IS THERE AN UNPARDONABLE SIN?
Many years ago, a deeply religious man was tormented by the fear of having committed the unpardonable sin. Though his life was filled with prayer and Bible study, he feared that he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and betrayed his Savior.
He despaired of life. He said he envied the dogs and even the stones because he feared that his future was worse than theirs.
He was John Bunyan, who became one of Christianity’s great historical personalities. He wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, one of the most popular Christian books of all time.
His needless fears about the unpardonable sin are told in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. As his title indicates, he realized that God’s mercy was great enough; he did not need to fear the unpardonable sin.
But just as this fear had gripped John Bunyan some 300 years ago, it grips some Christians today. So let’s explore this subject to learn what the Bible teaches.
What Did Jesus Say?
The idea of an unpardonable sin comes from something Jesus said. This is a little odd, because Jesus Christ is the one who died so our sins can be forgiven.
Let’s see what he said:
“Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man [Jesus] will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-29, which are parallel scriptures, say that any sin will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
This particular “eternal sin” is unique–unlike all other sins. It will not be forgiven.
What is this sin, and why won’t it be forgiven?
The historical situation helps us understand why Jesus mentioned blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: “He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit'” (Mark 3:30). Some Jewish religious leaders had accused Jesus of being demon possessed (verse 22).
Matthew 12 gives us even more background information. A demon had caused a man to be blind and speechless. Jesus healed this person, ordering the demon to leave (verse 22).
Most of the people who witnessed this miracle were amazed, and they wondered if this miraculous healing power meant that Jesus was the Son of David, the Messiah (verse 23).
But the Pharisees ridiculed that idea. They suggested that Jesus could order demons around only because he was working with the ruler of demons (verse 24).
The Pharisees were jealous of Jesus’ power and popularity. He was a threat to their status as religious leaders. So they claimed he was an agent of Satan, not of God.
Jesus showed that their claim was ridiculous and hypocritical (verses 25-27). The power to cast out demons comes from God. “If I drive out demons by the Spirit of God,” Jesus said, implying that he did, “then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (verse 28).
God’s power and authority were at work in the life and ministry of Jesus. He was the Savior not only of the Jews, but also of the whole world. As God in the flesh, he was performing miracles.
But some of the Pharisees were refusing to accept the evidence. They weren’t just skeptical. They were working against the kingdom of God.
Those Pharisees were rejecting God–even though some of them understood Jesus to be a teacher from God (John 3:2).
They had seen Jesus’ miracles and heard his wisdom. They had seen so much that they should have publicly recognized that Jesus was one with God.
The Pharisees did not want to admit they were wrong. In self-imposed blindness, they were rejecting not only Jesus, but also the dramatic evidence they had seen. Some of them were knowingly denying the power of God and the kingdom of God.
So Jesus warned them about the sin that would not be forgiven. Are you rejecting the power of God? he asked. If you reject an obvious miracle of the Holy Spirit, calling a good miracle evil, then what can change your mind? Maybe nothing.
The Holy Spirit is the means by which God works in our hearts and minds to transform us and to save us. But how could God help these Pharisees if some of them were knowingly rejecting the very way that God works?
God Is Always Willing to Forgive
God loved the Pharisees, just as he loves all human beings, without any favoritism (Acts 10:34). God is merciful (Luke 6:36) and always willing to forgive.
God is always able to forgive any sin, no matter how great. But he obviously cannot forgive if the person who has sinned doesn’t want him to, if the person isn’t willing to admit doing anything wrong.
God won’t force anyone to live forever with him in his kingdom if that person doesn’t want to do so. But few people ever reach that extreme of knowingly fighting against God.
Jesus was demonstrating benefits of God’s kingdom: freedom from evil spirits, freedom from disabilities. The Pharisees were calling it satanic. They seemed to be knowingly speaking against a miracle done by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus was warning them about how serious their accusation was. Warning, but not condemning.
There was still hope. The Pharisees had time to think about it and time to change their attitude.
Many of them did. Some tried to help Jesus escape (Luke 13:31). Some helped bury him (Luke 23:50-53). Some became disciples after he was resurrected (Acts 15:5).
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins” (1 John 1:9). God is able to forgive any and every sin (Psalm 103:3). Even the people who helped kill Jesus Christ could be forgiven their sins (Luke 23:34; Acts 2:36-38). Paul persecuted the Church, and that could also be forgiven (1 Timothy 1:13).
