Unforgivable Sin

Author: Erica Reynolds
Week of: November 14-20, 2021

As a child, I remember sitting in on a few church services in the main sanctuary with my parents, or as my brother and I would call it, “big church.” To this day, there is one “big church” service that I remember very clearly. The pastor was telling a story about a woman who came to him, completely broken and crying, worried that she had committed the “unforgivable sin.” The phrase, “unforgivable sin,” caught my attention immediately. I was so curious to hear what this woman had done that would cause so much pain and guilt. I began to make a mental list of what my 10 year-old self deemed were the worst sins. Murder? Adultery? Stealing? Lying? The pastor continued his story, saying that he asked her, “Did you repent your sin to God and do you want to be forgiven?” She replied, “Yes!” He said, “If you want so badly to be forgiven, I’m sure that’s not the “unforgivable sin.'" All she had to do was to repent and ask for God’s forgiveness, and she would be forgiven. The pastor never asked the woman what she did, yet he had confidence that God’s grace was enough to cover her sin: “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight” (Ephesians 1:7-8, ESV).

Where does this notion of “unforgivable sin” stem from? The books of Matthew and Mark both mention a sin that cannot be forgiven, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus tells the Pharisees, “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (NIV). In an article from the Billy Graham Evangelical Association (BGEA), the author explains the background of this passage: “Jesus had been performing miracles, including driving demons out of people by the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of recognizing the source of Jesus’ power and accepting Him as God’s Son, the religious leaders accused Him of being possessed by the devil and driving demons out in the power of the devil” (BGEA Staff).  

These verses in Matthew caused a little worry to spring up in my heart. I thought to myself, “What exactly is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Could I have possibly committed the unforgivable sin and not even have known it?”

In order to define blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, we first need to explore God’s intended role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In a study through the book of Matthew, Pastor Chuck Smith explains that the “work of the Holy Spirit is to convict men of sin, by revealing to man the answer for his sin, even Jesus.” The Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin and reveals our need for Jesus. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27, ESV). 1 John 5:6 also speaks of the Spirit’s role to bear witness to the Gospel, saying, “...the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth” (ESV). To blaspheme the Holy Spirit would mean willfully opposing the Holy Spirit’s testimony and rejecting the truth of Jesus Christ. “Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost is regarded by some as a continued and obstinate rejection of the gospel, and hence is an unpardonable sin, simply because as long as a sinner remains in unbelief he voluntarily excludes himself from pardon” (Easton’s Bible Dictionary).

Could a believer potentially commit the unforgivable sin? In short, no. A true believer could not commit the unpardonable sin because they have accepted the testimony of the Holy Spirit, and choose to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Although we may find comfort that as believers, we don't have to worry about committing the ‘unforgivable sin’, this does not make us impervious to sin. We are flawed and sinful in nature, and as followers of Christ, we acknowledge that we would never measure up to God’s perfect standards based on our own works: “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags; we all fade as a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6, NKJV). Sin will not be completely eradicated from our lives until we are made new in heaven, but that should not deter us from continually working towards following God’s will and instructions for our lives, and fleeing from sin. When we inevitably transgress against the Lord, we are still called to repent and turn away from our sins. “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, NKJV). God sees the state of our hearts, and He truly wants to cover us in the abundance of His forgiveness when we come to Him with a contrite heart: “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever, but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us;  you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19, NIV).
Thank you, Lord, for having compassion on me and allowing me to come to You in my broken state seeking Your abundant grace and forgiveness. Thank you for giving me the gift of the Holy Spirit to convict me and direct me to Your Son, Jesus. Please help me to flee from sin, and when I do sin, to repent and seek Your forgiveness.

Food for Thought:
What does it mean to accept the Holy Spirit’s testimony?
How does the Holy Spirit present itself in my life today (i.e. conviction, direction) in comparison to when I first became a believer?
Do I view any of my sins as “unforgivable?" If so, why do I label them as so? Do I feel like I am taking advantage of God's mercy?
What does labeling some sins as "unforgivable" say about God’s character?

