WHAT IS 'THE UNPARDONABLE SIN'?


Surely it is High Time That We Swept Away All Confusion on this Most Serious Topic!
What Does the Bible Really Say?

A lady e-mailed us and said she had heard three different descriptions of 'The Unpardonable Sin' within the last four weeks and that she was more confused than ever on this subject. Could we help?

I myself recently heard a preacher say that, 'The Unpardonable Sin is nothing more nor less than the rejection of Jesus Christ, and this sin will never be forgiven' - While we take this man's point of the seriousness of rejecting Jesus Christ, his explanation falls short; if those who rejected Jesus Christ had commited the unforgivable sin, how come that new people are becoming Christians all the time who even a year or so ago, fully rejected Christ??
If they have now accepted Jesus and have become part of Christ's body, their sin was forgivable.
Of course, final rejection is going to be unforgivable, but we all know this anyway; The Unpardonable Sin must be somewhat different, since forgiveness is not available under any circumstances!

We need to look closely at what the Bible really says about this particular sin:



Always Check the Context!

Matthew 12: 31-32 says this,
"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come."

What caused Jesus to utter these words? The events are described earlier in this chapter:
A blind and mute man had been brought to Jesus, and Jesus healed him! (Verse 22). As a result of this healing, some people in the crowd said, 'Could this be the Son of David?' (Verse 23). This remark made some Pharisees who were present absolutely furious! Let's read it:
"But when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons."
(Verse 24).

These people were ascribing the work of Jesus Christ not purely to demons but - even worse - to the 'prince of demons' (Satan). This incident is also covered in Mark 3, where the final verse of the account tells us a little more. Let me pick up the last two verses of the account in Mark 3:
"But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation - BECAUSE THEY SAID, 'HE HAS AN UNCLEAN SPIRIT'" (my emphasis)
(Mark 3: 29-30).

So the really serious part was when the Pharisees ascribed the wonders which Jesus did to the powers of evil; If a person is fairly enlightened about the truth of God, but then - despite their knowledge - attributes the work of Jesus to Satan, that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit! But why is this worse than simply being critical of Jesus (which we know can be forgiven)? Because if a person criticizes Jesus or the Christian faith while not in a state of knowledge, he or she is not blaspheming against the Holy Spirit because the comments come from a state of ignorance - not from a position of reasonable knowledge! The Bible says that certain of the Pharisees commited the Unpardonable Sin when attributing the power of the Holy Spirit evidenced in Jesus' miracles, to Satan. The impression is that they knew that they were lying but wanted to protect their position and office under the Romans! In other words, in a more or less full knowledge of the facts, they wanted the praise of men and women rather than the praise of God!
Again and again the Bible warns that with knowledge comes responsibility! If we know a thing to be wrong but carry on and do it, that is more serious that sinning without knowledge; but this particular sin commited by the Pharisees was of monumental importance. Why?
Because, while standing legally under the last vestiges of the Old Covenant, they - in their official capacity - ascribed the inaugurator of the New Covenant as practising the work of the Devil! THAT WAS PRETTY SERIOUS!

In truth, few are going to be in danger of commiting such grievous sin. Yet sometimes really sincere people who love the Lord fear that they may have commited this sin but... that is just not possible! Nobody who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and wants to obey God to the best of their ability could possibly have commited such evil! Such people have no need to worry: nobody who wants to serve God and who recognises that Jesus was God's Son, will ever be turned away!

An Objection To This Explanation

Some people believe that the Unpardonable Sin is also mentioned in both Hebrews 6: 4-8 and in Hebrews 10: 26-29. But if one examines these texts carefully, there are differences. A few believe that these two texts in Hebrews "prove" that the Unpardonable Sin can only be commited by previously truly converted Christians!
This, of course, would be contradictory if we agree that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit committed by some of the Pharisees was the unforgivable sin, since nobody would claim, I am sure, that those Pharisees were converted!
Of course, if they are correct in their assertion, we cannot count on the New Testament since elsewhere the teaching is clear that nobody can snatch those under God's grace out of His hand! Obviously, there are problems in this understanding which we need to address.
So as a starting point in this discussion let us note that the gospels appear to establish that certain of the Pharisees apparently commited the unforgivable sin and they - most definitely - were not born again!
Hebrews 6 says this,
"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame."

