PART TWO: Specific Failures that produce Guilt
The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 20. Unintentionality
Lev 4:13 “If / the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally/ and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, / even though the community is unaware of the matter,/ when they realize their guilt / and the sin they committed becomes known, / the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the tent of meeting.
Next: As we go to move on in this series on Guilt, to consider specific ways we get it wrong, perhaps as a bridge between the more general issues we have been considering and the specific ways we fall short in this next Part, we would do well in this study to note the fact of unintentional sin which nevertheless means a person is guilty. It is also worth noting that so often people write off the book of Leviticus as just Old Testament law that is no longer applicable, but in the verses we will be studying we will see specific examples of principles that apply generally.
Groups & Process: Our verse above is about the whole community of God’s people, that’s the starting place for this particular group of verses. This law is reiterated but covering different people – a leader (4:22), anyone in the community (4:27) i.e. it covered everyone. The issue is of doing wrong unintentionally, i.e. they were not aware that it was wrong. But then the Law assumes there will come a point when they will realize they are guilty of a sin. It is at this point that the Law is provided whereby the sinner can deal with their sin in an appropriate manner – offering a sin offering. So we have different stages of the process: the sin, awareness of it being a sin, it being atoned for by a sacrifice. The same is true of the other two instances we have just noted.
Sin Types & Process Again: The nature of different types of sin is made clear. For example, sin by not acting: “If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1) or of wrong things done (5:2-4). In both cases the order of events is then made clear: “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, / they must confess in what way they have sinned. / As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord …. a sin offering; / and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” (5:5,6) There the process is expanded: sin & guilt, awareness, confession, offering, atonement.
Clarity: “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:17) This rather drives the nail in the coffin of the person who excuses themselves by saying that they did not know what they had been doing was wrong.
Application: So let’s be quite clear. We may not be part of a community such as Israel and we may not have the various religious ceremonial laws to abide by, but the general principles are still valid:
i) Sin is wrongdoing before God, disobeying His design.
ii) Regardless of whether we are aware that it is sin or not, when we have disobeyed we are guilty and we will be held accountable by God.
iii) If we become aware that we have sinned, the path is specific: confession, repentance and atonement.
Of course for us the atonement comes not from having to make a sacrifice but simply believing in and relying upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of his own body on the cross for our sins.
The Problem: The problem that arises is that so often we just don’t understand that certain things we say or do or don’t do are wrong, and we thus assume we are all right. But God says we are not. We will still be held accountable for them, even if we are not aware of them at the present. What is also concerning is that so often these things hinder our relationship with the Lord.
A simple example of this is Peter’s teaching to Christian men: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3:7) i.e. men, if you don’t treat your wives properly don’t expect to get blessed; in fact expect your spiritual life to be limited. Sadly such men who mistreat their wives probably don’t care about the quality of their spiritual lives, but it nevertheless goes to show your religiosity can be annulled by wrong selfish behaviour.
And So: Your first reaction to this second Part may be negative in that you feel we don’t, as New Testament believers, need to focus on getting it right all the time, but the truth is that we can appear very spiritual and yet have big gaps in our righteousness which annuls the rest (read Isa 58:2,3). The truth of this is often witnessed at times of revival when God comes in sovereign power and it is the church that is first on their knees in tears of repentance for the things they had tolerated but which now appear before the gaze of the holy God. Let’s not wait until then. Let’s check these things out NOW and deal with them NOW.