Sinning willfully vs. sinning ignorantly

The previous post showed how some people who murder can be forgiven in this life, while others who murder cannot be forgiven neither in this world nor in the world to come. This isn’t an isolated case. The scriptures are full of teachings that God holds people accountable at different levels, and punishes the same behavior differently depending on the amount of knowledge the person has.

King Benjamin, near the beginning of his discourse, warns his audience about the consequences of them giving heed to the evil spirit.

Mosiah 2
33 For behold, there is a wo pronounced upon him who listeth to obey that spirit; for if he listeth to obey him, and remaineth and dieth in his sins, the same drinketh damnation to his own soul; for he receiveth for his wages an everlasting punishment, having transgressed the law of God contrary to his own knowledge.

Notice he qualifies the statement saying this person transgresses the law of God contrary to his own knowledge. This is a person who knows the law of God and chooses to disobey. King Benjamin continues and makes it clear to his audience that all the adults fit this criteria – king Benjamin has made sure they’ve all been taught the laws of God.

34 I say unto you, that there are not any among you, except it be your little children that have not been taught concerning these things, but what knoweth that ye are eternally indebted to your heavenly Father, to render to him all that you have and are; and also have been taught concerning the records which contain the prophecies which have been spoken by the holy prophets, even down to the time our father, Lehi, left Jerusalem;
36 And now, I say unto you, my brethren, that after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you to guide you in wisdom’s paths that ye may be blessed, prospered, and preserved—
37 I say unto you, that the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.
38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.
39 And now I say unto you, that mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

He then goes on to contrast the difference between those with knowledge who obey and disobey.

40 O, all ye old men, and also ye young men, and you little children who can understand my words, for I have spoken plainly unto you that ye might understand, I pray that ye should awake to a remembrance of the awful situation of those that have fallen into transgression.
41 And moreover, I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God. For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness. O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it.

But what about people who don’t know the law of God?

Mosiah 3
11 For behold, and also his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.
12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

If you don’t know the law, you aren’t held accountable, and Christ’s blood atones for those ignorant sins. But if you know the law, you will be judged differently. Some day in the future, when the fullness of the gospel has been taught to every nation, all men will be fully accountable:

Mosiah 3
20 And moreover, I say unto you, that the time shall come when the knowledge of a Savior shall spread throughout every nation, kindred, tongue, and people.
21 And behold, when that time cometh, none shall be found blameless before God, except it be little children, only through repentance and faith on the name of the Lord God Omnipotent.

This is a future event for most of humanity, even for us. But what about king Benjamin’s people?

22 And even at this time, when thou shalt have taught thy people the things which the Lord thy God hath commanded thee, even then are they found no more blameless in the sight of God, only according to the words which I have spoken unto thee.
23 And now I have spoken the words which the Lord God hath commanded me.
24 And thus saith the Lord: They shall stand as a bright testimony against this people, at the judgment day; whereof they shall be judged, every man according to his works, whether they be good, or whether they be evil.
25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.
26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God, which justice could no more deny unto them than it could deny that Adam should fall because of his partaking of the forbidden fruit; therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.
27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever. Thus hath the Lord commanded me. Amen.

King Benjamin’s people can’t argue that they sinned in ignorance. The scriptures make it clear that they, unlike most of the rest of the world, have enough knowledge at that present time to be fully accountable for their actions. They will have known God and received his Spirit. And if they should then sin against that, he uses the binary judgment paradigm: they meet the criteria for the sons of Perdition. Let’s compare Mosiah’s descriptions of his people to the description of the sons of Perdition from D&C 76.

King Benjamin in
Mosiah Chapters 2&3
D&C 76:32
“they who are the sons of perdition”
2:36  after ye have known and have been taught all these things, if ye should transgress and go contrary to that which has been spoken, that ye do withdraw yourselves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in you

2:37 the man that doeth this, the same cometh out in open rebellion against God; therefore he listeth to obey the evil spirit, and becometh an enemy to all righteousness; therefore, the Lord has no place in him, for he dwelleth not in unholy temples.

31 Thus saith the Lord concerning all those who know my power, and have been made partakers thereof, and suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power

35 Having denied the Holy Spirit after having received it, and having denied the Only Begotten Son of the Father, having crucified him unto themselves and put him to an open shame.

