March 17, 2024

Unknown Sin

So far, we have discussed the usurping sin of taking the Lord’s name in vain and the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Today, we examine unknown sin: instances where we commit sins of which we are completely unaware.

Photo by Ann H on Pexels
You undoubtedly have heard the phrase, “Nobody’s perfect.” I would argue that there was one exception to that rule, but we (meaning humanity) nailed that individual to a cross roughly two millennia ago. Nevertheless, I’m sure that we would all agree that the sentiment is true today. The Bible states the situation quite concisely…

“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” Romans 3:23

Most of the time, we think of sin as happening at a decision-making point; we are faced with a situation where we must choose between two options: one which clearly honors God versus one which we would probably enjoy, but, for whatever reason, would put us clearly outside of God’s will. The problem is… life isn’t always so clear-cut. Sometimes, we may not even realize that we’re doing anything wrong!

Think back to your childhood. Did you ever get into trouble for doing something? Of course, you did! Were you ever asked, “Why did you do that?” Of course, you were! And I guarantee that you remember responding with, “I don’t know,” at least once. As (perhaps jaded) adults, we typically respond to a child who claims ignorance as a defense with disdain. “Oh, you know better than that!” But if I really search my memories, I’m certain that there were, in fact, times where I did things without thinking about whether they were good or bad. I just wanted to do it, and so, I did it.


“I don’t know.”

“It just happened.”

Regardless of whether my responses were a product of attempting to talk my way out of getting punished or a genuine statement of my own ignorance of having done something wrong, I still bore sole and full responsibility for my actions. I still did the thing, whatever it was, and I deserved whatever punishment I had coming.

 “For the wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23

Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that there are no small sins. We humans like to categorize sins on different levels, probably to make ourselves feel better about our own shortcomings relative to someone else’s, but God does not make that type of distinction.

“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.” James 2:10

Our society is full of loopholes and exceptions when it comes to bad behavior. Sometimes these exceptions make sense, sometimes… not so much. We see this with children when we say, “Oh, it’s OK! He didn’t know any better.” Similarly, juvenile offenders regularly have their records cleared when they become adults based on the notion that wisdom comes with age, and that mistakes made when a person is a teenager shouldn’t be counted against them for the rest of their lives. Sometimes, though, the exceptions seem to run contrary to the rule of law, especially where people of great wealth or power are involved. We in the US have recently seen cases of crimes involving mishandling of classified government documents go unprosecuted due to findings of “no criminal intent” or because the perpetrator is deemed “too old and forgetful” to stand trial.

While society may be inconsistent in the application of justice, the book of Leviticus takes great pains to let us know that we will be held accountable for our sins against God, even if we are unaware of having committed them!

“If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.” Leviticus 5:17

This single verse ominously underscores the importance of righteousness and self-control in our daily lives. We must always be vigilant in policing ourselves! This much is clear. What may be less clear to you, dear reader, is why these unknown sins are included in a series which has, thus far, discussed taking the Lord’s name in vain and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The question I ran into while researching these topics is this: could a person be guilty of either of these two sins, each of which merit specific warnings within scripture, without even knowing it? The Bible, unsurprisingly, gives us a very clear answer to this question.

“Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!” Matthew 7:22-23

Some who believe that they are guaranteed a place in Heaven will discover that they are doomed to a far different fate. Consider the Pharisees who accused Jesus of having an unclean spirit. Given that this incident, recorded in the gospels of both Matthew and Mark, resulted in Jesus explicitly stating that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was unforgivable, it is virtually a foregone conclusion that these Pharisees were guilty of the unpardonable sin. Did they realize that they were already beyond the point of no return, spiritually speaking? Did they know that they had committed a sin for which there was no atonement?

I submit to you that they had no clue whatsoever.

These men were scholars of the Law and leaders in their communities. They were the authorities on all things regarding Jewish customs, temple sacrifices, festivals, and rituals. They obviously felt comfortable using that position of authority to condemn Jesus and His works as demonic. In no way would they ever have doubted that they were right with God.

And yet, theirs is a cautionary tale like no other.

These same men serve as an object lesson for breaking the Third Commandment, as well. Even though they were the religious leaders, even though they undoubtedly prayed and kept themselves ceremonially clean, even though they taught from the word of God, they had all, each and every one of them, taken the name of the Lord in vain. How can I make this claim, you ask? If these men had committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (and Jesus makes it painfully clear that they had), then they had previously been living a lie. In spite of their knowledge of scripture, they had failed to see their prophesied Messiah. In spite of their many prayers, they lacked spiritual discernment. In spite of their positions as religious authorities, their faith was in their own good works rather than in the God of Israel. This is what it truly means to take the name of the Lord in vain, and Matthew 7:22-23 is the tragic result of such hubris.

I find this deeply troubling. Do you?

I hope you do.

If this revelation makes you as uncomfortable as it makes me, that’s actually a good sign. One of the best things we can do from time to time is questioning ourselves and our faith. Mind you, I did not say that we should question God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, or His power to save us, but rather that we should question ourselves. Do we really believe what we say we believe? Are we trusting God, or are we trusting our own good works?

It is a truly terrifying scenario: you’re doing what you think is right, you believe that you’re on good terms with “the big man upstairs,” but in the end, you find out that you were terribly, tragically mistaken. So many people think that there is a magical scale of good and evil, and as long as the good we do outweighs the bad, we will be ok. Or maybe as long as we’re involved in church events and try to be good people, that’s good enough.

That’s not what the Bible teaches.

The Bible teaches something radically different; something so shockingly unintuitive that most people either reject it outright or misconstrue it to mean something that gets them so, so infinitesimally close to the truth, yet ultimately casts their souls into eternal darkness.

The Bible’s teachings are a great equalizer. No matter what situation you are born into, you can become a child of the King, an heir of the one true God. The part which so many people refuse to accept is that in order to become a child of God, one must first accept that we are all guilty before God. We are all sinners. We are all broken, pathetic creatures who deserve nothing other than God’s full wrath. Even worse, there is nothing that we can do to change that. We can’t earn forgiveness. The debt of sin requires taking a life - but not just any life: a perfect life. Only Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, lived a perfect life. His death on the Roman cross paid the debt for our sin, if only we believe in Him. Then, and only then, can we receive the glorious gift of forgiveness and take the first steps toward becoming what God intends for us to be.

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