The Unforgivable Sin

The Unforgivable Sin

What is the unforgivable sin?  According to Wikipedia, it is called “eternal sin” and it is defined as

a concept in Christian theology of sins which cannot or will not be forgiven, whereby salvation becomes impossible. It has its origin in several biblical passages.

Although the Bible doesn’t employ the term “unpardonable sin”, there is one sin frequently considered “eternal” and that is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; however this phrase is rarely taken to have its literal meaning. Some sins that are frequently considered eternal include deliberate rejection of the mercy of God, and ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit to the Devil.

33 Flavors of Unforgivable Sin

On there is a very informative article, with 33 different definitions from various religious viewpoints on exactly what the “eternal sin” might be.  That is kind of scary, if you really think about it.  If there were such a thing as an unforgivable sin, avoiding it would be difficult to do, since we don’t really even know what it is.  Isn’t it reasonable to assume that if there were one particular sin that could no-ifs-ands-or-buts send you straight to hell forever, that Jesus ought to have been very specific as to what, exactly, unarguably, it is?

Many Christians get really hung up on trying to figure out what the unforgivable sin is, because they are afraid that maybe they or someone they care about may be guilty and therefore doomed to hell.  First, I must point out that if a person is concerned, then this is a pretty good indication that there is nothing to be concerned about.  The reason for this is that the Spirit of God teaches us about everything we need to know.  Maybe we sometimes stiff-arm the Spirit and resist His teaching, but the lack of complacency is, in itself, an indication of His active work in us.  It is highly unlikely that anyone would be blaspheming the Holy Spirit and simultaneously concerned about the unforgivable sin.  That would be like sending malicious emails about your boss to all your coworkers because you are concerned about making a good impression on your boss.

Two Accounts Are Better Than One

The scriptures appear to say that there is “never forgiveness” (some translations say “never” and some say “not”) for this particular sin called “blaspheming the Spirit”.  But sometimes one gospel writer includes a detail that another writer does not include.  Having as much information as possible really helps clarify things.  For example, suppose you are a witness to a fight, you might say that person number one threw the first punch, but someone else might say that person number two started the fight by shoving person number one.  Do these accounts conflict?  No.  The full picture is that person number two shoved and then person number one threw the first punch.  The two accounts give a more complete picture than one.

Likewise, we ought to take into consideration each of the accounts in the gospels where Jesus talks about blasphemy.  There is “never” forgiveness “in this age, or in the age to come.” The problem is that most believers do not recognize that the age to come is a limited period of time. The way I understand it, the age in which Jesus was speaking when he says “this age” was the age of the Mosaic Law, and when Jesus says “the age to come” He is referring to that period between His death/resurrection and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the judgment.  Another possibility is that “the age to come” refers to the time after the resurrection until the present day.  I could be wrong about identifying which age is which, but I can’t be wrong about the age being a period of time with a beginning and an end – that is what aion means, by definition.

And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming.

So, this so-called “unforgivable sin”, is not so much about God stubbornly refusing to grant forgiveness, as it is about one’s cutting off of the branch on which he or she is sitting.  The Spirit of God is the one who grants spiritual life to someone, opening their eyes to truth, causing them to change their mind about God.  No one can receive forgiveness without faith.  And no one has faith, unless God grants it.  How goes He grant it?  By the power of His Spirit.

Subjected to the Savior

An example that might help shed some light on this situation is the Chilean minors who were trapped for 69 days.  Their being trapped in the first place could serve as an analogy for the age of the Mosaic Law.  The purpose of the age of the Law was to cause humanity to become aware of the need to be rescued from sin and death.  When the rescue plan was implimented, people were brought out of the darkness, but not all at once.  This can be compared to the age of grace.  The age of grace began when Jesus’ uttered those famous words “It is finished.”  (And if you really want to have your mind blown, think about this – Jesus said “It is finished” from the foundation of the world, before time began.  But that is another blog for another day.)  The third scenario is a hypothetical one.  Suppose that some of the minors are overcome with fumes and psychologically worn thin, causing them to imagine that their rescuers are actually out to destroy them.  They fight against their own rescue, because of their delusion.  Now, not only do they need to be rescued from the mine, but they need to be “subjected” to their saviors.  We are now in the age of grace, where forgiveness is freely given to all people, only not many people know this, neither do they care to know. Forgiveness is given to them, but understanding is not.  Not yet, anyway.  They have yet to receive it or benefit from it, because they don’t believe it to be true.  One can’t enjoy the benefits of being reconciled with God if one still views God as the enemy.  His “wrath abides” on that person.