2:38 Therefore if that man repenteth not, and remaineth and dieth an enemy to God, the demands of divine justice do awaken his immortal soul to a lively sense of his own guilt, which doth cause him to shrink from the presence of the Lord, and doth fill his breast with guilt, and pain, and anguish, which is like an unquenchable fire, whose flame ascendeth up forever and ever.

3:25 And if they be evil they are consigned to an awful view of their own guilt and abominations, which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment,

3:27 And their torment is as a lake of fire and brimstone, whose flames are unquenchable, and whose smoke ascendeth up forever and ever.

31 suffered themselves through the power of the devil to be overcome, and to deny the truth and defy my power

33 For they are vessels of wrath, doomed to suffer the wrath of God, with the devil and his angels in eternity;

36 These are they who shall go away into the lake of fire and brimstone, with the devil and his angels—

2:39 mercy hath no claim on that man; therefore his final doom is to endure a never-ending torment.

3:12 But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

3:25 which doth cause them to shrink from the presence of the Lord into a state of misery and endless torment, from whence they can no more return; therefore they have drunk damnation to their own souls.

3:26 Therefore, they have drunk out of the cup of the wrath of God…therefore, mercy could have claim on them no more forever.

34 Concerning whom I have said there is no forgiveness in this world nor in the world to come

37 And the only ones on whom the second death shall have any power;

38 Yea, verily, the only ones who shall not be redeemed in the due time of the Lord, after the sufferings of his wrath.

When I look at those two descriptions side by side, I come to the conclusion that once king Benjamin had delivered his message and the people accepted it, received the Spirit of the Lord and a remission of their sins (Mosiah 4:3), entered into a covenant with God to obey his commandments (Mosiah 5:5), took upon them the name of Christ (Mosiah 5:8), they could no longer sin in ignorance. At this point, refusing to repent was now coming out in open rebellion against the God they knew and had covenanted to obey.

It wasn’t just king Benjamin that taught this. Abinadi also taught the those who don’t have the fullness are judged differently than those who do have the fullness. First, those that will be ok:

Mosiah 15
21 And there cometh a resurrection, even a first resurrection; yea, even a resurrection of those that have been, and who are, and who shall be, even until the resurrection of Christ—for so shall he be called.
22 And now, the resurrection of all the prophets, and all those that have believed in their words, or all those that have kept the commandments of God, shall come forth in the first resurrection; therefore, they are the first resurrection.
23 They are raised to dwell with God who has redeemed them; thus they have eternal life through Christ, who has broken the bands of death.
24 And these are those who have part in the first resurrection; and these are they that have died before Christ came, in their ignorance, not having salvation declared unto them. And thus the Lord bringeth about the restoration of these; and they have a part in the first resurrection, or have eternal life, being redeemed by the Lord.
25 And little children also have eternal life.

And then those that won’t be ok:

26 But behold, and fear, and tremble before God, for ye ought to tremble; for the Lord redeemeth none such that rebel against him and die in their sins; yea, even all those that have perished in their sins ever since the world began, that have wilfully rebelled against God, that have known the commandments of God, and would not keep them; these are they that have no part in the first resurrection.
27 Therefore ought ye not to tremble? For salvation cometh to none such; for the Lord hath redeemed none such; yea, neither can the Lord redeem such; for he cannot deny himself; for he cannot deny justice when it has its claim.

Abinadi says that those did not have salvation declared unto them come forth in the first resurrection, are redeemed by the Lord, and have eternal life, whereas those that have known the commandments and do not keep them cannot be redeemed until they repent. He goes on to condemn those who rebel against God.

Mosiah 16
5 But remember that he that persists in his own carnal nature, and goes on in the ways of sin and rebellion against God, remaineth in his fallen state and the devil hath all power over him. Therefore he is as though there was no redemption made, being an enemy to God; and also is the devil an enemy to God.

10 Even this mortal shall put on immortality, and this corruption shall put on incorruption, and shall be brought to stand before the bar of God, to be judged of him according to their works whether they be good or whether they be evil—
11 If they be good, to the resurrection of endless life and happiness; and if they be evil, to the resurrection of endless damnation, being delivered up to the devil, who hath subjected them, which is damnation—
12 Having gone according to their own carnal wills and desires; having never called upon the Lord while the arms of mercy were extended towards them; for the arms of mercy were extended towards them, and they would not; they being warned of their iniquities and yet they would not depart from them; and they were commanded to repent and yet they would not repent.
13 And now, ought ye not to tremble and repent of your sins, and remember that only in and through Christ ye can be saved?

