Amazing Grace: Is Ignorance of God’s Will an Excuse?

I get emails —

In your view do Leviticus 4:13 and Psalm 19:12 prove that ignorance is no excuse of the law? If so then what kind of ignorance?

You know, all my life, Church of Christ preachers have argued that ignorance of the law is no excuse. I’m a lawyer. And ignorance is not an excuse — in civil court. But when we begin applying American legal principles to Christianity, well, we just might be legalists.

It’s amazing how easily we import legal concepts into Christianity. In fact, the old command, example, necessary inference rubric is taken from law — not Bible. And speaking as a lawyer, the Churches of Christ often apply “laws” more strictly than even lawyers and judges. Yep, the Churches are more legalistic than the professional legalists. Indeed, to call conservative Church of Christ theology “legalistic” is an insult to the American legal system.

The questioner has doubtlessly heard someone argue that those who do X (instrumental music perhaps) in perfect innocence, believing themselves to be fully obedient to God, are just as damned as if they acted in outright rebellion. Implicit in the argument is that we are judged by our actions — our works — and not our hearts. And the alleged proof is “ignorance of the law is no excuse.”

Oh, please, let’s do be serious. We’re talking about the very word of God, and someone dares to commingle God’s word with American legal principles?!

So let’s consider the verses my correspondent is concerned with (he’s not making this argument; he’s asking about an argument someone else posed to him) —

(Lev 4:13-14 ESV) 13 “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt, 14 when the sin which they have committed becomes known, the assembly shall offer a bull from the herd for a sin offering and bring it in front of the tent of meeting.”

Notice what the text actually says. If there’s an unintentional sin that is later discovered to be sin, they should offer a sacrifice as a sin offering. There is nothing that declares them damned in the meantime, merely that once you become aware of a sin, you should take the proper actions to deal with it.

Consider the context —

(Lev 4:2-3 ESV) 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the LORD’s commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, 3 if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the LORD for a sin offering.

(Lev 4:13 ESV) “If the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they do any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and they realize their guilt,

(Lev 4:27 ESV) “If anyone of the common people sins unintentionally in doing any one of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt … “

(Lev 4:22 ESV) “When a leader sins, doing unintentionally any one of all the things that by the commandments of the LORD his God ought not to be done, and realizes his guilt …”

(Lev 5:15 ESV) “If anyone commits a breach of faith and sins unintentionally in any of the holy things of the LORD, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation, a ram without blemish out of the flock, valued in silver shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary, for a guilt offering.

(Lev 5:17 ESV) “If anyone sins, doing any of the things that by the LORD’s commandments ought not to be done, though he did not know it, then realizes his guilt, he shall bear his iniquity.

(Num 15:22 ESV) “But if you sin unintentionally, and do not observe all these commandments that the LORD has spoken to Moses,

(Lev 22:14 ESV) And if anyone eats of a holy thing unintentionally, he shall add the fifth of its value to it and give the holy thing to the priest.

(Jos 20:9 ESV) These were the cities designated for all the people of Israel and for the stranger sojourning among them, that anyone who killed a person without intent could flee there, so that he might not die by the hand of the avenger of blood, till he stood before the congregation.

(Heb 9:7 ESV) but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people.

Anyone who has bothered to read Leviticus knows that the Mosaic sacrificial system only applied to unintentional sin. It’s written all over the text.

In fact, for intentional sin, Moses wrote,

(Num 15:30-31 ESV)  30 But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. 31 Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him.”

There was no forgiveness for intentional sin. Thus, Moses tells us that it’s the sins committed in ignorance that are forgiven. The rest are not. Yes, ignorance was an excuse under the Law of Moses. Leviticus 4:13 says exactly that.

Under the law of Moses, sins committed in ignorance were forgiven with a sacrifice. Of course, for Christians, the atonement sacrifice is Jesus — and he’s already been offered. Thus, if we were to (falsely) assume that the rules haven’t changed, we’d conclude that sins committed in ignorance are forgiven by the sacrifice of Jesus, whereas intentional sins are unforgivable. Hence, pray that your sins are all committed in ignorance!

