Would a merciful Creator warn against committing an unforgivable sin without making clear what it is?
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Many worry they have committed the “unpardonable sin.” We read their letters. But just what is this sin? Do only converted people commit it—or can non-Christians? The answers are not what you think.
Jesus spoke 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 they may have committed, or did commit, the unpardonable sin. Yet most do not know how to recognize the sin that “shall not be forgiven.”
Can one know if he has committed this sin—or know that there is still hope because he has not? These are vitally important questions. They require clear, plain answers!
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 the unpardonable sin. It was often painful to watch confusion, misunderstanding and guilt so 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 they were guilty of it. Invariably, after counseling, 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 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 successful. Some still gave up seeking and obeying God because they had lost hope!
Over 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 their Bible teaches—on almost any subject. Their beliefs are derived from assumptions based on what they have been told it 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 they are Christians. They can also readily give their definition of a Christian, but not 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. Consider for a moment: If one is not a true Christian, then the issue of the unpardonable sin may be largely irrelevant. We will clarify this 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” 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 sure you know the answer.
Surely no sincere person who understands even the Bible’s most basic teachings thinks God 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, 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.
Let’s understand how God defines a Christian. There is a single verse to which we can turn that defines a Christian. 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? Paul added, “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 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?
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 there are no requirements—no conditions—to being saved. This is not true. The following verses prove that there are three conditions that must be met just to receive the Holy Spirit. Let’s now settle some basic understanding.
On the day 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, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter answered, “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” (vs. 38). This is God’s plain command to: (1) Repent and (2) be baptized—in this order—to receive the gift of God’s Spirit! Mark 1:14-15 adds that Christ taught one must also (3) believe the gospel of the kingdom of God.
From baptism forward, 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 passage shows that receiving God’s Spirit is crucial if one hopes to please God. Verse 6 says, “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 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 of God. Satan teaches the way of “get,” instead of the way of “give” (Acts 20:35).
The converted, Spirit-led mind resists Satan’s 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, continual attitude of wanting to change, to do better—to daily grow, overcome and become more like Jesus Christ.
The repentant mind “hungers and thirsts” after God’s righteousness (Matt. 5:6). That mind believes, through use of 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 nature. 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 to come to understand this ongoing battle within the converted mind—and how some misunderstand it and fall into believing they can no longer be forgiven. (You may wish to read our booklet Did God Create Human Nature?)
Some background greatly helps in establishing what is the unpardonable sin.
Throughout His ministry, Jesus was attacked and accused by religious leaders who felt threatened by what He taught. On one occasion, Christ had healed a blind and dumb demon-possessed man. The onlookers were amazed when this man could suddenly see and speak. But the scribes and Pharisees, it says, “went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him” (Matt. 12:14). Shortly after this, a Pharisee confronted Jesus asking where His power to perform this healing came from—and accused Him of casting out demons by Satan’s power: “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow does not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (vs. 24).
Jesus knew exactly what was happening and saw their motives were to deliberately attack and accuse (vs. 25). So He explained how Satan’s kingdom could not be divided and survive. He continued, “He that is not with Me is against Me; and he that gathers not with Me scatters abroad” (vs. 30).
Incidentally, this means that Jesus’ Church is unified. Some become confused about this. Consider. Even Satan knows that his kingdom cannot be divided and remain “standing.” Certainly, Christ is at least as smart as the devil! People either gather where Christ is gathering, or they are not part of His Church!
This background introduces Christ’s often-misunderstood statement about the unforgivable sin. Let’s read it: “I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (vs. 31-32).
Mark’s account concludes in a slightly different way, so it is also helpful to read: “All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: but he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit has never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation [judgment]” (3:28-29).
Matthew explained that “all manner of sin and blasphemy” shall be forgiven, but that “blasphemy and speaking against the Holy Spirit” are unforgivable. It is critical to know the Greek word used for blasphemy is the same, whether it is against the Holy Spirit or the Son of man, Jesus Christ. The key must be who or what is spoken or blasphemed against, not the act itself.
What is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Is it simply taking God’s name in vain—swearing? Is any form of swearing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?
The key to understanding this is to properly define the word blaspheme. The Greek word, here translated “blaspheme,” means “intentional indignity offered to God or sacred things.” This is important to grasp. Intent is involved.
The scribes and Pharisees knew what they were doing. Remember, they held a council for the specific purpose of plotting against Christ. Their actions were not a result of sudden anger or impulsive, short-sighted thinking. They had intent—pre-meditated and deliberate intent—to discredit and murder Christ, even though they knew He was sent from God and acted through God’s power!
Some sins are committed because they have been carefully thought out toward a particular end. Deliberate planning has been involved, as with the Pharisees. When such willful, pre-meditated intent comes into play, one is in grave “danger of eternal damnation,” as we saw.
Many ask if non-Christians can commit the unpardonable sin. The Pharisees were certainly not converted—not Christians. Yet Christ said their intent placed them in danger of committing this sin. There is the answer!
Many religious leaders today, who profess to believe in Christ, are modern “Pharisees.” They deliberately misrepresent our doctrines—and deliberately call us false prophets. This Work of God is reaching people in all countries and territories of the world in great numbers. And these false prophets, from the false “Christianity” of this world, love to accuse us of being false prophets, because they, like the scribes and Pharisees who were threatened by Christ’s teaching and healing, are threatened by the good works of truth we are teaching.
