What is the Unforgiveable Sin?

worried_sickI have heard of people who lived their entire lives thinking that they were cursed because they, or their parents, had committed the “unforgiveable sin.” It was partly this conviction that made Søren Kirkegaard the gloomy Dane. If you sincerely believed that you were utterly beyond redemption and without hope, you would be gloomy too.

One of the greatest sources of anxiety among believers is confusion over issues of sin and forgiveness. Tell a confused Christian that there is an unforgiveable sin and it’s like throwing petrol on a fire. So is there an unforgiveable sin and, if so, what is it?

The bottom 10 list

Below is a list of candidate sins that I have gleaned from various commentaries. You may have committed one or all of them, but rest assured that none of them is unforgiveable:

1.    an attitude that calls evil good and good evil
2.    a lack of reverence
3.    being stubborn and unteachable
4.    not loving the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength
5.    willful or intentional sin
6.    unconfessed sin
7.    unrepented sin
8.    harboring unforgiveness in your heart
9.    taking the Lord’s Name in vain
10.    having disrespectful thoughts about the Holy Spirit

Now there is some bad stuff on this list that can really hurt you. For instance, if you harbor unforgiveness you’ll end up bitter and twisted. But it is not helpful to tell a young mother whose husband has just run off with her best friend that she must forgive him or face eternal damnation. You might as well ask her to walk on water! The power to overcome sin – and forgive the unforgiveable – is not found in religious fear-mongering. So, in the hope of breaking a few man-made yokes, let’s review some of these so-called unforgiveable sins.

Unforgiveable sins?

Some people will try and tell you that the unforgiveable sin is a bad attitude or a lack of reverence or it’s being stubborn and unteachable. This is nonsense! Jesus didn’t suffer and die to enter us into a reverence contest. We neither earn points for being quick learners nor get punished for being dimwitted. Attitude is certainly important as it will affect the way you live and whether you reign in life. But a poor attitude won’t disqualify a saint any more than a good attitude will qualify a sinner.

Others say the unforgiveable sin is not loving the Lord with all your heart, mind and strength – it’s putting Sunday football ahead of Jesus. This mindset naturally leads to a system of religious score-keeping. It’s the debits versus the credits. But God is not counting the number of hours we put into church versus the number of hours we spend kicking a football. You don’t qualify for eternal life because you maintain a positive or pious attitude. In fact, Jesus said this sort of religious thinking makes Him nauseous. We don’t love God to stay on His good side. We love Him because He first loved us and saved us and redeemed us and did everything we needed, while we were yet sinners (Rm 5:8).

What about willful sin? That sounds serious. Well if Jesus can’t forgive the sins we’ve done on purpose then no one can be saved. Don’t worry – His best is greater than your worst and His grace is greater than your sin!

I’ve heard plenty of people say that unpardonable sins are those we neither confess nor repent of. (This would include suicide.) They seem to forget that Jesus went around forgiving people who neither repented nor asked for forgiveness. They also forget that He forgave them long before they were born. If you preach, “you must repent to be forgiven,” then you’re preaching dead works. You’re trying to define righteousness in terms of what you do or don’t do. Wrong tree.

Am I saying you don’t need to repent? You must, but from dead works rather than sin (He 6:1). Jesus said, “repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15). When you change the way you think and start believing the good news – that His grace and love led Him to die for you before you had done any confessing or turning of your own – it will empower you to overcome sin. We don’t turn from sin to get forgiven; we turn because we are forgiven and His grace enables us.

What about harboring unforgiveness in our hearts? Didn’t Jesus say forgiving others was a precondition for receiving God’s forgiveness (Mt 6:15)? If it is then there’s no such thing as grace. Read your Bible through the lens of the cross. Jesus preached the law of conditional forgiveness to those who lived under the law to silence their self-righteousness and reveal their need for a Savior (Rm 3:19, Gal 3:24). We are not under law but grace (Rm 6:15). We forgive others because He first forgave us (Col 3:13).

What about taking the Lord’s Name in vain? This is one of the 10 Commandments and was a stoning offense under the old covenant:

“Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.” (Lev 24:16)

If you have taken the Lord’s Name in vain, then thank God that we live under a new and better covenant! Thank God for Jesus who has set us free from the curse of the law and and who said:

“Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” Mat 12:32a

You may have cursed God, but He has blessed you! I wish I could go back to 19th century Copenhagen, find the gloomy Dane and tell him the good news. “Søren, all your sins were forgiven!”

