Ask Steve: The Unpardonable Sin

 

Currently Reading:

Sojourners and Strangers: The Doctrine of the Church

by Gregg R. Allison

Category: Theology / Ecclesiology

Crossway, 2012

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I love the Lord with all my heart, but I’m afraid that some day I might commit the unpardonable sin that Jesus talked about in Matthew 12. What do you think is the unpardonable sin and should I be worried that I may commit it? 

Answer: There are some unbelievers who are afraid that they can never be saved and Christians who believe that they have lost their salvation because they think they have committed the unpardonable, or unforgivable, sin. I want to assure, especially Christians, that the unpardonable sin is something that can never be committed by a truly saved Christian. The unpardonable sin is not a specific act, such as murder, adultery, or lying, that cannot be covered by Jesus’ blood. It is not even using the Lord’s name in vain or cursing at the Holy Spirit, and thus being unqualified to ever receive forgiveness even if the sinner repents. If any sinner, no matter how evil or how many sins they have committed, comes to Jesus in repentant faith, he will have all his sins forgiven (John 3:16; Rom 10:9; 1 Jn 1:9). Therefore, these people have never committed the unpardonable sin, no matter how heinous their crimes.

So what exactly is the unpardonable sin? Jesus can forgive all sins, since that is what He set out to do on the cross? But what is this one particular sin that Jesus cannot forgive? Is it a one-time act or is it a sin that progresses in stages until a final end?

The unpardonable sin, known also as “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit,” was known in Jesus’ day as cursing God or attributing things onto God that is unholy and satanic, such as associating Christ with a demon. It is continual, flippant irreverence towards God, denying Him and blaspheming His name with a heart of rejection after having full knowledge of His revelation. There is nothing left a sinner can learn or be saved from after remaining in such a hardened condition until death. After cursing, rejecting, and misrepresenting Christ in such way, God deems such sin unpardonable in the sense that He removes His spirit of grace from them, leaving them in their hardened condition so that they may die guilty and condemned, with no help of the Holy Spirit to revive them to life and to find forgiveness for their sins.

There are scholars who debate regarding whether the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12 was historically conditioned or whether it is still operative today. In some sense, the unpardonable sin was exclusive in Jesus’ day since it was a judgment upon the Jewish leaders’ rejection of Jesus’ miracles, signs, and wonders. As it relates to Christians today, the unpardonable sin should be defined as willful and rebellious unbelief to the point of death. As I have mentioned, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, since Christ died for all sins according truths taught in passages such as 1 Peter 3:18. However, if a person dies in the condition of rejecting Christ as Lord and Savior, then his sins remain and he stands condemned. This would be categorized as the sin of rejecting the gospel with a life vilifying Christ, or the unforgivable sin. This is essentially what the unpardonable sin is.

I must clarify that not all who die in their sins (without the salvation of Christ) commit the unpardonable sin. There are unbelievers who die never hearing about the Bible, Jesus, or the gospel message. There are even some who hear the gospel, casually pass on it, but do not curse or attribute to Christ demonic things. There are also those who hear the gospel, but are falsely converted because of their lack of repentance. They respect Christ, but regrettably die without salvation. All of these groups are condemned to hell, but they do not capture the spirit of what Jesus described in Matthew 12:22-32 regarding committing the unpardonable sin.

Wayne Grudem rightfully illustrates the unpardonable sin, in his book Systematic Theology, as a specific type of rejection of Christ that includes a clear knowledge of who Christ is and of the power of the Holy Spirit working through Him, a willful rejection of the facts about Christ that His opponents knew to be true, and slanderously attributing the work of the Holy Spirit in Christ to the power of Satan. Such people reject Christ with a full knowledge of God’s word and have willfully hardened their hearts so much that any ordinary means of bringing him to repentance would have already been rejected. He will not be persuaded by the truth or by demonstrable miracles. This hardened heart full of hatred for Christ, with no willingness to be persuaded by anything of God, puts him beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness, since he is incapable of repenting of his sins or trusting in Christ for pardon. In other words, this sin is unpardonable because it cuts off the sinner from repentance and saving faith through belief in the truth.

An illustration of the unpardonable sin can be clearly seen in Hebrews 6:4-6. This passage speaks about false converts who once have committed themselves superficially to the truth, being exposed to its revelation, then falling away in apostasy. These people willfully turn away from Christ and hold Him in contempt. These false converts have put themselves beyond the reach of God’s means of bringing people to repentance and faith because they willfully reject the only thing that can save them from their sins, which is the gospel of Christ. This sin of remaining hardened in sin, teaching false things about Christ (1 John 5:14-15), and rejecting God’s revelation constitutes the essence of being in the realm of the unpardonable sin, which is successfully committed after one finally dies in the state of rejecting God’s truth and vilifying Christ’s reputation all of his life.

Understanding the unpardonable sin should give Christians assurance that they have not committed the sin. If a Christian worries that he has committed the sin, then that is good news that he has not placed himself within the realm of committing that sin. The unpardonable sin cannot be committed by those whom God has elected, justified, is regenerating, and will ultimately glorify. This means that the unpardonable sin can only be committed by the reprobates, most specifically those spoken about in 1 John 5:14-15 and Hebrews 6:4-6. The unpardonable sin is not even committed by unbelievers who have rejected the gospel, have spoken wrongly about Christ, but ultimately comes to repentance and faith.

This should come as a hope of encouragement for both believers and Christians. Christians have assurance of their salvation and will persevere in their faith until the end. Unbelievers, on the other hand, have the opportunity to be saved from any sin they have committed, even if it involves hating God or rejecting God’s word at some point in his life. If he comes to true repentance in his life, then he has not arrived at the stage that he has committed the unpardonable sin. The unpardonable sin only becomes final when one dies in the conditions that lead up to that point. Therefore, a former blasphemer of God who seeks reconciliation with God should not be worried that he has committed the unpardonable sin unless he has made an immovable resolve to die in unbelief. Until then, forgiveness and grace abounds. However, those who die committing the unpardonable sin end up receiving the greatest condemnation on Judgment Day and the worst imaginable punishment in hell (Matt 10:15; 11:24).