What Is the Unpardonable Sin?
- Mike Leake Borrowed Light
- 2022 11 Jul
John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, went through a dark season of doubt and despair. In this dark season, Bunyan expressed a flood of blasphemous thoughts and language. Because of this, he was afraid he could not be forgiven. He would often come to the Scriptures but was met with what he called “those dreadful verses.” One of those dreadful verses was Mark 3:28-29.
Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
A while back, a woman called my office in a panic. It was clear that she had not slept in days and was in an elevated emotional state. She trusted me with her story. She shared of a painful miscarriage. But that wasn’t the main reason for her consternation. See, she had gotten a tattoo to commemorate the child she had lost through miscarriage. But after doing a bit of research, she found out that what she had used to symbolize the children was something that, given various points of numerology, could be interpreted as the number 666. She was afraid that she had taken the mark of the beast and so was absolutely unforgivable.
Another young man had been coming to our church for a few months. He was really 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’d picked up his Bible and was reading Matthew 12 (similar verses to Mark 3:28-29) and he just knew that before he had become a Christian, he had done terrible things—he spoke terrible words of God the Father, God the Son, and worse yet the Holy Spirit. Was he now outside of the Lord’s forgiveness?
These verses have led to much confusion for well-meaning disciples of Jesus. What exactly does it mean to have committed the unpardonable sin?
What the Unforgivable Sin Is NOT
Sometimes before explaining what something is, it is helpful to remove all of the fog surrounding the question and define what it is not.
It is not sexual sin or some other grievous sin.
Verse 28 tells us that “all sins will be forgiven the children of men.” You can put anything in that “all.” This is true because of what happens when we are in union with Christ. When we are united to Christ, by grace through faith, we receive all of His benefits. This means that we experience full and complete forgiveness for every sin we committed, are committing, and will commit. This is the gospel.
It is not suicide.
Some have thought that suicide is the unpardonable sin. The logic is that when you cannot repent for 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 square with Scripture.
Some view salvation as if it is like a cup that must be filled with grace. They view certain things (like sacraments) as acts where our cup is filled back up. And they view sin as if it empties our cup of grace. If you die with some grace in your cup then you go to purgatory until your pay for the lack and your cup gets filled back up. But there are some sins, mortal sins, which will empty your cup. Murder is one of those mortal sins. Now repentance can fill your cup back up. But the problem with suicide is that you can’t get that cup filled back up and because you just ended your life with a mortal sin, then you’ve got an empty cup. If you’ve got an empty cup then you go to hell.
But that is contrary to the gospel. The gospel doesn’t teach that we’ve got a leaky cup. The gospel takes that cup and throws it in the garbage. 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 through faith alone. Jesus is our cup. And that cup can no sooner leak than the Lord Jesus Christ can be guilty of sin.
Suicide is terrible. It’s a sin that grieves the Lord. But it is not the unpardonable sin.
It is 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 which are forgiven. If you’ve said something where you don’t believe in God, or blasphemed Jesus, or even in some sense mocked the work of the Holy Spirit this is not the unpardonable sin. This blasphemy is forgivable.
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What Is the Unpardonable Sin?
I think John Piper is correct when he says, “the reason is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit puts you beyond repentance, and therefore beyond forgiveness.” Verse 29 is not an exception to verse 28. Jesus is not saying, All blasphemies that you repent of will be forgiven except blasphemy against the Spirit. He is saying, all blasphemies that you repent of will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven because it puts you beyond repentance — you won’t be able to repent of it.
There is something about the very nature of blaspheming the Holy Spirit that puts you beyond repentance and therefore beyond forgiveness. Rejecting the Spirit’s work, shutting yourself off from His work of convicting of sin and righteousness will put you outside of repentance. You will not repent apart from 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 confident that they had already committed this unpardonable sin, because this seems to be a warning more than a declaration. But they are in grave danger because the Spirit is clearly showing Himself through the works of Jesus and their hearts are so hardened that they believe it is by the work of a demon. Doing this is shutting them off from any means of hope and help. You cannot be saved apart from responding in repentance and faith to the Spirit’s drawing. To blaspheme the Spirit is to speak in such a way as to harm His 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 taking place it is impossible to be saved.
How Do We Apply This?
1. If you think you’ve committed the unpardonable sin and this is grieving you—you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin.
Conviction is a work of the Spirit. If you are grieving this, then, it means the Spirit is still working. If the Spirit is still working it is to draw you to Christ. He is not cruel. If you are abandoned then you will not experience an ounce of conviction, remorse, or grief. If you are hardened to the gospel, then you should be concerned. But you are still called to repent, even today. But be encouraged if you are grieved then the Spirit is still at work.
2. There is forgiveness found in Jesus.
I’ve found what Newton says here to be true:
The Lord is gracious to the weakness of his people; many involuntary mistakes will not interrupt their communion with him; he pities their infirmity, and teaches them to do better. But if they dispute his known will, and act against the dictates of conscience, they will surely suffer for it. This will weaken their hands, and bring distress into their hearts. Willful sin sadly perplexes and retards our progress. May the Lord keep us from it! It raises a dark cloud, and hides the Sun of Righteousness from our view; and until he is pleased freely to shine forth again, we can do nothing; and for this perhaps he will make us wait, and cry out often, "How long, O Lord! how long?"
Will you repent knowing that the Lord is very merciful? Don’t wait another day. Don’t live one more day in this dark cloud but go to the Lord knowing that He responds in grace. Oh, how wonderful and kind and merciful the Lord is! How sweet the Savior that though we sin and blaspheme against him a million times, he still responds to our plea for mercy and forgiveness. Oh, what a sweet Savior we serve.
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