But what about the rest of that verse…

“…but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Mat 12:32b

Here Jesus identifies the one and only sin that He says will never be forgiven, namely, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

The unforgiveable sin

This week I heard about someone who was battling condemnation because they had had disrespectful thoughts about the Holy Spirit. They were worried that they had committed the unforgiveable sin. If this has happened to you, don’t panic! First of all, don’t take ownership for every thought that passes through your mind. As the saying goes, you can’t stop the birds flying overhead, but you can stop them building a nest in your hair. Second, and as we will see in the next post, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is something very specific. If you’ve had disrespectful thoughts, that probably means you don’t know the Holy Spirit very well. But you haven’t blasphemed Him. Not even close.

So who is a blasphemer? Religion paints a picture of a blasphemer as someone who is belligerent and foul-mouthed. But a blasphemer may look more like the Pharisees and law-teachers of Jesus’ day. A blasphemer is one whose beliefs prevent him from receiving the grace of God. This includes those who refuse to believe that all the sins of men have been forgiven. Rather than allow the Holy Spirit to convict them of their unbelief, they are preoccupied with maintaining their own religious performance. “How’s my walk? Am I confessing my sins? Am I praying enough, maintaining a positive attitude and behaving such that God will bless me?” These are works that lead to death. Those who do them need to repent.

What is the unforgiveable sin? It is the sin of unbelief in Jesus and His finished work. It is the sin of not receiving the free gift of His grace and righteousness. This sin cannot be forgiven because he who commits it chooses to reject the very thing that would otherwise save him. This rejection may take the form of hard heartedness (“I don’t need Him”) or religious idolatry (“He needs my help”). In either case the grace of God is rendered ineffective simply because it is not received.

If you love Jesus, there’s no need to get hung up over the unforgiveable sin. Although hell will be full of murderers, thieves and adulterers, people do not go to hell for committing murder, stealing or adultery. As terrible as they are, all these sins have been paid for by the precious blood of the Lamb (1 Jn 1:7, Eph 1:7). So have the sins listed at the top of this post. Your choice is this: You can be sin-conscious and gloomy, or you can be Christ-conscious and rejoice!

“Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned!
Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” (Rm 4:7-8)

___super_e2R_sm
Related posts:
- Two religions: Works and blood
- Are you religious? (Take the test!)
- Chop off your hand?! Was Jesus serious?
- What is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

Comments

  1. brigetbeal says:

    A wonderful post! I really enjoyed reading this. This gave me much to meditate on this week. God bless you and Happy Easter!

  2. Rob Flodine says:

    Thanks Paul. Some years ago while driving a cab around Brisbane, I had a passenger who was convinced that he had committed the “unforgivable” sin. Over the course of our journey I encouraged him that as I saw it the only unforgivable sin was to continuously reject the offer of the cross, and that the mere fact that he was concerned about committing the “unforgivable” sin was certain evidence that he had not. Indeed I believe that those who have committed this sin, have strenuously told God to “nick off” and have absolutely no interest in whether they have ever done anything that God might disapprove of. Love reading your thoughts on our amazing God and His incredible gift of salvation and life!

  3. Patrick Hing says:

    There is only 1 unforgivable sin = If you don’t believe that Jesus died so that your sin may be forgiven.

  4. Jeremy Penwarden says:

    I believe the context makes the meaning of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit clear. The Pharisees claimed that the Holy Spirit power Jesus was using was actually from Beelzebub. So to call the works of the Holy Spirit demonic is the blasphemy. Even then, it’s specifically in the context of casting out devils, not simple healing the sick. You cannot conclude from this passage that the unforgivable sin is unbelief. Context is all.

    To someone who thinks they have committed the unforgivable sin, I’d say that, being dead in that sin, you couldn’t wish to know life. The very fact that you are worried about this, proves that you haven’t done it.

    You are saying that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and unbelief in Jesus are two different ways of saying the same thing. How do you explain this? I don’t see the connection?

    • Hi Jeremy,
      In answer to your question, please see the second post “What is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?

