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What is the Unforgivable Sin?

Ask Pastor Alex, Episode. 52

This is the Ask Pastor Alex podcast with your host, Pastor Alex. All right, welcome back, everybody. We are here with another episode and another question. And the question for this episode is, what is the unforgivable sin? Now, many of you have probably heard about the unpardonable or unforgivable sin. So, this is a really good question because I know that there are some people who worry that they have actually committed the unforgivable sin. There are many who look at their lives and they see the sin in their lives and they think back about all they’ve done throughout their lives and in their past and they think to themselves, it’s too much. Or people might commit a very particular sin and they believe that they have committed the unforgivable sin and now they believe that they are in a state of being unforgivable and it tears them up inside. And so, this is a great question to address. 

We need to open up God’s Word and dig in to discover the truth behind the unforgivable sin. And the passage about the unforgivable sin is found in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But we’re going to be in the book of Matthew as we go through this question. If you want to follow along in your own Bible, the passage is Matthew 12 verses 22 to 32. And let me set the scene for you so you kind of understand the context about what’s going on when Jesus mentions the unforgivable sin. Jesus at this point had been irritating the religious leaders of Israel with his teachings and his miracles for quite some time. And even as the Bible reads on this particular day, the day is the Sabbath and Jesus has already done a number of things that really ticks off the Pharisees and the religious leaders of Israel and they are done with him. They have had it with him. They are as annoyed and angry as they can possibly be. I mean, specifically, the first thing that he did was he and his disciples were walking through a field and his disciples plucked grain heads and began to eat them, which was a big no-no on the Sabbath. And so the religious leaders got angry about that. But then right after that happens, and as the religious leaders, the Bible says, are conspiring against Jesus, a man comes to Jesus with a withered hand. And the Pharisees wanted to trap Jesus. And so they said, hey, is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath? And Jesus goes on to give an explanation, but he ends up healing the man with the withered hand. And the Pharisees and religious leaders get really mad about that as well. And no sooner does that scene end than the one about the unforgivable sin begins. 

And the passage begins by saying that there was a man who was demon oppressed and blind and mute. And this man was brought to Jesus. And so he’s in great need. Notice this. This is a man who’s demon possessed, he’s blind, and he’s mute. So if you think your life is bad, remember this guy, because he has it way worse than we did. And so he’s brought to Jesus and Jesus heals him. And it’s amazing that he heals him right in front of all the crowds, all the people and the religious leaders. And the crowds are astonished and amazed at what they’ve just witnessed. In fact, they respond and they say, can this be the son of David? In other words, that’s a messianic claim. They saw that Jesus was doing things that only the Messiah could possibly do, that this was the fulfillment of the Davidic King who was going to come and sit on the throne of David over an everlasting kingdom forever. The crowds recognize that and they’re excited. But the religious leaders, being the wet blankets that they always are, they decide to put an end to all the excitement. And they tell the crowds, it’s only by Beelzebul, the Prince of Demons, that this man casts out demons. So the crowd said, this is the Messiah. And the religious leaders say, you’re wrong. This is actually Beelzebul. And he’s working for the kingdom of darkness. Don’t believe what he’s doing. And so Jesus responds by saying, every kingdom divided against itself is laid to waste and no city or house divided against itself will stand. Now just pause real quick. Notice that Jesus said that way before Abraham Lincoln ever did. You know, that quote is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, but Jesus said it way before he did. That’s not pertinent to our conversation. Just thought I should point it out. 

But Jesus continues. He says, if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. And he goes on to say, whoever is not with me is against me. And whoever does not gather with me scatters. And finally, he says, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come. So notice how Jesus is emphasizing the two kingdoms at war in these verses. You see the kingdom of God versus the kingdom of darkness. And you see it all throughout the passage. I mean, Jesus’ miracle is attributed to Beelzebul of the kingdom of darkness, but he assures people that it was actually the work of the Holy Spirit of the kingdom of God. And then there’s Jesus’ explicit words that you’re either with him in his kingdom or you’re against him, meaning you’re part of that kingdom of darkness. And so we look at this passage and we see that it has to do with these two kingdoms at war with each other.