We next turn to —

(Psa 19:12-13 ESV) 12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

The Psalmist, living under the Law of Moses, reflects the same distinction — “hidden faults” vs. “presumptuous sins.” He wants to be innocent of both kinds of sin. Amen!

Does this mean that if I commit an intentional sin I’m damned without hope of forgiveness? That would be the natural reading — if we were to read only these passages. But God is a gracious God. And the obvious counter-example is David’s sin with Bathsheba — surely a sin committed with a “high hand” if ever there was one! What did God do in response?

Through Nathan, God forgave David immediately upon his confession — without the need for a sacrifice at all. After all, the Law prescribed no animal sacrifice for intentional sin — but God chose to be more gracious than he promised — which is his privilege.

David wrote,

(Psa 51:16-17 ESV)  16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”

David declares that the sacrifice that gains forgiveness of truly willful sin is a transformed heart. There is no legal solution. No ritual. No animal sacrifices. Just repentance.

David further declares that God himself will transform his heart —

(Psa 51:10-12 ESV)  10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

David knew that he could not repent well enough on his own. Rather, he needed God to re-shape his heart by the power of the Spirit — and this anticipates the new covenant in a vivid, powerful way that is ignored by many a legalist.

Less well known, but also very powerful, is Psalm 32 —

(Psa 32:1-2 ESV) Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

(Psa 32:5 ESV)  5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Again, with no sacrifice other than confession, God forgave David, and Paul tells us that Christian salvation is much like this —

(Rom 4:5-8 ESV)  5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, 6 just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; 8 blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

For a Christian, Paul says, even “the ungodly” (that is, Christians) are justified by faith, just as David was forgiven without works.

Here we get to the nub of the legalistic error: Christians are saved by faith in Jesus, not by works — just like David. And David sinned with a high hand. There was no sacrifice for his sin under the Law of Moses — and yet because of his tender heart, God forgave him — with less ritual (none at all!) than was required for a purely accidental sin.

Will sins committed in ignorance damn? No, because God only holds us to account for what we know (he is a gracious, generous God!)

(Rom 4:15 ESV)  15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

(Rom 5:13 ESV) 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.

(Rom 5:20-21 ESV)  20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Why did the Law increase the trespass (Rom 5:20)? Because greater knowledge of God’s will made God’s people accountable for more of God’s will!

(Rom 7:7-8 ESV) 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

This has often been misinterpreted as meaning that the command not to covet created a temptation to covet, but in context, Paul is really speaking of accountability for the command. Adam and Eve were not accountable for coveting because God never told them not to covet, but once God’s children became aware of the command, Satan could tempt them to sin by violating God’s now-known law! (See N. T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, p. 243).

You see, one of the themes that runs throughout Romans is that we are only accountable for so much of God’s law as he has revealed to us — but enough has been revealed through nature and our own moral natures to damn us. Romans wrestles openly with the challenge that ignorance of God’s law is an excuse!

Thus, the Torah made Israel vastly more accountable for their sins because they gained much more extensive knowledge of God’s will (and the same is certainly true of Christians). The solution isn’t to pretend that we adequately obey. Rather,

(Rom 5:20-21 ESV) 20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hence —

* Ignorance is an excuse, even for those who’ve never heard of Jesus. But everyone violates enough of God’s known will to deserve damnation, even those who’ve never heard of Jesus.

* God forgives Christians based on faith, by grace — through faith in Jesus — not perfect obedience. Grace is the solution to all the sin we become accountable for by our knowledge of God’s will. And it’s an entirely sufficient solution. Jesus saves.

* But even for Christians, sins committed with a high hand can damn (Heb 10:26-27)  — but only when they reflect a completely impenitent heart. Just as in the case of David, even truly dreadful sins will be forgiven to those whose hearts have not become too hard to repent.

* Those legalists who argue that “ignorance is no excuse” haven’t bothered to do more Bible study than scan their concordances for proof texts. They should not be respected as serious students of the Bible.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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32 Responses to Amazing Grace: Is Ignorance of God’s Will an Excuse?

