By Richard W. De Hann
BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT
If you were asked to name the greatest sin in the world, what would it be–murder, adultery, robbery, homosexuality? Or would you cite some of the more common evils which work so much harm in society like gossip, envy, or greed? Perhaps you would not single out one particular sin as the very worst, for you are appalled at the numerous reprehensible acts and sordid deeds committed every day.
The Bible, however, does express itself on this subject. It states that three sins–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, the unpardonable sin, and the sin unto death–carry with them a note of finality and sure judgement that does not mark man’s other transgressions. The first, the sin against the Holy Spirit, was a sin of Jesus’ day. The unpardonable sin can be committed only by those who are not children of God through faith in Jesus Christ. The sin unto death, on the other hand, involves only believers.
A careful study of what the Bible says about these three great transgressions will be of rich spiritual benefit. First, it will lead us into the Word of God. Secondly, it will constitute a warning to saint and sinner. Thirdly, many who are confused on the subject will receive great comfort when they realize that nothing they have ever done or said has placed them beyond the reach of God’s mercy.
THE GRAVITY OF THIS SIN
The Lord Jesus clearly expressed the serious nature of sinning against the Holy Spirit when He said,
Wherefore, I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven men.
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come (Matthew 12:31, 32).
Don’t try to evade the obvious meaning of these words. Jesus declared that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” would not be forgiven. The person guilty of this sin was doomed to be lost forever. He placed himself on the road to Hell, and for him there was no hope of forgiveness.
THE NATURE OF SIN
Since blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin of such magnitude, it is extremely important that we know exactly what it is. Everyone who possesses some knowledge of the Bible realizes that sins like theft, covetousness, envy, pride, gossip, dishonesty–yes, even murder, adultery, and fornication–are forgiven by God. Then, too, instructed believers know that a true follower of Christ could never be guilty of an unforgivable transgression. A child of God may grieve and quench the Holy Spirit, and he may fail to be fully yielded to Him, but it is absolutely impossible for him to do anything that cannot be forgiven.
What did the Lord Jesus mean when He spoke about the unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Many different answers have been given by respected and esteemed theologians and Bible students. Some of the suggestions include (1) continued rejection of Christ, (2) apostasy in time of persecution, (3) a denial that Jesus Christ is God, (4) a rejection of the deity of the Holy Spirit, and (5) using the name of the Holy Spirit in vain. None of these suggestions, however, take sufficient note of the context or the occasion of
In Matthew 12:22 we read that the Lord Jesus had just performed a great miracle. He had cast out demons from a person who was both blind and dumb, and his sight and speech were immediately restored. This demonstration of power had a profound effect upon the people who witnessed it, for Matthew tells us
they were “amazed, and said, Is not this (referring to Christ) the son of David? (Matthew 12:23). The way they framed the question indicates that they were inclined to believe He really was the son of David. The religious leaders were alarmed at this reaction, for they saw Christ as a threat to their power. Therefore they gave the blasphemous charge that Jesus cast out demons by “Beelzebub, ” and the Lord could not allow this accusation to go unanswered.
Wherefore, I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven men (Matthew 12:31).
J. R. Thompson comments as follows: “Great men are often misunderstood by reason of their very greatness. Aims higher than those of others need other methods than such as are commonly employed by ordinary persons. How much more this must have been the case with the Son of man! His mission was unique. He was altogether His own. He could not fulfill His ministry and do the work of Him who sent Him without stepping aside from the beaten tracks of conduct, and so courting criticism…He could not well conciliate public opinion, for He came to condemn and to revolutionize it. For the most part He went His way without noticing the misrepresentations and the calumnies of men. Yet there were occasions, like the present, when He paused to answer and to confute His adversaries.” (The Pulpit Commentary– Mark,
The Pharisees’ false accusation had to be answered, for they had deliberately equated the Holy Spirit with Satan. They had said that Jesus performed His mighty works through the power of the devil, when in reality He “cast out demons by the SPIRIT OF GOD” (Matthew 12:28). This grievous blasphemy was uttered in the face of definite evidence that Jesus Christ was in opposition to Satan, and that His mighty works were beneficial to men, not harmful. In this sense the sin cannot be committed today as it was by those religious leaders.
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was both a national and individual sin. The leaders of the people, representing the nation, had seen Heaven’s credentials to the Messiahship of the Lord Jesus, and had wickedly declared that they had their origin in Hell. This constituted a national rejection of Christ.
Therefore the Lord, after issuing the solemn warning about the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, declared that they were “an evil and adulterous generation, ” and that they would receive no sign from heaven other than His death, burial, and resurrection. (See Matthew 12:39, 40.) He further stated,
The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it; because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold a greater than Jonah is here (Matthew 12:41).
