Pastor's Corner - Nov. 7, 2019
Fear of the Unforgivable Sin
November 7, 2019 | View PDF
Few passages have caused as much fear and anxiety as the verses where Jesus states that there is an unpardonable or unforgivable sin, which is mentioned in all three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10). Many questions arise in the minds of concerned readers: What exactly is the unpardonable sin? Have I committed the unpardonable sin? Can the unpardonable sin still be committed today? Can we know if someone commits the unpardonable sin, and if so, is there absolutely no repentance from or forgiveness for this sin?
Here are the main verses from Matthew 12:31-32: 31: Because of this, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the one to come.'" This withering passage is too often taken by those with sensitive hearts as possibly applying to themselves. What terror there is to consider that there is an unforgivable sin! Yet, upon further examination of this passage and its context, it becomes clear that anyone who has the slightest fear or conviction of sin from this passage has not committed the unpardonable sin. Let’s investigate.
The context of the passage involves the evil accusations of the Pharisees who were declaring that Jesus had an “evil spirit” and was empowered by “Beelzebub,” which is another name for Satan (Matt 12:24). The Pharisees were a leading Jewish religious group of the day who prided themselves on strict adherence to the law of Moses. But they had become prideful, legalistic, self-righteous, hypocritical, and judgmental, adding laws and traditions to the Old Testament law that were not pleasing to God. The Pharisees were challenged and embarrassed by Jesus during several public episodes: their self-righteousness and superficial religiosity was condemned (5:20; 6:1-18); their judgmental attitude toward sinners was criticized (9:10-13); their extra-biblical rules and traditions were rejected (9:14-17).
Finally, things came to a breaking point over the Sabbath where Jesus declared Himself Lord of the Sabbath and healed a man (12:1-13). The Pharisees’ hard hearts and burdensome additional laws were exposed as being evil, therefore they “went out and plotted against Him (Jesus), how they might destroy Him (v. 14). So, they sent a delegation that proclaimed, “This man does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (v. 24). Jesus then counters their charge as being completely wrong and irrational. He argues that kingdoms that are divided crumble, which would be the case if Satan and his demons were adversaries (vs. 25-26). Jesus explains that if Satan and his demons are being overpowered, then the logical conclusion is that it is the power of God, like a strong man in his house being overpowered by an even stronger man (vs. 27-30). Then the charge of blasphemy or speaking evil, sacrilegious, or profane things against the Holy Spirit is made, and it is said to be unforgivable (vs. 31-32).
With the details of the passage and context in mind, it is easier to get a clear definition of the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin appears to be the willful, hard-hearted rejection of the Holy Spirit and His working in Jesus Christ and equating the Holy Spirit’s power and works to the power and works of evil and Satan. It is important to note that this sin 1) is willful, 2) is hard-hearted and stubborn, 3) occurs with a high degree of knowledge of the truth (Old Testament at the time) or clear supernatural evidence (miracles), 4) and directly equates the Holy Spirit’s power of working good to Satan’s power of working evil. This was the state of the Pharisees. Thus, with insight only Jesus could possess, He declared that they had committed an unforgivable sin. Can the unpardonable sin be committed today? It is reasonable to think that this sin cannot be committed today because the exact historical situation cannot be repeated and could only happen during the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ as the Holy Spirit worked in and through Him. Whether it is true that the unpardonable sin is dependent on this historical situation or not, it is clear that the unforgivable sin can only occur in the most extreme situation. Additionally, since we do not have Jesus’ divine authority and insight into the hearts and futures of others, it does not seem likely that any person other than Jesus Christ can declare that someone has committed an unforgivable sin. One thing is certain: it is impossible for a true Christian to commit the unpardonable sin, because they have already had the Holy Spirit work in their lives, testifying to the divine person and redemptive work of Jesus Christ and salvation in His name, convicting them of the wickedness of their own sins, and bringing about regeneration and new spiritual life (John 15:26; 16:8; Titus 3:5-6).
Now on to the big personal question: have I committed the unpardonable sin? If you are worried that you have, the answer is definitely no. If you have any degree of sensitivity that you may have or are currently committing the unpardonable sin, you can be rest assured that you have not. Sensitivity about the unpardonable sin, or any sin, is the complete opposite of a darkened and hardened heart that willfully rejects God’s truth, which, specifically in this case, is the Holy Spirit working to testify truthfully concerning the divine person and redemptive message of Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, one of the ministries and working of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of sin! (John 16:8) Therefore, if you feel convicted or sensitive to your own sin, then the Holy Spirit is working in your life!
If committing the unpardonable sin is still a fear for you, you can trust that you have not committed this sin because of your sensitivity to sin. You can acknowledge that the Holy Spirit truly was working in Jesus Christ, that He is the divine Messiah from God, and that believing in His name and His sacrifice on the cross for your sins, you will be saved (John 3:16; Acts 3:19; 16:31; Rom 10:9-10; 1 Cor 15:3-4). Amazingly, this frightful passage may be used powerfully by the Holy Spirit to bring about conviction of sins, salvation, or assurance of salvation to those who hear it and work through the soul-searching questions it brings up. In the end, you can be assured that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Spencer Carpenter is a pastor of Congregational Bible Church in Shafter.