Can you shed some light on Acts 17:30? Is this verse telling Christians, having received liberty from the Law through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, that we have no excuse for continued existence in sin?
Let’s look at the verse in context:
In Acts 17, Paul is preaching the gospel in Thessalonica. Because of his preaching, the unbelieving Jews become upset and attacked Paul. He escapes to Berea, and the same Jews proceeded to follow him there. This forces Paul to travel farther to Athens.
While he is waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, Paul continues to preach the gospel, both to the Jews in the synagogues and the Gentiles in the market place.
It’s important to note that Scripture says Paul’s spirit is provoked or angered by the idolatry he sees in Athens (Acts 17:16). This is Paul's state of mind when we find him in reasoning with the Gentiles in the marketplace and the Areopagus.
This sets the context for Paul’s speech to the unbelieving Gentiles:
Regarding your question, the first thing to note is that Paul in not talking to Christians, but to unbelieving Gentiles. Therefore, this passage doesn’t have anything to say in respect to a Christians’ continued existence in sin. Rather, Paul is telling these Gentiles, who obviously practice idolatry (17:16, 22-23), how God will no longer overlook their idolatrous ways. Remember, Paul’s spirit is angered by all the idolatry he saw.
When Paul says God “overlooked the times of ignorance," he does not mean God will not hold them accountable for their sins when they die. Romans 3 tells us that no one is righteous and that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Romans 1 tells us that what may be known of God is evident in creation and within men’s conscience, yet men do not honor Him as God.
By “overlook," Paul simply means God did not punish men by judging them earlier and wiping them of the face of the Earth, as He was prepared to do. Rather, God tolerated sin in the world because He was waiting for a certain time in which He would display His righteousness. In this sense, they were “ignorant” because Christ had not yet come into the world, lived, died and been resurrected. Romans 3 puts it this way:
God “passed over” the sins previously committed when he withheld His judgement against humanity, and He did so because He was waiting for the time Christ would come into the world and demonstrate His righteousness. Now that Jesus has come, Paul is declaring that there is now no longer a barrier to God bring judgment upon the world for its sins.
In a sense, Paul was saying the world is living on borrowed time, and every day could be its last. Therefore, God requires us to repent if we are to avoid the coming judgment, because those who hear the gospel will be judged by their knowledge of Jesus. We know the gospel message is true, because God has raised Him from the dead. In this sense, those who hear the gospel have no excuse, because God’s righteousness has been made manifest to them.