My question isn't so much about reconciling specific Scripture passages as it is about reconciling two teachings supported by Scripture, so I'm asking here rather than on Hermeneutics. I'm wondering how to reconcile these two thoughts:

  1. Christians can know they have eternal life (1 John 5:13; 2 Tim. 4:7-8), so much so that they can be excited for Jesus's return rather than fearful (Heb. 9:28; 1 Thess. 5:2-5; Rev. 22:20).
  2. Those who sin, even unknowingly, are still guilty (Leviticus 5:17; Matthew 15:14; Luke 12:48) and are "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" until they repent and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:20-24, NKJV; c.f. 1 John 1:9).

When Jesus comes, if I can still be punished for things I've done without knowing they're sinful (Luke 12:48) and am "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" (Acts 8:23, NKJV) until I discover the sin and repent, then how can I know I "have [present tense] eternal life" (1 John 5:13, NKJV, emphasis added), so much so that I can be excited for Jesus' return (Heb. 9:28; 1 Thess. 5:2-5; Rev. 22:20)? Instead, wouldn't I lack certainty as to whether I have eternal life? Also, if sins of ignorance can condemn, shouldn't I hope Jesus' coming will delay so that I can study as long as possible to learn of any sins I need to repent of? How are the two thoughts bulleted above reconcilable?

I'd like the range of acceptable answers to be broad, but if I must limit answers to that of a group, I'll choose answers considered orthodox within Christianity. If you'd like to list multiple possible ways to reconcile the two thoughts, that's fine as well. My main desire is for answers consistent with the Scriptures I presented.

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    Probably every individual self-identifying as 'Christian' will consider themselves (or their congregation/group of congregations) as 'orthodox'. I think the question needs to be positively scoped to a definite group.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 17:17
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    Given your comments to me in the previous (similar) Q you asked on 7/11, I shall gladly offer an answer tomorrow. This will be scoped as from the Christian groups who do believe as per your Point 1 above. There are other groups that claim to believe that they have eternal life and are excited at the prospect of Jesus' return, but they deny that they have assurance of eternal life; they believe and hope but never say they "can know" (for sure). I suggest that scope should prevent arguments.
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 17:26
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    When Jesus died for your sins 2000 years ago, how many of them were unknown to you and un-repented and un-confessed? I think the answer lies here. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 4:16

4 Answers 4


Sin is sin, whether it is deliberate, unintentional, or resisted but its temptation turns out to be irresistible, leading to rationalisation and even denial that it was ‘really’ a sin. However, God disciplines his stubborn children, the Psalmist saying such a one is blessed! (Ps. 94:12). Such discipline is not at all the same as ‘losing’ salvation. Christians are told:

“Despise not the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him; For whom the Lord loveth, he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth, If ye endure chastening, God dealing with you as with sons” Hebrews 12:5-7

That alone should clear up the matter; the very idea that God would not correct his children, but allow some sin, hidden to his child, to only come out on the Day of Judgment, so as to damn that one! What kind of a god would do that?

You give two points as “teachings supported by Scripture”, with lists of Scripture references for both. A problem is with the latter half in point 2, namely, that “sinners who sin unknowingly are ‘poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity’ until they repent and pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:20-24”). In the text used as support, that person did not know he was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity until the apostle Peter was given that insight (for Simon’s heart condition was revealed – God reads hearts, not men). Then, upon hearing the command to repent of his wickedness and to pray that the Lord might forgive him, Simon the sorcerer besought Simon Peter to pray for him.

It is possible for a believer to do something sinful while feeling very cheerful and convinced that they had not sinned. This can depend on how much they know about the high calling to holiness in word, deed and thought. Christians should become more sensitive to sin as they progress in their Christian lives. Many will say they learned with dismay how many things they used to do for years as new Christians that now they abhor and have learned to turn from. Yet there is an important point about not repenting and praying for forgiveness which can lead to the development of bitterness, and being bound by sin. This is crucial to the answer being sought, and although I can speak from a personal experience 17 years ago, I will not detail that on a public forum.

A Christian has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin. It was this work of the Holy Spirit that first led a person to repent of sin and to place all their faith in Christ for salvation. Once a Christian, they become more sensitive to sin as they desire to be more and more like Jesus. Ideally, they will make steady progress but sometimes it’s a case of one step forward, two back. That’s when the Holy Spirit disturbs, until there is prayerful seeking, repentance, and going forward in faith again. Then the peace of God returns.

