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January 26, 2012


How true it is that our culture imposes on all of us blindness to the shortcomings of that culture and how dedicated we are to its precepts on the one excuse that it is better than the alternatives. I am sure that many during the time of slavery argued that the alternatives were far worse. Now where did I hear an excuse like that? Oh yeah, here and on the STR broadcasts. Just goes to show that God comes before STR and always should.

Amy, do you think a person can be guilty of sin if they don't know it's a sin? The reason I ask is because of passages like these:

John 9:41: "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘ We see,’ your sin remains."

John 15:22: "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin."

James 4:17: "Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin."

Sam, the short answer is yes. I think your third example is adding a category of sins of omission, not excluding the category of people who haven't been told what to do.

For the first one, in context (35-41), Jesus says, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." The Pharisees asserted that they were those who could see, putting them in the category of the self-righteous who can't recognize their blindness in order to be able to see God. So Jesus says that since they're insisting they're in that second category, their sin remains.

I'm not as familiar with the second one. They've brought greater judgment on themselves by seeing God fully revealed, and yet rejecting Him. "If I had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would not have sin; but now they have both seen and hated Me and My Father as well." So I suspect the answer is something along those lines. When taken in context with the verses I'll cite below, I don't think these verses are enough to show that we have to know something is a sin in order to be guilty. I don't think we'll ever realize the depths of our sin in this life.

On the positive side of arguing that we can have sin we don't know about and still be guilty, I give you John 9:41. :-) The Pharisees did not know they were sinning by rejecting Jesus, and they didn't know they were sinning in other ways. They thought they were righteous. Jesus says their sin remains because they haven't sought to have it forgiven.

We also have Luke 12:47-48: "And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few."

And the Old Testament required sacrifices for sins committed unintentionally. Leviticus 4:21-23: "When a leader sins and unintentionally does any one of all the things which the LORD his God has commanded not to be done, and he becomes guilty, if his sin which he has committed is made known to him, he shall bring for his offering a goat, a male without defect."

Notice that he "becomes guilty" before the sin is made known to him.

I think Romans 1-3 is the clearest on this. Paul contrasts the Jews and the non-Jews and says they're both under judgment for their sin. "For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified." Notice that neither the Jews nor the non-Jews were recognizing and repenting of their own sin, and yet they were all guilty.

So sin is still sin—something unrighteous and worthy of punishment, something separating us from God, regardless of whether we recognize it as such. Thank God for Christ's sacrifice for all our sin, known and unknown!

Forgive them, "for" or "because" they do not know what they do. Clearly they are guilty of the sin, otherwise there is no request for forgiveness. And, we need to add here that Christ on His cross, who is our judge, navigates this with "they know not" wrapped up in His method. We don't know what that means, perhaps, but we do know that it is. Right there in black and white. Unless Christ sinned by including that particular aspect of the sinner in His verdicts. But He DID include it.

We find the risen Judge again in Revelations doing the same sort of thing with his methods and verdicts. We cannot twist this endlessly and say that ignorance is a free pass. It isn't and we see this in scripture. But, we do see this thing of knowing, knowing not, seeing, not having seen, all included in the language of this Judge with Whom we have to contend with. He is Just.

Forgive for they know not. This tells us that not knowing does not eliminate the need for forgiveness. Sin is "there". And, it tells us that not knowing is more than a non factor in the methods of this particular Judge. We find both of these statements several times in the New Testament, in the Gospels and in Revelations, and elsewhere.

Based on the gist of Paul's epistles, I think that the absence of knowledge doesn't equal the absence of sin, if you're in possession of a working conscience. That's why it's a sin to violate your own moral intuitions, regardless of social messaging (peer pressure, for example), even if you aren't sure it's 'sinful'. It's an offense against your conscience, which weakens it.

On the other hand, if I simply have no idea that a given thing is wrong... well, for starters, it may be that a rule is being overapplied. Eating meat on a Friday, say. Probably doesn't apply if I'm a Southern Baptist who has no idea what that rule is for, or even that it exists. But even if it did, then the blameworthy one would be whomever failed to educate me (teachers held to a higher standard and all) rather than on my poor benighted head.

Of course, in matters of conscience, it's darn-near impossible for us to look at someone else and discern what they do or don't "know". Some matters may just end up being sorted out between the creation and the creator.

First, let me say that I find slavery in any form and at any time abhorrent if but for the reason that it is a stark illustration of our condition under sin. That is the ultimate slavery. And I found Amy's post very instructive as to the role culture can play in our tolerance (or intolerance) of certain forms of sin.

