What is the unpardonable sin?

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John Bunyan, author of The pilgrim’s journey, went through a dark season of doubt and despair. In this dark season, Bunyan has expressed a flood of blasphemous thoughts and language. Because of this, he was afraid of not being forgiven. He often returned to the scriptures, but encountered what he called “those dreadful verses.” One of those dreadful verses was Mark 3:28-29.

Some time ago, a woman called my office in a panic. It was clear that she hadn’t slept in days and was in a high emotional state. She told me her story. She shared a painful miscarriage. But that was not the main reason for his consternation. You see, she got a tattoo to commemorate the child she lost to a miscarriage. But after doing some research, she discovered that what she used to symbolize children was something that, considering various points of numerology, could be interpreted as the number 666. She was afraid that she had taken the mark of the beast and was therefore absolutely unforgivable.

Another young man had been coming to our church for a few months. He was truly growing in the Lord. He was a voracious reader of the scriptures and his life was changing before our eyes. But one day, he came to me distraught. He had taken his Bible and was reading Matthew 12 (verses similar to Mark 3:28-29) and he just knew that before he became a Christian he had done terrible things – he had spoken terrible words of God the Father, God the Son, and even worse the Holy Spirit. Was he now outside the forgiveness of the Lord?

These verses led to much confusion for well-meaning followers of Jesus. What exactly does it mean to have committed the unpardonable sin?

What the Unpardonable Sin is NOT

Sometimes before explaining what something isit’s helpful to remove all the fog surrounding the question and define what it’s all about not.

It is not a sexual sin or any other serious sin.

Verse 28 tells us that “all sins shall be forgiven the children of men.” You can put anything in this “everything”. This is true because of what happens when we are in union with Christ. When we are united with Christ, by grace through faith, we receive all his blessings. It means we experience full forgiveness for every sin we have committed, are committing, and will commit. It is the gospel.

It’s not a suicide.

Some thought that suicide was the unpardonable sin. The logic is that when you cannot repent of a particular sin (in this case, self-murder), then that sin will not be forgiven. But this betrays a view of the gospel that does not correspond to Scripture.

Some see salvation as a cup that must be filled with grace. They consider certain things (like the sacraments) as acts where our cup is filled again. And they see sin as emptying our cup of grace. If you die with some grace in your cup, you go to purgatory until you pay for the lack and your cup is filled again. But there are sins, mortal sins, that will empty your cup. Murder is one of those mortal sins. Now, repentance can fill your cup. But the problem with suicide is that you can’t fill that cup and because you just ended your life with a mortal sin, then you have an empty cup. If you have an empty cup, you are going to hell.

But this is contrary to the gospel. The gospel does not teach that we have a leaky cup. The gospel takes that cup and throws it in the trash. The gospel is that we are brought into union with the Lord Jesus Christ and his righteousness is applied to our account. We are united to Jesus by grace alone by faith alone. Jesus is our cup. And that cup can no sooner flee than the Lord Jesus Christ can be guilty of sin.

Suicide is terrible. It is a sin that grieves the Lord. But this is not the unpardonable sin.

These are not blasphemous words.

This point may seem strange, but consider verse 28. But Jesus makes a clear difference between blasphemies of the Spirit and blasphemies that are forgiven. If you said something where you didn’t believe in God, or blasphemed Jesus, or even in some sense mocked the work of the Holy Spirit, it’s not an unforgivable sin. This blasphemy is forgivable.

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What is the unpardonable sin?

I think John Piper is right when he says, “The reason is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit puts you beyond repentanceand so beyond forgiveness.” Verse 29 is not an exception in verse 28. Jesus is not saying, All blasphemies of which you repent will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit. He says, any blasphemy that you repent of will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven because it puts you beyond repentance — you will not be able to repent of it.

There is something in the very nature of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that puts you beyond repentance and therefore beyond forgiveness. To reject the work of the Spirit, to exclude yourself from His work of conviction of sin and righteousness will put you out of repentance. You will not repent without the work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, to reject the work of the Holy Spirit is to reject the possibility of repentance.

This is what the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were guilty of doing. I’m not sure they’ve ever committed this unforgivable sin, as it seems like a warning more than a statement. But they are in grave danger because the Spirit is clearly manifesting through the works of Jesus and their hearts are so hardened that they believe it is the work of a demon. To do this is to cut them off from any means of hope and help. You cannot be saved without responding in repentance and faith to the call of the Spirit. To blaspheme the Spirit is to speak in such a way as to harm one’s reputation. To attribute the works of the Spirit, through Jesus, to the demonic realm is to say the exact opposite of who Jesus is. And while this is happening, it is impossible to be saved.

How do we apply this?

1. If you think you have committed the unpardonable sin and it grieves you, you have not committed the unpardonable sin.

Conviction is a work of the Spirit. If you are grieving, it means the Spirit is still working. If the Spirit is still working, it’s to draw you to Christ. He is not cruel. If you are abandoned, you will not feel an ounce of conviction, remorse or grief. If you are hardened by the gospel, then you should be worried. But you are still called to repent, even today. But be encouraged if you are saddened, then the Spirit is still at work.

2. Forgiveness is found in Jesus.

I found what Newton says here to be true:

The Lord is gracious to the weakness of his people; many involuntary faults will not interrupt their communion with him; he pities their infirmity and teaches them to do better. But if they contest his known will and act against the precepts of conscience, they will surely suffer. It will weaken their hands and bring distress to their hearts. Willful sin sadly perplexes and retards our progress. May the Lord protect us! He raises a dark cloud and hides the Sun of Justice from our view; and until he wants to shine freely, we can do nothing; and for that perhaps he will make us wait, and he will often cry out: “How long, O Lord! until when?

Will you repent knowing that the Lord is most merciful? Don’t wait another day. Do not live another day in this dark cloud but go to the Lord knowing that He responds in grace. Oh, how wonderful, kind and merciful the Lord is! As the Savior is meek, even though we sin and blaspheme against him a million times, he always answers our request for mercy and forgiveness. Oh, what a sweet Savior we serve.

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Mike Leake is Nikki’s husband and Isaiah and Hannah’s father. He is also the senior pastor of Calvary of Neosho, MO. Mike is the author of Torn to Heal and his writing home is http://mikeleake.net
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