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Millions profess to practice Christianity, but very few understand how the Bible’s teachings apply in their own lives. One of the saddest ways people become confused is ignorance regarding the “unpardonable sin,” thinking they have committed it in their lives.
Jesus did speak of a sin that “shall not be forgiven...neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:31-32). This sin is most often referred to as “the unpardonable sin.”
Widespread confusion surrounds this subject. So many people worry that they may have committed, or did commit, the unpardonable sin. Yet most have not known how to recognize the sin that “shall not be forgiven.”
As a longtime pastor who has worked with many thousands, I have counseled scores of people who were racked with fear, anxiety and concern that they were guilty of this sin. It was often very painful to watch confusion, misunderstanding and guilt unnecessarily grip people who still sincerely wanted to serve God, after believing they had committed this unforgivable sin. In many cases, they were absolutely certain that they were guilty of it. Invariably, after counseling with them, it was clear that they were not. But convincing them of this was sometimes not easy.
I have often had to explain that the very act of being concerned is its own proof that one has not gone far enough to be guilty of this sin. Still, many continued to agonize that they had been condemned by God—with no hope of being restored to the Christian path. It often took long hours—much counsel and explanation—to reassure them that they had not committed the unpardonable sin! I was not always able to convince them. Some still gave up seeking and obeying God because they had lost hope!
What then is this sin? Can one know if he has committed it—or know that there is still hope because he has not? These are vitally important questions—and they require clear, plain answers!
Almost two billion people profess to be Christians. While they have slight differences in doctrine, they share generally similar beliefs.
The truth is, most never truly study the Bible. Many others never even open it. Most professing Christians have no idea what it teaches—on almost any subject. Their beliefs are derived from assumptions based on what they have been told the Bible says.
This is perhaps most true about what a Christian is. Before the subject of the unpardonable sin can be understood, the definition of a Christian must be established.
Again, billions believe—profess—that they are Christians. They can also readily give their definition of a Christian, but cannot give the Bible definition.
Certainly ALL who profess to be Christians want to be saved! This goal cannot be separated from either the question of what is a Christian or that of what is the unpardonable sin.
Pause a moment to consider these points: If one is not a true Christian, then the issue of the unpardonable sin may be largely irrelevant. This is something we will clarify later.
On the other hand, if one is a true Christian, but commits the unpardonable sin, however it is defined, he will not be saved. This much is not hard to understand—but it is very important.
So, understanding the sin that “shall not be forgiven” most certainly is relevant to the real Christian! He must be very careful not to commit this sin.
First, consider salvation from another viewpoint. If one desires to be saved, learns what he must be saved from, understands that salvation is a gift, but does not know how to receive it, what good does God’s offer do him? All of this has everything to do with what a Christian is. Do not be too sure you know the answer.
Surely no sincere person who understands even the most basic teachings of God thinks that He will save those who are not Christians (Acts 4:12). Yet almost no one understands the Bible definition of a Christian!
Since only true Christians will be saved, then we must know what IS a true Christian. As with any doctrine, we must examine what God’s Word teaches. Then we will be prepared to discuss the unpardonable sin.
So let’s understand how God defines a Christian.
Is there a single verse to which we can turn that defines a Christian? There is! But it is not the popular idea taught in the so-called “Christian” world.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God” (Rom. 8:14). A Christian is one who has the Holy Spirit leading him. But is having God’s Spirit absolutely essential to being a Christian? A few verses earlier, Paul said, “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His” (vs. 9)!
It is that simple! One either has the Spirit of God, and is a Christian, or does not have it, and is not a Christian—is “none of His.” All those who are truly converted must have the Holy Spirit in them.
But what does this mean? And is this all there is to Christianity and conversion, with nothing more to understand?
Human beings do not have life inherent within them. They are not born with an immortal soul (Gen. 2:7; Ezek. 18:4, 20; Matt. 10:28). Since you are not immortal, your life will span a certain allotted time, after which you will die. That is absolute (Heb. 9:27). Unless God intervenes in your life, you have no future—no hope—beyond a limited time of about 70-80 years.
You must receive the Holy Spirit. But how?
Most believe that there are no requirements—no conditions—to being saved. This is not true. The following verses prove that there are three pre-conditions that must be met just to receive the Holy Spirit.
On the day that Christ established the New Testament Church, the Apostle Peter gave a powerful sermon. It was so convicting that 3,000 were baptized. Before baptism, many had asked Peter, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). His instruction was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” This is God’s plain command to: (1) Repent and (2) be baptized—in this order—to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit! Mark 1:14-15 adds that Christ taught one must also (3) believe the gospel of the kingdom of God.
From baptism onward, the new convert is led by the Holy Spirit. Once we are ready to discuss the unpardonable sin, this will be critically important to remember.
To repent means to change. The repentant mind reflects a completely different, changed attitude. It has gone from the way of pleasing the self, to seeking to please God. It wants to submit to God and His way!
Human nature is vanity, jealousy, lust, greed, envy, resentment, foolishness and more. It is the way of grasping for self—looking out for self. Notice: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:7-8).
