A short bit of back-story… There was a time when I was convinced I had committed the unforgivable sin mentioned in, among other places, Luke 12:10. It is difficult to find the words to express the unrelenting horror of living under such a dark and seemingly irrevocable sentence.  I had no one to speak to in order to find help, but eventually I gained understanding that I had not entered into that breathtaking transgress.  One can understand that I have an interest in this subject.

First, I want to share some opinions of what I believe are incorrect interpretations of those texts that deal with the unpardonable sin.  I have heard and read from many that the only unforgivable sin is disbelief in Christ.  I have heard others take that idea and go so far as to essentially say that unbelievers will not be judged for their sins of thought and deed, but for rejecting Christ.  I understand where that comes from and agree there is a small element of truth to such statements, but such thinking falls apart, I think, when scrutinized.  Perhaps I am putting too fine a point on it, but if rejecting Christ is the only unforgivable sin, then logically if follows we should stop evangelizing.  To continue would place everyone who hears the Gospel in jeopardy of committing the unforgivable sin of not believing in Christ. There is also perhaps an unintended inference that there is forgiveness apart from Christ when one says the only unforgivable sin is disbelief in Christ.  All sin is unforgivable apart from Christ.  It is our sin, our failure to live up to God’s perfect standards of holiness, which condemns us before a just, righteous, and holy God.  Unbelief by those presented the Gospel is a manifestation of our fallen, sinful nature, and belief is a gracious gift from God.  However, it is a Biblical truth that those who have heard the Gospel and disbelieve will be judged more harshly than those who have not heard the Gospel, but no one, whether they have heard the Gospel or not, can stand without guilt before God apart from salvation in Christ. So, to say that disbelief in Christ is the unforgivable sin does disservice to a fully Biblical understanding of the depravity of humanity and also to the meaning of those texts regarding the unforgivable sin, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  Further, one may move by the grace of the Triune God from disbelief to belief in Christ rendering the unforgivable nature of disbelief null and void.  Think of Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 to those who crucified Christ and were brought to repentance and belief in Christ.

The second statement I have heard from time to time concerning unforgivable sin is that suicide is unforgivable.  Actually, this has more to do with the idea that one can lose their salvation, that God may not persevere His saints, but the subject of suicide sometimes comes up in discussions over what constitutes the unforgivable sin.  Ultimately, what this proclamation concerning the seemingly irredeemable nature of suicide offers is a prescription for despair.  Suicide is wrong, a grievous and tragic sin. So is failing to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself.  If you die failing to fulfill any point of the Law and are depending on your ability to obey the Law to gain or to keep your salvation, you die in sin.  To say that suicide, as tragic and irrevocable as act that it is, constitutes an unforgivable sin means that you are depending on your obedience to the Law to save you from God’s wrath. Though you may not commit suicide, each and every one of us, though we may not be completely aware of the fact, sins enough within fifteen minutes of getting out of bed to condemn us for eternity.  If you have an inappropriate thought about that attractive person jogging down the road and run into a tree and die without an opportunity to confess and repent, you have died in sin just as much as the despondent person who committed suicide.  Christ is sufficient is cover all my sin, past, present, and future, and a growing understanding of His sovereign grace makes me increasingly hateful of what sin still dwells within me.  This is the key: the justification of the believer wrought by Christ perfect; nothing we do or fail to do adds to or subtracts from it. The Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification in the redeemed, though, is progressive, not instantaneous.  Remember, also, Romans 8:1.

Next, I think the following circumstance is what plaques some who feel they may have committed the unforgivable sin. If you tell someone they must not think about something specific for fear of grievous consequence in thinking that thought, they may try so hard not to think about it, to mentally block it, they end up thinking about it in spite of themselves.  I believe this is what happens to some who sadly and erroneously think they committed the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.  However, that is not the circumstances surrounding those to whom the warning is given. Let’s look at the text of Mark 3:20-30 (NIV).

“Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

What we have on display by the unregenerate Pharisees, those who know Scripture intimately and are teachers of the Law, is an order of hardness of heart that is beyond redemption.  What the text shows is an unrepentant, evil, informed, willful and verbal attribution by the Pharisees of the miraculous works of the Holy Spirit in Christ to Satan.  It is not just that the Pharisees did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah; they essentially called the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him demonic.  Though the Christian will sin daily, this is not a sin any Christian is able to commit.  Further, I have heard some commentator’s state the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit cannot be committed by anyone today because Jesus Christ in now seated at the right hand of the Father, so no one can now see Christ physically perform a miracle and attribute the power behind the miracle to Satan.

Ultimately, the issue perhaps boils down to the bigger picture of one’s theology of salvation, of soteriology. If we view salvation as a monergistic work of God, of the Spirit, of God replacing a heart of stone for a heart of flesh, then we are indeed new creatures in Christ. It is Christ’s righteousness and obedience that God judicially sees when He looks upon His chosen ones, His redeemed.  Salvation is completely of Christ. However, if we believe we contribute somehow to our salvation, a synergistic soteriology, then our security, our trust is to some degree, but ever so small, based in part on our effort.  Our effort will always be insufficient to keep us from falling.

In closure, I would affirm that if you are concerned that you may have committed the unforgivable sin, I would say that such concern infers that you have not.  If in Christ, you are eternally secure.  If not yet in Christ, He offers you salvation through repentance and trust in Him for the forgiveness of sin.  He is the One born of a virgin, fully human and fully divine, Who lived a sinless life and was crucified and died on the cross, taking the punishment for your sin. He rose again from the tomb on the third day defeating death.  He is able save you to the utmost, and you will be eternally secure in His grip.

