Does God hold people accountable for their conduct, even when they are unaware of the fact that they are violating His law? Some feel that He does not, and until they learn the truth, ignorance is bliss. The scripture does not support this notion.
The Bible says, “And if any one sin, and do any of the things which Jehovah has commanded not to be done; though he know it not, yet is he guilty, and shall bear his iniquities” (Lev. 5:17).
A sacrifice had to be offered so that atonement could be made for the matter wherein he erred unwittingly and knew it not (Lev. 5:18). This clearly shows that ignorance does not change guilt into innocence.
Paul found certain disciples at Ephesus and asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. They replied that they did not know the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 19:1-2). Paul then realized that they had not been baptized with the baptism of the great commission which Jesus commanded in Matthew 28:18-20. Thus, he asked them into what they were baptized. They replied, “Into John’s baptism.” At this time John’s baptism was invalid, because it only lasted till the death of Christ. When they realized the nature of John’s baptism, that it was no longer valid, that they needed to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and be added to the Lord’s church, they were immediately baptized into Christ.
These 12 disciples were unaware of the fact that they were violating the law of Christ. The co-existence of John’s outdated baptism alongside Christian baptism muddled the issue in Paul’s day. These disciples believed that they had been baptized. Paul did not hesitate to tell them that something was wrong with their baptism.
Does ignorance change guilt into innocence? In I Kings 13, we have a conclusive answer to this question. God instructed a prophet out of Judah to go to Bethel and destroy the altar of King Jeroboam. God instructed this young prophet to not go home with anyone, neither eat bread or drink water and not return the same way that he went to Bethel.
There was an older prophet who lived in Bethel, and his sons came home and told their father about this young prophet. The old prophet then went out to find the younger prophet. He found him and invited the young prophet to go home with him and eat bread. The young prophet declined, saying God had forbidden him to eat or drink with anyone there. The old prophet said an angel spoke unto me saying, brink him back to thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water (I Kings 13:18).
The young prophet believed the older prophet was telling him the truth, but the Bible says he lied unto him. The young prophet started back home, and a lion killed him because of disobedience to God.
The bottom line is that sincere and honorable motives will not atone for disobedience to God’s commands. The belief of a proposition, though honest and sincere one might be, does not make it right! The Bible says in Luke 12:47-48, “The servant who knows his master’s will, yet does it not, shall be beaten with many stripes. The servant who knows not the master’s will, yet does those things worthy of stripes shall be beaten with few stripes.”
The stripes represent punishment and applies to the lost. The righteous will receive no stripes. The punishment to those lost relates to their knowledge and opportunity. At judgment God will require all who appear before Him to answer not only for knowledge and opportunity they possessed, but what they might properly have acquired and did not!