sermon: Sin (Part 1)
Sin and Human Nature
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 03-Aug-96; Sermon #249; 63 minutes
Human nature plays a leading role in the fatal attraction to sin. Though relatively neutral at its inception, human nature is subject to a deadly magnetic pull toward self-centeredness, deceit, and sin (Jeremiah 17:9). By the time God calls us, we are hopelessly ensnared and enslaved by sin. To counteract this deadly pull, we must imitate Christ's standard of active righteousness (going about doing good) as opposed to the Pharisee's more passive righteousness (a meticulous, reactive avoidance of evil). The sins of omission (the majority of our sins), neglect, and ignorance have the tendency to dissolve when we practice Christ's standard of active righteousness.
We are going to begin with a very familiar scripture—so familiar that I am not even going to ask you to turn to it. I will just tell you that it is I John 3:4, where it says that "whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness." I thought that in light of the conclusion of the Sovereignty series, it might be good to have a sermon on sin and holiness, because it is in relationship to God's sovereignty that we have our daily confrontations with choosing to submit to the will of God.
Toward the end of the final sermon on sovereignty, I made this statement (in reference to the question about why overcoming is so hard) that the key to overcoming and growth is the recognition of, and the acknowledgment of, our powerlessness in the face of sin. Now, anybody who wishes to obtain a right understanding of Christian holiness must begin by examining this vast subject of sin. It cannot be a cursory examination, because it is sin which hinders us from becoming holy in the first place. If we do not have a clear understanding of what it is we are to overcome, we will never become holy.
Let me make a very plain statement. Human nature is corrupt. It is vile. It is totally unredeemable. It is unchangeable. Its outlet, through human life, is largely through sin. Without a clear understanding of God's purpose, we will never be within His purpose. It is God's purpose that, once we are overcome and we have had the legal holiness of Jesus Christ imputed to us (because of the forgiveness of sin through the blood of Jesus Christ), we must go on to having true holiness as a part of our character through overcoming sin.
So, without a clear knowledge of sin, such doctrines as conversion, justification, sanctification, eternal judgment, and going on to perfection are merely words that convey no serious responsibility and no motivation to a person who believes he is on the right track to the Kingdom of God. This is very serious. Such a person is really doing nothing more than "playing church," because the true religion is not affecting his life. It is not affecting his life until he is overcoming sin. "To him who overcomes. . ." it says in Revelation 2 and 3 (seven times). That is where the rewards go. That is who is going to be in the Kingdom of God. What has to be overcome is human nature through its manifestation; that is, sin.
Genesis 1:3 Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light.
That may seem a strange place to begin a sermon on sin, but you will see what I mean in just a little bit. The material creation of earth to make it habitable for mankind began with light, and so does the spiritual creation. The spiritual creation—to make us habitable for the Kingdom of God—also begins with light.
II Corinthians 4:6 For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Light is used as a symbol of being given the power to perceive. Because we can perceive, we are then given direction as to how to proceed. As long as we are in darkness, we do not know which way to turn. It is very likely that no matter which way we turn, we are going to run into something, get hurt, fall in the ditch, go off the cliff, kill ourselves, or whatever. But once a person has light, then the obstacles begin to become more distinct, and we can dodge them. We can avoid them. We can begin to pick a clear path. I think you understand the drift, because those obstacles are sin which comes in many forms and shapes.
So even as God miraculously began removing the darkness of the destroyed (created) world, He has begun removing the darkness of the spiritual world from our destroyed (headed-for-death) lives—by means of both a revelation of Himself and a revelation of what constitutes sin. Even though we have our eyes open, we may not be aware of what these obstacles we are looking at are.
I know that you know that is true, because as you have progressed in God's way, sin should become clearer. It comes in all forms, shapes, and sizes. Sometimes, there are little things that trip us up, and sometimes there are big things that seem about ready to crush us. Without God shining in our hearts, we would have no idea what these things are. But God does not stop with revealing. He begins to give us also a great deal of detail about these things so that we can begin to see sin in a clear and clearer light.
What this does is it gives Him a double-barreled approach in that He reveals both what we should do and be, as well as, what we should not do and be. In other words, the double-barreled approach is: one positive, one negative; what we should do, and what we should not do. Both of these approaches are necessary to clearly define sin.
False doctrines are formulated by those who do not understand these two extremes. False doctrines are followed by those who also do not understand, because if they did understand—if they had a clear vision, if the light of God was really shining on these obstacles—they would avoid them, would they not? We would think they would, anyway.
