractions.
God’s Amazing Power
- “Is anything too difficult for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:14).
We might be tempted to think that the possibility of an individual hearing the truth about faith and baptism in some remote African, Chinese or Russian village is next to zero, yet in the First Century God was able to bring the gospel right into the presence of Caesar, and to a man riding in a chariot out in the middle of nowhere. Never do I find an example in either the Old or New Testament of someone who wanted to serve God or learn the truth but who never had the opportunity.
2 Peter 3:9
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
This passage tells me that God values my repentance just as much as the repentance of any other individual on the face of the earth. In fact, in the past God has saw to it that His truth and the opportunity to repent came to:
- The wicked city of Nineveh: The Book of Jonah
- Wicked King Ahab: 1 Kings 21:20-29
- The Immoral Corinthians: Acts 18:8
- Saul of Tarsus: 1 Timothy 1:13-16
- The People of Athens: Acts 17:30-31
If God has given wicked people like King Ahab the opportunity to repent, then I can be assured that I will be given an opportunity to learn the truth and repent as well. This does not mean that I will be given all the time in the world to repent, or a string of unlimited opportunities, rather, I will be given a good and fair opportunity.
In the Bible I find God often extending a tremendous amount of patience to individuals and nations:
- The Canaanites are given four hundred years of patience: Genesis 15:16
- God was very patient with Pharaoh and other wicked rulers.
- God was patient with the Israelites.
God’s patience gave the following individuals a chance to change their lives:
- Wicked King Manasseh: 2 Chronicles 33:12
- Zaccheus: Luke 19:8-10
- The tax-gathers and sinners during Jesus’ public ministry: Luke 15:1-2
- The sinful woman of John 8.
- The Pharisees: Matthew chapter 23
- The thief on the cross.
- The people on the day of Pentecost: Acts 2:37
- The Samaritans, including Simon the sorcerer: Acts 8
- Cornelius: Acts 10
- The Eunuch: Acts 8
- Lydia and the Jailor: Acts 16
- “His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men” (Psalm 11:4).
- “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15).
- “For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the Lord, and He watches all his paths” (Proverbs 5:21).
- “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3).
On a practical level, God knows who is looking for the truth, and who presently lacks all the truth. God knows who needs more information. God knows who is confused or wrong about something in the Bible. God knows exactly where every person is in their thinking and how close or far they are from Him. Therefore, I find that people like the Eunuch, Cornelius and Lydia, who were looking for the truth, found it. I find that someone like Apollos who was lacking very important information or doctrinal truth, found it (Acts 18:23-28).
Repeatedly I find the Bible claiming for itself that is contains all the information we need (John 16:13; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:3) and is within our understanding (Ephesians 3:4; 5:17). Finally, the Old Testament spoke of someone sinning unintentionally, yet in all those occurrences I find two basic principles: 1) A sacrifice was still needed (Numbers 15:27-28). 2) The sin was always discovered, detected or recognized by the individual (which is inferred from the fact that the person offers a sacrifice). From the example of Revelation chapters 2-3, I find that God goes out of His way to help congregations and individuals to see their short-comings, sins, and errors. In light of all the information above I do not think that a heart that loves God and His truth is going to be unable to understand what God requires or somehow miss heaven because they were lacking one important piece of information, could not see a pattern of sinful behavior in their life, or could never get on the right side of God’s truth no matter how hard they tried.
Mark Dunagan | firstname.lastname@example.org
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017