      • jeremypenwarden says:

        Thanks Paul – though the statement remains in this post:

        What is the unforgiveable sin? It is the sin of unbelief in Jesus and His finished work. It is the sin of not receiving the free gift of His grace and righteousness.

        I don’t think you’ve demonstrated that this is equivalent to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

        Technically, I’m not convinced that unbelief has been defined as a sin in the NT. I think it’s state, but not a sin. Is 53:6 says ALL our sins were put on Jesus by Father. Not all except unbelief.

      • I hear you Jeremy, yet these are Jesus’ labels, not mine (see Jn 16:9). If you insist on using the language provided in the original documents, then I can’t see how you can call it otherwise. “Sin” literally means to miss the mark. I cannot imagine a more spectacular way to miss it than to refuse to believe in the goodness of God revealed through Jesus.

  5. Jeremy Penwarden says:

    For sin #4 read the restoration of Peter in the Greek. Total love for God is agape. Jesus asks do you agape me and Peter replies I have phileo fondness for you. The third time Jesus drops the standard to ‘do you phileo me?’ and Peter replies yes I phileo you.

    So Peter is restored, despite his love for Jesus being somewhat less that whole hearted. Shortly after this Peter is the one chosen to give the most important evangelistic message of all time!

    • I’ve often wondered about this because the conversation between Jesus and Peter would’ve been in Aramaic, not Greek. I’m sure John’s account is accurate, but just as there is meaning lost in translating between Greek and English, I wonder what we lost in the translation from Aramaic to Greek.

      • jeremypenwarden says:

        Given that the bible is inspired in some way by the Holy Spirit, we have to trust that the language we’re provided in the original documents contains everything we need to know.

  6. This is the message I have tried to share with everyone I have shared Jesus with since I figured it out myself. For so long I’ve heard religious leaders say different that it’s a breath of fresh air to hear more and more agree with this. This is one of the few times I feel like standing up and crying out, “Preach it, Brother!” Keep it coming, you’re giving me great things to think on.

  7. jeremypenwarden says:

    I agree regarding John 16:9 – which is why I suggest that unbelief isn’t a sin.

    Anyway I cannot say that unbelief and blaspheming the Holy Spirit are the same thing. So we have to find a way to reconcile the two statements – and I don’t think you’ve found it yet.

    Jesus wasn’t convicting Peter of sin in Luke 5:8 – yet in the experience of Jesus’ holiness, Peter felt convicted of sin. So maybe one can be convicted of sin in the presence of the Holy God, without God actually doing a work of conviction?

  8. Good day,I’m a bit confused about Matthew 24:13 because other christians used this verse saying salvation can be lost,can you please explain this verse further,thank you and God bless you more.

    • Hi Faith,
      It’s true that there are verses in scripture that seem to say salvation can be lost while there are others than seem to say you can never lose it. But one thing I’ve noticed is how religious people generally see the worst side of everything. For example, Jesus says, “He who overcomes will be dressed in white and I will never blot out his name from the book of life” in Rev 3, and instead of praising Him for this wonderful promise, insecure religious types wring their hands and say, “you’ve got to work hard or Jesus might blot your name out.” Nowhere in the new covenant does Jesus make any such threat! Jesus didn’t say this to scare us but to reassure us that we have overcome the world because He has overcome the world and He is in us (1 Jn 4:4). The only thing He promised to blot out was our sins, and He did that already.

      Just as Jesus is referring to Himself as the Overcomer in Revelations, I suspect He is referring to Himself as the One who endured to the end here in Matthew 24. Read this passage in a literal translation such as Young’s and note how He switches from future tense to past tense:

      Mat 24:11 `And many false prophets shall arise, and shall lead many astray;
      Mat 24:12 and because of the abounding of the lawlessness, the love of the many shall become cold;
      Mat 24:13 but he who did endure to the end, he shall be saved;

      In the Greek the word for endured is the same as the word used in Hebrews 12 when describing what Jesus has done…

      Heb 12:2-3 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

      Who endured? Jesus did. What are we supposed to do in response? Fix our eyes on Him, consider Him. A religious person considers their own performance and is forever anxious never sure that they’ve done enough. But a believer keeps His focus on Jesus who endured to the end and did it all on our behalf. Behold Him! This is the key to not growing weary and losing heart. He is the One who saves us.