  1. Alan says:

    Clearly it makes a difference whether we are ignorant of God’s will or not when we sin. There is greater accountability when we know.

    Luk 12:47 “That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows.
    Luk 12:48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.

    Luk 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

    1Ti 1:13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief.

    Act 17:30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.

    Joh 15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin.

    Joh 9:41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

  2. Bob Brandon says:

    Read I John. The entire point there is that we, even when we fall short and sin, remain one of His as we continue to endeavor to live according to His will. God’s graciousness and mercy are integral to His justice.

  3. Ray Downen says:

    Paul points out that all have sinned. The wage of sin is death. So why the lengthy study of differing kinds of sin? What’s the point? Jesus offers life to sinners. The way is made plain. Sinners can save themselves by obeying the gospel and then remaining in Christ. Those outside of Christ will be lost. Eternally lost. Yes?

  4. Todd Collier says:

    Jay you have just given me a great blessing and a comfort. Thank you so much. May
    God bless you in the same measure.

  5. Charles McLean says:

    In discussions about the extent of grace in the life of the believer, I have argued the idea that all believers DO rebel at times. Not just the “Oops, I forgot,” sort of transgressions, but those deep-in-the-heart “Hell, no, I won’t do it!” sins. I suggest that this being the case, even deliberate disobedience in the believer’s life has to fall under grace. (No, I do not believe OSAS, so let’s not sidetrack.)

    In response to this argument, I have actually encountered a couple of CoC preachers who claim that they do NOT sin intentionally. No, I am not kidding. They admit that they sin, but they insist that it is invariably unintentional. I suppose when you envision such a hard and ingracious God, one who will damn even his children for intentional sin, it really paints you into a corner. Either God has to become gracious or you have to become sinless. Apparently, one can become delusional rather than change his own understanding of God and of our salvation.

  6. Todd Collier says:

    In the Independent CoC’s we have a raft of folks who preach “Sinless Perfection.” On its face the doctrine makes sense but with the exception of its originator who remains a charming and humble Christian it tends to produce disciples who tend not to work and play well with others and who tend towards some rather loopy interpretations of the text.
    (For the record the doctrine taught in our region by the Independent folks is almost identical with the conservative CoC with the exception of the instrument and a grudging acquiescence to the national convention and evangelistic cooperative efforts. So I stick out just as much here as I did in Texas.)

  7. Charles McLean says:

    Ray said: “Sinners can save themselves by obeying the gospel and then remaining in Christ.”
    >>>
    I actually choked a little when I read this statement. The idea of an unregenerate man saving himself by his own obedience and by keeping himself in relationship with God is not only at variance from the gospel of Christ, it is another gospel altogether. It resembles the Good News in no way, other than in the misappropriation of some biblical terms. I only wish I had not heard this before, on many occasions, from pulpits in the denomination where I grew up and to this day:

    >Jesus does not really save us by his grace; rather, we save ourselves by our compliance with The Plan.
    >God is not reconciling us to himself; rather, we are reconciling ourselves to Him by our obedience.
    >Jesus does not hold us in his hand; rather, we hang onto him by doing right and thinking right and by repenting quickly and consistently.
    >We are not bought by the blood of Jesus; rather, Jesus has put us on lay-away and we will be redeemed eventually if we continue to make the ongoing payments.
    >We are not set free from the penalty for sin; rather, we have been placed on probation for life and hope eventually to be pardoned for our sins.
    >Jesus gave life as a sacrifice for sin, not once for all, but only for starters.
    >Jesus did not actually pay for our sins; rather, we pay all we can, and he promises to make up any remaining balance.
    >We are not really “in Christ”; rather, we are loosely attached to him by a snap-link tether, which is disconnected from Jesus whenever we sin and can only be reconnected to Jesus at the time of our own repentance. In the interim, we are bound for hell.

    If that’s the GOOD news, please pardon me if I don’t stick around for the bad news…

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  9. John says:

    The two realities that fundamentalism and legalism cannot handle very well are diversity and imperfection. In these camps the idea that pravails is that the ones who are farthest from us are the farthest from God. And in the relm of imperfection, guess whose imperfections are actually covered by grace…”mine” of course.