The national character of this sin is also set forth in the parable of the unclean spirit. This spirit was cast out of a man, only to return with seven other more wicked than himself, making the “last state of that man…worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation” (Matthew 12:43-45). The people of Israel and experienced a “house cleaning” through the preparatory ministry of John the Baptist,
but because they rejected the Messiah, their house had remained empty. Now, by deliberately ascribing the power of the Holy Spirit, as seen in the works of the Lord Jesus to Satan, that generation of Israelites brought itself into a far worse state than before John the Baptist. Judicial blindness came upon the
nation as a whole, and by A.D. 70, within the life-span of a single generation, the Jewish people had experienced the most fearful time in all their history. Although the generation to which our Lord spoke lost claim to God’s national promises because of their blasphemy, individual Israelites could still be saved by trusting the Lord Jesus. Israel as a nation also will someday be converted and enjoy the blessing promised by Almighty God.
This blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was also an individual sin for which there was no forgiveness. Those people who deliberately, against better knowledge, declared that the works Jesus performed through the power of the Holy Spirit originated with Satan could not be forgiven.
…whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come (Matthew 12:32).
One question remains to be answered. Why is it more serious to speak against the Holy Spirit than against the Son of man? Jesus said,
And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, neither in the age to come (Matthew 12:32).
Since Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are both members of the Godhead, why should blasphemy against one be more serious than against the other? Is one member of the Trinity afforded more honor than another? Why is the distinction made between sinning against the Son of man and against the Holy Spirit? Both are co-equal and co-eternal with the father. The answer is found in recognizing that the Jewish leaders rejected the regal credentials and Messianic claim of the Lord because of ignorance. Though God held them responsible for seeking Christ’s death, He knew they did not fully understand what they were
doing. After the Holy Spirit had come on the day of Pentecost, Peter said, “I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers” (Acts 3:17). Paul expressed the same idea when he said, “Which none of the princes of this age knew; for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory”
(1 Corinthians 2:8).
The religious leaders of that day were so blinded by prejudice and their own preconceived notions about the Messiah that they did not understand how the lowly Nazarene could be their promised King and Redeemer. but those individuals who brazenly said that the miracles of Jesus were the product of
Satan, even though worked by the power of the Holy Spirit, were speaking against better knowledge, for it directly contradicted the evidence right before their eyes. It was obvious that Jesus was opposed to Satan, and that his works were destroying Satan’s power. Their declaration that He did these mighty miracles
through the power of Satan rather than the Spirit was a deliberate and inexcusable sin.
Remember, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today in exactly the same manner as during Christ’s public ministry. But this does not mean you cannot commit a sin that is unforgivable. You can harden yourself against the truth even as the religious leaders of Christ’s day. If you continue
to reject Christ until you leave this life, you will have lost all opportunity for redemption. You should be thankful that you are still alive, and that the door of salvation remains open for you. The message “whosoever will” (Revelation 22:17) is still a wonderful truth for your life. You can pass from spiritual death to life, from darkness to light, by believing on Jesus Christ. You will then know the joy and peace of forgiveness.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…(1 John 5:1).
Receive Him today!
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12).
THE UNPARDONABLE SIN
HAve you ever wondered if any sin is so great that God would never forgive it? Is it possible to fall so deeply into certain practices or commit deeds so evil and perverse that you are beyond the limit of God’s forgiving grace? The Bible tells us that in Jesus’ day people could be guilty of an unpardonable sin. The Pharisees had accused the Lord of casting out demons by the power of Satan, and Jesus responded to their declaration by saying,
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme; But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation; Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit (Mark 3:28-30).
This sin is also spoken of in Matthew 12:22-32 and Luke 12:8-10. When the average person thinks of the unpardonable sin, he usually names one of the more base and sordid evils like sexual perversion, murder, family desertion, drunkenness, drug addiction, or gambling. Instead, this unforgivable sin was the
deliberate declaration that Jesus worked miracles by the power of Satan, when in reality He performed them “by the Spirit of God, ” Matthew (12:28). This blasphemy was committed willfully by the religionists against evidence that could not be contradicted.
Dr. H. D. Spence says it was “that determined hatred of holiness, that awful love of self, which…induced the Pharisee leaders to ascribe His…loving works to the spirit of evil and of darkness. The accusation was no chance one, the fruit of impulse or of passion. They who accused Him knew better. They had heard Him teach, not once, but often; they had seen His works; and yet–though they knew that the whole life, thoughts, and aspirations were true, and were conscious that every word and work was holy, just, and pure–in order to accomplish their own selfish ends, simply because they felt His life and teaching
would interfere with them, they dared to ascribe to the devil what their own hearts told them came directly from God.” The Pulpit Commentary: Luke, p. 333. Their rejection of Jesus Christ as the true Messiah was at least partly due to the ignorance brought on by their religious traditions. But this declaration, that the works He did were brought about by the power of Satan, was completely inexcusable.
Can this offence be committed today? No! Not at all! It could only occur while Christ was on earth and in actual physical contact with men. Those who were guilty of it had heard with their own ears His words of wisdom, and had witnessed with their own eyes His mighty works. When they, having been blessed with
this incontestable evidence, deliberately and willfully ascribed the works of the Lord Jesus to Satan, they were guilty of a sin which no one today can commit in exactly the same manner.