We are quite familiar with the term "sin." We talk of sin being in the world. We speak of people, including ourselves, committing sin. But I think that we also, sometimes, have a hazy—or at least an incomplete—view of all that sin encompasses. So I think that it is good to begin with some explanation.
All of us know I John 3:4 by heart. Unfortunately, in some, the understanding stops there. If it stops there, we are never going to get to the root of what is causing the problems—why it is so hard to overcome sin. The Bible reveals that sin is deeper and broader than that simple statement there in I John 3:4. Therefore a different, a better, a sharper definition is needed.
Here is where I am going to begin, and I think it is rather interesting. This is taken from the Ninth Article of the Church of England. It states:
The fault and the corruption of the nature of every man that is naturally engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh always lusts against the spirit, and therefore in every person born into the world, it deserves God's wrath and damnation.
Whew! That is a pretty strong statement. Now the emphasis in what they said there was on the word "nature." What they were saying is biblically correct—that sin springs from the nature of man. Now this—two sentences there—is seen by those who authored it as a vast moral disease which affects the whole human race of every rank (class), regardless of name, nation, or language. Not only does nobody escape the corruption of human nature, but it is always working to give evidence of its existence.
Notice what David had to say in regard to sin and himself in his confession before God, as recorded in Psalm 51.
Psalm 51:1-10 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the multitude of Your tender mercies, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You might be found just when You speak [pay attention to that], and blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You shall make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Interesting. "Create in me a clean heart." Does that not give you the impression that a clean heart is going to have to be something that is added to man? It is not there unless certain things take place.
I want to focus for a while here on verses 5 and 6, because these verses are the clearest expression that I know of how deeply rooted sin is in us, and a major reason why it is so difficult to overcome.
What David did was trace his sin all the way back to his conception. Now, he is not saying that he was conceived while his mother was sinning, but rather he is saying by means of this vivid illustration that it is in his—and, therefore, our—nature to sin. In other words, it was already there the moment that he was conceived. When he was born, that nature, that sin, was already at work.
Verse 6 also, I believe, clarifies another thing, and, that is, that He created us with a nature which can be influenced and choose to go either way. In God's Word, God makes it very clear what His will is: God desires that there be truth in the inward parts. You see, He is not saying that truth is there when we are born. He is not saying that it is there when we are conceived. But it is His will that it be there.
By "inward parts," he means the nature which drives our attitudes and our conduct. If there is not truth in the inward parts, then man is always subject to a nature that is going to produce sin. It is the nature which produces sin, and it is the nature that must be repented of and changed. I hope you catch the significance of that.
Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful. Deceit is not truth. Deceit is sin, and deceit brings forth sin, especially when we are not honest in judging ourselves—when we are not honest in judging our conduct, when we are not honest in judging our motivations. If the heart is deceitful above all things—in other words, there is not a thing on earth that is more deceitful than our own nature. It can easily deceive us—trick us into justifying ourselves, and painting ourselves lily white, if you understand what I mean.
He also tells us there that truth is deceit's remedy. That is why God wants truth in the inward parts. He wants truth. Is there anywhere in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is called "the spirit of truth"? It is responding to truth that stops deceit in its tracks and nullifies our human nature's ability to sin.
So when God says He desires truth in the inward parts, He is expressing that it is His will that we not sin. Sin, therefore, is something derived. It is a product of the nature that God created that can be bent or influenced in that direction—that is, to sin. But that nature, you see, could be bent to do a great deal of right as well.
Mr. Armstrong used to say that he felt God gave us a nature that is more or less neutral, but that it did have a stronger pull toward the self. Now that self is expressed in such ways as "self-satisfaction" and "self-preservation" right from birth. But the continuous practice of exercising, you see, toward the self, in these matters, hardens and strengthens that pull so that it overwhelms the tendency in the other "selfless" (outgoing) direction.
So David, here in Psalm 51, far from trying to excuse his sin by placing the blame on his mother, is saying that sin is such a part of him that it has been with him from the very get-go. I mean from conception. There is no self-justification here. There is no seeking of vindication. He is not saying, "the Devil made me do it." He is not saying that it is post-traumatic syndrome, or the neighborhood that he grew up in, or because he was poor, or that he was a shepherd, or that he came from a broken family, or because he was rich, or because he was king, or part of a minority. He did not blame it on Bathsheba. He did not blame it on war-weariness or any kind of a physical handicap.