    That there are those in the CoC, as mentioned by Charles, that claim they do not intentially sin, is sad enough. But the most pathetic belief is that the grace that covers “unintentional” sin is found only in perfect religious obedience, a conclusion not found anywhere in scripture.

  10. Monty says:

    I’m not exactly sure what Ray meant, but there “is” a sense in which a person does save them from the wrath of God by trusting in Jesus through repentance and baptism. Peter speaking by the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:40-“and with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized.”

    We do save ourselves, not meritoriously, but in the sense of the thankful acceptance of God’s provision. It’s what preachers preach every Sunday if they extend an invitation, been happening since the days of Pentecost.

  11. Brent says:

    Ray – “The way is made plain. Sinners can save themselves by obeying the gospel and then remaining in Christ.”

    I see nothing wrong with what Ray Downen has said. I have not read enough of Ray’s prior posts to know his heart. But scamining his post above on its own . . . I believe it reflects the sentiments we find in Acts 2:40 and throughout the NT. It’s not just that Ray’s statement is not wrong . . . it is on target. As is Monty’s response.

    Acts 2:40 is not a contradiction of Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gospel Peter preached at Pentecost was the same free gift . . . and it was punctuated with . . . SAVE YOURSELVES.

  12. skip gross says:

    The only sense in which we save ourselves is that we turn to Jesus who saves. There is nothing meritorious in my turning to Jesus. Literally I can’t save myself.

  13. Agreeing with recent posts on “Save” — Different contextual uses of “save”
    “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Acts 2:40
    “…for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. In English the “save” in 2:40 sound like active voice, but in the Greek “save” is passive in both verses. Perhaps 2:40 could read “…make the right decision to accept being saved upon the name of Jesus.” Therefore, “Sinners can save themselves by obeying the gospel …. ,” sounds ambiguous in English, but, if used in the context of Acts 2:40 it could mean, “save yourself the consequences of …. by deciding to …….”

    Ignorance of God’s will. (This opens a Pandora’s Box of traditional attitude problems)

    Ignorance of a civil law or a criminal law does not excuse a person from the damages caused or the other consequences. It may be a factor in whether the law was broken with intentionality or premeditation or malice, which could affect the magnitude of the penalty or judgment — even to the point of dismissal of the complaint. So there are two types of trespass, one, the person was totally unaware and uninformed of the law, and, two, the person was aware of the law but did it anyway. Perhaps they didn’t realize the magnitude of the penalty, but that’s different.

    Ignorance is used to indicate a person has no knowledge about something, but the word has “ignore” in it, which means that the person was aware of the information but chose to ignore it. In this sense, doesn’t “ignorance of the law” mean a person has knowledge the law exists but chooses to ignore it? Not necessarily active rebellion, but just passive ignoring. If you spouse “ignores” you, do they not know you exist or are they just acting that way? (But don’t tell your wife that she’s being ignorant.)

    So “ignorance of the law” is used in two contexts – one, the person genuinely is not informed and has had no opportunity to choose to obey the law (or God’s will), and, two, they are aware of the law but choose to ignore it. Many times we ask the question under one context of word use, but answer the question in a different context.

    Often, what is meant by “ignorance of the law” is that the person has been informed but has chosen to ignore. In Acts 2:40 Peter said “save yourselves” and in vs 41 is says, “And those who accepted his message were baptized, and….” Isn’t it implied, “and those who chose to ignore his message were not baptized and were not added to …..?”

    So, what about a person who chooses to ignore a command of Jesus? Is that an excuse? Does “ignorance” in that sense justify the wrong decision or action?

    Let’s ask the question about some other passages of “law.” Will “ignorance” of these passages be an excuse? Let’s just chose a few out of many that are relevant.

