For a believer, unconscious sins are a serious concern, but they shouldn’t be a cause for fear of abandonment or judgment by God. Because we are all sinners by nature, born into a fallen world, we are all guilty of unintentional sin. We would be in a hopeless situation, however, if God required us to be aware of every specific sin in our life and then confess it in order to maintain our fellowship with Him. This would be impossible for us in our limited, fallen state.
Old Testament law indicates that God looks upon unconscious sin differently from conscious sin. The law prescribed sacrifices for sins done in ignorance or weakness and without willful intent ( Leviticus 4:2-3, 13-14 ). However, Old Testament law provided no sacrifice for conscious sin:
Anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or alien, blasphemes the LORD, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the LORD’s word and broken His commands, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him (Numbers 15:30-31 NIV).
The New Testament also distinguishes clearly between willful and unconscious sin:
That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked (Luke 12:47-48 NIV).
If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin (John 15:22 NIV).
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 NIV).
Although the Bible distinguishes between conscious and unconscious sin, when we first put our faith in Jesus Christ, He declared us “justified.” He forgave us in a legal and judicial sense. He did this once and for all, forgiving us of any and all sins: past, present, and future; conscious and unconscious.
On the basis of this legal standing, God has accepted us once and for all into His eternal family ( Romans 5:1 ). Now, even when we sin (either consciously or unconsciously) we are in a new relationship to Him. No longer must we fear God’s condemnation and judgment. Christ has enabled us to be God’s sons and daughters, no longer facing damnation because of sin. However, although we need no longer fear judgment because of sin, sin still interferes with our relationship with God and other people, and sometimes makes it necessary for Him to discipline us as a firm but loving Father.
We shouldn’t worry about our unconscious sin. Although it has destructive effects in our lives, there is so much sin dwelling within us that we can’t expect to be instantly delivered from its influence. We need to be humbled, however, by the fact that we sin in many ways that we don’t detect, and be willing to confess and renounce any sin that the Holy Spirit brings into the light of our awareness. Our Father in heaven is ready to remedy the loss of communication and personal separation that occurs when we resist Him and go our own way ( 1 John 1:7,8 ). But to enjoy the full benefit of relationship with Him, we need to agree with Him about our sin. And it would be wise to follow King David’s example by praying, “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” ( Psalm 139:23-24 ).