There are lot of people in the world, and many of them Christians, who think they have committed some sin that God cannot or will not forgive. Thus, multitudes of people live their lives in a sort of spiritual drudgery, under the black cloud of condemnation and fear.
While God is a wonderfully forgiving God, the Bible does speak about a sin that it is so serious that God is not able to forgive it, resulting in a person’s eternal damnation. It might help us all to see what the Bible says about this.
FIRST OF ALL, LET US DEFINE SIN
Before we begin to study about the unpardonable sin, it might help us to first define sin. The New Illustrated Bible Dictionary as well as The New International Dictionary of the Bible, both help us a great deal in doing this. Sin is defined as lawlessness (1 Jn. 3:4). It is a transgression of God’s law or his will, either by omission or commission. It is a breach of his covenants with humankind. Sin can take place in our thoughts, or words or our deeds. Sin is that which is offensive to a holy God. It is a revolt against his holiness.
In the Bible we read several important things about sin. The Bible tells us that the first humans were created without sin, and it was through the unfortunate disobedience of Adam and Eve that sin entered the world. Since that time, all mortals have sinned and have literally inherited sin as a part of their physical, mental and spiritual makeup. In no uncertain terms the Bible proclaims in Romans 3:23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God….” In Psalm 14:2-3 we read: “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
We realize by this last verse that we are all sin-infested, to the point that even our supposed good works are defiled. The scripture speaks of this again in Isaiah 64:6 where we read: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.”
WHAT IS THE SOLUTION TO OUR SIN PROBLEM?
Well, many people in our secular world today simply ignore sin. They also call it by more pleasant-sounding names and even deny its existence altogether. Unknown to them, sin still takes its toll, “For the wages of sin is death….” (Rom. 6:23). Many of these live on, trying to dull the pain of their nagging conscience with alcohol and drugs. Others end up on permanent medication, or else they become regulars on the psychiatrists’ couch. Indeed, some end up even taking their own lives because of accumulated guilt.
For those who still hear the voice of conscience and who still believe the Bible, the path is much different. They have the opportunity of acknowledging their sinful state. They can then confess their sins and receive full forgiveness through Jesus.
Let us look at the sin solution more closely. When we examine both God’s revealed word and the history of Israel, we see that God has given us hundreds of thousands of pictures of this atonement or forgiveness. We see the first picture immediately after the fall of man. It is a veiled promise in Genesis 3:15, as God addresses the serpent: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” This is generally conceded to be the first messianic verse in the Bible, and it speaks of Jesus who would someday come and crush the serpent’s head.
In the earliest pages of the Bible we are reminded of the sin problem. In these Bible passages we see Noah, Abraham and others, making bloody sacrifices to the Lord. Although these sacrifices were a means of thanksgiving, they also addressed the sin problem that had caused a rift between God and man.
When Israel became established as God’s holy nation, the sin problem began to be dealt with in a more intense and complete fashion. The Book of Leviticus begins with God commanding Israel to offer sacrifices. An important part of this sacrificial program was the sin offering (Lev. 4:1- 5:13) and the guilt offering (Lev. 5:14- 6:7). Central in these sacrifices was the slaying and offering up of a calf, a goat or a lamb. The blood of these animals then became the means of atonement. The key to our understanding here is found in Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.”
The offering up of animals, and in fact the whole sacrificial system that later evolved in the Temple, was but a picture of reality. It was all a picture of the Messiah who would come as the perfect and pure Lamb of God. John the Baptist bore witness of him in these words: “…Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:29).
Jesus came as the talking Lamb of Psalm 40:6-8: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, ‘Here I am, I have come—it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.’” As the perfect and undefiled Lamb of God, Jesus died on the cross to make an eternal sacrifice for sin.
Today those who admit their sins and accept his sacrifice are completely forgiven by our loving God. The scripture says: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Rom. 10:9-10). In 1 John 1:9-10 we also have these reassuring words: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”
NOW, WHAT IS THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?
With some understanding of sin and its forgiveness we can now turn to the question of the unpardonable sin. We read about the unpardonable sin in Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29 and in Luke 12:10. In these gospel passages the unpardonable sin is called blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus says in Mark 3:28-29: “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” We immediately see that all sins and blasphemies can be forgiven – all except one.
For us to understand this strange statement we must look at the context of these scriptures. Jesus had just worked an astounding miracle. A blind and dumb demoniac had been instantly healed, and the people were all amazed (Mt. 12:22-23). However, the Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem said “…He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” (Mk. 3:22). Thus, we see that these Jewish leaders were ascribing to the devil the mighty spiritual work that Jesus had just done.
In John 15:26, we see that it is the Spirit of God who testifies about Jesus in our hearts. We also see, that as the above passages were introduced, Jesus had cast out a demonic power by the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:28). The Pharisees and Scribes were witnessing a mighty spiritual work that had implications for all of Israel. Yet, these leaders chose to ascribe the Spirit’s power to the devil. This was the unpardonable sin.
Can one commit this sin today? Several Bible commentators think not, and feel that such a sin could only be committed while Jesus was still on the earth. In all likelihood though, it is still possible to commit blasphemy of the Spirit today. Since the Holy Spirit is the agent of our conversion (Jn. 3:5), and since he witnesses to Jesus as we have seen, it is serious business to reject his work. To do so is to finally reject the person and work of Jesus and to place ourselves beyond the realm of his spiritual redemption.
For those who think they have committed this unpardonable sin, we will end on a note of good news. If we think we have committed this sin and are worried and concerned about our condition, this is all probably proof that we have not committed it. It is proof that there is still within our lives a deep desire for God and a concern about our own sinfulness. It is proof that we still have a conscience; that we are still responsive to the Holy Spirit, whose function is to convict us of sin (Jn. 16:8). All this is a sure sign of hope. The day of salvation has not passed us by. We can still call upon the Lord and have our sins forgiven by the saving work of Jesus, who shed his blood on the cross for each one of us.
– Jim Gerrish
Publication date, 2003
Picture credit: Wikimedia Commons, Providence Lithograph Co., 1904
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