“Everybody makes mistakes!,” someone will say.
“Nobody’s perfect!,” chimes in another.
At this, most Christians nod along and satisfy themselves that that’s all there is to it. That is, that making mistakes is simply not a serious problem for the Christian. That’s what they tell themselves, and the moment they do it, all manner of passages about God’s grace and forgiveness come to mind, settling all over again in their minds what they had already settled—the idea that their mistakes are just not very important.
As with many things in Christian doctrine, however, it’s not that simple. And who says so? Well, the Bible. That’s who.
Numbers 15:28 And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who makes a mistake, when he sins unintentionally, to make atonement for him, and he shall be forgiven.
Even unintentional error was considered a sin under the Old Covenant, and had to be atoned for. Yes, God would forgive it, but only, it seems, if it were atoned for. When we make errors, do we think they are such casual things that nothing need be done about them? Do we assume that they will be forgiven automatically by God? Or do we rather approach him in order to address the matter with some appropriate sense of gravity and repentance?
2 Samuel 6:7 And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.
Uzzah is the one who had done quite a natural thing; he reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant when it appear that it was going to topple off the cart on which it was being moved. His error was that he did not know about, or did not follow, God’s decree that no one was to touch the Ark.
Job 4:18 Even in his servants he puts no trust,
and his angels he charges with error;
19 how much more those who dwell in houses of clay,
whose foundation is in the dust,
who are crushed like the moth.
If God charges even his servant angels with error, then he will certainly also charge humans with error. That seems to be the reasoning being voiced here. (See 2 Peter 2:4-10 and Jude 1:6-7.)
Isaiah 32:6 For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink.
Here, uttering error concerning God does not seem to be the simple mistake of the upright, but the work of fools. How many preachers and teachers today make errors in their teaching about God? The problem is of epidemic proportions.
Ezekiel 45:20 You shall do the same on the seventh day of the month for anyone who has sinned through error or ignorance; so you shall make atonement for the temple.
Under the Law of Moses, atonement was required for sins that came about because of error or ignorance. Would these no longer be sins once the New Covenant was established?
I have to stop here and point out that ignorance is shown here as just as serious a problem as error. Few believers recognize that God expected his people to know some things in both the Old and New Covenants. Instead, ignorance is considered a non-sin today by a great many people.
Daniel 6:4 Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom, but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him.
Not even Daniel’s critics could find an error in him. We should be careful to notice that Daniel was a human—even a human under the Old Covenant. We must allow for the idea, therefore, that diligent believers can indeed–at least under some circumstances–reach a level of knowledge and righteousness at which they no longer operate in error. To pretend otherwise is to dishonestly dismiss the evidence in this passage.
Romans 1:27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Here we see, in the first of our New Testament passages on this subject, that there was a penalty associated with at least this particular error.
1 Thessalonians 2:3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.
Paul assured his audience at Thessalonica that his message did not spring from error, but had been entrusted to him by God. This was worth noting, as the rest of the world’s philosophy was indeed based in error, as the next passage below will show. If the message did not issue forth from error, then with what level of diligence and care was it to be properly received?
2 Peter 2:18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error.
The apostles made it clear many times that the Christians were being called out of the world, and here we see that world being categorized as one that lived in error.
2 Peter 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
The error of the world was not something to be taken lightly, but something to be carefully avoided. And those Christians who did not avoid it would be “carried away” and would lose their stability. Is error any less serious today?
1 John 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
This one is quite interesting as it seems to take error to a higher level of importance than so many might casually assign it today. Here, John seems to set error apart as being some of the main business of the spiritual forces that were busy opposing God. On the other side of that “error” coin, he offers up the “Spirit of truth”, which we can readily identify as the Holy Spirit because of our knowledge of the rest of the scriptures. This makes it very hard to dismiss error as a mere inconvenience or bother or trifle for the believer. Rather, it seems to elevate it to a matter of very high importance and seriousness.
There’s really nothing to be added to these passages; they speak quite strongly on this matter—and directly. We don’t really need to infer much at all to understand this topic with an actionable understanding.
So many, however, do not. So many believers today, it seems, do not believe that the topic of error is one with which they need concern themselves. There’s a great quote that has been derived from something Winston Churchill once wrote in a letter:
“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.”
This is how it is with so very many believers today. They will stumble across some passage in the Bible that flatly disagrees with some point of doctrine or practice that the believer has been holding to for quite some time. Yet when they discover it, they do nothing of any consequence about it.
I’ve been watching this particular habit for a number of years now because it has become quite natural to the experience of sharing my Bible study findings with others. For example, where many will tell you that the “foreign gods” of the Old Testament weren’t really gods at all—that they weren’t even real beings at all, but were just imagined entities that stupid idol worshipers were using for make-believe—I would find passages like this one:
God has taken his place in the divine council;
in the midst of the gods he holds judgment:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless;
maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
5 They have neither knowledge nor understanding,
they walk about in darkness;
all the foundations of the earth are shaken.
6 I said, “You are gods,
sons of the Most High, all of you;
7 nevertheless, like men you shall die,
and fall like any prince.”
8 Arise, O God, judge the earth;
for you shall inherit all the nations!
Here is Yahweh speaking to beings that he himself calls “gods”. And these gods are clearly not inanimate idols, for he charges them with wrongdoing, explains to them what they should have been doing instead, and pronounces a death sentence on them, telling them that they would “die like men”, the fairly obvious alternative to which is to remain immortal.
But what do most believers do when they stumble across this new information? Most whom I have observed simply pick themselves up and hurry off with rarely more than a “that’s interesting”. Then the next time you hear them speaking on the subject of the “foreign gods”, you are apt to witness that they’re still engaging the same error with which they started.
If I understand the Bible correctly, that’s going to be a problem for these folks. I know a great many people who are exceedingly nice and kind, and who have many admirable qualities, but who are dumb as a brick with regard to correcting themselves out of error—even once they have been told about it.
What’s up with that?
Apparently, they don’t think it’s as important as God does—which is itself an error!