In spite of all this, however, I can well imagine someone saying, “But I think I have committed this sin. It troubles me, and I worry about it night and day. How can I find peace of mind? How can I know for sure that I am not guilty of the unpardonable sin?” Well, apart from the reasons I have already given, I would like to point out that the very fact you are anxious about it is absolute proof that you have not committed
Some time ago I read about a certain person who foolishly came to the conclusion that he had committed this great transgression. He believed he had passed beyond the point of forgiveness. He went to his pastor and sought for some assurance that he might be mistaken. Unburdening his heart to the minister, he told him about his morbid fear that he had “crossed the line” and had committed the sin for which there is no
forgiveness. The pastor responded by asking, “And just exactly what sin did you commit?” The troubled soul quickly answered, “I opposed the Word of God.” “So did Paul, ” the pastor replied, “and he was saved.” “Oh, but, I also denied Christ,” the man blurted out. “So did Peter, ” said the minister, “and he became
one of the greatest and most effective preachers of all time.” “Yes, but I doubted the power of Christ even after I received strong evidence in His favor.” “But, ” said the wise pastor, “so did Thomas. Wasn’t he forgiven?” The man who had been tormented so long by fears and doubts finally saw the folly of his
anxiety, and realized that this thing he dreaded was a misunderstanding of Scripture. He saw that even if such a hopeless state were possible in this age, the very fact that he was so concerned about his spiritual condition proved that he could not have committed this great transgression. No, the “sin against the Holy Spirit” cannot be committed today.
FORGIVENESS–A POSITIVE TRUTH
Therefore, rather than emphasizing the “unforgivable sin” in the passage we have been studying, I would rather see the spotlight focused upon the blessed words found in verse 28, which underscore the wonderful and precious truth of free and gracious forgiveness. Jesus said,
Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme (Mark 3:28).
That’s the message we preach today–“all sins shall be forgiven unto men.” Whoever you are, no matter how far you have fallen into sin, whatever it may be, whom it involves, where it was done, or how badly you feel, ALL SINS SHALL BE FORGIVEN UNTO THE SONS OF MEN. You may be bound by lust or chained by habits, or you may be one of the so-called “nicer” people who engage in the more “polite sins” of society, but you are a sinner just the same, for the Bible says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” It makes no difference how you categorize yourself, for “all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men.”
Do you remember the time when the scribes and Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to the Savior? They made the charge,
…Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned; but what sayest thou? (John 8:4, 5).
When they made this hypocritical accusation, the Lord Jesus, ignoring their question, stooped down and wrote with His finger on the ground. They kept pressing for an answer, however, until the Savior stood up, looked at them, and threw out the challenge, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7). He stooped down and again wrote on the sand, and one by one the accusers of the adulteress slipped away, convicted by their own consciences. Jesus was finally left alone with the repentant woman. Looking at her, the Savior asked the question, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath
no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord…” (John 8:10, 11). Now listed to Jesus’ wonderful proclamation of grace and forgiveness. He said to that shameful and guilty outcast of society, “Neither do I condemn thee; go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). I am happy to declare that this very same forgiveness
and freedom from judgment is given to all who admit their guilt and place their trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. The Word of God assures us, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). No matter how deeply you have sinned, God extends to you the gracious offer of complete forgiveness of sins. He says ‘All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men.’
The Bible scholar Ryle comments on Mark 3:22-30 as follows: “We ought to notice…what a glorious declaration our Lord makes in these verses about the forgiveness of sins. He says “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies with which they shall blaspheme.” These words fall lightly on the
ears of many persons, who see no particular beauty in them. But to the man who is alive to his own sinfulness and deeply sensitive to his need for mercy, these words are sweet and precious. “All sins shall be forgiven”. The sins of youth and age–the sins of head, and hand, and tongue, and imagination–the sins against all God’s commandments–the sins of persecutors, like Paul–the sins of idolaters, like Manasseh–the sins of open enemies of Christ, like the Jews who crucified Him–the sins of backsliders from Christ, like Peter–all, all may be forgiven. The blood of Christ can cleanse all away. The righteousness of Christ can cover all, and hide all from God’s eyes. The doctrine here laid down is the crows and glory of the Gospel. The very first thing it proposes to man is free pardon, full forgiveness, complete remission, without
money and without price. ‘Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all thing’ (Acts 13:38).” Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, p. 55.
CONTINUED REJECTION IS UNPARDONABLE
In the final analysis, the only thing that will keep you from God and knowing His full pardon and forgiveness is continued unbelief! Therefore, though you cannot today be guilty of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, ” you can commit an unpardonable sin by persisting in unbelief. Although the expression, “the unpardonable sin” is not found in the Bible, I believe we are justified in using this term because it expresses the Scriptural teaching that there is danger in delay. If you persist in unbelief, your spiritual sensitivity will become deadened. The longer you postpone, the less likely your ultimate salvation. Though it is true, “while the candle holds to burn, the vilest sinner may return, ” the person who continues to resist the gracious working of the Holy Spirit may well bring himself into the state of complete indifference. If
he dies in this condition, he will go into eternity as a lost sinner.
