The Bible teaches that there is a difference between ignorant sin and willful sin in relation to forgiveness.
About ignorant sin, the Old Testament teaches, “And if a person sins unintentionally, then he shall bring a female goat in its first year as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for the person who sins unintentionally, when he sins unintentionally before the Lord, to make atonement for him; and it shall be forgiven him. You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them” (Numbers 15:27-29 also Leviticus 4—5). Ignorant sin separates people from God. For this reason, David prays, “Cleanse me from secret faults” (Psalm 19:12).
The New Testament teaches that people may not be totally ignorant for God has shed some light on all. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).
Paul himself did commit ignorant sins. He declares, “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” (1 Timothy 1:13). But when Paul repented, he was forgiven. Therefore, he preached a message of hope and repentance to the Athenians, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30).
About willful sin, the Old Testament teaches, “But the person who does anything presumptuously, whether he is native-born or a stranger, that one brings reproach on the Lord, and he shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the Lord, and has broken His commandment, that person shall be completely cut off; his guilt shall be upon him” (Numbers 15:30-31).
Willful sin is presumption rebellion against God (Psalm 19:13). It is a sin committed when a person knows that he is doing wrong. Therefore, the sacrificial system provided no atonement for deliberate opposition to the will and commands of God.
Paul teaches, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26). Willful sin is not a single act of sin committed in the full knowledge of their evil character but the attitude of mind that is shown when a person persistently rejects Christ and doesn’t submit to the convictions of the Holy Spirit. It is a reversal of the original decision to accept the Lord. It is premeditated apostasy that leads to the unpardonable sin (Matthew 12:31, 32).
Peter writes about those that commit willful sin, “if they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them” (2 Peter 2:20-21).
Therefore, Paul admonishes the believers to avoid the evil path that leads to willful sin, “So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking” (Ephesians 4:17-19 also Acts 3:17-19; Acts 17:30-31)
God’s Forgiveness to Repentant
Sin can be forgiven if a person repents. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Faithfulness to forgive is one of God’s outstanding characteristics (1 Corinthians 1:9; 10:13; 1 Thessalonians 5:24; 2 Timothy 2:13; Hebrews 10:23)
Peter invites those that ignorantly sinned to change their evil ways, “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:17,19).
Repentance must accompany the prayer for forgiveness (Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38; 26:18). It means a change of mind and produces good works of righteous by the power of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:41; Mark 1:15; Luke 11:32; Acts 3:19; 26:20; Hebrews 12:17; Revelation 2:5; etc.). Repentance is the theme of the preaching of John the Baptist, of Jesus, and of the apostles (Matthew 3:2, 8, 11; 17; Mark 2:17; Acts 5:31; Romans 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:25).
In His service,