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 religioustolerance.org 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.