I was thinking about writing a post on prayer, but I’ve had some discussions recently with people about something that troubles them a lot—the “unforgiveable sin,” mentioned in Matthew 12.
“Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
Matthew 12:31-32 (ESV)
Who was Jesus talking to in this passage? He was speaking to the Pharisees, the religious leaders, who had just suggested that He was using power from the devil to perform a miracle.
What was Jesus talking about? Jesus is referring to those who deliberately and purposefully state that an act of God is actually an act of Satan. They knowingly lie by attributing the glory due to God to the devil. This is referred to as blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
Why is the sin unforgiveable? These people are so steeped in evil that they are beyond redemption. They have caused much harm to God’s holy name and have led others astray through their deliberate falsehoods. They have crossed a line and it is not possible for them to turn back--nor would they want to.
Have I committed the unforgiveable sin?
I once heard a Pastor say that he had asked his church congregation to raise their hands if they thought that at some point they might have committed the unforgiveable sin. Nearly every hand went up. That’s a lot of people serving God but lacking assurance, or worse, a lot of people terrified that they have said or done the unforgiveable and cannot do anything to combat it.
I have observed similar concerns during one to one conversations with people troubled by these thoughts. Some think that when they have doubts about God or try to exercise discernment when they witness apparent miracles that they might be committing this sin. Unfortunately, I have even heard believers accuse people who question certain phenomena as potentially having committed this sin or of being in danger of doing so. That’s a sure way to swiftly silence your critics!
One of the saddest things is that people who are worried about this very often carry the burden alone. They allow themselves to be troubled in mind and heart and think that if they seek counsel or ask questions they might receive the response they dread--that they have indeed committed that sin and are therefore excluded permanently from heaven. They don’t realise that most Christians have considered this subject at some time or other and depending on how the Scripture was explained to them either found peace or continued to wrestle with the matter in private.
Firstly, let’s think about this from a purely rational point of view. If this is the only sin in the entire world that cannot be forgiven, it has to be seriously evil. If it is worse than genocide, child abuse, murder, rape, torture, etc then it must be something truly terrible. Consider Paul who persecuted Christians and watched many of them die at his hands, Peter who denied Jesus three times and David who committed adultery and murder. They were all forgiven, it must be worse than this.
Most people that are concerned about it think they have committed it by accident. Is that possible? No, it is not. It is a deliberate and final act of defiance towards and rejection of God.
Other people fear that they have committed it at some point prior to being saved. Is that possible? No, it is not. Those who are worried about possibly having committed this sin haven’t. The point is that anyone who ventures so far into enemy territory will never want to receive forgiveness and mercy from God, at least in this life. They will remain at war with Him until they die.
It will not be the case that there are people desperate for God’s mercy who cannot receive it due to either a mistaken belief or some evil acts that they have committed in the past. Our churches are not filled with people who cannot be saved due to having done the unforgiveable.
Doubting God is a sin but we are all sinners and on some level we all doubt God at times by failing to love Him wholeheartedly or by failing to trust Him completely. This sin is not what Jesus is talking about.
Similarly, exercising discernment or questioning whether or not something is actually of God is not the unforgiveable sin. The Bible teaches us to practice discernment and to test the spirits to see if they are of God (1 John 4.) It is when we know that something is of God and instead proclaim that it is of the devil that we are beyond reach.
We need to remember as well that it is God that draws us to Him via His Holy Spirit. Why would He draw a person to repentance and faith if He had already condemned them for eternity?
There is another passage in the Bible that causes similar fears:
“For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.” Hebrews 6 vs 4-6 (ESV)
I came across this one day after I had been backslidden for six years and it made me seriously panic! But as with the unforgiveable sin, my panic was actually evidence that the passage didn’t apply to me. Those who are being dealt with in these verses will not care that they cannot be saved. They have rejected God rather than the other way around.
I was also reassured by the Parable of the Lost (Prodigal) Son which is closely related to my life story. The son (you and me) in the parable, on repentance, is welcomed with open arms by the Father who represents God.
To deal with this second section, I will link to a short article from John MacArthur. In brief, he explains that this passage is addressed to unbelievers and not to Christians. Christians cannot lose their salvation.
The verses are warning non-believers that they are at the stage where they know as much Gospel truth as they will be given. Therefore, they must make the decision to trust Jesus then and there, there won’t be another opportunity for them. That is sobering, but it should spur us on in our evangelistic efforts.
I hope this post will assist in helping those who struggle with either of these areas of the Bible to find peace once and for all. Christians have nothing to fear from either of these passages. God will forgive if we ask Him through Jesus.
1 John 1 vs 9
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Romans 10 vs 9
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”