Pharisees

Certain of the Jewish religious leaders apparently commited the Unforgivable Sin in their dealings with Jesus.

What did the writer mean by these comments? It is really very simple: the writer is speaking philosophically, and he is writing as a warning and a deterrent and a spur to good works. He is saying, 'Look, it is impossible for the converted to be re-converted, if it were possible, they would be - in a manner - re-crucifying Christ!
The writer is not talking about a particular group of people - in fact, in verse 9, it continues,
"But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner."
Also, it is vital to note that: the writer of Hebrews states that such people only "tasted" of God's own Gospel truth; notice in verses 4 and 5. It is one thing to 'taste' but quite another thing to swallow! So the writer here is being very careful with his choice of words!
He is speaking 'in this manner' (apparently) as a spur for the Hebrews to 'stay on course,' which spur all Christians need from time to time! But the approach is philosophical: the truly converted can obviously never be re-converted!! He is not saying that this has actually happened, rather, he is speaking hypothetically and in a philosophical vein.

Now what about Hebrews 10?

"For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgement, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?"
(Hebrews 10: 26-29).

The difference between Hebrews 6:4-8 and the Hebrews 10 quote is that the latter can be applied to those Pharisees who blasphemed the office of Jesus whilst in their standing as custodians of the Old Covenant; to that degree they had received 'the knowledge of the truth.' If one knows who Jesus was but still rejects Him that man or woman is in a dangerous position, so this applied to certain of the Jewish religious leaders as we have noted; they too, in a somewhat loose sense, were 'sanctified' (because of their office).
The real connection between these verses and the Unpardonable Sin commited by certain of the Pharisees is that with knowledge comes responsibility! Those who sin willfully - while in a state of knowledge about exactly who Jesus is and about the knowledge of the truth He has given to us, are in a perilous position indeed!!

Of course, every year some who had worshipped as 'Christians' for a long time, do decide to walk away, like the former American baptist minister who left the faith to become a militant muslim. But these cases are rather rare, and John clearly shows us that such people were never of the Elect of God, since they cannot be snatched away from God:
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One..."
(1 John 1: 19-20).

When John says, 'But You...' he is thereafter speaking of those who are under grace and will go on to produce fruit. We must remember that Jesus said this about those who are His,
"This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day."
(John 6: 39).

In this same chapter of John many others followed Jesus who eventually walked away from Him. Why? They were not the Father's! We just have to face this truth! God is a responsible parent who knows how to protect His own children! Nobody and nothing can snatch them out of God's hand:
"My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father's hand."
(John 10: 27-29).

We may also consider Romans 8: 27-39. Please read these inspiring words carefully, including this,
'For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'
(Romans 8:38-39, NIV).

Therefore we know that any Scripture which talks about those among us walking away from the Faith, is talking about those who might have been attracted to the Christian message for a while - yes, maybe even for years - but were never really converted - John clearly tells us this! Maybe such people even naturally had warm and considerate personalities and we mistook this for evidence of the fruits of the Spirit.
So we need to keep this broader understanding in mind, when we look at those few Scriptures which may initially give the impression that the truly saved can walk away; THEY CANNOT!

So those Hebrews texts are written as a warning and a deterrent since none of those of us who are leaders in the Church can truly tell who among us are truly Christ's and who among us can never bear fruit since they are not covered by God's grace! 2 Peter 2: 20-22 speaks of some of the same people - yes, with knowledge comes responsibility: IT IS POSSIBLE THAT A FEW IN THIS GROUP COULD COMMIT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN!
Yet let us hope that it is few, and that those nominal "Christians" who are presently truly uncoverted do finally fully embrace Christ!

But the Scripture cannot be broken and when we are told that the elect of God cannot be snatched away from God we must realize that we are not dealing here with an unreliable and opportunistic politician who is forever on the lookout for 'the main chance'! - No. God is reliable and He is fully able to protect His own children.

But if you see this somewhat differently and your approach is Arminian, we should not fall out over this; you remain my brother and/or sister in Christ.
Robin A. Brace, 2001. Slightly revised, 2005.



Please also ensure that you read our Day of Judgment articles which are here.

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