The idea that we can sin ‘ignorantly’ causes a great deal of confusion and even guilt in honest hearted Christians today. False teachers use it to keep their followers in bondage and Satan uses it to torment innocent saints.
IN THE DAYS BEFORE THE COMING OF CHRIST, in the Old Testament, sinning ignorantly was possible since there was a long list of ‘dos and don’ts’ to be remembered and the priests of the latter days were constantly adding to them. So anyone could commit sins that weren't through willful disobedience, but ‘ignorantly.’ Lapses of memory and just plain not knowing of a law (sin) was completely possible. And to unknowingly do a thing that was contrary to the law was possible. (Lev. 4:2"... If a soul shall sin through ignorance against any of the commandments of the Lord concerning things which ought not to be done..." ) And God made arrangements for it.Paul tells the Galatians the purpose of the Law: “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.” Gal 3:19 “…Without the law sin was dead. 9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” Romans 7:8-9 The law showed Man what sin was. Again in Galatians 3: “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. “ So we see that God had practices in place to let the early Hebrews know what sin was.
BUT IN THE GOSPEL DAY we recognize sin through the leadership of the Holy Spirit: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” John 14: 6 Some would argue that this is only referring to the teachings of Christ, but the phrase ‘all things’ eliminates this theory.
And again, “But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” I John 2:27 That Spirit that saved us will also teach us what sin is. Again, the phrase ‘all things’ covers EVERYTHING necessary for our life in Christ.
So, we see that sinning without knowing we sin is not possible under the administration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit in our lives will let us know. Before Salvation a man might be able to do all sorts of sinful things thinking they are all right. Paul lets us know this in several places. But AFTER being born again, the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and teaches us those actions and thoughts which are sin. Hebrews tells us, “He will write his law in our hearts.” “I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: Heb 8:10 and 10:16 His law isn’t written in books and books that we must search through, it is now in our heart and mind. You can’t sin ignorantly if it’s written in your heart and mind. You have to consciously override it.
It requires an effort to walk close to God and listen to his still small voice that calls us to a closer walk and a life free of sin. That’s why humans like to have a check list as to what they can and cannot do. They like to have a check list they can point to and say, “Lookee here, sister So-n-so went here or there. That’s a sin.” Or ‘Brother Somebody-r-other played basketball with only a tank top on. That’s a sin.”
And we like to have a list we can point to and say, “Look, I do this and this and this. I’m a good Christian.” And at the same time condemn others by that same list. Christ called people like that ‘whited sepulchers.’
Some pastors and congregations get bogged down in providing a laundry list of sins. Short hair, short dresses, (for women) bare arms and chest, (for all) wearing jewelry, going to fairs, movies, concerts….the list goes on and on. And a definition of sin becomes an effort of trying to include these things under the title of ‘Sin.”
However. There are several places in the Word where we are given SPECIFIC lists of sins. We often overlook these in our efforts to include a whole bunch of other things: “ Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.” I Cor 6:9-11 and in Rom 1:29-32: “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,31 Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”
Depending on our background in the Word, we may lack in understanding of God’s Word, but as we study and follow God, we will come to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:13 As we learn more and more of what God requires of us the Word of God is written in our hearts and we bring our life into accord with His Righteousness. There is a very definite process that leads to sin. “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death. Do not err, my beloved brethren.”
We cannot sin without knowing it.