Having said that and to expand a bit on a theme introduced in this post, the culture we find ourselves in can make us either more or less aware of certain sinful practices. In our culture, slavery is abhorrent and grotesque, particularly the sort of slavery talked about here. But then other cultures, were they to look at ours today would wonder at our tolerance of what they would consider grave moral deficiencies, i.e., sin.

Yet slavery has existed throughout history. In the Old Testament God gives specific instruction as to the treatment of slaves, including granting freedom to certain ones. Paul speaks both of the duties of a Christian master to his slaves as well as Christian slaves to their master. In the book of Philemon Paul even seems to recognize the ownership rights of a master with regard to his slave. Nowhere does Paul explicitly enjoin the Christian community to free their slaves, although we know from history that many in the Christian community did just that. But I don't think any of us would argue from these instances that slavery was a condition approved of by God. It only exists, instead, a result of man's fallen nature.

Now moving to Jonathan Edwards. I have not read enough of his writings or of his biography to know if or how he defended his ownership of slaves. I also don't know how he treated his slaves, but given that he was such a student of Scripture, I'm sure he was aware of Paul's instruction to masters.

But even this is somewhat beside the point. It is the Holy Spirit that convicts of sin and brings both the believer and unbeliever to repentance. That is a role of the Spirit laid out in many passages of Scripture. I do know that Edwards was aware of and sensitive to this ministry of the Spirit; that is obvious from what little of his writings I have read.

So really the question for me is not "How could he be so blind", but rather how did he respond to the ministry of the Spirit with regard to the conviction of sin? Did the Spirit not convict of his sin with regard to his slaves, or did Edwards resist or ignore it. My suspicion is, given what I have read of Edwards and his sensitivity to responding to the work of God in his life, that had the Spirit truly convicted him of his sin in this case, he would have responded positively. Again, I haven't read enough of his writings to know whether this is revealed one way or the other.

I don't think that we can automatically assume that because we see clearly that something is sinful, that the Spirit in His wisdom chooses to deal the same way or in the same fashion with every Christian in every place and every time. I cannot explain that, nor would I try. Even Jesus made mention of trying to understand the ways of the Spirit; we are accountable for our response to Him when He convicts. It is not our role to explain why other Christians, particularly those far removed from us in time and circumstance did not react the way we think they should.

I don't think that we can automatically assume that because we see clearly that something is sinful, that the Spirit in His wisdom chooses to deal the same way or in the same fashion with every Christian in every place and every time.

Stan, along those lines, I think that if God were to convict us of all of our sin at once, we would be crushed. I mentioned in my last post (and the one before that touched on this, as well) that God has a very long-term view of dealing with our sin and with the sin of our cultures. Because we're fallen, we'll never be in a utopia. Different time periods will feature different colossal cultural failures.

But from the time of the Israelites when God gave them the Law until now, God mitigates our evil, and we're urged to do good, even as we're engaged in other bad things. It will always be this way in a fallen world.

There are a lot of accusations against God for not putting an end to every evil long ago. But the fact is that human beings are fallen, and there will be evil among us until God destroys all evil forever. For now, though, He allows it to remain because He allows us to remain, and He brings some to an end in its time and place.

There will never, ever be a human culture without evil on this earth.


"Because we're fallen, we'll never be in a utopia. "

I agree with your above statement, but at the same time, let's not pretend that the ledge we are on is the summit of limited human achievement. Greg has often said that kids are capable of much more than they are challenged to do in our culture(and I agree with him), why should it be different with adults. Could it be because the demands and responsibilities are now being placed on us and we just want to squirm out of them...
I think it is high time to stop squirming and set a proper example for the next generation.

I am sorry that I can't be more specific on my point, but I don't have the liberty to make it any clearer. So much for the freedom of speech. Just another American farce.


Thanks for your response. I believe you reinforced the point I was making. I was not being critical of anything you said in your original post so much as I was trying to make the point that God deals with us, among other ways, as individuals. And that it is His Sovereignty and Grace, worked out in our lives that works towards our Sanctification. As we yield to His Spirit, both in His ministry of correction and conviction as well as in His ministry of positive guidance, I am confident that in His time He will deal with those sins to which our culture often makes us blind.

Thanks for all of your thought-provoking material.

I believe you reinforced the point I was making.

That was my intention. :-)

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