Sins of Ignorance - #3

Cleanse Thou Me From Secret Faults

By Patrick T. Donahue

More and more people are starting to teach that Christians receive automatic forgiveness of sins committed in ignorance without having to actually repent of the sins. Probably the most commonly cited passage used in support of this doctrine is Psalms 19:12. Most think that the writer of this Psalm is David. To make this article easier to read, we will henceforth use David as the name of the writer of Psalms 19. The passage reads, "Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults." Those who believe the automatic forgiveness theory say that David is asking for forgiveness of sins of ignorance, sins he does not know about, when he prays "cleanse thou me from secret faults." They then assert that God gave David forgiveness for these sins before and without the man learning of these sins and making a change in his life in regard to these sins. Does this passage really teach all this? Let's study and see.

First of all, it is just an assumption to say that the secret faults of this verse refer to sins of ignorance, faults secret from David himself. This is not necessarily so. The secret faults could be faults secret not from David himself, but from others. When Nathan accused David of committing a sin in secret in II Samuel 12:12, he was not talking about David doing something even David himself didn't know about, but David doing something that was a secret from others.

However, for the sake of argument, let's go ahead and assume that David was speaking of sins even he didn't know about, sins of ignorance. Does this prove he was forgiven of these sins of ignorance without meeting any other conditions regarding them? Certainly not. In Luke 23:34, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who were crucifying Him out of ignorance. Does this passage prove that these people received forgiveness for the crucifixion without meeting any other conditions? No, they had to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:36-38) before Jesus' prayer was answered. Likewise the prayer of David per Psalms 19:12 was not necessarily the only requirement that he had to meet in order to be forgiven.

If we can understand that John 3:16 is not stating the only condition that an alien must meet in order to be forgiven of his sins, why can't we understand that Psalms 19:12 is not stating the only condition that a child of God at that time had to meet in order to be forgiven of his sins? Indeed other places in the Bible give other conditions that had to be met by a child of God under the old covenant in order to be forgiven for his sins. One such place is Leviticus 4:22-26. Read this passage and you'll see that a ruler who had committed a sin of ignorance is under consideration in the context.

That would certainly fit the David of our discussion wouldn't it? He was certainly a ruler (the King) and those claiming that Psalms 19:12 proves their doctrine of automatic forgiveness, do so based upon the assumption that David was asking forgiveness for sins of ignorance in the said passage. What does Leviticus 4:22-26 teach that a ruler of the people had to do in order to be forgiven of sins committed in ignorance? The Bible says that the sin had to come to his knowledge (v.23), and he had to make an offering of sacrifice for his sin (vs. 23-25). The point is, that if David is asking for forgiveness for sins committed through ignorance in Psalms 19:12 (again, that is just an assumption), then Leviticus 4:22-26 teaches that, in addition to the prayer of Psalms 19:12, David also had to come to a knowledge of his sin and make an offering of sacrifice for the sin before he could be forgiven.

So Psalms 19:12 does NOT prove automatic forgiveness of sins while still in ignorance; David had to learn of his sin and meet conditions that God had laid down for the situation. That is exactly what a Christian must do in order to receive forgiveness for any sin he might commit through ignorance. He must learn of his sin, and repent of (Acts 8:22) and confess the sin (I John 1:9) in order to be forgiven of the sin.

[Editor's Note: Thanks to Pat Donahue for the article! He can be reached at: Pat.Donahue@MSFC.NASA.GOV, 4607 Old Railroad Bed Road, Harvest, AL 35749, (256) 721-0726]

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