Unsaved friend, the SIN question has been settled. You are now faced with the SON question. All your sins can be forgiven if you will believe in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that God loved the world so much He provided a way to escape the penalty of sin. He who is God became man to be our substitute in human flesh.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us…(John 1:1, 14).
the Lord Jesus lived the perfect life we could not live and went to the cross to die the death we deserved. That’s why 2 Corinthians 5:21 declares that God “made him (Christ)…to be sin for us.” The Lord Jesus arose from the grave, and His resurrection was proof that the sacrifice He offered was acceptable to God as a full payment for all sin. Salvation, which includes everlasting life, forgiveness, peace with God, and an eternity in Heaven, is now offered as a free gift to all who will believe. I am thankful that the door of redemption remains open, and that you can still receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. If the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart, it’s not too late for you. Acknowledge your sinful condition before God, and in simple faith receive the Lord Jesus for salvation. Trust Him, and Him alone, to save you. The Bible
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation (Romans 10:9, 10).
THE SIN UNTO DEATH
Many people have been amused and entertained by the popular “happiness is” one-liners. I am thinking especially of those made famous by the “Peanuts” characters created by Charles Schulz. Here are a few examples:
“Happiness, ” according to Linus, “is a thumb and a blanket.” Lucy says, “Happiness is a warm puppy.” Linus thinks “happiness is finally getting the silver out, ” or “the hiccups after they’ve gone away.” Snoopy sees happiness as “walking on the grass in your bare feet.”
Many others might be added. Everyone seems to have his own favorite. In fact, the book from which I’ve quoted these ends with: “Happiness is different things to different people.”
These little sayings are entertaining, but their intention is not to set forth the deep and meaningful essence of genuine, lasting happiness. For this you must turn to the Bible, the book from which the whole “happiness is” idea originated.
In the well-known sermon on the mount, for example, the Lord Jesus makes many statements regarding happiness. The word “blessed”, which begins each of the beatitudes, means “happy”, so they could be translated as follows:
Happiness is being meek. (Happy) are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
Happiness is seeking righteousness. (Happy) are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).
Happiness is being merciful. (Happy) are the merciful; for they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Happiness is being pure in heart. (Happy) are the pure in heart; for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
Happiness is being a peacemaker. (Happy) are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
But perhaps the most comprehensive Scriptural one-liner describing happiness is this statement by the psalmist:
Happiness is doing the will of God. (Happy) is every one that feareth the Lord, that walketh in his ways (Psalm 128:1).
This verse says plainly that the way to happiness is to respect God and obey Him. Conversely, sadness is the state of disobedience to God. Since happiness is obeying God, then sadness must be disobeying Him.
One of the most unhappy of all situations for the Christian is to be guilty of the “sin unto death”. You will recall from our previous studies of The Three Greatest Sins that “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” and the “unpardonable sin” cannot be committed by a believer. The first of these sins was a transgression that could be committed only by those who lived when Jesus walked upon the earth, and therefore it does not
exist today. The “unpardonable sin” is restricted to those who have not received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. The sin unto death, however, is of a different nature. The apostle John says this about it:
And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us; And if we know that he hear us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death (1 John 5:14-17).
Now, just what is this transgression called “a sin unto death”?
A SIN OF THE SAINTS
The sin unto death is first of all a sin of the saints. John says, “If any man see his brother sin a sin”. The person involved is a brother in Christ and therefore a Christian.
Secondly, the consequence of this sin is physical death. Dr. A. C. Gaebelein commented on this passage of Scripture, saying, “The brother is a believer. On account of sinning he is chastened. God permits sickness to come upon him and the sinning not having been unto death (physical death only) he is raised up. However, a believer may go on willfully sinning and remain there dishonoring Christ. He is to be taken away out of the land of the living, cut off by death. No request could be made for such of one. The question of death is not eternal condemnation but only physical death.” The Gospel of Matthew, pp. 251, 252.
A STATE OR HABIT
Thirdly, the sin unto death is not one single act of transgression, but a state or habit of sin which a person has willfully chosen and in which he continues. Someone has said it is “constant and consummate opposition to God.”
A fourth characteristic of the sin unto death is that it is individual in nature. The same sin that is “mortal” for one does not bring physical death upon another. You see, we tent to categorize certain sins and rate them as bad, very bad, and extremely bad, but God sees them differently.
…for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
He knows our background, heredity, environment, the battles we face, and the spiritual light we have received. For that reason, while some sins for certain individuals might bring the most severe judgment, these identical practices in the lives of others, even though sorely displeasing to God, may not bring
forth the same judgment.
