What is the unforgivable sin?

Blaspheming the work of the Spirit

Jesus announced the good news of the kingdom of God, that the Messiah had finally come to overcome the kingdom of Satan, who had held mankind in bondage to suffering and death. The Holy Spirit demonstrated God’s victory by healing diseases, raising the dead, and casting out demons by the word of Christ. While some received the work of the Spirit with joy, others knowingly and willingly spoke against his work:

Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad. “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:22-32, NKJV).

Why will these Pharisees never be forgiven? Is it because Christ did not offer them the life of the kingdom or because he did not love them enough to die for all their sins? (Calvinists tend to reason in this direction more than others.) No; rather, in rejecting the work of the Spirit through the word of their Messiah, they rejected the forgiveness that had been sincerely offered to them.

That Christ died even for their unforgivable sin is paradoxical but is clear from the doctrine of humanity’s fall through Adam’s sin: the unforgivable sin, like all actual sins, flows from the sinful nature inherited from Adam. The elect are no less sinful than those who commit the unforgivable sin. Christ atoned for the original sin of Adam (according to Romans 5) and thus for all actual sins proceeding from it.

Not every sin of unbelief or blasphemy is unforgivable. The unforgivable sin is not merely final unbelief or blasphemy against the person of the Holy Spirit, but also willing blasphemy against the work of Holy Spirit with full knowledge of doing so. For example, according to Acts, Paul washed away his sins in baptism, so he could not possibly have committed the unforgivable sin when, as an unbeliever, he forced Christians to blaspheme Christ. Also, he later said he had sinned in ignorance. By contrast, blasphemy against the Spirit is knowing and deliberate, as seen in the above case of those who accused Christ of casting out Satan by the power of Satan. May our merciful Lord keep us from that sin!

The nature of the blasphemy against the work of the Spirit is summarized by the Christian Cyclopedia’s entry on the unpardonable sin, especially the last paragraph:

"This sin is unpardonable, not because of any unwillingness in God, or because His mercy and Christ’s merits are not great enough, but because of the condition of him who commits it: he continues to the end (the action of his sin is linear, rather than punctiliar) in obdurate rejection of the Word of God, divine grace and mercy, and Christ’s merits; cf. 1 Jn 5:16. Augustine of Hippo calls it final impenitence. One who does not repent does not receive forgiveness; cf. Rv 2:22."
For a fuller explanation, see Pieper’s Christian Dogmatics, Volume 1, 571-577.

Without the assurance that Christ died even for the unforgivable sin, trusting him for forgiveness becomes impossible. For if you do not believe Christ died for all the sins of the world, then how do you know whether Christ died for all of your sins? How would you know you have never committed the unforgivable sin? Without the good news that he paid for everyone’s sins, you would have to examine yourself to make sure you have never spoken against the work of the Spirit. But if the Lamb of God really takes away the sins not just of believers but of the whole world (John 1; 1 John 2; 1 Timothy 2), you have the promise that God in Christ has already reconciled you to him:

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, ESV).
Believe that promise and live forever (John 3).

One thought on “What is the unforgivable sin?

  1. The offer of forgiveness

    If Jesus did not die for the unforgivable sin, could he have offered grace to those who would commit that sin? If he did not offer such grace, how would that sin have been committed?

Comments are closed.