    John 13:34-35 34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

    Do “all men” know that we who are in the church are Jesus’ disciples because we love one another as He loved us? ALL men? How’s that been working for us? This series of posts is about the CoC shrinking in membership. How about “a FEW men and shrinking?” Do we act like we confess that Jesus died so we could love one another as He does us or because we need to dunk people under water and ban pianos? Claim one but vehemently defend the other? Can we claim to be uninformed on that one, or do we really quote the passage but ignore the command? If you are guilty of one point of the law you are guilty of all of the law. We fall short of the standard of Jesus’ love even when we know the passage and are therefore guilty of ignoring it and dividing and ripping the body of Christ over interpretations using eisegesis. Do we also “ignore” the parable in Matt 18:23-35?

    John 17:23 “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

    Can we claim ignorance on this prayer of Jesus? Are we uninformed or do we read the passage and ignore the meaning. Does the world know that the Father loves them because of our unity? Does the world know God’s love because we do not ignore this prayer for which Jesus died so that we could obey? Sure there’s a “necessary inference” in there somewhere. “Complete unity” doesn’t mean to fight and divide and disfellowship until we can get groups small enough that can agree on the list of “essentials.” Who is doing the heavy “ignoring” here?

    This can go on and on. What about a definition of fellowship according to rules that define who is a brother in Christ, and excludes most? If you don’t quality, we can just “ignore” you. Are we like the first two guys who ignored the injured man in the parable of the Good Samaritan? “Who is my neighbor” was a question of self-justification for ignorance.

    Jesus told the Pharisees they judged others but broke more important laws themselves. He called them hypocrites. (Matt 23). They were “ignorant.” They ignored the weightier matters of the law.

    Who is acting more ignorantly – those who are truly uninformed or those in the church who choose to act that way?

  14. Phil Adams Jr says:

    I have High Blood Pressure. I know this for an absolute fact. My Doctor agrees and has written me a prescription. I take it to a pharmacist. We talk and He is convinced that I have high blood pressure and that this prescription is safe and effective. I trust the Doctor and the Pharmacist. I purchase the medication. I take it home. I place it in my medicine cabinet. I leave it there. I continue to drink WAY too much coffee, eat WAY too much pork ( ummmm baaacon…) and salt all the while refusing to exercise. I die of a stroke.
    At what point did my faith in the pills save me?
    At what point did my actions kill me?
    Is it Colonel Sander’s fault?

  15. Rich says:

    Jay,

    Would you please explain Acts 17:30 and 2 Thess. 1:8 in light of this discussion. On second thought, please don’t. Ignorance is bliss. (sarcasm intended).

    On a more serious note. Either extreme seems to counter scriptures. No one can have perfect knowledge and at the same time God expects us to continually seek better understanding.

  16. Jay, in this post, you said: “Will sins committed in ignorance damn? No, because God only holds us to account for what we know (he is a gracious, generous God!)”

    How does this fit with your recent 29-part series defending the premise that all who have not heard the gospel are lost and condemned? Am I missing something? A key distinction between the two?

    I’m still wrestling with this. Have been since asked a question that included it over 20 years ago. Still haunted. Still seeking a good answer.

    Your brother,

    Keith

  17. Charles McLean says:

    The gospel Peter preached at Pentecost was the same free gift . . . and it was punctuated with . . . SAVE YOURSELVES.
    >>>
    Context, Brent, please. From WHAT was Peter imploring the Jews to “save themselves”? From death? From eternal damnation? Or from something else? Important to let Bro. Pete finish his sentence, for the answer is there…

    Sometimes I think Strong did us no favors by penning his Bible database. Being able to look at a list of occurrences of a particular word, in each case OUTSIDE its context, has led to some bad reasoning over the years. It leads to proof-by-concatenation rather than to contextual understanding. With the modern “search” function, we can now make the same kind of errors much more quickly and efficiently.

    With such a database study method, we can identify the notes, and find and count every occurrence of B-flat in the score of The Messiah, but even so, we can’t quite get the music to sound like it did when Handel wrote it.

  18. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Keith,

    The next sentence I wrote reads —

    But everyone violates enough of God’s known will to deserve damnation, even those who’ve never heard of Jesus.

    That’s from Rom 1 and 2. It’s also one of the major premises of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, that is, the apologetics argument called “the moral law within.”