WILLFUL AND DELIBERATE
The sin unto death is not only continual, it is willful and deliberate. It is also, very likely, an open sin that brings reproach upon the cause of Christ. Therefore, for the sake of the Gospel, and in order that the “spirit” of the one sinning may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:5), God takes the guilty one to Heaven by His chastening hand. But he must still someday stand before the judgement seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10, 11).
TEACHING OF THE EPISTLES
The apostle Paul also refers to the same sin, though not specifically calling it “the sin unto death”. In 1 Corinthians 11 he said that unjudged sin in the lives of certain Christians had resulted in physical ailments for some and death for others. He therefore admonished Corinthian believers to diligent self-examination and confession of sin before partaking of the Lord’s supper.
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:28-32).
Paul in 1 Corinthians 5 gives additional information about the “sin unto death”.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:4, 5).
A member of the Church at Corinth was living in deliberate, open, and shameful sin, as described in the first verse of the chapter.
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife (1 Corinthians 5:1).
His sin was an open sin, public in nature. The apostle said, “It is reported commonly.” One Bible scholar said this Greek phrase may be paraphrased, “It is notorious that there is uncleanness among you.” He goes on to say, “Everyone knew of this scandal…, even the feeling of pagans were so shocked by this sin that Cicero alludes to such a crime with the words, ‘Oh incredible wickedness.'” Because of the gross nature of this continuing relationship, the apostle tells the others in the church that the guilty party should be delivered to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh.” But notice carefully, this man was not lost, for he had not committed the unpardonable sin. Rather, he was guilty of the sin unto death, and Satan was allowed to end his physical life “that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”
In this connection we are reminded of Ananias and Sapphira, who were struck dead for lying about sacred matters. They went to Heaven, and the effect of their death was sobering and sanctifying to the company of believers. (See Acts 5). The passages in 1 Corinthians 5 and 11, along with this example from the book of Acts, indicate that sometimes God, for His own honor and the ultimate good of the transgressors themselves, prescribes severe treatment. He permitted the guilty ones to become weak and sickly, and, if they persisted in the way of evil, physical death resulted.
THE DISPENSATIONAL ASPECTS
Some Bible students view the sin unto death in a dispensational light. They contend that even though the Lord abhors sin just as much as ever, He does not deal with it as dramatically and openly as He did in the early church. If all 20th century people guilty of lying to the Holy Spirit and defrauding their fellow Christians were to be judged as Ananias and Sapphira, church memberships would be much smaller. And, if everyone who eats and drinks unworthily at the Lord’s table became weak and sickly, our pastors would be overworked making hospital calls. We recognize the element of truth in these statements, and agree that such signs were more prevalent during the apostolic age than today. But this does not mean God would
never take a believer by death today if that person persisted in continued and open sin. God always chastens His people when they fail to confess and forsake sin. In fact, one who continues in sin without experiencing severe chastening has good reason to wonder whether or not he is really a child of God.
NOT ALL SICKNESS
Not all sickness is the result of unconfessed and unforsaken sin, however. I want to declare this most emphatically because God, for reasons He alone knows, permits some of His children to suffer far more than others. My father expressed this truth clearly when he said: “If you are weak or sick, and God has not
seen fit to raise you up after you have honestly examined your heart and confessed every known and doubtful sin, you may be sure that God has a reason for dealing with you as He does, for ‘whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth’ (Hebrews 12:6). If you have confessed to Him, and it pleases the Lord not the grant your petitions immediately, then rest in the confidence that He knows best, and learn to say, ‘Thy will be done.’
YOU ARE STILL ALIVE
“But”, I can hear someone say, “What about me? I’m afraid I’ve committed the sin unto death.” I don’t want to be unkind or blunt to the point of insulting you, but I believe I can help you best by answering your question with another, “You’re not dead, are you?” The fact that you are alive is proof you haven’t
committed this sin.
If you are a true child of God but walking in sin, the way to restored fellowship and peace is through honest confession.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
God gives each of His children everlasting life, and you have the assurance, “There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…” (Romans 8:1). You can never lose your salvation, and the way to fellowship is always open when you confess and forsake your sin. But if you persist in walking
in your own sinful way and deliberately disregarding God’s plan for your life, the Lord may find it necessary to deal with you severely. Search your heart honestly. Confess your sin to the Lord. Then claim His cleansing, and go on your way rejoicing.
(Happy) is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Happy) is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile (Psalm 32:1, 2).
“HAPPINESS IS KNOWING YOUR SINS ARE FORGIVEN!”
GOD KEEPS BOOKS
While reading a daily newspaper [many years] ago, my attention was attracted to this bold headline: “MEET UNIVAC’S BIG BROTHER–UNCLE SAM.” The article which followed, written by Ben A. Franklin of the New York Times, went on to say: “The police, security and military intelligence agencies of the
federal government are quietly compiling a mass of computerized and microfilmed files here on hundreds of thousands of law- abiding yet suspect Americans. With the justification that an age of assassination, violent political dissent, and civil disorder requires it, the government is building an array in instantly retrievable information on ‘persons of interest.’ “The article then discussed the identity of these ‘persons of
interest’, and asked some penetrating questions regarding this policy of the government. Is it legal? Is it an invasion of privacy? Is it an infringement upon the rights of free speech and assembly stated in the First Amendment? Could it be an initial step toward a police state?