Tell Us What They Need, Sproul

This is what they need:

In 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 […] Paul says, “For he [Christ] must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”

Referring to the end of the age, this passage reveals that there will come a day when Christ, the King of Kings, will take His rightful throne and reclaim the universe that is His. At that time, everything will be put into subjection to Him, including death, and all of the redeemed will be gathered into glory, rejoicing in the fullness of eternal worship. When all that is done, “then the Son himself also will be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him [meaning the Father], that God may be all in all.” In other words, when the whole love gift of a redeemed humanity has been given to Jesus Christ, then He will take that redeemed humanity and, including Himself, give it all back to the Father as a reciprocal expression of the Father’s infinite love. At that moment, the redemptive purposes of God will be fully realized.

The doctrine of election, then, is at the very heart of redemptive history. It is not some insignificant, esoteric doctrine that can be trivialized or relegated to seminary classroom debates. Rather, it is at the center of how we understand salvation and the church. It informs our evangelism, our preaching, and our identity as the body of Christ. (R.C. Sproul)

I disagree with Sproul’s conclusions regarding the fate of the non-elect, but the rest of it is right on.  Why doesn’t God cause everyone to know Him and understand His love all at once?  I don’t know.  But I do know that in His Sovereignty, He has chosen (elected) some people to believe in this age, not to exclude everyone else, but to include them.  Those chosen in this age are the “firstfruits” of the entire harvest.  We partner with Him in His redemptive work as “ministers of reconciliation”

An Important Question

The bottom line, regardless of exactly how one interprets various scriptures on this subject of blaspheming the Spirit, is simple. Did Jesus conquer sin and death? If the answer is yes, then fear loses its power, and anyone who suspects he or she or someone else has committed that particularly devastating sin is less likely to view God as the enemy.  If the answer is no, then fear is the appropriate response, especially if one also believes that anyone found with unconquered sin in the moment of their death will be consigned to eternal torment in hell.  It is a double-damned scenario for them – they are already damned in this lifetime if they are guilty of tasting the one of the 33 Flavors which happens to come with consequences that even Jesus can’t handle, and they are damned again because eternal torment awaits following death.  Can you use your imagination to think of a more hopeless scenario than this?  I bet you can’t.  (Probably because this scenario was invented by the father of lies, who has had plenty of time to create the most unholy vision of Who God is and what God does imaginable.)

Well, that is my understanding, which is open to correction to a certain extent. But I am no longer willing to agree that anyone will forever remain unforgiven. This idea is not in agreement with the Victorious Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the character of God, and it obviously false for a number of other reasons as well.

  • Mary Vanderplas April 30, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I agree that it’s important to take into consideration the context of this word about “the unforgivable sin” in the Gospels. The fact that it appears in three of the Gospels in different contexts and forms suggests that it existed as an independent saying and that its meaning is to be derived from the context in which it’s found. In Matthew, the religious leaders are accusing Jesus of being in league with Beelzebul. Jesus responds by uttering pronouncements against them, including this word about blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. Thus, the meaning seems to be that these ones who are proving by their speech their own affiliation with the enemy forces stand to be judged harshly by God in the final judgment (vv. 36-37). In Mark, the context again is one in which Jesus is accused of doing the works of healing and exorcism in the power of Beelzebul. But the form of the saying is different than it is in Matthew’s Gospel: here, interestingly, it is in the form of a paradoxical statement, with the first part affirming that all sins will be forgiven and the second part saying that not all sins will be forgiven, i.e., there is one sin that will not be forgiven. In context, it seems to mean that those who attributed Jesus’ healing acts, done in the power of the Holy Spirit, to the devil would not be forgiven. More broadly, it functions as a warning not to interpret the proclamation of grace as a license to sin, i.e., “It doesn’t matter what I do, since all sins are (automatically) forgiven.” In Luke, the form is similar to Matthew’s version, but the context is different. Here it is not part of a response to accusations from opponents but part of encouragement to disciples to speak their faith boldly in the face of opposition. The meaning of the saying in this context is harder to discern. Commentators suggest, plausibly in my view, that a distinction is being made between the actions of those who rejected Jesus during his earthly life, not recognizing him for who he was, and the actions of those who, in the era of the church, reject and ridicule the gospel message spoken in the power of the Spirit. The former will be forgiven; the latter will not. Whether or not one believes in the finality of judgment against those whom the Gospel writers had in view, it is important, I think, to recognize that the saying is not to be read as providing information on a particular sin or sins that are “unforgivable.” Speculating about “the unforgivable sin” is, therefore, a waste of mental energy – and, as you point out, a needless source of anxiety for those seeking to be faithful.

