The Unforgivable Sin?

Did you ever wonder if you had committed the unforgivable sin? I still remember my college friend coming to me in full PANIC mode. While I don’t remember the exact words of our conversation, the gist was this:

“I think I am in real trouble.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

To which he said, “I think I’ve committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.”

Short interlude. At this point I had been a follower of Jesus for about 2 years. While I was already an avid reader of the Bible and learning as much as I could, I was not a trained student or teacher of the Bible. This is why my reply was:

“What’s that?” I responded.

“That’s the problem. I don’t know what it is. I was reading Matthew 12 about Jesus casting out demons, and there it was. (He found it in his Bible and showed it to me.) What if I’ve done it? What if I am not really saved? What if…”

That’s when I started to wonder, “Hmm, what if I’ve committed that unforgivable sin?”

After talking to a few other friends, none of whom had any idea of what it meant, we decided it applied to enemies of Jesus who for some reason didn’t like the Holy Spirit. And since we were friends of Jesus (and also liked the Holy Spirit quite a bit) and, really, we were on fire passionate about Jesus and having NO RESERVATION at all in telling others about Jesus, we decided it didn’t apply to us.

*********

Now, fast forward through the years. I’ve been asked dozens of times (but not hundreds) what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, which turns out to be the unforgivable sin (read the passage in Matthew 12:30-32). I’ve read various interpretations.

One of the frequent but really mistaken interpretations is that this refers to the sin of suicide.

The question is asked: What is the only possible sin that can’t be forgiven? And the answer, suicide, is given because the person who committed it, by definition, is unable to ask for forgiveness of that sin. They are dead.

First of all, that is not what this passage is talking about….not even slightly or remotely.

Second, when you become a Christian, all your sins are forgiven—the sins you committed before becoming a Christian and the sins you will commit in the years before you die. When Jesus died for your sins, ALL your sins were future to him. When you received the gift of salvation by grace through faith, you received forgiveness for EVERYTHING.

Now we daily pray, “Forgive us our sins,” not that God would save us every day, but that we would have uninterrupted intimacy and friendship with God every day. Unconfessed sin puts up a barrier for relational connection, but that is far removed from being graciously and freely saved.

A second equally mistaken interpretation means you curse (or swear at) the Holy Spirit. 

The belief is that vulgarity toward the Spirit means you are not saved and/or cannot be saved. What makes this appealing is that in Matthew 12:32 Jesus says that if we speak badly against himself, Jesus, we will be forgiven, but if we speak against the Holy Spirit we won’t.

So, you can curse and swear at God the Father and God the Son, but not God the Spirit. Two members of the Trinity don’t mind your vulgarity and coarse insults against them, but the third member does? That doesn’t seem to make any sense at all.

And with the next interpretation, which I think is sound, we realize what “speaking words against the Spirit” means.

First, let’s be logical. What is the only sin that cannot be forgiven? Murder? Adultery? Serial murder? Serial adultery? Child abuse? Sexual child abuse? Serial child abuse? Listen, everything I just mentioned is heinous evil. It is disgusting, vile, depraved, and wreaks ruin in the lives of others. God is against it all, but all of that can be forgiven.

There is only one thing that can’t be forgiven: NOT ASKING FOR FORGIVENESS in the first place. In other words, not asking Jesus to forgive your sins and come into your life and save you from your sins. That’s the only thing that can’t be forgiven. The hard, stubborn heart that doesn’t want it, doesn’t believe it is needed, and therefore ignores-resists-argues against, or blissfully ignores it.

That’s the only sin that cannot be forgiven.

Now, we can make the tie with the Spirit. The work of the Spirit is to bring people to Christ. The work of the Spirit is to give us a repentant, warm, sorrowful, desiring God heart. The work of the Spirit is to bring the words of Jesus to us and then to bring all of Jesus to us. If we resist this, if we deny this, if we reject the words-work-presence of the Spirit for salvation, then we cannot be forgiven.

When you read the story of Stephen in Acts 7 (be sure to read 7:51-8:1) this takes on even more support as a good interpretation.

I’ll say it again. The only sin that cannot be forgiven is to reject the initial witness-work of the Spirit that is to lead us into a saving relationship with Jesus. If you resist-refuse-reject that, you have a BIG, BIG PROBLEM.

But as soon as you receive-respond to this work-witness of the Spirit, forgiveness is instant, immediate, and real. You can resist the Spirit for all your years, but in an instant say yes to the Spirit leading you to Christ, and all is forgiven.

And notice, back in Acts 7 and 8 that one of the resisters was a person named Saul. Eventually, he stopped resisting and said yes to Jesus through the Spirit and was wonderfully, gloriously, absolutely forgiven (that story is in Acts 9).

Most of you reading this blog said yes to the Spirit of God and, therefore, yes to Jesus. Don’t give this issue another thought. You can no longer commit the unforgivable sin. You may still commit sins that bring a world of hurt upon you and others, but all sins are forgiven and forgivable.

If you have persevered through this longer, biblical reflection, then in the words of the post from yesterday, you have been highly intentional.

May you walk in the fullness of God’s Holy Spirit this day.

Pastor Brian

Brian Rice

What I love most about my job:

Having the ability to empower and resource leaders to bear much fruit that lasts. Being a part of a team of friends and missional servants committed to changing the world.
Brian Rice

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