Vol.XVI No.VII Pg.5
September 1979

Unwltting Sins

Robert F. Turner

Read carefully Numbers 15:22-31 if you wish to understand how God regarded "unwitting" sin-- by the congregation, or by the individual, under law. The K.J. version reads, "by ignorance without the knowledge of the congregation," "and if any soul sin through ignorance." In each case, "ignorant" (unintentional, unwitting) sin was still sin and could separate one from God. If not, it is difficult to understand why "sin offering," "atonement," and "forgiveness" are essential.

The meaning or definition of "unwitting sin" is established by contrast. Verse 30, "But the soul that doeth aught "with a high hand" ("presumptuously"-K.J.)... "shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him." "Because he hath despised the word of Jehovah, and hath broken His commandment" (v.31). One might desire to serve God, and be doing everything within his knowledge and ability to obey Him, and yet "sin unwittingly." By regular "sin offerings" made, not for a known specific sin, but for the "unwitting" contingencies, the person (1) recognized his sinfulness, (2) the damning nature of such sins, and (3) his need for the mercies of God.

It seems to me there is no less a need for this attitude today. Repeated questions on this subject may be spin-off from the "grace" controversy but may also indicate the heart-felt concern of humble Christians, wanting to serve God acceptably and yet aware of their imperfect knowledge and/or weakness of the flesh. I believe Paul had "all truth," but he did not always do as well as he knew to do (Rom. 7:14-25; Phil. 3:12-f). He did not hesitate to call his unwilling (unintentional) misdeeds "sin;" and he certainly recognized his need for mercy through Jesus Christ, our sin offering. "Willful sin" is distinguished from the sins of people who continue to regard Christ as their sacrifice (Heb. 10:26-f). In such passages we seem to have a counterpart to the lesson of Numbers 15.

"Walking in the light" and "confessing our sins" of 1 Jn. 1:7-9 are both present active — indicating continual process. They depict a manner of life or attitude by which we "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17). Those walking in the light are imperfect creatures, "in fellowship" with God only through His mercy, and the forgiveness of sin made possible by the blood of His Son.

Confusion has arisen on this matter because some have said "unwitting" misdeeds would not be regarded as sin — and that is error; while others have accepted the fanciful theory of Christ's perfect life imputed to us, so that God sees that life instead of ours — another error. We need not assume either absolute perfection on the part of a saint; or a conscious particular sin and confession; to satisfy the demands of 1 Jn. 1:8-f. We have an Advocate with the Father... and He is the propitiation for our sins.

There is nothing in this to excuse sin; nothing to negate our need to recognize our sins, confess them, and ask His forgiveness. In fact, our need for continual trust, in a continual sin-offering (Heb. 9:14) who "ever liveth to make intercession" (Heb. 7; 25), is greatly emphasized.