But if a Christian turns a blind eye to their sin, dismissing it as slight, or rationalising it away with excuses, that is when bitterness can start to take root in their heart, as it did with me, despite several warnings before eventual discipline. Only after God’s discipline fell did I truly face up to my sin, confessing the truth of Hebrews 12:15.

When quoting 1 John 5:18, as to how Christians can know that they have eternal life (present tense), John links that assurance to having “believed in the name of the Son of God”. This is the key to assurance. If the expression of belief is the same as that of the apostle Peter in Matthew 16:13-17, then it will not be a verbal, formulaic response but an exclamation of faith given by the Father’s revelation to us. That’s how it was with Peter, and Jesus rejoiced that Peter’s new understanding had been given to him by God. None of the other apostles (up to that point) had twigged as to just what it meant to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. That expression of belief in the name of the Son of God gets to the core of understanding just who Jesus really is. That is why so many people who sincerely say they are Christians shrink back from expressing assurance about the promise of salvation: the full reality of just who Jesus is has not yet broken through, as it did with Peter. But when that happens, they will know the power of that transforming grace of God, in Christ, and all their confidence will be in that, and not in themselves, either trying (vainly) to live a sin-free life, or diligently and fearfully seeking to confess every sin, known or (impossibly) unknown to them.

Finally, all who trust only in what Christ did to save them should know even now that all their sin was freely pardoned due to the magnitude of what Christ achieved. But on the Day of Judgment all those who followed mere religious systems or formulas, or who were totally irreligious, will discover they are “the goats”, and all their sin will be punished. Their unsaved state will remain. The Righteous Judge of all the earth will judge justly. Everything hidden will be revealed.

So, in answer to, Can punishment for unintentional sins be reconciled with Christians knowing they have eternal life? - It is only those who are not yet children of God who should fear adverse judgment. As the Bible states,

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be glorified together.” (Romans 8:16-17)

The reconciliation lies in Christians being disciplined by God, before the Day of Judgment, for he knows all their sin, and because they walk in the light of Christ, they see the sin they need to confess, exactly as 1 John 1:6-9 explains.

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    +1 I sin because I am a sinner. True repentance is of what I am rather than simply what I do. Jesus renews our being rather than simply reforming our behavior. Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 13:16
  • To whoever edited my answer very recently; I do not use American English, so I have retained 'rationalising'. But thank you for giving the opportunity to show that it was Simon the sorcerer who besought Simon Peter to pray for him!
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 18, 2022 at 17:56
  • Thank you, Anne, and I'm hoping to believe you're right. One of the main things I'm struggling with is Peter saying Simon was "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" (Acts 8:23, NKJV). In response to my claim that (1) Simon was "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity" until repenting and praying for forgiveness (Acts 8:20-24), you replied that (2) he "did not know he was poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity until the apostle Peter was given that insight (for Simon’s heart condition was revealed – God reads hearts, not men)." How does (2) refute (1)? Thanks for helping!
    – The Editor
    Commented Nov 20, 2022 at 21:43
  • And that's why I guess we ought to pray to God to forgive us of sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 3:12

If you have accepted Christ as your Savior, I see no reason that God would assume you meant only a certain portion of them. If you truly accepted him, it's not going to affect some sins and not others; He suffered for ignorance too 😉. And I believe that principle remains true in such circumstances; it did not say "you will be unforgivably guilty," or in anyway imply that the Atonement would be void for you. I believe it was merely clarifying that you are not perfect if you have even unknowingly done sins, and that, like all sin, which renders you guilty, you will need the Savior to redeem you from those too.

Analogy: You took a bag, without knowing there was a lot of money in it. Your father, who knew there was money in what you took, got the money back to the victim. The wrongdoing has been taken care of. 😀 I love analogies, doesn't that make it so clear?

However, it is also good to remember that sin is not just bad because God will punish you, but that all sin in and of itself is bad; as the scripture you sited puts it, we are "poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity." I want to focus on that "bound by iniquity," part. Have you realized that all things that are sins are addictive? aka enslaving? Nobody says, "Oh, I was accidentally kind and took care of that person." But plenty of people look back on times of being rude and demeaning to others with remorse, meaning that they did something that they themselves didn't want to do. So, the scripture is also just pointing out that you are naturally bound by sin, and I would say that is a good way of knowing if what you're doing is sin; if it is something that you do almost involuntarily.