Any person can be forgiven. Any sin can be forgiven. But God will not forgive people who refuse to admit sin and repent even though they know better.
Few people reach that extreme of stubbornness. Few are so warped in their sense of good and evil that they can deliberately set themselves to oppose God and the work he does through the Holy Spirit.
Such people do not want eternal life with God. They resent what God has done.
They reject God’s offer of salvation. They don’t want his forgiveness. They don’t even care about it.
That brings us to an important point. If you are worried about the unpardonable sin, thinking that you may have done it, stop worrying!
You have not committed an unforgivable sin, and the proof is in the fact that you care. You want to be right with God.
Because you care, there is hope for you, just as there was for the Pharisees, just as there was for the people who killed Jesus Christ.
All sins can be forgiven. We can trust in God, who loved each of us so much that he sent his Son to die for us. Christ’s sacrifice was so great that it paid for every sin that humans have ever committed and every sin that they may commit in the future. His sacrifice is easily great enough to offer us forgiveness for whatever we have done.
We can have not only hope, but confidence through Jesus Christ our Savior. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in our Lord Jesus Christ.
How thankful we can be for his love and wisdom. We can praise and worship him forever (Romans 8:39; 7:24-25; 11:33-36).
Our Need to Forgive Others
There is another sin that God will not forgive–a sin rarely mentioned in discussions of the unpardonable sin. Nevertheless, the biblical terminology is almost the same: God will not forgive us if we fail to do one particular thing. The biblical teaching is clear.
If we forgive others, God will forgive us. If we don’t, God will not forgive us (Matthew 6: 14-15).
This teaching is repeated in Matthew 18:21-35, Mark 11:25 and Luke 6:37. If we hold a grudge, if we hold on to a desire for revenge, we are in danger.
If we are not willing to forgive others, then we would not enjoy eternal life with the God of mercy. Like blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this is a sin that will not be forgiven–unless, of course, we change our ways. Jesus’ words are a warning to all Christians.
Our relationships with other human beings in many ways reflect our relationship with God (1 John 4:20). We must get them right.
Our family relationships, for example, can interfere with our prayers (1 Peter 3:7). They can even demonstrate that we are “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Timothy 5:8). Loving, interpersonal relationships are essential to the Christian way of life.
In some ways, refusing to forgive another person is about the same as blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It is denying the power of God to transform that person by means of the Holy Spirit.
It is refusing to believe that God can take care of that person in the best possible way. It is a rejection of the truth that Christ died for all people, including that person.
Refusing to forgive another is a failure to recognize how much God has forgiven us. It is a refusal to live God’s way, to express the love that the Holy Spirit should be producing in our lives (Romans 5:5; Galatians 5:22-23). It is a failure to understand what Christianity is all about.
God has been extremely generous to us. He has given us the life of his Son. He gives us forgiveness, and he gives us the Holy Spirit to make it possible for us to live with him forever.
If we understand this, and if we allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds and hearts to become more and more like God, we will be gracious, merciful and forgiving, as our Father in heaven is.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God,” Paul says (Ephesians 4:30). “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (verses 31-32).
Not one of us is perfect, but we all have tremendous hope. God can help us become more forgiving.
He wants to help us be more merciful.
He knows our weaknesses and our need for his help. As long as we want his help, he is always available to us. His mercy endures forever (Psalm 136:126, New King James Version).
We can go to the throne of mercy not only to be forgiven but also to receive the Holy Spirit, the help we need to forgive others.
As long as we are willing to come humbly to God and ask for help and forgiveness, he is willing and able to grant our request.
ATTITUDES OF SIN
If we combine the principles from scriptures on this subject, we can see several attitudes associated with the sin that will not be forgiven:
Not willing to ask for forgiveness.
Not willing to forgive others
Not willing to admit sin or to repent.
Deliberately, willfully rejecting Christ’s sacrifice.
Rejecting God’s definition of good and evil.
Rejecting the Holy Spirit
Stubbornly opposing God.
The unpardonable sin is a deliberate hardening of the heart and a refusal to listen to anything God says. This cluster of themes helps us understand how serious this sin is and why God will not forgive it.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THE WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD, 1993, PAGES 1-3. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.