–by Got Questions
Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or understanding. Ignorant people are either unaware or uninformed. Sometimes we are ignorant because we did not know there was a need to learn something. Other times, we are ignorant because we have chosen not to learn something we need to know. In Hosea 4:6, the Lord says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you.” Wilfully rejecting knowledge that God wants us to have is sinful ignorance. While unintentional ignorance about earthly topics is understandable, intentional ignorance about spiritual matters can lead to eternal destruction.
The Bible makes a distinction between ignorance and innocence
We don’t have to be ignorant of the fact of sin; in fact, we can be highly informed about sin yet remain innocent of it. But we should all be ignorant about the practice of evil. Ephesians 5:11–12 says, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.” In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warned us, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Know how satan operates
To effectively fight the spiritual battle, we must know something of how our enemy functions. Believers are encouraged to forgive each other, “so that we would not be outwitted by satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs” – 2 Corinthians 2:11. Ignorance about what the devil is up to—and ignorance of the damage done by unforgiveness—is dangerous to our spiritual health. One of satan’s basic tactics is to keep people ignorant: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel” – 2 Corinthians 4:4. Ignorant people are easy prey for those with wicked schemes.
God commands us to repent of our ignorance and seek Him with all our hearts. The opposite of spiritual ignorance is wisdom, and we are told to seek wisdom above all things. Every time the Bible commands us to “listen” or to “hear,” God is giving us a chance to trade ignorance for His wisdom.
Is ignorance an adequate excuse for sin?
If by “excuse” we mean that because of our ignorance, God will overlook our wrongs, then there are no adequate excuses for sin. Sin is any thought, word, or deed committed by human beings that is contrary to the perfection of God. When Adam and Eve were first created, they did nothing that was contrary to the perfection of God. They were created in a perfect state and remained flawless until they gave in to temptation. It could be argued that, having never seen death, they were somewhat ignorant about the severity of sin’s consequences. But that did not excuse their sin.
Sinning in ignorance
When God gave His Law to the Israelites, He included special instructions about sacrifices when a person, or the entire nation, sinned in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7). Leviticus 4 outlines God’s provision for those who sinned unintentionally or in ignorance. Numbers 15:22–29 restates this provision and gives details about the special sacrifices required to obtain forgiveness from the Lord when someone sinned in ignorance. Leviticus 5:17 makes it clear: “If someone sins and violates any of the Lord’s commandments even though he was unaware, he is still guilty and shall bear his punishment.” Ignorance did not excuse sin; sins the Israelites committed in ignorance still required an atoning sacrifice.
A lighter punishment
Although ignorance does not excuse sin, it can mitigate the punishment. The Law’s punishment for unintentional sin was significantly lighter than that for deliberate rebellion or blasphemy. Jesus reiterated this principle in Luke 12:47–48.
We must learn to take sin as seriously as God does
The purpose of negative consequences is to teach us to see sin the way God does and hate it as He does (Psalm 31:6; Proverbs 29:27). When we commit a sin in ignorance, God brings consequences to help us learn. Once we know better, He expects us to do better. We do the same with our children. Simply because a four-year-old had not been specifically told not to squish the bananas in the store does not mean mom is fine with it. There will be consequences, even if he can claim ignorance of that specific rule, and he will be told clearly that it will not be tolerated again. Of course, his consequences the first time may not be as severe as they are likely to be if mom catches him squishing more bananas after being instructed not to.
God does not delight in punishing us
God is a Father, and He loves His children. He does not delight in punishing us but in conforming us into the image of His Son. He does not tolerate excuses, rather, He gives us opportunities to learn from our consequences so that we make better choices. He knows what each of us has been given and holds us responsible for what we do with it. We’ve all committed sins in ignorance, but God does not leave us ignorant. He has given us His Word to show us how to live, and He expects us to apply it to our lives and seek holiness, “without which no one will see the Lord” – Hebrews 12:14.
JOY! Magazine (January 2019)