The Nephites had the fullness. The arms of mercy were extended towards them. They couldn’t claim ignorance of the laws of God. Anyone who continued in sin at that point was rebelling against God. Here are a few more teachings about Nephites willfully sinning.

4 Nephi 4:1
37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the three disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.
38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in unbelief, but they did wilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.

3 Nephi 6
18 Now they did not sin ignorantly, for they knew the will of God concerning them, for it had been taught unto them; therefore they did wilfully rebel against God.

Alma 34
2 My brethren, I think that it is impossible that ye should be ignorant of the things which have been spoken concerning the coming of Christ, who is taught by us to be the Son of God; yea, I know that these things were taught unto you bountifully before your dissension from among us.

Alma 24
30 And thus we can plainly discern, that after a people have been once enlightened by the Spirit of God, and have had great knowledge of things pertaining to righteousness, and then have fallen away into sin and transgression, they become more hardened, and thus their state becomes worse than though they had never known these things.

The Nephites had no excuse, they knew too much. That’s why the words of the Nephite prophets to the Nephite people were so harsh, so black-and-white.

Jarom 1
10 And it came to pass that the prophets of the Lord did threaten the people of Nephi, according to the word of God, that if they did not keep the commandments, but should fall into transgression, they should be destroyed from off the face of the land.
11 Wherefore, the prophets, and the priests, and the teachers, did labor diligently, exhorting with all long-suffering the people to diligence; teaching the law of Moses, and the intent for which it was given; persuading them to look forward unto the Messiah, and believe in him to come as though he already was. And after this manner did they teach them.
12 And it came to pass that by so doing they kept them from being destroyed upon the face of the land; for they did prick their hearts with the word, continually stirring them up unto repentance.

Alma 9
8 Behold, O ye wicked and perverse generation, how have ye forgotten the tradition of your fathers; yea, how soon ye have forgotten the commandments of God.

11 Yea, and if it had not been for his matchless power, and his mercy, and his long-suffering towards us, we should unavoidably have been cut off from the face of the earth long before this period of time, and perhaps been consigned to a state of endless misery and woe.
12 Behold, now I say unto you that he commandeth you to repent; and except ye repent, ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. But behold, this is not all—he has commanded you to repent, or he will utterly destroy you from off the face of the earth; yea, he will visit you in his anger, and in his fierce anger he will not turn away.

The Nephites knew the commandments, they had been taught to them, yet they disobeyed. And he tells them that it’s only by the mercy of God that he hasn’t wiped them off the face of the earth. They can’t claim they are sinning ignorantly, they know the commandments of God and are willfully rebelling against them. Contrast that with what he says about the Lamanites.

14 Now I would that ye should remember, that inasmuch as the Lamanites have not kept the commandments of God, they have been cut off from the presence of the Lord. Now we see that the word of the Lord has been verified in this thing, and the Lamanites have been cut off from his presence, from the beginning of their transgressions in the land.
15 Nevertheless I say unto you, that it shall be more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than for you, if ye remain in your sins, yea, and even more tolerable for them in this life than for you, except ye repent.
16 For there are many promises which are extended to the Lamanites; for it is because of the traditions of their fathers that caused them to remain in their state of ignorance; therefore the Lord will be merciful unto them and prolong their existence in the land.
17 And at some period of time they will be brought to believe in his word, and to know of the incorrectness of the traditions of their fathers; and many of them will be saved, for the Lord will be merciful unto all who call on his name.

So the Lamanites who sin in ignorance will be preserved, and one day taught the truth and be saved. But what about the Nephites?

