It is probable that every normal person who is beyond their early childhood has a sense of what is right versus what is wrong. and is aware that, if they do something they know is wrong, they deserve to be punished by God and/or by human authorities. However, what if a person does something that is wrong, but they do not realize that it is wrong (i.e., they commit an unintentional sin)?
The Bible addresses this matter in several scriptures, including the three that immediately follow. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible.]
Leviticus 4:27: If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally by doing something against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and is guilty, or if his sin which he has committed comes to his knowledge, then he shall bring as his offering a kid of the goats, a female without blemish, for his sin which he has committed.
Leviticus 5:15, 17-18: If a person commits a trespass, and sins unintentionally in regard to the holy things of the LORD, then he shall bring to the LORD as his trespass offering a ram without blemish from the flocks, with your valuation in shekels of silver according to the shekel of the sanctuary, as a trespass offering. . . . If a person sins, and commits any of these things which are forbidden to be done by the commandments of the LORD, though he does not know it, yet he is guilty and shall bear his iniquity. And he shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish from the flock, with your valuation, as a trespass offering. So the priest shall make atonement for him regarding his ignorance in which he erred and did not know it, and it shall be forgiven him.
Numbers 15:27-28: And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the LORD, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him.
[Note: In most of our articles, we provide comments from Bible commentaries to help explain or clarify the meaning of the scriptures that we cite. For this article, however, we believe that the scriptures we have cited with regard to unintentional sins are self-explanatory.]
The scriptures that we have cited make it clear that ignorance that certain types of behavior are sins is not a satisfactory excuse for engaging in such behaviors. We believe this includes what a person says. [For a discussion of what the Bible states in this regard, click on “What Does the Bible Say about What We Say?”]
We also think there is valid reason to believe that ignorance that certain types of thoughts are sins is not a satisfactory excuse for entertaining such thoughts. In this regard, Jesus Christ asserts in Matthew 5:27-28: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” We believe the same principle applies to every other type of immoral thought that a person has.
The preceding focal scriptures also indicate that it is necessary for people to make animal sacrifices to God to atone for their unintentional sins. In our society, however, animal sacrifices in atonement for sins are not condoned. So, what should a person do if they want God’s forgiveness for their sins – those that are unintentional, as well as those that are intentional?
For genuine Christians (i.e., those who have truly trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior), the atonement sacrifice for all their sins was made by Him when He died on a cross. Subsequently, when genuine Christians sincerely confess their sins to God in accordance with 1 John 1:9, God forgives them for having committed those sins. However, sincere confession necessitates authentic repentance. Therefore, if there is not authentic repentance, forgiveness should not be expected. [For a discussion of the importance of both confession and repentance, click on “Are Both Confession and Repentance Necessary?”]
As for people who are not genuine Christians, they should not expect God to forgive them for any of their sins, regardless of whether they are intentional or unintentional, unless they truly trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. [For a discussion of how to receive God’s forgiveness, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”]