 It has to do also with what we do with the evidence of God’s work that we witness all around us. What will we do with the clear evidence of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world and in our lives and in the lives of others? Will we attribute it to the work of darkness like the Pharisees? Will we condemn it like the Pharisees? Will we lead others away from the truth like the Pharisees or like the people and in the crowds will we give glory to God and recognize Jesus as the Messiah? So that’s what this is getting at. So what exactly is the unforgivable sin? 

Well, believe it or not, it doesn’t actually have to do with one particular sin per se. When I teach people about the unforgivable sin, I try to get them to stop thinking just in terms of what it is and start thinking about why. Why is it that the people described here will not receive forgiveness? Why is it that this is so severe? You see, it’s one thing to identify one particular sin, but if we want to understand the bigger picture, we have to look throughout all of scripture and get behind the why of what’s going on here. Why is it that this is so bad that these people will not receive forgiveness? And it actually has to do with the state of heart. You see, the heart that’s being described here that’s guilty of committing the unforgivable sin, it refers to a coldness, a hatred, a rejection, and a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in the world. It’s actually viewing the work of God as a work of evil and deception.

 But we need to get even more specific, right? Many people commit sins of ignorance. In other words, they do something that they don’t actually know is a sin, and so they commit a sin of ignorance. Other people, they aren’t necessarily sure about Jesus and if what He said about Himself is true or not, and the unforgivable sin has nothing to do with people like that. The unforgivable sin has to do with people who know exactly who Jesus is and what He said about Himself. It refers to people who have heard the gospel message not just once, but repeatedly. They have heard the message of grace. They have heard the offer of salvation in Christ. They know all the facts. They’ve heard the testimonies of those who have been converted to faith in Christ by the Spirit of God. They have heard of the many miracles in the world that God still performs today. They have seen prayers answered, and no other explanation can be given except that this is a work of God, and yet they adamantly reject it, condemn it, and seek to lead other people away from the truth. 

Do you see the difference? Let’s put it like this. It’s one thing for a person to be an unbeliever and hear the claims of Christianity, but not yet be convinced and not refer to themselves as Christians. It’s another thing entirely to hear the claims of Christianity and the message of the gospel and condemn it as something evil, something that is actually harmful to people and leading people into deception. That only comes from a heart that has been so hardened by sin that they now identify the work of the Spirit of God as a work of evil, and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. So think about two people, right? One is an agnostic, and he’s a person who says, well, hey, I’m not a Christian, but I’m totally fine with you being a Christian. There’s nothing wrong with that. Like, if it’s good for you, that’s great. You continue to do that. I have no problem with it. That’s one person, right? That’s the agnostic. But think about the militant atheist, where it’s not enough for him not to be a Christian. He wants other people not to be Christians. It is his life goal to lead people away from Christ and away from the truth of the gospel. It’s not enough for him just not to believe it. He has to make sure other people don’t believe it either. He is an apologist for atheism. And see, here’s what the Bible is teaching us here. The Bible is teaching us that every rejection of Christ in the message of the gospel, every denial and hatred of the Spirit’s work actually hardens people’s hearts. If people continue in this way, their hearts will continue to be hardened to the point that forgiveness is beyond them. They will never receive it. That’s the why behind the what. 