Herein lies another irony. All who are still concerned that they have committed the unpardonable sin almost certainly have not. But many who are not concerned may either have committed it or are in danger of doing so!
Anyone can foolishly curse or use God’s name in vain, and almost immediately be sorry and repent. But the unpardonable sin is when a person deliberately hardens himself against God’s Spirit, and the power and guidance of that Spirit. Usually, such people become deceived (Heb. 3:13) early in this process, but later willfully choose to continue in their actions until they destroy both their conscience and any further desire to repent.
Do not confuse willing sin with willful sin. Some, believing they have committed the unpardonable sin, exclaim, “But I willingly sinned.” Certainly it is true that every time a person sins, they were willing to do it. The Bible does not warn specifically about “willing” sin, but rather against “willful” sin. Of course, it does warn against all forms of sin.
Let’s now examine Hebrews 10:26-29 to begin understanding willful sin: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and has done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
Willful sin has to do with ignoring important knowledge—truth.
People quench the Holy Spirit by overriding the way it guides them over a long period of time! Some become “hardened through the deceitfulness of sin” (Heb. 3:13). But this hardening process does not occur overnight. It takes time. People must persistently choke God’s Spirit. Eventually, this ongoing action becomes “willful,” or premeditated, deliberate. Chapter 10, verse 29 explains that those who practice sin have “trodden [Christ] under foot.” They have counted His “blood” as “unholy.” This leads to the all-important statement that they “have done despite unto the Spirit of grace.” The key is they have committed willful sin—meaning full of will!
Let’s consider the attitude of the Pharisees. First some setup: “As He spoke these words, many believed on Him [Jesus]. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If you continue in My word, then are you My disciples indeed” (John 8:30-31). This is basic Christian instruction. Christians believe in Christ’s sacrifice, and then practice—continue in—His word!
Some stop at the “believe on” stage. They do not go on to practice Christianity. They do not actively copy the life of Christ. Their thinking—and Christianity—comes from entirely different motives.
Six verses later, Jesus confronted the very ones who just “believed on Him.” Notice how quickly their attitudes became hostile and murderous: “…you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you…you seek to kill Me, a man that has told you the truth, which I have heard of God…If I say the truth, why do you not believe Me?” (vs. 37, 40, 46).
These are extraordinary statements! They reflect the attitudes of so many today. Many who claim to “love Jesus” do not obey His words. These are deceived and unconverted. They have been seduced into believing in a false conversion. On the other hand, the few truly converted Christians today are seen as un-Christian by the world because they reject popular, but false, doctrines.
The Pharisees and certain others appeared to want to follow Jesus Christ—maybe even initially thought themselves sincere—while holding deceitful, murderous thoughts below the surface.
To intentionally plot, act or move against God’s Spirit is also to consciously know what you are doing in attributing the power of God to the devil. Jesus was warning the Pharisees that this is what they were in danger of doing. When one deliberately—with knowledge—ignores, squelches or quenches the warning pricks coming from the Holy Spirit within a converted mind, they are passing the threshold of the unpardonable sin. They are making a “willful” decision not to respond to God’s Spirit. This blasphemes the work of His Spirit.
Therefore, any sin that is continued—practiced—and remains unrepented of—by willful choice—becomes unpardonable. God will not forgive it because it has not been repented of!
Jesus taught His disciples to understand the pulls of human nature at work within them: “That which comes out of the man, that defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:20-22).
These attitudes, pulls of the flesh, and wrong patterns of conduct are at work within everyone. They leave us fertile for temptation by Satan, the master “tempter” (Matt. 4:3).
The apostle James explained how temptation can turn into sin: “Every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust has conceived, it brings forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death” (Jms. 1:14-15).
In short, you must put out wrong thoughts and attitudes before they lead to action. Do not ease up or assume victory before these feelings are gone!
The apostle Peter added, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walks about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist steadfast in the faith”—this means you must know the true faith—“knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world” (I Pet. 5:8-9). James added, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (4:7).
You are not alone in struggling to overcome sin. All people face the same problems. Understand! “All have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) and “sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). All have broken God’s Law. But God promises that “sin shall not have dominion over you” (Rom. 6:14).
Paul explained forces at work within him: “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I…For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do” (7:15, 19).
This pictures what we all face. When you feel like this, battle! Resist! After you have been truly converted, use God’s power within you. Call out to Him for help and always remember that you must, “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded” (Jms. 4:8).
Fulfilling this in your life is not an overnight process. It takes much time and effort.
Seek God through earnest, regular, believing prayer. Commune with Him daily. Pray without ceasing (I Thes. 5:17-18). Study your Bible (Matt. 4:4). Drink it in as God’s Word spoken to you—as though God were talking to you personally, in the same way you talk to Him through prayer!
Above all, do not get discouraged and give up when a temptation is severe and appears unrelenting. Never forget that, “There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it [or escape]” (I Cor. 10:13).
This is God’s sure promise to all who strive to overcome!
To learn how to claim this promise and with God’s help conquer sin in your life, read the article You Can Overcome and Prevent Sin.