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Unintentional Sin

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How do you view your spouse’s mistakes and sins against you? First of all, are they mistakes or sins? There is a big difference between the two. Are they intentional or unintentional? Seldom or frequent? Consider this testimony from a widow who discovered the important difference between unintentional and intentional, though definitely later than she would have desired.

Six years ago, I became a widow at age thirty-six with three young children… I had many wounds from my own father’s death when I was eleven years old, leaving me in a very dysfunctional home. My husband was the typical man full of life and full of energy; very driven in all that he did. He was in the military for twelve years and then law enforcement the rest of our married years and was killed in the line of duty… He had no idea how to meet my needs, and I had no idea that his personality was God’s design. For most of my years, I was crying out for his love and attention, and most of the time, he was shutting me out…stonewalling. We had no idea how to get off the crazy cycle…

Through the wisdom that God revealed to you and that you shared in your book, God has given me complete healing and peace over my first marriage. I see how two young tender hearts fell in love, and through ignorance, got on the crazy cycle and never could figure out how to get off it… Although it may appear too late…I have asked my husband’s forgiveness for my unintentional mistakes of ignorance and forgiven him of his also.

Indeed, your spouse will at times be guilty of unintentional mistakes of ignorance. Will we see them as such? Or will we claim they are intentional sins? Yes, in some cases people do commit intentional sins on a frequent basis. These are rare cases, though, and not often found among goodwilled people. But what if your goodwilled spouse is guilty of “unintentional mistakes of ignorance” and you wrongly label them as frequent, intentional sins?

Each of us needs to be honest about the facts. Some of us make the case against our spouse without mercy. God Himself sees the sin in your goodwilled spouse as unintentional and extends mercy. He also sees it as infrequent, so He doesn’t profile them as a lost cause. We, though, take a snapshot of that time or two where they sinned against us (albeit unintentionally and possibly in reaction to our own unloving or disrespectful action) and we hold up the picture as proof our spouse is offensive and neurotic.

This is why Moses, Paul, and Jesus taught that we must confirm every fact, not every feeling.

Leviticus 5:18 addresses “unintentional sins.”

He shall bring to the priest a ram without blemish out of the flock, or its equivalent, for a guilt offering, and the priest shall make atonement for him for the mistake that he made unintentionally, and he shall be forgiven. - Leviticus 5:18 (ESV)

Throughout the Old Testament, God labels certain wrongdoing as unintentional. Though the person was responsible for the wrongdoing, God reveals His grace and mercy to people who are not always conscious and willful about offending God or others. They are good-hearted people who unintentionally make mistakes.

Also, we see in Acts 3:17; 17:30; and 1 Timothy 1:13 that people can do wrong though they do so ignorantly.

Concerning your marriage, let’s consider some important questions based on the table below. As you think of your spouse, do you tend to place them in one of the boxes? How accurate in your assessment do you believe you are?

Emerson Eggerichs, Ph.D.
Author, Speaker, Pastor

Questions to Consider

  1. Are you calling your spouse who lands in #1 (seldom unintentional sin) a #4 (frequent intentional sin)? Are you more judgmental than our gracious and merciful God? If you are, you are unfairly overstating the case against your spouse. You are married to a good-hearted person who unconsciously falls short. Yes, they fall short on occasion, but it is not intentional. They do not wake up thinking, “I will offend my spouse today.” Yet we take up offense as though they intended to do evil against us. Furthermore, it could actually be that we have created a “holy standard” for them within what is in reality a gray area, not an actual sin. They have neglected to do what we requested, so we see them as sinning against us. But this does not make it a sin, only that they have not fulfilled our expectations in one of the many gray areas of life. 
  2. Are you offended by #2 (seldom intentional sin) because they do intentionally sin, when they know they should not, but the truth is you sinned first? For example, do you become angry when they yell at you but conveniently forget that they were reacting to you yelling at them first? You were also a #2! Like one spouse said, “I intentionally used loud, derogatory comments to provoke my spouse to talk about something I felt we needed to address, and they retorted loudly with sarcasm and I took up offense! I was as guilty as they were, but I saw myself as justified and so I took up offense at them intentionally sinning against me.”  
  3. Are you in denial? Do you call #4 (frequent intentional sin) a #1 by labeling them as seldom and unintentional in sinning? Are you wrongly giving them a pass? For some reason, you fear speaking the truth in love and prefer to enable the other person to continue in their frequent, intentional sin. In order to deal with what you know to be true deep in your soul, you suppress the truth and pretend nothing is all that bad.