And I want to add a clarification here, something you need to understand. The reason these people will not receive forgiveness is not because they are seeking it and being denied it, right? So the picture is not of someone who is seeking to be forgiven by God. They’re desperately wanting to be forgiven by God. But God says, no, not you. I’m going to forgive other people, but not you. That’s not the picture here. It’s because their hearts, the reason that they’re not going to be forgiven, they will never receive it, is because their hearts will be so hardened by sin that they’ll never even seek forgiveness in the first place. Their hearts will never be softened to the point of repentance and to see their own need for repentance and forgiveness. And this idea is backed up throughout the rest of scripture. I mean, the book of Hebrews in particular talks about how Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of soup and then he never had a chance of repentance after that because his heart had become so hardened by sin that he was beyond forgiveness. In fact, the book of Hebrews in chapter three, whoever wrote Hebrews, the author of Hebrews, he warns his audience not to have an unbelieving heart that will be hardened and cause them to fall away from God’s grace. He even references the Israelites in the wilderness and he points out that they all heard the voice of God. They heard the message of God. They knew the plan of God, but they rejected it continually, having an unbelieving heart and it caused them to fall away from God’s grace. And so they never receive forgiveness, not because God was unwilling to grant it, but because their hearts were so hardened by sin that they never even sought it in the first place. And so in Hebrews chapter three, verses 12 through 13, this is the encouragement he gives us. He says, take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart leading you to fall away from the living God, but exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Do you see his warning here? He’s saying stop rejecting the voice of God. Stop rejecting the message of God because sin will harden your heart to the point that you will fall away from the living God. 

And I want you to think about how this plays out with us today. All right, so imagine a horizontal line. It’s going to be a scale for us. So on the far right are all those who are united to Christ by faith. They’re the believers. They do still sin. They mess up, but they’re being sanctified by the Holy Spirit throughout this entire life. And in the middle of the line are all those who are agnostics. They don’t really know what to believe. They wouldn’t call themselves Christians, but they have no problem with other people being Christians themselves. And then on the far left are all those who not only know that they are not Christians, but are opposed to anybody becoming Christians. They seek to lead people away from Christ, just as the Pharisees do here. They hate Christianity. They hate God and everything to do with the faith. They do all they can to discredit the work of God. And the Bible is teaching us that people will move down that scale, starting in the middle, because Christians cannot lose their salvation. But starting in the middle, people will move down that scale who are outside of Christ. They’ll continue to move further and further down that scale towards reaching a state of complete hardness of heart the more they give in to sin and reject God’s voice. Eventually their hearts will reach a point where they will be beyond repentance because their hearts will never desire it. If they would only turn from their sins and believe in Christ, they would be forgiven. The problem is their hearts will never reach that point. Sin will have corrupted it and hardened it to the point that they will never even desire or see the need for repentance. Therefore, they will not be forgiven. 

So as scary of a warning as that is, let me encourage the believers listening to this. If you’re fearful that you have committed the unforgivable sin, let me tell you something, brother, that’s a clear indication that you have not committed it. Those who have reached the point of complete hardness of heart are not concerned about committing the unforgivable sin. They don’t even worry about it at all. Another encouragement for you, if this passage scares you at all, that’s another good sign that you are in no danger of committing the unforgivable sin because again, those who have reached the state of complete hardness of heart are not fearful of not receiving forgiveness because they see no need for it. I tell people this all the time. If you hate the sin in your life, it’s one thing to still have sin in your life. We all do. We all mess up. But if you hate the sin in your life and hate the fact that you still give into sin and you desperately don’t want to sin and you desperately do not want to commit the unforgivable sin, that is a clear indication that you’re a Christian because listen to me, those who are still dead in their sins, they don’t care about sin. They’re not concerned with it at all. They don’t worry about the punishment to come because they don’t believe there will be one. So if you do hate sin and you desperately want to cut it out of your life, that is a clear indication that God is at work in your life. 

So that should encourage you. But with that encouragement, let me also give you a warning. You should take this passage seriously and see the devastating effects of sin. The more you give into sin in your own life, the more you will become numb to it. The more it will harden your heart, the more it will cause you to tune out the voice of God, the more it will lead you away from God, and the more it will numb you to your need for mercy and grace and forgiveness. In the words of my favorite theologian of all time, John Owen, be killing sin or sin will be killing you. And so the unforgivable sin, put simply, it is identifying the work of the Spirit of God as a work of evil, leading people away from the truth into darkness and continually rejecting the work of the Spirit and the voice of God to the point that your heart becomes so hardened by sin that you will never receive forgiveness because your heart will never see the need for it and therefore never desire it. And so I hope that this has helped. And if you’re again listening and worried about committing the unforgivable sin, that’s a clear sign you’re nowhere even close to it. So I do hope that this has brought some clarification to the question and I thank you for it. I look forward to answering more in the future.