These are disturbing questions, but the heart of the whole issue centers around the right of government to gather such information, the qualifications of those who possess it, its real usefulness, and its potential for good or evil.
Regardless of what you may think about this governmental policy, it reminds me of another “investigating agency” with which you cannot find fault. The largest and oldest of all, it has been collecting important and detailed data about every individual since the beginning of human existence. The head of this agency is God, and no one can properly question His right to the information He is gathering. He is also perfectly
qualified, for His integrity guarantees that He will put the information to good use. God is concerned about every act of man, and will someday call each person into account. Listen to these words of the Lord Jesus:
…there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; neither hidden, that shall not be known. Therefore, whatever ye have spoken in darkness shall be heard in the light/ and that which ye have spoken in the ear in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops (Luke 12:2, 3).
Yes, God keeps books! Even though works have nothing to do with obtaining salvation, the record of what every man has done will be examined when he stands at his final judgment. In this lesson we want to see what the Bible has to say about the Christian and the book God is keeping on him. Does it make any
difference how a man lives? Are works of any value to one who has been saved by grace? Can a person live selfishly and wickedly, and still enjoy the same prospect as the believer who loves the Lord with all his heart and serves Him to the very best of his ability?
THE TESTIMONY OF THE SCRIPTURES
The answer to these questions will be found if we let God speak to us through His Word. The Scriptures clearly say that the Lord is very much concerned about the way believers live, and the He will call us to account at the judgment seat of Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5 the apostle Paul states:
Wherefore, we labor that, whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men…(2
The apostle also said,
Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble—Every man’s work shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall test every man’s work of what sort it is. If any man’s work abide which he hath built upon it, he shall receive a reward. If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet
as by fire (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
Yes, God keeps books! A day of reckoning is coming when every one of our deeds will be examined and weighed. That which we have done with an unholy motivation–for the advancement of self rather than the glory of God and the good of others–will be burned away. Our good works, however, described by Paul as
“gold, silver, precious stones”, will endure the testing furnace of God’s judgment, and the believer will be richly rewarded.
Now, lest there be any confusion, let me remind you of a few basic and important facts about the judgment seat of Christ.
ONLY FOR BELIEVERS
First, it is only for believers. The unsaved will not stand before God at this time, but will appear at another place of judgment called the Great White Throne.
Secondly, this judgement of believers will take place in Heaven during the time between the rapture of the Church and the coming of Christ to rule and reign. While God’s wrath is being poured out upon the earth during the great tribulation, His children will be judged and rewarded in Heaven. With this in mind, I find great significance in the words of the apostle John,
Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white; for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints (Revelation 19:7, 8).
My father commented on this passage as follows: “Notice the words, ‘his wife hath made herself ready.’ Evidently she was not ready before. The events spoken of in Revelation 19 will occur seven years after the rapture. The Church is “caught away” from the earth in Revelation 4:1, 2 and does not appear again until
she is seen here in chapter 19, just before the glorious return of the Lord. God’s judgments on the earth are described in chapters 6 to 19, and at the same time God will be judging the bride (the Church) in the air. The bride then appears in a clean white robe which is called the ‘righteous acts of saints’. Her robe consists of the material she herself has provided while here on the earth, and she is arrayed for the wedding in the
robe of her own making.”
THE ISSUE NOT SALVATION
Thirdly, the judgment seat of Christ has no bearing upon the salvation of those who stand before it. Their redemption was settled when they trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ. Works have nothing to do with obtaining salvation. Paul’s words in Ephesians are sufficient to establish this once and for all,
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God–Not the works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
Our works following salvation, however, are the criteria for our reward or lack of reward at the judgment seat of Christ.
TESTING BUT NO PUNISHMENT
Fourthly, even though the apostle clearly states that there will be a ‘burning’ at the judgment seat, this purging refers to the testing of believers’ works. They will not be required to pay for their sins, for Christians will not have to endure punishment. Their works will be subjected to the fire, and those designated as “wood, hay, stubble” will be destroyed. The Christian himself, you see, is beyond condemnation.
There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus…(Romans 8:1).
Remember, then, that even though the believer has all his empty, valueless works “burned” away, “he himself shall be saved; yet as by fire.”
Finally, the judgment seat of Christ is a clear demonstration of God’s loving grace. Those who faithfully serve Him have the promise of great reward, though God is not obligated to do anything for us. We are saved by grace, kept by grace, and all we have is the result of His grace. Now, in gratitude for all God has done for us, we should want to serve Him by giving Him our best. But, having done so, we are not to expect reward or payment of any kind. Faithful service is the least we can return in appreciation for all He has done for us. Jesus said,
But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to eat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready that with which I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunk; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So ye also, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do (Luke 17:7- 10).