18 But behold, I say unto you that if ye persist in your wickedness that your days shall not be prolonged in the land, for the Lamanites shall be sent upon you; and if ye repent not they shall come in a time when you know not, and ye shall be visited with utter destruction; and it shall be according to the fierce anger of the Lord.
19 For he will not suffer you that ye shall live in your iniquities, to destroy his people. I say unto you, Nay; he would rather suffer that the Lamanites might destroy all his people who are called the people of Nephi, if it were possible that they could fall into sins and transgressions, after having had so much light and so much knowledge given unto them of the Lord their God;

23 And now behold I say unto you, that if this people, who have received so many blessings from the hand of the Lord, should transgress contrary to the light and knowledge which they do have, I say unto you that if this be the case, that if they should fall into transgression, it would be far more tolerable for the Lamanites than for them.
24 For behold, the promises of the Lord are extended to the Lamanites, but they are not unto you if ye transgress; for has not the Lord expressly promised and firmly decreed, that if ye will rebel against him that ye shall utterly be destroyed from off the face of the earth?

Samuel the Lamanite informs the Nephites:

Helaman 13
38 But behold, your days of probation are past; ye have procrastinated the day of your salvation until it is everlastingly too late, and your destruction is made sure; yea, for ye have sought all the days of your lives for that which ye could not obtain; and ye have sought for happiness in doing iniquity, which thing is contrary to the nature of that righteousness which is in our great and Eternal Head.

This message isn’t delivered to the Lamanites wallowing in darkness. It’s delivered to the Nephites who are sinning against the light. Do we today have as much knowledge as the Nephites? Here are the signs of their faith:

20 Yea, after having been such a highly favored people of the Lord; yea, after having been favored above every other nation, kindred, tongue, or people; after having had all things made known unto them, according to their desires, and their faith, and prayers, of that which has been, and which is, and which is to come;
21 Having been visited by the Spirit of God; having conversed with angels, and having been spoken unto by the voice of the Lord; and having the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and also many gifts, the gift of speaking with tongues, and the gift of preaching, and the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the gift of translation;

Far more that we have now, or that has existed in documented scripture since about 400 AD. We had a brief period between 1831 and 1834 when the fullness was available but rejected. Excluding that brief period, there has been no people on record who have been able to obtain as much knowledge as the Nephites had. So when people in the last 1600 years sin, are they sinning willfully or ignorantly?

Is having fragments of the truth taught to us by unauthorized servants enough to condemn humanity to do same degree that the Nephites were condemned? Can we read the threats and punishments that were directed to Nephites willfully rebelling against God and apply them to people wallowing in centuries of darkness and apostasy? Or is most of humanity like the Lamanites, sinning in ignorance, waiting for the promises of the Lord to be fullfilled so that we can have the truth taught to us? Even if we diligently search the scriptures, do we have enough knowledge to be held accountable to the same degree as the Nephites who conversed with angels, heard the voice of the Lord, and enjoyed numerous spiritual gifts that are conspicuously absent from us today?

The Apostle Paul grew up well-schooled in the Law of Moses. He studied the scriptures and obeyed the law of Moses to the letter. He described himself as:

Philippians 3
5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;

Acts 26
4 My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews;
5 Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

Acts 22
3 I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

Yet despite all his knowledge of the Law of Moses, he still sinned ignorantly.

1 Timothy 1
11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.
12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;
13 Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
14 And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.
15 This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.
16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

So even though Paul was one of the most educated Jews, well-versed in the law of Moses and strictly obedient to its rules, he says he sinned ignorantly in unbelief. And God’s longsuffering towards Paul was a pattern for the rest of us. That should cause us all to ponder. If Paul was considered by God to be acting in ignorance and deserving of mercy, what of people today living without the fullness of the gospel? What of ourselves, who are trying to piece together a knowledge of the fullness but we know we can’t reconstruct it all?

Alma 32
19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?

Do any of us truly KNOW the will of God right now? Or do we only believe or have cause to believe? Obviously most of us inherently know that murder, rape, theft, and such actions are wrong because they violate the rights of others. But in so many other things we really only believe we understand God’s will. And we all have different ideas of what that means! God is not the author of confusion.

This is why the restoration is so important. Everyone who did not have the fullness taught to them will be restored to life and have it taught to them, so they can then be judged accordingly to men in the flesh. “All shall know me, who remain, even from the least unto the greatest, and shall be filled with the knowledge of the Lord, and shall see eye to eye.” (D&C 84:98). God is no respecter of persons. Everyone will have the opportunity to learn and accept the truth, and then when Satan is loosed for a little season, we’ll all be tested to see if we remain faithful, if we endure to the end.

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