David took the blame entirely, and whatever God wanted to do, God was completely justified. Now that was repentance! He just threw himself totally on God's mercy, without reservation. He said, "It has been in me from the get-go to do this." And that is why he prayed to God, "Create in me a clean heart," because he was saying, "I am helpless before sin, unless You change my nature." That is why it is so hard!
But what I want to especially help us understand at this point in the sermon is that, by the time God calls us, sin is dominating our nature. Even though, as Mr. Armstrong said, it is more-or-less neutral, it has a little bit stronger pull toward the self. By the time God gets to us, we have exercised the pull to the self so frequently and so powerfully that sin is dominating us. We are enslaved, regardless of who we are.
Now, the actual acts of sin are merely the outward manifestation of what it is in our nature to do. So ingrained is it, that we are enslaved to it. It cannot be redeemed. It must be cast off, like Israel's shackles when leaving Egypt, and totally replaced by a new nature—the divine nature. But even here, as we have learned by means of experience as well as God's Word, the old nature is replaced incrementally—bit by bit, inch by inch, analogous to a child growing. They do not grow up overnight, but little by little, as they are fed and they experience life. So the old nature is replaced by the new nature incrementally—until the character of the new becomes habit within us.
So sin is merely defined most broadly in I John 3:4, where it states that "sin is the transgression of the law." If you have a modern version of the Bible, it is very likely that it says, "sin is lawlessness." That translation is more accurate grammatically. Once one begins to grasp the Bible's use of the word "law" in its broader sense (than we do today), that statement "sin is lawlessness" is also more accurate theologically as well.
To us, law indicates "a written regulation enacted by a governing authority." The Bible also uses it that way, but it uses it in other ways besides. The way the Bible uses it, it is derived primarily from the word "Torah," and the Bible frequently translates that word as the English "law." But it means more than "an enacted regulation." It more accurately corresponds to the English word "teaching" or "instruction." Therefore, it would be better—taking the whole Bible into consideration—for us to understand in English that sin is the transgression of God's instruction.
Now, all violations of God's instruction are not written in God's Word as legal enactments. Turn with me to Matthew 5, right near the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. I think that these two verses will suffice to show what I mean by what I just said.
Matthew 5:21-22 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders shall be in danger of the judgment.' But I say unto you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire."
To the best of my knowledge, it was nowhere written in God's Word prior to this time—that is, in the Old Testament—that to be angry is sin because it violates the intent of the sixth commandment. Does that mean that, until this was written in the first century A. D., being angry without a cause was not sin? Of course not. It has always been sin, because who determines what sin is? God does.
Jesus was magnifying the law here and making it very clear what the nature of man produces, and that this has been sin from the very beginning. So, we can understand then that the intent or the spirit of what is already revealed is encompassed within whatever constitutes sin. In other words, there may be an enacted law or there may be a stated principle, but there are ramifications of that enacted law or that stated principle that are sin that are never written anywhere else.
Yet, that which is not written is encompassed within God's instruction, and therefore a breaking of what is not written still is sin. For example, smoking is nowhere mentioned in the Bible, is it? But we can understand that it is sin, because it transgresses the principle of not violating the temple of God's Holy Spirit. It is destructive, obviously so, to a person's health, and we are to glorify God in our body. Therefore, it is sin, but it is nowhere written.
So, you see, "sin is the transgression of the law." Though that is correct, it does not become clear what is intended until we understand that the word "law" encompasses all of God's instruction, written and the spirit.
Righteousness is sin's opposite. God Himself is the standard of righteousness. Therefore, His example of the way He lived, as revealed in the life of Jesus Christ, also gives us a great deal of insight, especially in regard to sins of omission—that is, sin where we neglect to do what is right rather than actively, deceitfully, or forcefully doing something against another. Now, we are getting into deep water here, as far as a Christian is concerned.
I am going to give you a definition of sin that I found from John C. Ryle. You may never have heard of him, but he is generally considered to be the outstanding person—preacher, teacher—of the Church of England during the latter half of the 19th century. He was a bishop in Edinburgh, Scotland. He wrote this at the same time that he perceived (and these are his words) that the Church of England was giving itself over to "modernism" and to "Laodiceanism." This is in the latter half of the 19th century, and he could see that the Church of England was going completely off the track in its moral teaching. Ryle was fighting in order to try to get people back on the track and on their bearings toward a righteousness that he thought members of the Church of England ought to have. Here comes his definition of sin:
I say furthermore that a sin, to speak more particularly, consists in doing, saying, thinking, or imagining anything that is not in perfect conformity with the mind and law of God. Sin, in short, as the scripture says, is the transgression of God's law. The slightest outward or inward departure from absolute mathematical parallelism with God's revealed will and character constitutes a sin, and at once makes us guilty in God's sight.
