NIV Ecclesiastes 7:20 Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.
NIV Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned
Recently I was asked, “If you sin, but do not know you are sinning or are not aware that it is sin, will you still be judged in the same way or punished for that sin?”
I believe that all of us will be held accountable for the sins that we have committed in the past, are committing in the present and will commit in the future. Notice that I said “will be held accountable” NOT “punished” or “judged.” Allow me to illustrate and to explain.
Illustration # 1: In the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s developed countries used chemicals that depleted Earth’s ozone layer. Today we recognize the harmful effects of these chemicals and we also realize that depleted ozone layers leads to environmental problems, not the least of which is cancer in humans, as well as vegetation and animals that are in our food chain. All of us are guilty of that sin: all of us grew up with air conditioners and refrigerators that used harmful chemicals and all of us used aerosols for personal hygiene and beauty products.
Illustration # 2: In the last 100 or so years we burned through 50% of the world’s reserves of oil causing tremendous damage to the air that we breathe and water that we drink. Our unhealthy dependence on oil and petroleum products led to many forms of social injustice and even wars.
What stands between us being judged and punished for our sins (past, present and future) and being held accountable is repentance. Once we recognize the error of our ways and/or the damage that we cause to God’s Creation and to our neighbors, we are challenged to change our behavior (to repent and sin no more).
All of us accept our own patterns of thinking as normative, correct and logical, even when they are not. It is hard to see, recognize, and own up to our own errors and mistakes.
The acknowledgement of our own errors and mistakes and repentance stems from God’s grace tugging on our hearts and our recognition that our existing habits, thought patterns, lifestyles, and aspirations have built a wall of separation or a chasm between us and God (“Lord, what have I done?!”). When humans live through Lord-what-have-I-done experiences, there is a time period during which the exact destructive nature of these habits, thoughts, and aspirations is comprehended and understood with the intent to discover how these elements should be changed so that resulting changes bring us closer to God. Each of those journeys starts with the event of confessing to God that we have sinned against God and a promise to be intentional in making changes which will bring us into closer relationship with God in our lives (event of repentance). The event of repentance is usually (but not always) followed by the process of repentance. During that process, persons develop and implement new goals, dreams, and thought patterns, which in turn result in developing new and different habits that facilitate a more intimate relationship with God. At this time humanity is looking for alternative “green” sources of energy, new refrigerants were developed in the last decade and use of harmful chemicals is being curbed.
In Galatians 5:22 we learn that the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. Some modern theologians interpret Galatians 5:22 as a statement that there is only one fruit of the Spirit and that fruit is LOVE which manifests itself in joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our lives. Marks of the Christian life are characterized by the presence of and growth in the fruit(s) of the Spirit in our lives. As Christians we are invited to evaluate our lives by asking, “Am I more conscious that I am a child of God than I was one year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago?” Indication of our growth is a personal transformation that replaces an inward focus with a missionary spirit resulting in our “faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). That missionary spirit burns like the fire of Pentecost in our souls, energizing our minds and souls, propelling our bodies towards lives of service, and illuminating our paths. Growth in missionary spirit results in our search for justice, love of mercy, an attitude of humbleness in all aspects of our daily lives (Micah 6:8), and a closer personal relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
God gave as a present in the person of Jesus Christ. Through the Holy Spirit of our God we are challenged to be the best version of what we can be. When we strive to live Godly lives, to keep our eyes on Jesus and to listen to God’s prompting on our lives, recognition of our sinful nature and repentance becomes a second nature; the burden of accountability becomes easy – “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt 11:30, NIV).