“If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible” (Lev. 5:17).
“It was an accident!” My boys are smart; they know accidental sin will be treated differently than deliberate sin, and any time they are not caught red-handed, well, it was an accident. When we parent our kids, we make great efforts to match the punishment to the crime. We are constantly evaluating and disciplining sin through our fallen, human lens.
Much of our passage today in Leviticus deals with repentance over unintentional sins. Unlike my personal parenting rubric, God considers unintentional sin to be sin in need of repentance just like any other infraction. Sin is sin. He lays out clearly in Leviticus that when anyone came into knowledge of an unintentional sin–be it a priest, ruler, congregation, or common person–they were guilty and must make atonement through a sacrifice.
The passage above highlights the extent of God’s holiness and the truth of our fallen nature. All sin, no matter how small or unintentional, separates us from the vast holiness of God. And equally, our character is such that we find ourselves sinning even when we don’t intend to, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Here, in the giving of the law to Moses, we already see the incredible depth of our need for mediation, ultimately for Jesus.
As Christians living under the new covenant established by the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, we no longer operate through the sacrificial system. (Thanks be to God!) Jesus was the perfect and sufficient sacrifice. But, he also continues presently as our constant mediator, interceding on our behalf before the Father. Jesus is clear in the New Testament that he came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17). He holds us to every bit of the standard of holiness set before the Israelites. “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do” (1 Pet. 1:15). Our need for constant repentance still stands.
When we come to know of our sin, this is simply conviction through the power of the Holy Spirit. As we grow in our faith, often times we begin to unearth all kinds of “unintentional sin.” Theologian Christoph Blumhardt says this about Christian growth, “Although people do sometimes have a sense of peace with God…nevertheless, in a given situation it is not so much peace with God that is the true mark of the Holy Spirit at work, but birth pangs.”
Jesus calls us into repentance, and then asks us to take it a step further and invite him to expose our hearts. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). We are not to cry “accident,” and pray that God is more lenient with us because our sin is justifiable.
No, in fact, we are to repent of sin known and unknown and ask the Holy Spirit to uproot it. We can do this in freedom and confidence because we know the forgiveness and grace that awaits us. “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)
In contrast to crying “accident,” my oldest son recently confessed a sin to me and then said, “Mom, just have a little grace with me.” With a glad and softened heart, I offered my child grace. How much more does God long to pour out his love on me, the sinner.
The Lord holds us to a life of constant repentance, but his grace is not only constant, it is boundless. Come to Jesus and find freedom and rest in repentance. He offers grace without measure when we confess the depth of our need.