      • Thank God for using your site in promoting the Gospel of Grace may our God blesses you with more wisdom and knowledge…God bless you more and more..

  9. Jordan Lim says:

    I love to hear this everytime! “Its gets my spiritual hormones bubbling!” as Pastor Prince would say.

  10. Theodore A. Jones says:

    No person has already been forgiven of any sin just by Jesus’ having been crucified. For he has said that the issue of guilt relative to sin is still the remaining issue after his crucifixion. “When he comes he will convict the world of GUILT in regard to sin”. If the base assumption of Ellis’s arguement is true that it is only Jesus’ crucifixion, “finished work”, which has resolved his difficulties with sin there cannot be any statement by Jesus’ which contridicts Ellis’s conjecture. However Jesus’ statement in Jn. 16:8 has already destoried Ellis’s conjecture.
    The unforgiveable sin? If Ellis’s conjecture is true and Just by Jesus’ crucifixion,”finished work”, all actions that are subjugated to ajudication by law the penalty has been relived, there cannot be any sin post of that “finished work” which has not already been resolved. In other word there cannot be an unforgiveable sin if Ellis’s conjecture is true. But since Ellis’s does himself admit that there is at least one sin subjugated to exposure only by law his reliance on “finished work” is not adequet since post adjudication, judgement, is a future prospect irregardless of personhood. Ellis has stated in a denial that he has no personal responsibility to obey any law post of Jesus’ crucifixion to obtain a relief of the penalty of sin which is a published statement of record. However since the term “law of the Spirit” is preexistant of Ellis’s denial of this law Ellis has comitted a sin for which no relief is possible by slandering the celestial being the Holy Spirit. The “finished work” he relies on for a relief of serving the penalty of sin is unadequet for relief of serving that penalty.

    • Read John 16:8 in a literal translation such as Young’s and you will not find the word “guilt” – it was added by the NIV translators. The Holy Spirit and guilt go together like the devil and affirmation. He’s the Spirit of grace, not the spirit of guilt (Heb 10:29).

  11. What if I sin after I become Christian? What about habitual sin? How should I not feel condemned by a habitual sin?

    • No Nick! You should not feel condemned!!!

      Jesus died to take away sin, He was raised again so we could be justified. All sin was forgiven but, He said, not the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. If you have accepted Jesus as Lord & believe in your heart (by revelation of the Holy Spirit) that God raised Him from the dead you are Born Again, you are “In Him” & guess what, “In Him there is NO sin”!

      With this belief there can be no more consciousness of sin, which Jesus also came to remove from us! BE FREE by His Grace, open your heart & receive the Grace to live the life He has called each of us to. Free to make mistakes & make wrong choices but given the Divine Enablement tp make the right choices!

  12. Hi guys. Can someone please answer this? Didn’t Mark 3:30 says that Jesus spoke about blasphemy of the Holy Spirit because the Pharisees said that he had an evil spirit in him? Wouldn’t this mean that this is the unforgivable sin? Not trying to disprove your argument or anything, I’m just really confused.

    • I see the Pharisee’s slanderous comment as an opportunity for Jesus to mention the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit – which is slandering him and his ministry. The Pharisees give us one example but the ultimate example is to dismiss him as untrustworthy. Anyone who doesn’t believe God is calling him a liar (1 Jhn 5:10). That’s the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. More here.

  13. Hi i have a friend she is terrified that she has committed the unforgiveable sin. She swore by the holy spirit. I dont know what to tell her please what does this mean.

    • You could tell her to read this post. Hopefully it will set her mind at ease.

      • Thanks Paul, i tried to tell her but she isnt convinced that she sinned by swearing but didnt commit the unforgiveable sin. She feels empty and in despair and scared

      • I have a friend was drank and not really sure of what she said but remembers that she either swore by the holy spirit saying that her boyfriend is good in bed or maybe told her boyfriend that you are good in bed the holy spirit is my witness and yet that boyfriend is a married man. She is too scared and feels do devastated. But she says that before she said that, she asked her boyfriend that sinning against the holy spirit is blasphemy. Thought she says she wasnt saying it with any evil intentiond against the holy spirit.I wish to know if she has indeed committed the un pardonable sin because i dont know what to tell her.

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