Is there a difference between willful sin and ignorant sin when it comes to forgiveness?
The Bible does make distinctions between willful and ignorant sins. In the Old Testament law, provisions were made regarding sacrifices for unintentional sins (Leviticus 4—5; Numbers 15:22-31). Hebrews 9:6-7 referred to this, saying, "These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, 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."
Hebrews 9:26 then notes, "But as it is, he [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself." The coming of Jesus took away the need for ongoing sacrifices for unintentional sins. Instead, we are called to trust in Jesus by faith, receiving His forgiveness for sins.
It is clear that both willful and unintentional sins are still sins. Both types of sins require forgiveness. The apostle Peter taught, "And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers," (Acts 3:17) and then called his hearers to faith in Christ.
The apostle Paul spoke to unbelievers in Athens, stating, "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent" (Acts 17:30). In Ephesians 4:18, he adds that sins of ignorance likewise separate people from God.
In 1 Peter 1:14, Peter wrote to believers, saying, "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance." As Christians, we are called to learn and mature, avoiding the ignorant sins of our past.
Paul's personal testimony further touches on this issue. He wrote, "But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 1:13-14). He noted that his life before Christ consisted of ignorance and unbelief. When he believed in Christ, he was given a new faith and love. As a result, he then sought to live for the Lord.
God has given some level of His revelation to all people so that there is no excuse for people to claim they are without sin (Romans 1:18-20). Yet Scripture is also clear that God offers forgiveness to all people, offering hope to those who have committed sins, whether intentionally or unintentionally. As 1 John 1:8-9 shares, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
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