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4 thoughts on “…the unforgivable…

  1. By any chance have you read John Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding? He spent four years battling with the horrible thought that he might have committed the unforgiveable sin. He details the yo-yo that he was on in some detail and the Scriptures that, when applied to his heart, gave him great assurance. He also then details the events leading up to and including the battles he dealt with and the sweetness of Christ involved in his 12 year imprisonment during which he wrote Pilgrim’s Progress.

    It’s worth noting, I think, that many of those who we consider giants of the faith, spent years wrestling with the question of their own assurance. Ultimately, it has to come not from intellectual understanding, not from working to convince ourselves, but as a testimony of the Holy Spirit Himself.

  2. Haven’t read Grace Abounding yet, though there have been seasons when I did identify with that yo-you thing. I still wrestle with issues of the faith, the walk…..perhaps not necessarily issues of assurance anymore, but I still wrestle. Can be exhausting at times. I guess that is why I can never connect with that ‘don’t let the devil steal your joy’ rhetoric. It ain’t necessarily the devil that steals your joy. Reading Lamentations 3 recently, and I think God Himself sometimes purposes times of depression and hurt to mold, chastise, and conform us to His desire and teach us to wait….wait…and…wait…for the joy that will dawn. The Bible is full of narratives of saints who struggle with their fallen humanity, who worry, who despair at times.

    Though we probably shouldn’t put too little weight on the intellectual components, and I know that is not your intent, I do whole-heartedly agree that it is the Holy Spirit that ultimately bears witness of our redemption and security in Christ. Sometimes, as you have said it just takes some longer than others to reach that point. I think, too, those that struggle more….will eventually savor more.

  3. This is one of many areas where I appreciate the 1689:

    Chapter 18: Of the Assurance of Grace and Salvation

    1._____ Although temporary believers, and other unregenerate men, may vainly deceive themselves with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favour of God and state of salvation, which hope of theirs shall perish; yet such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus, and love him in sincerity, endeavouring to walk in all good conscience before him, may in this life be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.
    ( Job 8:13, 14; Matthew 7:22, 23; 1 John 2:3; 1 John 3:14, 18, 19, 21, 24; 1 John 5:13; Romans 5:2, 5 )

    2._____ This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion grounded upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded on the blood and righteousness of Christ revealed in the Gospel; and also upon the inward evidence of those graces of the Spirit unto which promises are made, and on the testimony of the Spirit of adoption, witnessing with our spirits that we are the children of God; and, as a fruit thereof, keeping the heart both humble and holy.
    ( Hebrews 6:11, 19; Hebrews 6:17, 18; 2 Peter 1:4, 5, 10, 11; Romans 8:15, 16; 1 John 3:1-3 )

    3._____ This infallible assurance doth not so belong to the essence of faith, but that a true believer may wait long, and conflict with many difficulties before he be partaker of it; yet being enabled by the Spirit to know the things which are freely given him of God, he may, without extraordinary revelation, in the right use of means, attain thereunto: and therefore it is the duty of every one to give all diligence to make his calling and election sure, that thereby his heart may be enlarged in peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, in love and thankfulness to God, and in strength and cheerfulness in the duties of obedience, the proper fruits of this assurance; -so far is it from inclining men to looseness.
    ( Isaiah 50:10; Psalms 88; Psalms 77:1-12; 1 John 4:13; Hebrews 6:11, 12; Romans 5:1, 2, 5; Romans 14:17; Psalms 119:32; Romans 6:1,2; Titus 2:11, 12, 14 )

    4._____ True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light, yet are they never destitute of the seed of God and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart and conscience of duty out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are preserved from utter despair.
    ( Canticles 5:2, 3, 6; Psalms 51:8, 12, 14; Psalms 116:11; Psalms 77:7, 8; Psalms 31:22; Psalms 30:7; 1 John 3:9; Luke 22:32; Psalms 42:5, 11; Lamentations 3:26-31 )

  4. Hi Ron, I have struggled with the deep despair that you described above, also. Unlike you, though, I haven’t yet come to the light at the end of the tunnel. My battle started when the Hebrews warning passages hit my like a ton of bricks after I had failed for the 1000th time struggling with a particular sin. After understanding the verses a little more, my mind travelled back to a lot of proud and presumptuous decisions I had made in the past, and what I once regarded as inconsequential now weighed on my consciece very heavily. I have struggled with it for a little over four years now. I have devoted most of my time to studying what Scripture and every Reformed Commentary I can get my hands on says about it. Heck, I’ve even made a blog that’s about 4 years running dedicated mostly to the subject (www.moregraceabounding.wordpress.com). I think you hit it on the head when you talked about the preocupation being the key to the whole thing, but how do you not be preocupied with something that your whole eternity could hing on?

    I would like to exchange a couple emails with you about this subject if that’s ok with you. I have also experienced the frustration of trying to talk to people about this subject, only to get funny looks and empty reassuring pats on the back. If nothing else I could give you lots of great references on the subject 🙂

    If you decide you don’t want to, however, I will understand. Once you get out of that dark tunnel, I know there’s no reason to want to look back. But I would like to have a short exchange with you, as you seem to be very wise about the subject, and you have “been through the valley of the shadow of death, and (now) you fear no evil”.

    Thanks Ron,
    God Bless.

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