    The sin that damns is not rejection of the gospel but sin against God’s revealed will. And God reveals himself not only through the Law and Scripture, but through nature and through our moral natures.

    Thus, the “available light” argument actually cuts against one of the major Christian evidences arguments offered by theologians for the moral nature of God — the fact that God’s moral nature is impressed on all people and that we all violate that nature and thus need a Savior.

  19. Ray Downen says:

    It’s certainly good to read several who accept that Paul in writing to Thessalonian Christians agrees with Peter who calls for obeying the gospel. Paul just flat out states that those who do NOT obey the gospel will go to Hell (not those exact words, but surely that exact thought, unpleasant as it seems to those who want salvation to be by faith alone). Sin is disobeying God. The gospel is the means by which grace is shown to us sinners. Jesus urges that we carry the saving gospel throughout the world so that all can be saved. If some are lost because we did not share gospel truth, are we obeying “the gospel”? Since the gospel itself is facts, how can we determine what Paul means and Peter means about our saving ourselves by obeying “the gospel”? It’s by reading and believing Peter’s prescription for remission of sins and receiving the gift of God’s Spirit. But why bring into the discussion human laws such as the anti-instrument law and all the minor ancillary laws based on the same lack of logic which prompts some to hold to that unscriptural, human law? Don’t we live for Jesus by living as He did and loving as He does?

  20. Ray Downen says:

    I should have spoken to the implication by a brother that Peter had something different in mind in calling for his hearers on Pentecost (Acts 2) to save themselves. The implication I’ve been introduced to is that somehow that particular generation had more sins than our generation. I’m convinced that the context shows clearly that Peter was just speaking of the need every sinner has to find salvation from sin. In that generation and now and always. Acts 2:38 is speaking to needs which are present for every sinner in every age. And to promises which are unfailing. Sin IS remitted by the new birth of water and spirit, and God always gifts the new Christian with His Spirit. Then and now and forevermore.

  21. Ray Downen says:

    And, if Jay doesn’t mind, I’ll refer his readers to my web page which deals with Acts 2:38 in particular, a 40-page study, http://missionoutreach.org/OwensMaxey.pdf. We’ll know if Jay minds by whether or not this note continues in the blog.

  22. Todd Collier says:

    I’ve noted this discussion several times and I just want to ask for clarity’s sake.

    Is there anyone who reads or posts here who actually believes that we do not have to respond in any way to the grace we have been offered in Christ?

    I have seen that accusation made, but have not actually read anyone say it, so please for my benefit if you do believe this come right out and say so. And no one please post “well ‘sonso’ says…” I want to hear it from the horse mouth.

    “I (state your name) believe that we are saved by God’s grace without any response on our part at all.”

  23. Phil Adams Jr says:

    “I, John Calvin, believe that we are saved by God’s grace without any response on our part at all.”

  24. Todd Collier says:

    But Phil, unless you been hiding something in the hot sauce your name isn’t John Calvin.

  25. Charles McLean says:

    Peter’s encouragement to “save yourselves from this corrupt generation” was specific in the context of his message. To his hearers, that “corrupt generation” was standing next to them in the crowd. Peter was imploring them to separate themselves from their contemporaries– the very people who had rejected Messiah. Makes sense in the context. After all, what motivated those who believed to ask, “What shall we do?” It’s really pretty simple. How would a first century Jew think God would react to his killing the Messiah? Visions of God’s divine vengeance –of being swallowed by the earth or attacked by serpents — come rushing to mind. Peter is just saying, “Get out of that situation!”

    Now, there is indeed a principle here which can carry over to others living in a corrupt society. But to stretch Peter’s “many other words” of warning to his contemporaries into a statement which says, “Give yourselves eternal life!” is simply not consistent with either Jesus’ words or the context of Peter’s sermon.

  26. Charles McLean says:

    Maybe we could argue against ALL the bad doctrine in history, and against all the heresies, instead of talking about what people WE know are actually saying. But it IS much more convenient to argue with the absent, to make their case badly and then blow ’em out of the water with our own arguments.

