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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 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!
More than 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.
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). Since only true Christians will be saved, then we must know what is a true Christian. As with any doctrine, we must examine God’s Word to find the answer. Then we will be prepared to discuss the unpardonable sin.
What Is a Christian?
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—period! 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 preconditions 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.
What Repentance Means
To repent simply means to change. A repentant mind reflects a completely different, changed attitude. It has gone from the way of pleasing 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: “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace” (Rom. 8:6). The spiritually minded have the Holy Spirit. God’s Spirit is called the “Spirit of truth” (John 15:26; 16:13) and will 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 vile and fleshly, 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 my free booklet Did God Create Human Nature?)
A key to understanding the unpardonable sin is knowing the difference between willing and willful sin. We must not confuse the two. 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!
Much more is written about this topic. To fully understand the question of whether one has committed the unforgivable sin, read my booklet Just What Is “The Unpardonable Sin”?