That is almost overwhelming to comprehend. He is saying, in short, that anything that falls short or deviates from the perfection of God is sin. Now, with this definition, we can see why the Bible's writers would use the terms that mean "miss the mark" or "to turn aside"—that is, harmartia meaning "miss the mark" or paraptoma meaning "to turn aside"—rather than always using the broader terms "transgress" or "sin." This definition also clearly makes sin an implacable enemy to our submitting to God's sovereignty and a formidable barrier to holiness.
Now, back to sins of omission, because I think that this ought to be something of considerable concern to those of us who are in the church. It has been a long-held thought of mine that a major difference between Christ's and the Pharisees' approach to life is in this area. This is the reason, I feel, that God chose to show Christ in contrast to the Pharisees in many, many instances in His Word.
You can remember, I am sure, from Matthew 5:18 that nothing would pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Then He went on to say that, unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will by no means enter the Kingdom of God. That was an admission from Christ that the Pharisees did have a righteousness—and, in many cases, that righteousness was considerable. Look at the apostle Paul, for example.
What was the difference between Christ and the Pharisees? Well, I will tell you, one of the major differences was the way they approached life. There was a major difference in the way that they approached life. The Pharisee achieved righteousness by avoiding sin. Jesus achieved righteousness by doing good. There is a major difference between those two.
Acts 10:34-38 Then Peter opened his mouth and said, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness [notice that—"works righteousness"], is accepted by Him. The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all—that word you know, which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, and began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him."
Two things I want to draw your attention to, in this brief description of Peter's. "He who works righteousness." Righteousness is shown in the Bible very, very frequently as something done, rather than merely being achieved by avoiding sin. Now, righteousness means "right doing." And so biblical righteousness is not merely passive avoidance of what is wrong.
The second thing that I want to draw your attention to is something that I already said—and it is clearly enunciated there by Peter—that is, that Jesus went around "doing good." When you do good, you avoid sins of omission. It is my belief that this is where most of us fall short!
Now, let us go back to the book of Amos. Amos, I think that we understand, was written just before the fall of Israel. God sent Amos to Samaria to preach. He probably also sent him to other areas in the country where festivals were being held. We have here, then, a model from which we can understand much of what is happening in our culture—just before we fall completely. And, of course, that puts the church right in the middle of things. Really, what Amos is doing here is describing a Laodicean culture that is impacting upon the church.
Amos 5:15 Hate evil, and love good [Here is God's instruction through Amos]; establish justice in the gate. It may be that the LORD God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
I want to draw our attention to the word "establish." It is a synonym for "build." Building takes activity. Building takes planning. Building takes gathering together your resources in order to establish or build the structure that you are going to build, only at this time what is going to be constructed is judgment. If you have a modern translation, it probably says "justice," which is a good translation of that word.
Amos 5:24 But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
So we have another active verb here: "run down." Let it "run down" like a mighty stream. That "running down" suggests the force and power of moving water, even as water moving through a dam turns a generator, which produces electricity, which in turn empowers our city so that we can do things.
But there is even a more precise definition of this word "run down," which I think is even better. It means, "to roll." Do you know what it indicates? It indicates the continuous rolling of waves into shore. Now answer this: Does that activity ever stop in the ocean? Is there a time when there are no waves? It never happens. This word is vivid. God is saying, "Let justice run down in a continuous activity, never stopping; and righteousness as a mighty stream—moving things, empowering things to be accomplished." We see in verse 7 of the same chapter:
Amos 5:7 You who turn justice to wormwood, and lay righteousness to rest in the earth!
Here these two appear again in a verse. I think that the context of this chapter shows very clearly that there is a relationship in God's mind between justice and righteousness. They are not the same thing, but they are so closely related that they cannot be separated from one another. It seems as though where there is one, there is going to be the other—hopefully, anyway. We are going to see that it is not an absolute, but hopefully where there is one, there is going to be the other.
Now he mentions "justice turn[ed] to wormwood." I think we all understand that wormwood is a very bitter substance. But I learned this past week in doing a little bit of research that wormwood, when it is extracted from its source, is colorless. So, it can be put into water and nobody would even know it is there until you taste it, see, because it does not discolor the water. If you take a glass of water that has wormwood in it and you taste it, then you experience the bitterness of the wormwood. See? Well, these people are turning justice into wormwood. What he is saying here is that justice has become a bitter experience.
