What is the Unforgivable Sin?
Updated: Nov 11, 2020
I grew up believing the “unforgivable sin” was denying Christ. I thought there were two kinds of people who could do that – non-Christians who rejected the gospel and people who once said they were Christians, but now deny being one.
I was wrong (partly).
Matthew 12:22-32 records this teaching of Jesus;
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see.
All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 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.
The key verses in this entire passage are;
“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.” Matthew 12:31-32
These passages seem very clear. Jesus healed a man demon possessed, blind and mute. The Pharisees said it was the work of the devil (Beelzcbub). That accusation triggers Jesus’ response. The unforgivable sin is not rejecting Jesus himself. It’s attributing to Satan, a work of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Jesus goes out of his way to say that bad-mouthing him could be forgiven, but not the Holy Spirit. Why? I don’t have a clue.
So, how can Christians today commit the unforgivable sin?
My former pastor and friend, Ed Dobson, once told me this story. “I was at a large pastors conference where one very prominent Baptist pastor and a friend of mine said to the audience, ‘ Many of the so-called miracles in the charismatic churches, are false and of the devil.’”
Later, while out to dinner, Ed was uncharacteristically quiet. This pastor asked him if something was wrong, was Ed was not feeling well?
“I think you may have committed the unforgivable sin today,” said Ed. “What makes you think that?” this pastor and the others asked only half serious, thinking Ed was joking. “Because some of the manifestations and miracles many charismatics are experiencing may actually be the Holy Spirit’s work. I don’t know and neither do you. But you called all of it a work of Satan, the deceiver. You better be 100% right, or be fearful that you committed a sin that cannot be forgiven.” Ed went on to quote and discuss the very verses I began this blog with.
I’ve attended many charismatic gatherings over the years from the World Conference on the Holy Spirit in the Superdome, to The Toronto Blessing and pentecostal and charismatic worship services. Do I believe everything I saw is of the Holy Spirit, or every person who speaks in tongues or has a “word from the Lord” actually got that from God? I don’t.
“But there are all kinds of things happening in some charismatic churches that aren’t in the Bible,” say some. That’s true but I assume the Holy Spirit isn’t limited to only the things we read about in Acts. The Spirit can do whatever He wants, in new and fresh ways, so be careful.
When I experienced what may be some of those “new things,” I’m careful. I pray for discernment. I believe whatever is of the Holy Spirit will accrue to his glory and whatever is not will be found out false. In the meantime, Christians should be very cautious about making blanket judgments on behaviors we don’t fully understand about how the Holy Spirit may be working.
Next week: Can born-again Christians actually commit a sin that cannot be forgiven? Stay tuned for next week’s blog.
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