32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death. 33 And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left. 34 Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:32–34, NKJV)
We learn the depth of God’s willingness to forgive as we meditate on Christ’s words while He hung on the cross. God is ready to forgive sinners who answer His gospel call to repent (Lk. 5:32; Matt. 11:28-30). We should also understand what did not happen when Jesus prayed for His enemies. He was not tolerating their sins. His murderers were not forgiven immediately (like the repentance criminal, Lk. 23:39-43). We must not confuse Christ’s prayer as accepting them as they were. They would have to believe the gospel, repent, and be baptized in His name for their sins to actually be forgiven (Acts 2:36-38). Some believe sins of ignorance will not condemn a person. That is false (Acts 3:17-19). Some believe God accepts people regardless of their moral condition. That is also false. Sin separates us from God (Isa. 59:1-2). Jesus died so sinners can approach God’s presence and obtain merciful forgiveness (Heb. 10:19-20). We pray for sinners to be forgiven, and we teach them the gospel so they can believe, obey, and be saved (Mk. 16:15-16). Jesus died to save sinners, not so that God will accept us even as we continue practicing sin (Rom. 6:1-2; 2 John 9).
9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all. For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin. 10 As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; 11 There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God.” (Romans 3:9–11, NKJV)
Sin is ugly. Some people prefer not to think about it. They don’t want to talk about it. They what a gospel that is only positive and that does not explain, explore and expose the spiritual problems of sin. That is not the gospel of Christ. Some people redefine sin until it is almost nonexistent. Sin is too often couched in terms like “freedom of choice,” or “this is who I am,” or “it’s an illness,” in attempts to remove accountability for it. The Bible is not ambiguous about sin. It is real, and it is deadly. Sin means “to miss the mark.” Like an archer whose arrow misses the bulls eye, we have missed the target (God’s law, 1 John 3:4). Sin is universal. We have all missed the mark, we have all sinned against God (1 John 3:4; Rom. 3:23). Sin is an oppressive taskmaster who brings death to all over whom it rules (Rom. 6:23). One form sin takes is ignorance (v. 11). We cannot plead ignorance as a justification for sinning against God. Ignorance is not bliss, it brings eternal death (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Only when we are convicted of our sins will we turn to God for relief (Acts 2:37). And, He gives it in His Son (1 John 5:11-13).
1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. (Romans 10:1–3, NKJV)
Religious zeal can be misinterpreted as divine approval. The Jews of Paul’s day were trusting in the works of the law of Moses to save them (Romans 2:17-24; 3:20, 27-28). Not a few Jewish Christians were being influenced to demand Gentiles keep the law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1, 5, 23-24). The epistle to the Romans explains the futility of the Jewish attempt to be saved by the law of Moses, and to force it on the Gentiles. Paul said trying to be saved by the law of Moses amounted to establishing their own righteousness instead of submitting to the righteousness of God which is by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 10:3; 1:16-17; Galatians 2:16). Paul desired the salvation of the Jews, but their zeal without knowledge would not save them. Zeal does not establish God’s approval, faithfully doing the Father does (Matthew 7:21-23). Zeal is not a substitute for knowing God’s will. Zealous ignorance is removed only when a humble heart hears the word of God and obeys it in faith (Matthew 7:24-27; Acts 3:17-19). Learn God’s will and have the faith to obey it to be saved from your sins (Acts 4:12; 10:34-35).
Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” And they divided His garments and cast lots. (Luke 23:34, NKJV)
God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). Question: Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their unbelief? No, for without faith in Jesus as the Son of God, they would die in their sins (John 8:24). Did God forgive the murderers of Jesus in their ignorance? No, they killed Jesus “in ignorance,” and their failure to know the truth prevented their salvation (Acts 3:17). You don’t have to know everything to be forgiven, but you do have to know some things. When did not forgive the murderers of Jesus? The answer is in Acts 2:36-41, where about 3,000 believed the gospel message “that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). The murderers asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v. 37), and were told to “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). The sinners who received his word were baptized and added together to form the church (v. 41, 47). God’s desire to forgive sinners combines with repentant faith that is baptized. Then, sins are forgiven. If not, when were the murderers of Jesus forgiven?
30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead. (Acts 17:30–31, NKJV)
This passage does not excuse or encourage sins committed out of ignorance. Indeed, it plainly says that God “now commands all men everywhere to repent” of their sins – including sins of ignorance. This verse does acknowledge the forbearance of God, who mercifully gives sinners time to repent before interposing His just penalty against their sins (see Acts 14:16-17). Ignorance will not be an acceptable defense to free us from our sins and their wages (which is death, Rom. 6:23). God’s command to repent is merciful, since it seeks to prepare us for the coming day of judgment. Additionally, God has assured us of the future judgment by raising from the dead His appointed judge; Jesus Christ. Escaping eternal punishment on Judgment Day is a compelling motive to repent of our sins. God has been very clear. He will impose His punishment “on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:8). Are you ready for the Judgment Day? Now is the day of salvation in Christ (2 Cor. 6:2; Acts 4:12).
47 And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48 But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47–48, NKJV)
Knowledge brings increased responsibility. At the same time, a person cannot plead ignorance to escape his or her personal responsibility to God. The master tells his servants what is expected of them, therefore, a servant ought to know his master’s will. So, even when the servant who failed to know his master’s will “committed things deserving of stripes,” he did not escape punishment. The “faithful and wise steward” is watchful and careful to do his master’s will (Lk. 12:37-46). Similarly, Christians are responsible for knowing the Lord’s will and being watchful to carefully do His will. We are warned, “Do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Sins of ignorance are still sin against the Master’s will which call for repentance and conversion (Acts 3:17, 19; 8:18-24). Disciples of Christ have great spiritual blessings, and along with them, great responsibilities. The Lord expects us to faithfully do His will, especially since we know His will and have His blessings. To do otherwise brings upon us punishment with unbelievers (Lk. 12:46).