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What is the Unpardonable or Unforgivable Sin Christians Talk About

There are, sadly, some today who believe that they have committed a level of sin(s) so egregious that God could never forgive them. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Paul, in the book of Romans, makes clear that there is no limit to God’s grace in the forgiveness of man’s sins. 

Romans 5:20 – Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

However, some look to the gospel accounts of both Mark and Matthew, concerned that God has placed a limit on His willingness to forgive mankind. 

Mark 3:29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.

Matthew 12:31b-32 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.

How does one reconcile these verses where in Romans God seems to be saying no sin can overcome His grace, yet in Mark and Matthew there is a sin that cannot be forgiven?

Definitions

Webster defines “blasphemes” as… to speak in a way that shows irreverence for God or something sacred”.

Webster defines unpardonable/unforgivable simply as… “too bad to be pardoned or forgiven”. 

Taking these words together… if one shows irreverence toward the Holy Spirit, it is too serious a sin for God to forgive them.

Taken out of context with the surrounding verses and the whole integrity of Scripture, one can understandably wonder if the Holy Spirit, who resides within the heart of the believer (2 Cor. 1:22), could be overcome by our human sin nature, making us unpardonable before God. 

When the Bible seems to suggest that there is something mankind can do that ensures rejection by God, we need to pay attention.

We will briefly explore the details of these verses, their surrounding context, along with their contemporary application, recognizing that they must fit into the whole of Biblical Christian theology.

The Context Surrounding the Verses in Mark

In the third chapter of Mark, just before verse 29, Jesus was performing miracles and large crowds were following Him. This attracted the attention of the scribes or Jewish scholars, challenged by what they were seeing and hearing from the people. Since they could not refute the miracles, their only recourse was to either believe Jesus was who He said He was or attribute His miraculous behavior to someone or something other than God. So they said…

Mark 3:22 And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.”

Jesus then used a parable to challenge the scribes (Mark 3:23-27). He ended with a statement that surely shocked all His listeners by saying,

Mark 3:28-29 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”

One could argue that this condition could not be duplicated today because Jesus is no longer on earth. No one can point at Him and attribute the source of His power to Satan or Beelzebul (Matt. 12:24). However, that does not mean there is not a broader, timeless point being made. The verse not only has a lesson for the listeners in the 1st century, but the uniqueness of Scripture is that much of it has a direct application for us today. 

Breaking the Verse Down

Mark 3:28 helps put verse 29 in context when it says that “…all sins will be forgiven the children of man and whatever blasphemies they utter” – This is a blanket statement that God has the power to forgive all of mankind’s bad behavior. 

Mark 3:29 begins with the word… “but” – The Bible inserts a qualifier or limit.

Continuing Mark 3:29a… “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness” –  There is something unique about the Holy Spirit as relates to man’s sin nature.

Mark 3:29B… “but is guilty of an eternal sin” – This is a sin that, by definition of the word “eternal”, will never be forgiven. And, we know that all who remain unforgiven will spend eternity separated from God. 

So, the importance of understanding God’s unwillingness to forgive irreverence toward the Holy Spirit could not be overstated. 

The Same Is True of the Verses in Matthew

Matthew 12:22-31 offers the same context as Mark, but adds some richness in detail. 

Matthew 12:32 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.

Matthew is even more specific in that one can be irreverent toward Jesus Christ (Son of Man – Mark 14:62) but not toward the Holy Spirit. A perfect example is Paul himself. Clearly, he rejected Jesus and persecuted those who followed Christ. However, following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul was miraculously confronted by the Holy Spirit and became a believer (Acts 9:17). Today, we too can reject Christ and still be forgiven once we turn from our sin (repent) and accept His saving grace (Eph. 2:8-9). 

Who Is the Holy Spirit

Since Pentecost (details here.), the Holy Spirit, one of the three parts of the Trinity of God, resides in the heart (2 Cor. 1:22) of every believer. He is sometimes referred to as the Counselor or Helper (John 14:26). If one is unwilling to accept Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:27) they will never receive the Holy Spirit in their heart and consequently never be saved. By definition and part of a unified view of Biblical Christian theology, when we reject Christ, we reject the Holy Spirit, and therefore God, the Father cannot pardon our sins (John 14:6). It is the Holy Spirit who declares who Jesus Christ is (John 15:26, 16:14-15). If we die in this condition, it becomes eternal separation. 

The Good News

The good news (Isaiah 52:7) is that our bad behavior in life, no matter how horrific it may be, does not prevent us from receiving salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ. The only thing we can do to remain subject to the punishment we deserve (Luke 23:41) is to reject God’s calling, and by doing so, be unwilling to accept the payment of our sin, through the work of Christ on the cross and the benefit of receiving the Holy Spirit as our Counselor. To refuse to accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts is to reject God and the forgiveness that comes through Christ. That is how Romans 5:20, Mark 3:29, and Matthew 12:21-32 fit together in perfect harmony.


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AuthorJeff Hilles | BCWorldview.org

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