Have I committed the unforgivable sin?
Some of you will be surprised, but this is a terrifying feeling of panic, doubt, and spiritual fatigue expressed by some Christians. I receive email after email from scared Christians who cannot relieve the anxiety of their feeling that they have committed a sin that cannot be forgiven by God. Because of this, they feel hopeless, without an advocate in this world that can rescue them from the fires of hell.
Where does anyone get such an idea? Well, from the Bible. Mark 3:28-29 says:
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
This fearful passage is repeated in all three synoptics (Matt. 12:31-32; Luke 12:10).
The difficulty is obvious: the Gospel of Jesus Christ presents unqualified forgiveness to all who repent of their sins (1 John 1:9; Rom. 10:13; John 3:16; et al). This is why the Gospel is so easy to preach. There are no reservations for those who tell of God’s love and hope. No matter what a person has done or thought in the past, God offers hope through the cross of Christ. John 6:37 says, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” It does not say, “I will certainly not cast out…unless they have committed a sin that is beyond hope of repentance.”
So how do we reconcile this “unforgivable sin” with the clear message of forgiveness found throughout the Bible? I will try to answer this, but more importantly, I want to answer the question of whether or not you have committed this sin and are beyond hope.
What is blasphemy?
The word “blasphemy” is not an easy word to define. It is used many ways in many contexts. Today, many people think that saying certain curse words such as G-D constitutes blasphemy. Others see it as accepting divine acclamation and authority. I have many people who believe that it is thinking a bad thought about God, like “I hate God” or “Get out of my life!” None of these are true.
Almost all lexicons define this word as having to do with speech. It is something uttered or spoken. BADG says that it is “to speak in a disrespectful way that demeans, denigrates, maligns.”
What is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
Jesus says that people can be forgiven of any sin, even blasphemy against him. But for some reason, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a distinct type of sin.
Now, it is important to note that in no account do we find the religious leaders who caused Jesus to issue this warning mention the Holy Spirit at all. Therefore, how can we say they actually uttered anything against him? All they did was attribute the works of Christ to the works of Satan. After Jesus had performed a miracle — healing a man and casting out a demon — the religious leaders said:
Mark 3:22 “The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul,’ and ‘He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.'”
Everything we see here seems to be speaking against Christ, not the Holy Spirit. However, the reality is that when one speaks against Christ in such a way, he is speaking against the Holy Spirit.
These religious leaders were attributing the work of God, which had its power in the Holy Spirit, to Satan. They were basically saying that Christ was not who he said he was and his life and work were energized by the Devil, not God. This is a pretty serious accusation. And, again, is it very important to note that they did not actually speak these words out loud about the Holy Spirit, but Christ knew the words were expressions of the beliefs of their heart. Keep that in mind as it is not really about speaking, but the heart behind the words spoken. As Christ said:
“But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders [blasphemies].”
These people who committed the unforgivable sin truly believed, deep in their hearts, that Christ was of the devil. And this was a willful persistent belief about which they sought no repentance. It was not merely the words spoken.
Have you committed the unforgivable sin?
It all comes down to this question. Have you committed the unforgivable sin? I don’t know. But I do know this, if you are worried that you have committed this sin and it is causing great anxiety upon your soul before God, then I don’t think you have. If you believe that Christ is God, his works were of God, and he died for your sins, then I absolutely know you have not committed it. To commit it requires a willful, persistent, lifelong rejection of Christ’s work. You don’t even have to know about the Holy Spirit.
Sam Storms puts it this way:
“Those who are most worried that they may have committed the unpardonable sin have not. This is a sin for while there is no concern, no conviction, and no anxiety, and thus no repentance. It is a sin that is so hard-hearted and willful and persistent and defiant that the one committing it couldn’t care less that he or she is committing it.” (Tough Topics, 88-89)
Another thing to consider is this: If this sin was so easy to commit, for example, a person says a certain formula or puts a particular set of words together, why isn’t this mentioned many times in Scripture? More than that, why isn’t it more clearly laid out? The closest we have is from Paul in 1 Cor. 12:33: “Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus is accursed'; and no one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” But notice, if you say “Jesus is Lord” (which is an expression of your heart), then this is from the Holy Spirit. It is the opposite of the unforgivable sin. If you believe that Jesus is Lord, you cannot have ever committed the unforgivable sin.
If you look throughout church history, you will find multiple views about this sin. At the same time, there is agreement that one who has trusted Christ cannot commit this sin. For Origen, it is only those who have finally and decisively turned their backs from grace. Novatian calls it defiance of the ground of the Christian faith and life. And Augustine says that this text does not suggest that blasphemy makes repentance impossible.
The point is that this sin is not really a unique sin. It is an ultimate rejection of the Gospel. It is never coming to Christ for repentance. It is looking at Christ and laughing in your heart with a persistent rebellion against the power of the Spirit who is giving testimony about him (John 15:26). Therefore, while I understand the fear that people may have about this sin, I can promise you that if you have ever come to Christ, recognizing who he is, and said “Have mercy on me, the sinner,” then there is no possibility that you have committed this sin. Take comfort in this. The devil may be trying to rob you of your security by whispering in your ear that you must take ownership of a sin you can never own.