February 17: “Repenting for Sins We Didn’t Commit”

9 Minute Read

Today’s Bible Reading:

Leviticus 4:1–5:19
Mark 2:13–3:6
Psalm 36:1-12
Proverbs 10:1-2

Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Leviticus 4:13 (NLT): “If the entire Israelite community sins by violating one of the LORD’s commands, but the people don’t realize it, they are still guilty.”

Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):

Did you know that you could experience negative consequences from God for a sin that you didn’t even commit?

That may not sound fair, and it certainly doesn’t sound like something God would do. But that goes to show why we must spend much time studying our Bibles. Much of what it teaches is counter-intuitive.

Leviticus 4:13 (NLT): “If the entire Israelite community sins by violating one of the LORD’s commands, but the people don’t realize it, they are still guilty.”

Did you get that? The whole nation of Israel would be guilty before the Lord even if many of the people in the community didn’t realize they sinned.

One illustration of this is found in the Old Testament book of Joshua. A man named Achan stole some items from Jericho when God had told them not to take anything. Ninety-nine percent of the Israelites had no clue that Achan had sinned. They didn’t know that he had privately disobeyed. 

Yet, listen to the following verse. Even though Achan was the only one who sinned, and even though he did so without the knowledge of the people of Israel, listen to who God pronounced “guilty.”

Joshua 7:1 (NLT): “But Israel violated the instructions about the things set apart for the LORD. A man named Achan had stolen some of these dedicated things, so the LORD was very angry with the Israelites…”

How do we make sense of this? Does God unfairly punish innocent bystanders when someone in their group sins? Nope!

Ezekiel 18:20 (NLT): “The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.”

God is not going to punish us for someone else’s sin. That would be unjust. If I committed a sin, it would be morally wrong for God to punish one of my sons for my disobedience. God isn’t going to do that. He will only punish the one(s) who are guilty of the offense.

Well then, how do we reconcile the original principle – that we can be declared guilty when someone commits a sin and we don’t even know it?

Simply put, God often looks at us as part of a group. When God sees us, He may look at us as part of our larger family group. He may also see us as a part of our church. Or, He may see us as a citizen of our country. (The possibilities are endless.)

So, while God will not punish my sons for my sin, he may punish me and the family I lead for my sin – meaning that my sons may feel the consequences. While God is not recklessly disciplining them for my offense, they may feel the discipline of God because they happen to be a part of the group that I am in.

Simply put, sometimes God doesn’t move only against the sinner – He moves against the group that the sinner is a part of. The fact that people, who didn’t commit the sin, experience God’s judgment is morally right simply because they were a part of the guilty group.

When a country sins and falls under God’s judgment, Christ-followers aren’t exempt from the trouble simply because they are Christians. As God moves against the nation, Christians will experience God’s disfavor, too. Why? Because they committed the sin that brought God’s judgment? Nope. It’s simply because they are a part of the group that God is moving against.

When a church sins, even if it was committed by people who were part of the church 50-100 years earlier, God’s favor may never be free to rest on that congregation until they repent. Even if those who committed the sin aren’t alive, the church is not free to be blessed by God, and anyone who partners with it will experience the same fate. Repentance – for a sin we didn’t commit but was committed by someone in our group – needs to take place.

So, what are we to do? We realize that we can experience negative consequences for our own sin AND the sin of those in the group(s) we are a part of.

We must repent. If you become aware of a sin that your church (family, business, school, etc.) committed years ago and you think that your church never repented of it, ask the spiritual leadership to lead in a time of corporate confession and repentance. Maybe you will find that in doing so that you will wipe the decks clean of any sin, and God will be free to bless.

Nehemiah 1:4-7 (NLT): “When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. Then I said, ‘O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.’”

Matt Ellis is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Polk City, Florida (fbcpolkcity.com). His latest book is God’s Grace in the Real World. Connect with him on Facebook or Twitter.

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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I have an incredible wife that God gave to me on May 10, 1997. Since then, the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful boys. I am also the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Polk City, Florida.

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