Is knowledge of sin prerequisite to salvation through faith?
I would say the answer to this question is “no”.
First of all I believe, in line with Luther, that faith is a powerful gift from God and thus does not depend on anything other than Him.
A person may be leading a perfectly happy life, not feeling any want or doing anything bad or in his knowledge sinful. Either because his life just is like that or because he is a child or for some other reason is ignorant or does not feel unpleasant by the ever present sin in this world. But one day Jesus comes along. It may be in person, through revelation or some kind of impact, like lightning from a blue sky. And by pure attraction, he is drawn towards Him and believes. And through that faith in Him he gains salvation from the sin and hurt which is a factual part of living in this world but he hasn’t felt.
Most people need some kind of incentive to turn to God. Not for faith in itself, because it is not true faith, strictly speaking, if it has a reason behind it. But in order for a person to seek faith, something must urge one to it. And that may be like the attraction above or the knowledge of one’s precarious bondage in sin gained from the law, but it may also be a feeling inside, an indefinable ache. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t feel this kind of distress. That pain, which doesn’t arise from any knowledge of sin but from the heart, makes it impossible to not believe if one doesn’t prefer to continue to suffer, which, sadly, many seem to do.
Knowledge of sin may on the other hand thwart faith. This is because faith is unreasonable. The most sensible way to think for a sinner is that he deserves punishment. The law says so, conscience says so, other people say so. But Christ doesn’t. So knowledge of one’s sin may stand in the way of believing in Christ’s forgiveness and salvation. It may drive one to try to work for one’s salvation instead of surrendering to faith or it may make one miserable and thus prevent one from hearing the good news of the gospel. Either way it is a disturbance.
So on the whole, knowledge of sin may either drive one to believe in salvation or cause one not to believe in it but one may believe even without that knowledge. So it doesn’t matter much either case. God knows what every person needs and while preaching we should be receptive to His guidance so that we do not frustrate His plan for each individual by telling them something that they are not ready to, or ever should, hear. This is because salvation doesn’t depend on anything we feel, think, say or do, but on Jesus Christ.
These are my thoughts, and happily, when after writing this I checked with my course-books they say basically the same thing!
Please stay tuned for subsequent parts!