We can extrapolate this just a little bit further. Justice, in this context, is right behavior in relation to others, whereby the experience within this relationship (in this case) is not something pleasant. So justice, in its good sense, is correct moral practice, with the emphasis on 'practice,' as verse 24 says. It is an activity; it is a conduct; it is a behavior that is outward.
Righteousness is literally, in the biblical sense, some thing—it could be a building; it could be a plumb line; it can be a tree—but it must be perfectly upright. See? So, righteousness is some thing, or person, that is upright. It has the implication that it is a standard against which other things are tested. Thus, a little bit later in this book, God uses the plumb line as an illustration that Israel is being measured against a standard, and they are found that they are not righteous. What happens here in verse 7 is that the standard has been thrown onto the ground, and therefore it indicates that it is rejected. Let us pull this all together by turning to chapter 6:
Amos 6:12 Do horses run on rocks? Does one plow there with oxen? Yet [here comes the conclusion] you have turned justice into gall, and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood.
Again, within the context of this book, "justice" and "righteousness" are being tied together. Justice—meaning correct moral practice in our daily, personal lives—is the fruit of cultivating (again, an active verb) righteousness. "Justice" is external. "Righteousness" is internal. And, of course, in the Bible "righteousness" always means right with God—in line with what God thinks.
A conclusion from within the book of Amos that has an application to you and me: What God desires from religion is that it should produce justice and righteousness. He is showing us that both of them must be actively pursued—actively cultivated—or we will never have them.
Now remember, this is all tied together with "sins of omission." Sins of omission are those things which we neglect to do. We must cultivate right standards and actively apply them in our personal lives so that others may taste their flavor. So, it is right in this area that we so frequently commit our sins of omission in that we do not actively cultivate the right (within God's standards) internally, nor actively apply them externally. Rather, we simply, passively, accept teaching as "right with God" without really deeply internalizing them in our hearts.
Another conclusion: This is what has led to the troubles that many have had in the breakup of the Worldwide Church of God. People are in confusion. They do not even know what they believe, because they never internalized these things. They never actively pursued justice, never actively pursued righteousness, and so it never became inscribed—ingrained—in their hearts. So, when the truths were challenged, they were thrown into confusion.
Righteousness and justice must be practiced. If we are omitting what we should be doing, it does not become ingrained within us. Did not God say in the covenant that He proposed to Israel, "I will write My laws in their hearts"? Just being academic will not do it. It has to be lived!
I am going to show you how important this is. Let us go back to something our Savior said in Matthew 25. If you know anything about Matthew 25, it has a number of parables in it that are very important to the end-time church. It has the Parable of the Virgins. It goes on to the Parable of the Talents. And notice what it says in verse 40:
Matthew 25:40-42 "And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' "Then He will also say to them on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 'for I was hungry, and you gave Me no food.'
They did not do it. They might have had good thoughts, but it did not get done.
Matthew 25:42-46 'I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me." Then shall they also answer Him, saying, 'Lord when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to [serve] You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did it not to Me.' "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous. . .
Who is righteous? Brethren, who is righteous? The ones who did not omit to do it!
Now, let us just nail this down very clearly.
James 4:17 Therefore to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
Omitting to do the good puts us into the Lake of Fire! That is pretty blunt. All I did was put James 4:17 together with Matthew 25, and quoted our Savior. This is where I believe most of our sin occurs. We fail to do what is right. That was the difference between Christ and the Pharisees. He did not fail to do what is right. So He was not passively righteous. He was actively righteous. He was establishing. He was building.
There is a teaching floating around out there which says that sin is not sin until we discern it and are conscious of it. That is patently untrue, as I will show you in a moment. But, nonetheless, there are those who believe it. They fancy themselves innocent when, in fact, they are guilty. It is true that a sin done in ignorance is less damaging psychologically, but ignorance does not absolve sin. Let us get an indication of this from Jesus:
Luke 12:47-48 And that servant, who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself. . .
See? He did not do it. He knew, but he did not carry through. He did not do it. He omitted a lot of things.
Luke 12:47-48 . . . or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that did not know [was ignorant], yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.
So "knowing not" does not excuse a person from punishment, according to our Savior. The punishment may be muted, but punishment comes nonetheless.
We are going to go all the way back to the book of Leviticus. I want to show you, clearly, that God makes this very clear—that sinning in ignorance (not knowing) puts the person under the gun, so to speak.