    I found interesting your explanation of the different ages using the analogy of the Chilean miners. I’m not sure I agree with your interpretation of “this age” and “the age to come,” but I found interesting nonetheless your description of the age of the Law/age of grace/age of final harvest, particularly the part about those who are darkened in their understanding of God’s loving intentions. I can’t say that I see the will of everyone being subjected/conformed to God’s will in the end, but you continue to give me things to ponder.

  • Anna January 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm

    I have been terrified for a while now of committing the unpardonable sin because when I was younger I said that I hated God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Before I said “Holy Spirit,” I remember pausing and feeling convicted, like I shouldn’t say it, but I didn’t know why I felt convicted. I just remember feeling like God was saying, “Don’t say that.” I decided to say it anyways. Later, I found out about the unpardonable sin, and as soon as I heard that verse, I immediately thought about when I had said that and ever since then I have felt doomed to Hell. It is the worst feeling because if I did commit that sin, then I have no hope. There is nothing worse than that. I just went to Passion 2012 at the Georgia Dome and just felt so dead almost the whole time. I feel hopeless.

    • admin January 7, 2012 at 1:49 am

      Do you still feel hopeless?

  • Lanny A. Eichert January 9, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Anna said: I just went to Passion 2012 at the Georgia Dome and just felt so dead almost the whole time. I feel hopeless. January 5, 2012 at 6:19 pm in response to Alice’s 29th April 2011 blog The Unforgivable Sin.

    That is a very GOOD honest statement by Anna because she either was or still is spiritually dead. She needs to be born again and no amount of Christian Universalism will solve her problem. She experienced spiritually ALIVE college students at Passion 2012 and that awakened her to the reality of her spiritual condition. Now it is up to her to seek an answer from God that is genuinely verifiable by His written Word, that is, the Holy Bible, and not man’s interpretation of it, but the plain sense of the literal word and spelling of the King James Version as we have it. Anna, plead with God in prayer to show you the truth of His reality, and He will by found by those who trully seek Him.

    Anna, underline in your Bible in Matthew 12 the following phrases in verses 28, 34, 39, 41, 42, & 45 respectively: the kingdom of God is come unto you, O generation of vipers, An evil and adulterous generation, this generation, this generation, this wicked generation. Read the entire chapter and see that Jesus speaks to the Israelite people to whom He comes as their King whose religious leaders are calling His Holy Spirit empowered work and ministry to be the devil’s work and power. They could speak against Him, but when they call the Holy Spirit working in Him Beelzebub, or Satan, they have overstepped their bounds and the bounds of truthfulness ascribing the works of God in the incarnated Christ to the Devil. From that there is no forgiveness. This sin is ONLY possible during the time Jesus walked the earth in a mortal human body and could not be committed after His death. CONTEXT is all important here to understanding what this sin is. Since you live now, more than two thousand years after Christ’s earthly ministry, you cannot commit that sin.

    Alice is wrong after changing Matthew 12: 32 neither in this world, neither in the world to come, the words world to age, to assume each age has an end after which one would be forgiven in the third age. The meaning of the expression is idiomatically understood by any sane person as never.

  • Lanny A. Eichert January 9, 2012 at 3:02 am

    Anna, do you know any one in your area that also went to Passion 2012; I mean one of those really ALIVE Christians you might question?

    I became really ALIVE from the very day I was saved and born again, so much so that I couldn’t stop talking about it. I mean, even the stars in the sky were no longer just stars in space, but from that very moment they were “my God’s creation” and at that moment I knew I had a real God to look up to. He was no longer just the imagination of some people who really didn’t know what they were talking about. He really was and is God Who knows everything there is to know about me; and not just me, but about everybody and everything. Wow, and I just met Him that day, twenty-two years into my life, and now pushing seventy, I have never tired of such amazement that He should have “touched” me with the truth of His reality. A totally new world-view was now mine and it has never gone away. If He did that for me, just think how He wants to do that for you, too. Don’t loose the moment, but don’t stop until you “grasp the hem of His garment.” God bless you, Anna. Total forgiveness and freedom is IN Christ, and there’s heaven, too.

    • admin January 9, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      If there were a “like” button, I’d have clicked it.

  • Lanny A. Eichert January 10, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Anna, don’t stop pleading with God in prayer to show you the truth of His reality, because He will show you when the time is right. Persevere, Anna, and read the Gospels, especially John. I’m praying for you that through being born again you’ll be my sister in Christ.

  • […] Today’s blog is a video called “The Unforgivable Sin.”  The transcript for the vid is based on large excerpts from a blog I wrote a little over a year ago, also called “The Unforgivable Sin.” […]

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