Back to the analogy: It is, of course, better if in the first place, you could look inside the bag and see that there's money in it, and not take it.

Therefore, it is important that you are not only diligent in avoiding sin, but diligent in your coming to learn and understand sin, the nature of it, and recognize it in all its forms, as He does, so that you can really do the former.

P.S. I know for certain that everything I put is not worded perfectly or phrased right, etc. I would love any suggested edits. 🙂
And I don't just mean grammatical corrections.


Jesus tells a story that may speak to this. It seems He is talking to those placed in spiritual leadership or authority over others, but it may speak to the rest of us as well. For brevity, I’ll skip the story and go straight to the punishment:

Luke 12:47-48 MSG

47 The servant who knows what his master wants and ignores it, or insolently does whatever he pleases, will be thoroughly thrashed. 48 But if he does a poor job through ignorance, he’ll get off with a slap on the hand. Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!

So it seems we can have eternal life, yet still experience punishment. We aren’t damned, but we are held accountable.

This may tie in with a story Paul told, of fire which burns up what we’ve done and shows what, if anything, is left. Again, I skipped the first part for brevity

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 PHILLIPS

12 But any man who builds on the foundation using as his material gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or stubble, 13 must know that each man’s work will one day be shown for what it is. The day will show it plainly enough, for the day will arise in a blaze of fire, and that fire will prove the nature of each man’s work. 14 If the work that the man has built upon the foundation will stand this test, he will be rewarded. 15 But if a man’s work be destroyed under the test, he loses it all. He personally will be safe, though rather like a man rescued from a fire.

This seems to allude that we can lose everything, but not our salvation. We suffer loss but still have eternal life.

  • @Agarza, I like your suggested edit, but am clueless how to do it. I confess to being useless at intricate formatting, which is tidy but far beyond my skills. On another note, glad to meet a fellow Whovian!
    – Rachel
    Commented Oct 14, 2023 at 21:20
  • You can find detailed information on editing your posts on the Editing Help Page.
    – agarza
    Commented Oct 15, 2023 at 0:47
  • @agarza Thank you for you help and the link. I am not tech-y in the least, but I’ll give it a try from now on.
    – Rachel
    Commented Oct 27, 2023 at 1:56

Eastern Orthodox understanding:

There is no way to offend God or to please God in any way, because God is immutable. Thus sin is not considered as something that offends or pleases God. Instead it is considered more as a harm or as a mistake which you suffer consequences from.

For example - as a metaphor - if you take medicine that has terrible side effects nobody was aware of and you suffer them not really knowing why, you can compare that to committing a sin unknowingly. So until you discover the cause you will suffer the effects of your "sin". If you stop taking those pills and switch to some different pills that do not give you side effects, that would be the "repentance" = you correct your behavior. It does not necessarily mean that this sin will be held against you. That also doesn't mean that you won't suffer from the poison nonetheless. What may be held against you would be if you knew that you were suffering and you did nothing to fix that or you lied to yourself that all is fine.

  • "Behold my Son, in whom I am well pleased" "Without faith it is impossible to please God" Which means that with faith it is possible to please God. Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 20:08
  • Yeah, but at the same time “Faith Without Works is Dead”. Also Matthew 5:45 “that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” which I think means whether we believe or not we are subjected to the same spiritual laws, because they are objective. So for me that means you can believe in Christ and be a really bad person and you can be an atheist that unwillingly follows God’s law (by listening to conscience for example) and achieve better results in spiritual life
    – Matcha
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 2:43
  • "you can believe in Christ and be a really bad person" 1 John speaks otherwise. "you can be an atheist that unwillingly follows God’s law (by listening to conscience for example) and achieve better results in spiritual life" Romans 2 speaks otherwise. Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 12:18
  • I don’t find and certain confirmation in John 1 or Romans 2. I know it can be hard to accept but Christianity is not a sect and membership is not required to achieve salvation. It just gives some chances because you have access to the community and sacraments. Also just believing means nothing in my opinion. If atheist led a good life, during the Final Judgment that person will just see for themselves that God exists and problem solved.
    – Matcha
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 17:58
  • Just be good...you don't need Jesus. That's not much of a biblically sound statement. It's not about membership in a religion. One is either in Christ or one is not and that is by faith, not works. The works (Galatians 5:6) come after and are not salvatory but demonstrative. Commented Nov 23, 2022 at 13:39

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