    I think if you have an actual personal conversation with a lay member of the Presbyterian or Lutheran churches (surely we have SOME friends outside our own clan) and you ask him if he really believes it is completely unnecessary for a Christian to obey God, he’ll look at you like you have two heads.

  27. Todd Collier says:

    That my dear Charles has been exactly my experience. I have yet to meet the man who interprets “faith only” as “do nothing.” I have however met many who believed their works were what made them righteous.

  28. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Rich asked,

    Would you please explain Acts 17:30 and 2 Thess. 1:8 in light of this discussion.

    (Act 17:30-31 ESV) 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    Paul is speaking on Mars Hill regarding Gentiles. He began his sermon speaking of the unknown (agnostos) god. “Ignorance” translates agnoia. The words are closely related, and Paul is playing on the similarity.

    Recall that ignorance is an excuse but no one is sufficiently ignorant of God’s will to be fully excused. He is not saying that the Gentiles are entirely ignorant of God’s moral law — as revealed in nature or in our moral natures — but that ignorance of God himself — the God who was once unknown to them — will no longer be an excuse. God once granted the Gentiles a pass but now that Jesus has come and the Kingdom has been opened to the Gentiles, they must either bow to God’s appointed judge — the Christ — in repentance or else suffer righteous judgment.

    (2Th 1:5-8 ESV) 5 This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering– 6 since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels 8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

    V. 8 promises vengeance of those “who do not know God.” The phrase “know God” courses through both testaments.

    (Gal 4:8-9 ESV) 8 Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. 9 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

    The Galatians came to know God by accepting the gospel. The gospel reveals God. Therefore, in NT times, those who “do not know God” are those who have no faith in Jesus.

    Since they aren’t saved by faith (no faith), they are judged on their true merits, and are therefore damned.

    To say that ignorance is an excuse does not mean that ignorance saves, because no one is ignorant enough of God’s will to be fully excused. Only faith in Jesus saves. Ignorance cannot save.

  29. R.J. says:

    I found out that Leviticus 5:17=18 is not talking about ignorance of God’s law per say but rather sinning in a hasty inadvertent fashion(e.g. sinning in anger or in excitement)-a breach soon forgotten during the course of the day.

    Even though it was not committed in malice with his eyes fully wide open, he was still guilty of that sin(though not as guilty as the former case of course).

  30. eric says:

    I think Jesus even told some Pharisees if they had not known they wouldn’t be judged. They did know so they would be. It seems to me the heart is what matters. If you throw a roll of quarters at a person in need because it’s the only thing you have handy to throw at them your not going to be judged as a giving person. If your good deeds are in public for the approval of men then you have already gained your reward. If you do good because it’s what God teaches then God knows your heart and is pleased. In the same way if you sin unintentionally I feel God is most concerned with who you are not every accident you make. He actually wants everyone according to scripture to overcome the world and not to parish. I wonder if those that feel otherwise are the ones that get mad because everyone gets a days pay regardless of how long they have been at the masters work. If I love my neighbor the way Jesus does I just want them in the Kingdom no matter if they convert on the cross one minute and are in paradise the next or if they spend their lives on mission.

  31. Ian says:

    Brothers, salvation was not gained on our power, but God’s. We do not need to know why people are condemned, just that they are condemned…And Charles Mcclean: We do not save ourselves, yes we put in effort after the fact, but people do not come to Christ on their own…they must be convicted by the Holy Spirit. God must draw them before they can repent, look that up in scripture.

  32. Ian, I agree with you. Not sure why you think I would not. I’ve only written dozens of posts arguing against “saving ourselves”. When Peter tells those contemporary Jews, “Save yourselves!” he is not speaking of initiating their own eternal salvation. That was rather my point.

    When we encourage a sinner to repent, it is not necessary to include the disclaimer, “But only if the Father is drawing you!” This is already happening (or not) in the heart of a person, beyond our ken, and well beyond our ability to judge. We need not concern ourselves in such cases with whether the Father is drawing that person or not. We are like the sower, who did not take care to assure that his seed avoided the roadbed, but scattered it everywhere.

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