More Reading:
John 3, Romans 8, Luke 15:11-32

Personal Note:
In the church setting, I often hear Christians sharing their testimonies. I’ve always loved hearing the miraculous stories of redemption, where a person goes from hitting “rock bottom” to accepting Jesus and receiving true forgiveness for their sins. Testimonies bear witness of God’s work in other peoples’ lives, and can be very encouraging to others going through similar situations. As much as I love hearing these testimonies, I sometimes feel discouraged that my life doesn't seem as put-together and perfect as the endings of these testimonies. When I became a Christian, I didn't have an instant 'happily ever after' without struggling with sin daily. Sometimes there is a notion of an instant change in a person’s life when they became a Christian. Life before having God in their lives meant a life of grievous sins; life was dark and miserable. After receiving Christ, they finally see the light and no longer struggle with the sins of their past. The phrases, “before I was saved” or “before I was a believer,” are often the precursors to that part of the testimony where the person confesses their struggles with the "big" sins; the drug addiction, the affair, the alcoholism, the abuse, the years of idolatry. The sins that, as believers, we never want to publicly confess are still a struggle for us today. The sins we hope never see the light of day. There is a misconception that after accepting Jesus into our lives, we easily turn away from all of the sins that we've struggled with in the past. The reality is that we are all human, and none of us will get to a point where we are 100% sin-free on earth. Only Jesus lived a life completely without sin.

The Bible does tell us, “...Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18, NIV). When we truly repent and ask God for forgiveness, God erases those sins from our records: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake,  and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25 ESV). God’s grace wipes away all of our transgressions, present and future, but that doesn’t mean we won’t struggle with sin in our lives as believers. We don't hear believers discussing the struggles with sin with as much openness and honesty as discussing their “pre-Christian” life sins. There is a sense of shame that many of us associate with sin once we have accepted the Gospel; something that comes from a place of “you should have known better.” How could we have messed up so badly when we already knew the Truth? But when we acknowledge our sin, we are also admitting that our righteousness is still considered “filthy rags” in comparison to the perfect righteousness of God. Living a “good Christian life” where your only struggles are occasional gossip or telling a “white lie” once in a while do not make you any less deserving of a life separated from God than the believer who has made huge mistakes, guilty of all the sins we deem as 'the worst' ones. The beauty of the Prodigal Son story in the Bible is that the Father still accepted the son as an equally loved member of the family, despite all the wrong he had done. The Father not only forgave the Prodigal Son, he also embraced him, clothed him and adorned him with a ring. The focus of the story is the Father’s overflowing grace, rather than the sins of the Prodigal Son. The Prodigal did not deserve the Father’s forgiveness, but that didn't change the Father's love and compassion for his son, so he took him back nonetheless.

When I am tempted to paint a happier, unrealistic picture of what my Christian life looks like solely to avoid feelings of shame or keep up my “Christian” reputation, I am pretending that I am above sin, which is definitely not the case. At the end of the day, I know that sometimes my pride gets in the way of God stirring something in my heart to share my struggles and His incredible redemption in my life. When I look at the most horrible things I have done, and how far God has pulled me out of those pits, I see God’s character; a steadfast, merciful and loving Father. And that’s something to celebrate and share, rather than hide just to protect my ego. I pray that as a fellowship of believers, we can share our common struggles to encourage one another, building each other up in faith of God's unbelievable of grace and mercy.

Blue Letter Bible Study Resources, Verse-by-Verse Commentary on Matthew 12 (C2000) by Pastor Chuck Smith
Blue Letter Bible Study Resources, The Book of Matthew Text Commentary by David Guzik
Billy Graham’s My Answer Column, Answers by BGEA Staff, “What is the unpardonable sin? I am afraid I may have committed it.”
Easton’s Bible Dictionary by M. G. Easton, “Blasphemy” 
Harvest.org, Foundations for Living, “The Holy Spirit’s Plan (Purpose) for Your Life” 

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