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Sinning in the Dark

By Lindell Mitchell

religion, articles, christianity

Some pray the Lord to forgive our sins of ignorance. Painfully aware of man's unworthiness before God, they do not want to leave any transgression unresolved. Still, such a prayer is of little practical value.

It is impossible to repent of a transgression of which you are ignorant. You cannot abandon a sinful practice until you know precisely what constitutes a transgression. Yet, forgiveness is contingent upon repentance.

Is there an excuse for a Christian to be ignorant of sin. How long does it take a computer to print out the "thou shafts" and "thou shalt nots" in the Bible? Reading the passages with understanding would take less than a day. Any semblance of an excuse for sin would evaporate with the reading.

Asking forgiveness for "sins of ignorance" is questionable.

One group heard among us champions the "grace only" theology. Christians are urged not to burden themselves with worry over their sins, especially "sins of ignorance."

We are assured that salvation is solely a matter of grace. "It is God's job, let him bear the burden." Allegedly, God will not condemn anyone who is doing the best he knows when he dies.

A sugar-stick pressed into error's service at this juncture is:

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin (1 John 1:7).

This text allegedly provides assurance that one who dies in ignorance is safe because his ignorance protects his place in the light.

The passage teaches no such thing. God's fellowship is not for those walking in darkness. Claiming fellowship with God while walking in darkness is a lie. To be in fellowship requires "walking in the light," which is the essence of godliness (cf. 1 John 2:9-11; Col. 1:12; Eph. 5:8).

Continuous cleansing is contingent upon walking in the light. Fellowship with one another is also contingent upon walking in the light. You cannot walk in the light and darkness at the same time. You cannot walk in the light accidentally. To continue in the light, you must deliberately avoid darkness.

1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to clean us from all unrighteousness." God's promise to forgive is conditioned upon confession. You cannot confess a sin of which you are ignorant.

Our criminal code is based on the principle that men should be punished in a manner commensurate with their guilt. Guilt is determined by the responsibility of the person accused. Jesus recognized this principle in the parable of the wicked servant:

And that servant, which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes (Luke 12:47-48).

Notice that no guilty person was excused. The man who "knew not" should have known!

All received punishment portioned to their powers, opportunities, and knowledge. Each passing day erodes any legitimate appeal to ignorance.

There are different levels of knowledge, degrees of preparation, and varying amounts of service rendered among Christians. These differences will be factored into the administration of rewards and punishments. We leave the disposition of every case in the capable hands of God, but must not excuse or diminish the gravity of sin in the mind of any man.

One begins the Christian walk as an ignorant novice, but he must grow to maturity. He must eagerly desire the milk of God's Word that he may grow (1 Pet. 2:2). It is not permissible to remain in a state of perpetual infancy. A nursing baby is a winsome joy. A nursing 18-year-old would be an embarrassing monstrosity.

My experience with those advancing "ignorance" as an excuse for sin, and appealing to grace as a cure, has been enlightening. So far, without exception, they have been Christians for decades. They cannot successfully plead ignorance! If they are ignorant, it is willful ignorance. It is the result of stubborn rebellion.

It is the product of their refusal to read and heed God's Word. "That ole dog won't hunt."

[T]he times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained (Acts 17:30-31).


Published September 1996