Even though we have given our all to the Lord, we still must say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was our duty to do.” By rights we have nothing coming! We could never repay God for all He has done for us. And yet to those who serve God faithfully–those to whom He has no indebtedness
whatsoever–god has promised great reward. Paul exhorts us,
Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Isn’t it wonderful to know that even though we do not deserve a reward, and though we do not serve the Lord because we expect His commendation, all true believers will someday be praised by Him. We will see the Savior and hear His loving words of approval. Yes, as the hymnwriter expressed it, “It will be worth
it all”. At times the Christian pathway may seem difficult, the trials unbearable, the labor hard, frustrating, and seemingly unrewarding. We may be tempted to ask: “Is it worth it? Why not give up? Wouldn’t it be better to just drift along?” No, a thousand times, no! It’s far better to press on the upward trail of service to the mountaintop of victory and hear the Savior’s “Well done.” It will be worth it all! A wonderful reward awaits those who faithfully serve the Lord Jesus Christ.
I hope you have caught the meaning of this lesson. Salvation is free. “Whosoever will” may take of the water of life freely, but God has more for us than just being saved. He will one day honor us for the service we have rendered Him. This is what Peter meant when he wrote:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7).
Remember, God keeps books!
THE GREAT WHITE THRONE
Would an announcement that you were going to meet God tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock make you happy, or would it fill your heart with fear? Would you anticipate it with joy, or would you be so terrified that you would rather die this moment if it meant you could avoid such a confrontation? In every group of
people there would be many to represent both reactions. Some eagerly await Christ’s coming, but others, terrified at the thought, belong to a company depicted in the book of Revelation who will cry out to the mountains,
…Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; For the great day of his wrath is come, and who shall be able to stand? (Revelation 6:16, 17).
Whether you want such a meeting with God or not, you will finally have one! Not necessarily tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, but it is certain that you will eventually face Him. The only way you can meet Him with confidence and assurance is to make sure the sin in your life has been removed. When you
possess that knowledge, the future becomes bright, and the anticipation of seeing God a great joy and a thrilling hope.
JUDGEMENT IS COMING
In the previous lessons of this series, The Three Greatest Sins, we discussed the sin against the Holy Spirit, the sin unto death, and the unpardonable sin. The latter is the persistent and continuous rejection of God’s gracious salvation. It is the spurning of God’s love, the Savior’s sacrifice on Calvary, and the Holy Spirit’s invitation to receive the gift of salvation. It becomes finalized at death when the unbeliever goes into
eternity. So today, in this age, even though Jesus said, “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men”, those who refuse God’s forgiveness through unbelief shall enter eternity, never again to be offered the remission of sin. They shall stand at the Great White Throne for judgment, guilty of the greatest sin
of all–unbelief! Jesus said,
He that believeth on him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:18).
In the fourth lesson of this series we considered the judgment seat of Christ, where believers will be examined and experience either the gain or the loss of reward. But that will be nothing compared with the fate awaiting those who go into eternity having rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Listen to what Revelation 20:11-15 tells about the judgment of those who are guilty of the sin of unbelief. Remember, these are not my words, but they are God’s words, given through John the apostle to warn you about that unavoidable day when the ungodly must stand before the One they ignored in this life.
And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away, and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged
out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and hades delivered up the dead that were in them; and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second
death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
In this vision of the final judgment of the wicked, John tells us that he saw “the dead, small and great, stand before God” (literally, “the throne”). The One seated upon it will be the Lord Jesus Christ himself, for when He was here on earth He warned His enemies, “…the Father judgeth no man, but hath
committed all judgment unto the Son” (John 5:22). Jesus Christ is God, and in that day everyone will have to acknowledge that He is all he claimed to be. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote,
Wherefore, God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name, That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God, the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
The Bible makes it very clear that the soul of every unsaved person will be united with its own resurrection body to face God. People from every station in life will be there–the wealthy and the poor, the respected and the despised, the educated and the ignorant–yes, all the ungodly will be called to stand before the throne.
Now what is the purpose of this resurrection at the end of time? The Bible says it is for judgment. The apostle John declared that the degree of punishment meted out upon the unbeliever will be upon the basis of his works.
…and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works (Revelation 20:12).
This great gathering then, will be convened so that absolute justice can be rendered to every unsaved individual. It will not determine the place of their eternal destiny, for that will have been settled by their failure to receive Christ. Deliberate rejecters of Christ will be guilty of the unpardonable sin. Even
the unevangelized heathen will be condemned because of failure to accept the revelation God gave in nature and conscience. Therefore, every non-Christian must appear at this judgment because of his unbelief in life. Remember, then, the purpose of the Great White Throne is to determine the degree of punishment the unsaved will undergo throughout eternity. The “encyclopedia of works” will be opened, and the dead will be judged on the basis of what is recorded in these volumes. Those who in their
lifetime were given greater light and more favorable opportunities, or those who lived more wickedly than others, will receive a punishment that is proportionately more severe.