Leviticus 4:2-3 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying, 'If a person sins unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which ought not to be done, and does any of them [That introduces the subject of this chapter.], if the anointed priest sins bringing guilt on the people. . .
Watch how this encompasses every level, every stratum, of society.
Leviticus 4:13 "Now if the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done something against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which should not be done, and are guilty. . .
Leviticus 4:22 "When a ruler has sinned, and done something unintentionally against any of the commandments of the LORD his God in anything which should not be done, and is guilty. . .
Leviticus 4:27 And if any one 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 be guilty. . .
Brethren, there would be no need for sacrifice if there was no sin. This is what is being talked about in this chapter—the sacrifices that are to be made when a sin of ignorance is revealed, finally. The person may have committed it a good while before. They did it in ignorance. They did not even know they did it. But once it is revealed that they did sin, though it be in ignorance, a sacrifice was required. Why? Because the sin rendered them unclean to be part of the congregation of Israel—unclean to be in the presence of God—and their uncleanness, their filth, had to be absolved, symbolically, by atonement—by sacrifice.
The Hebrew word used—this word that is translated in the King James as "ignorance"—literally means "unintentionally" or "inadvertently," and it covers sins done through negligence and ignorance. It covers acts done by those that knew it was wrong but unintentionally violate the commandment, as in accidental homicide, or an act where the person was truly ignorant and had no idea at all that he was sinning.
God gives many, many examples of this, because many, many sins are committed in ignorance. He gives the many examples in the hope that we will come to the understanding that even sins done in ignorance have to be repented of. God will be faithful in revealing these sins to us. They should be repented of, and they need to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, let us go to the book of Numbers. I will give you a few examples in chapter 35.
Numbers 35:22-24 'However, if he pushes him suddenly without enmity [We are talking here about an accidental homicide], or have thrown anything at him without lying in wait, or uses a stone, by which a man could die, without seeing him, so that he dies, while he was not his enemy or seeking his harm, then the congregation shall judge between the manslayer and the avenger of blood according to these judgments. So the congregation shall deliver the manslayer from the hand of the avenger of blood, and the congregation shall return him to the city of refuge, where he had fled, and he shall remain there until the death of the high priest who was anointed with the holy oil.'
So, what he said there is if somebody accidentally kills another person (not being his enemy), he was still put on trial. And the witnesses spoke that it was accidental. Then the man was still, nonetheless, punished, but he was allowed to live out the remainder of his life in a city of refuge. So he was really, literally, in jail but much better off than being confined to a jail. His jail was an entire city, and he was free to move around within it, and earn a living while he was there.
Then, when the high priest died, he was allowed to return to his family. This did not mean, of course, that his family could not visit him there. They certainly could. That is far more merciful than man's system—to confine people of this kind in a very small cell where he becomes just a drag on the welfare system.
In Deuteronomy 19, we have another example of the same sort of thing.
Deuteronomy 19:4-6 "And this is the case of the manslayer, who flees there, that he may live: Whoever kills his neighbor unintentionally, not having hated him in time past—as when a man goes into the woods with his neighbor to cut timber, and his hand swings a stroke with the ax to cut down the tree, and the head slips from the handle and strikes his neighbor so that he dies—he shall flee to one of these cities and live; lest the avenger of blood, while his anger is hot, pursue the manslayer and overtake him, because the way is long, and kill him, though he was not worthy of death, since he had not hated the victim in time past.
Deuteronomy 19:10-11 Lest innocent blood be shed in the midst your land which the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance, and thus guilt of bloodshed be upon you. But if anyone man hate his neighbor, lies in wait for him, rises against him and strikes him mortally, so that he dies, and flees into one of these cities. . .
Then, that person can still be put to death. You see, God does not consider sinning in ignorance as being not a sin. It is a sin, and there is punishment.
There are other examples that I will give you, and then we will conclude for today and go onto something else the next Sabbath. I am to a place in the sermon here that requires a bit more time.
In Genesis 20:3-6, and verse 9, we have Abimelech's confession before God regarding Abraham and Sarah. God kept him from sinning. Abimelech makes it very clear that he was lured—tricked—into a situation of which he was ignorant; but it was still a sin. God made it very clear that He kept him from sinning. If he had gone through with what he was considering doing, even though he was ignorant, it would have been sin.
The other case I have here is Numbers 22:34, which involved Balaam and the ass. The ass saw the angel. Balaam's plea was that he was ignorant of the fact that the angel was standing there. The ass saw the angel, but Balaam did not. Therefore, Balaam was kept from sinning, even in ignorance.