In last week’s blog, I described the sin Jesus said could not be pardoned or forgiven in this life or the next. The unpardonable sin is attributing to Satan, a work of the Holy Spirit like the miracle Jesus did. But if what it means to be saved is that all past and future sins are forgiven by God, because of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, is it even possible for Christians to commit an unpardonable sin?
There are two schools of thought about eternal security in Protestant Christianity and the answer to my question depends in part on which theological system you believe in.
Arminianism Arminians believe God offers salvation to all, but only some accept it. And once a believer is saved, they can still either walk away from God or sin so grievously that they are disqualified for salvation. So for an Arminian, of course a believer can commit an unpardonable sin.
Calvinism “Once saved, always saved” is the short version for what Calvinist believe about born-again Christians. It is not possible in Calvinism to lose one’s salvation – ever. They admit not everyone who believes they are saved, actually are. But that’s a different question than if a spirit-in-dwelt, born-again person can ever lose their faith. “No,” say they.
John Piper believes that the Holy Spirit will guard the hearts and minds of true children of God and prevent them from ever committing the unpardonable sin.
What does “unpardonable” mean? I do believe the unpardonable sin can be committed by Christians – and I’m a Calvinist! But my answer depends on two questions; What is unpardonable? And who are true Christians?
It’s clear from scripture that all our good deeds and our bad deeds (sins), even those committed by born-again Christians, will follow us into eternity. Those sins will not disqualify us from salvation, but will be remembered by Christ at the Great White Throne judgment and along with the good things we’ve done, determine our “reward” in heaven.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:10
The Bible isn’t clear what those rewards are, but it is clear that the nature of our sins, and also our good deeds will influence who gets them and in what measure. There will be a Day of Judgment or better said, a Day of Evaluation for all believers.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15
Erwin Lutzer, the former pastor of Moody Church puts it this way in his book, One Minute After We Die.
The eternal fate of true believers is not based on works, but on personal faith in Jesus Christ. However, the nature of a believer’s works will be examined to distinguish the worthless ones form the worthy ones.
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.” 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
The outcome is either reward or deprivation of reward. This deprivation may involve humiliation and shame at the judgment.
Will there be sorrow at the judgment? Yes, until God himself “shall wipe away ever tear from their eyes” (Rev. 17; 21:4). When we think of the opportunities we have squandered on earth, how imperfectly we loved Christ and others we will grieve. Our sorrow will vanish, but for a moment we will be pained for what could have been. After that – joy. Those whose good deeds prove the presence of saving faith will enter the kingdom.
The following teaching of Jesus, also makes it clear there are eternal consequences for believer’s sins, like failing to forgive.
Jesus said this as well, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Matthew 6:14, 15
I hear Christians say all the time, “All sins are alike,” which is clearly not true. There are felony sins and misdemeanor sins. How do I know that? Because in the Old Testament, God required the death penalty for some sins and for others he only required the sacrifice of a goat, or some minor penalty.
Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit in Acts and they were struck dead. A felony sin.
We evangelicals like our theology neat, without loose ends. I once tried to write a short systematic theology. The opening sentence to the Introduction read, “I’ve found God difficult to organize.” This much we know for certain, about the teaching of Jesus regarding the unpardonable sin; it can be committed by humans who profess to have faith in God. The religious leaders claimed devotion to God.
The real unknown for us is trying to determine who is a true born-again Christian, as opposed to someone who believes they are a Christian. So, like John Piper, I believe it’s not possible for truly born-again Christians to commit the unpardonable sin. But Jesus himself warned us about spiritual arrogance.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23
It’s a mystery.
So rather than spending lots of time trying to figure out the answer, just don’t ever attribute an experience another Christian has that you don’t really understand, to the Devil. “I don’t understand,” is a more humble and safe answer.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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