This verse reveals that receiving God’s Spirit is crucial if one hopes to please God. Verse 6 had said, “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” The spiritually minded have the Holy Spirit. Christ called God’s Spirit the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26; 16:13). He said it would lead the convert “into all truth.”
Perhaps the most important truth that a Christian can be led to see is a proper understanding of himself—and the forces at work within his human nature. Ephesians 2:2 reveals that Satan is the “prince of the power of the air.” As the “god of this world”
(II Cor. 4:4), he broadcasts a “spirit of disobedience” into the masses around the world. His way is opposite to the way of God. He broadcasts a spirit of hostility and rebellion against all things that are of God. Satan teaches the way of “get,” instead of the way of “give” (Acts 20:35).
The converted, spirit-led mind resists this broadcast (I Pet. 5:9; Jms. 4:7). It is a mind that wants to grow. It exalts God, humbles itself and seeks to please God in every possible way. Such a mind wants to draw near to God through prayer, study, fasting, meditation and regularly exercising God’s Spirit—the five tools of Christian growth! It abhors itself (Job 42:5-6) and sees itself as a vile piece of fleshly junk not worthy of God’s marvelous grace and mercy. Repentance is an ongoing, continuous attitude of wanting to change, of wanting to do better—to grow, overcome and become more like Christ on a daily basis.
The repentant mind “hungers and thirsts” after God’s righteousness (Matt. 5:6). It believes, through the practice of using Christ’s own faith (Eph. 2:8; Rev. 14:12), that Jesus is his personal Savior and that He has paid the death penalty (Rom. 6:23) for the new child of God, now no longer condemned.
The one who has just received God’s Spirit has been given a tiny bit of the mind of christ and the power and nature of God. Peter wrote that Christians are “partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4), which is God’s. Human nature, once the sole custodian of the mind, is to be slowly replaced by God’s divine nature through the presence and growth of the Holy Spirit within us. Receiving God’s Spirit does not mean that one has suddenly lost human nature. That nature remains present and active—in opposition to God’s nature. It is critical that we come to understand this ongoing battle within the converted mind—and how some misunderstand it and fall into believing that they can no longer be forgiven. (Read our free booklet Did God Create Human Nature?)
But some other important instructions from Christ must first be clarified.
Hundreds of millions of “Christians” assume that they will be saved at death, simply because they have “accepted Jesus” as Savior. This is not what the Bible says! As James 2:20 states, “faith [belief] without works is dead.”
Many who teach that there are no conditions for salvation often quote Romans 10. Verse 9 states, “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.” Verse 13 appears to make it even easier: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” What could be simpler for would-be Christians? And how often have you heard that all you must do is “believe in your heart”?
But there is much more to these verses than meets the eye!
Notice: “Not every one that says unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven [“of,” not “in,” heaven]; but he that does the will of My Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Paul wrote, “the doers of the law [God’s] shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13). Professing “the Lord Jesus” is not enough to be justified. Besides, professing is very different than confessing Him.
Jesus never taught that people should just “believe on Him” to receive salvation. When a young man asked Christ what he must do to have “eternal life”—receive salvation—Christ told him, “If you will enter into life, keep the commandments.” Hearing this, and knowing that the man was rich, the disciples were shocked. They did not understand how obedience was possible and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Christ answered, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:17, 25-26).
Christians are required to obey God’s laws. That is the truth from His Word!
The false teachers and deceivers of this world’s Christianity will tell you that you need not keep God’s Law. They will tell you that it cannot be done—that it is impossible—and that you should not even try. Matthew 19:26 plainly says otherwise!
These “ministers” are basically saying, “Go right on sinning. It’s okay! God does not care, because He knows His law is too harsh for you to keep. And besides, Christ kept it for you. You are already justified, sanctified and spiritually perfect—because of what Jesus did.”
This reasoning is ludicrous and mocks Christ’s sacrifice. It attempts to prove that salvation is complete upon merely “accepting Jesus.” Far more people should be concerned with whether Christ accepts them. (Read our free booklets What Do You Mean “Water Baptism”? and What Is True Conversion? to understand the calling, repentance, baptism and conversion process.)
The book of Acts speaks of “the Holy Spirit, [which] God has given to them that obey Him” (Acts 5:32). God only gives His Spirit to those who practice His commands. Obedience to God is not only a qualifier for receiving eternal life, it is also absolutely essential to both receiving and continuing to receive the Spirit of God.
What sin is must also be established, for sin is the opposite of obedience. The apostle John wrote, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). But, on the other hand, Psalm 119:172 states, “...for all Your commandments are righteousness.”
We have seen that receiving God’s Spirit is preceded by repentance of having broken God’s Law, and baptism (Acts 2:38). At this point, a new spirit-begotten life begins. The newly-begotten child of God is now an “heir of God, and joint heir with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
To fully understand the question of whether one has committed the unforgivable sin, read our booklet Just What Is “The Unpardonable Sin”?