The teaching that all men will suffer equally is completely unscriptural. God is just! He will deal with every person on the basis of the light received, the opportunities granted, the extent of his wickedness, and the motives behind his deeds. Yes, the punishment meter out in that day will be moderate indeed for that poor, benighted heathen who never heard the Gospel, in contrast to the terrible fate of those who knew the way of salvation but deliberately refused it.
THE BOOK OF LIFE
The unsaved who stand before the Great White Throne will also be confronted with the “book of life”. John says,
…and another book was opened, which is the book of life (Revelation 20:12).
In this volume are inscribed the names of all who are saved, and it evidently serves as a double-check. Not only does the record of his works condemn the unbeliever, but the very absence of his name from the “book of life” confirms the fact that he never accepted the salvation God so mercifully offered. The names of all who have received the Lord Jesus Christ will be in this book, but the names of the Christ-rejecters will be
…whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
It is indeed a solemn thought that one’s eternal destiny is determined by whether or not he accepts Jesus Christ. The Lord declared, “…if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins”. Receive Christ in this life, or you will be forever lost.
The condemnation for unbelief is eternal separation from God in the place prepared for the devil and his angels. Did you every try to imagine just how long eternity will be? I well remember as a lad, after hearing my father preach about it, I would go out into the field behind the house, lie on the grass, and gaze into the deep blue shy spotted with fleecy white clouds. There, I would try to fathom the length of eternity.
Would it be a hundred years? A thousand? A million? A billion? A trillion? A quadrillion? Well, I always came to the place where I just didn’t know how to count any higher. Perhaps it was just as well; to go too far in this direction could be maddening, for eternity is an infinite concept which the finite mind cannot
comprehend. Eternity will never end! What a dreadful thought for the lost. No wonder the Bible says,
…Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts (Hebrews 4:7).
…behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
The experience of the unsaved thief crucified alongside the Savior should be a warning to all who repeatedly refuse salvation. One can become so hardened that he deliberately rejects Christ, even at his very last moment when death is certain. Picture with me that scene on Calvary. There hangs the
thief with hands and feet affixed to a cruel cross. All hope of reprieve is gone, and the “grim reaper” is about to lay his clammy hands upon him. In a few moments he will pass into eternity. And yet, fully aware that his life is rapidly slipping away, this malefactor can revile and jeer at the Son of God. With death staring him right in the face, he not only rejects the Savior, but bitterly denounces Him.
DON’T PUT IT OFF
How often those who are unsaved have said when pressed to make a decision for Christ, “Don’t bother me now! Someday, perhaps when I am older, I’ll consider what you have to say, but not now!” If you have ever given such an answer, may the Holy Spirit impress upon your heart this moment the urgency of
receiving the Lord Jesus while you still have opportunity. The Bible says,
he that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 29:1).
Remember, when tomorrow comes, today will be yesterday! If tomorrow finds you in eternity, your rejection of the Savior will be beyond recall.
I have found that one of the greatest difficulties in presenting the Gospel is overcoming the wrong idea that human works play a part in obtaining salvation. The Bible, however, is very clear on this matter.
No by works of righteousness which we have don…(Titus 3:5).
Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in His sight… (Romans 3:20).
SIMPLE AS ABC
Salvation is received by faith. This very simplicity of the Gospel often causes people to stumble, but in reality the plan of salvation is as simple as ABC:
A. Admit you are a sinner. …all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
B. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”. This is what Paul told the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31) when he cried out: “What must I do to be saved?” Believe that Jesus Christ–truly God and truly man–died on the cross and shed His blood in your place. Trust Him alone for your salvation.
C. Confess Him before others. Having received Christ, you should then publicly profess your faith in Him. An inner possession should result in an outward confession.
Whosoever, therefore, shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father, who is in heaven (Matthew 10:32).
Even though it tool the wisdom of the infinite God to devise such a wondrous plan, and it cost Him dearly, yet the Lord made the realization of salvation as simple as ABC, and offers it to you as a love-gift in grace.
If you’ve never received the Savior, bow your head right now, and say something like this (use your own words if you’d like): “Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner, I believe the Bible when it says that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’, and that ‘the wages of sin is death’. I also accept everything the Bible says about You. I know You are truly God and truly man, and the You lived a perfect life I could not live, and died the death I should have died. And, acknowledging that You shed Your blood on the cross for my sins, and the You arose from the dead, proving that sin’s debt was fully paid, I now receive You as my Savior, trusting You, and You alone, for my salvation. Lord, save me. I do believe.”
If you did that, them claim Jesus’ own promise:
…him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).
The Bible says,
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).
Then, be sure to find a good Bible-believing, Bible-teaching church where you can be taught God’s Word and find fellowship with other believers. In this way, you will
…grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ…(2 Peter 3:18).
Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version, (c) 1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.
“The Three Greatest Sins” by Richard W. De Hann Copyright 1988 Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Used by Permission.