The unforgivable sin. What is it? Ask this to most pastors and Christians and you’ll get a lot of “um.. well..you see, it’s like this…”. You will probably get a whole range of opinions. Maybe you’ll get a lot of Bible verses. Or maybe you’ll get the latest NBA scores as your pastor tries to change the subject :)
For over 30 years, nothing has disturbed me more than Jesus’ haunting words in Luke 12:10, “anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
— Luke 12:8-10 (NIV84)
What does it mean to “disown Jesus” and to “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit”? My response to this has always been, “I don’t know, but I sure hope I didn’t do it!” Like most tough questions in the Bible, I simply chalked this up to something we can never understand this side of Heaven, and counted it all covered by grace.
I’ve since discovered how wrong that attitude is. Based on Jesus’ stern warning, we had better figure it out this side of Heaven!
What does God want?
We might just get mad at God and say with exasperation: What do you want from me, God!? Fortunately, Jesus gives us a clue to what He wants, and I believe it is related to this unpardonable sin. Jesus tells us what He wants in Matthew 6:15 (also John 20:21-24)
In the middle of the Sermon of Sermons, Jesus teaches us how to pray, and reveals what He really wants from us:
9 “This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ 14 For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
— Matthew 6:9-15 (NIV84)
Jesus gives a similarly stern warning here: If you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Jesus really wants us to forgive other people, all people in fact. It is clear to me that this is so grievous to Jesus, more so than any moral failure, because the gospel is forgiveness! The gospel is that God has forgiven you of all your sins on the cross of Christ. To repent is to change your mind and accept this amazing grace.
That is what the criminal on the cross next to Jesus did. Remember him? (Luke 23:42-43). Any definition of the gospel must include this criminal. He did not change even a single moral problem in his heart. He paid back no one he had wronged. He simply cried out “Jesus, remember me!” That is the gospel cry. If that man had time before he died, he would certainly have been motivated by the forgiveness in his heart to make amends as best he could for his prior life (after he got out of prison :)
God wants people who accept His forgiveness. Such people with forgiveness in their heart will then forgive their family, their friends, their spouses, their children, their enemies, and anyone who has wronged them. The reason is because those who accept God’s forgiveness realize that they have been forgiven an unpayable debt (like $3 million) and other people’s sins against them, in comparison, are like $3.
The Unpardonable Sin
Last year I came across an amazing chapter in the Bible, and a chapter that answered my long-sought after question. The passage? Deuteronomy 29. Now before anyone gets in a tizzy… Yes I believe all 613 commands of the written code were nailed to the cross, abolished and made unreadable in Jesus’ body on the cross (Galatians 2, Ephesians 2, Colossians 2). That does not mean the Law of God has been abolished (just the incomplete expression given to Moses that foreshadowed Jesus.)
The unpardonable sin that will not be forgiven is clearly stated like this: “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my way.” The result? God will never forgive such a person. God will single that person out for disaster and all the curses of the law will be upon that person:
18 Make sure there is no man or woman, clan or tribe among you today whose heart turns away from the LORD our God to go and worship the gods of those nations; make sure there is no root among you that produces such bitter poison. 19 When such a person hears the words of this oath, he invokes a blessing on himself and therefore thinks, “I will be safe, even though I persist in going my own way.” This will bring disaster on the watered land as well as the dry. 20 The LORD will never be willing to forgive him; his wrath and zeal will burn against that man. All the curses written in this book will fall upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. 21 The LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for disaster, according to all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law.
— Deuteronomy 29:18-21 (NIV84)
The entire book of Hebrews backs up Deuteronomy 29. The gospel is to change my mind, foregoing whatever way I may have to find God and enter into God’s rest by accepting His way, Jesus (Hebrews 4:7-11).
Even in the Old Covenant, God expressed clearly that perfect obedience to all 613 commands could not be accomplished by any human being. Those who did not seek God through the law and the prophet’s message would incur a curse, rather than a blessing, no matter how many of the commands they obeyed (unless someone could in fact obey all 613).
Righteousness is by faith from beginning to end. Idolatry is the thing that gets God really angry (Romans 1:16-21).
Why was God so angry with the Israelites?
It was because they did not accept God as God, which was the whole point of the covenant! They went their own way and did not learn God’s ways (the way of forgiveness, grace, justice, love). They held onto the letter of the law in some form or another, relying on their human effort instead of seeking God (Galatians 3).
We may study the commands of God (which are good) but if we try to invoke a blessing by such obedience, we find we are cursed (Galatians 3:10). The purpose of the law was to lead them to God until Jesus came (the seed of the promises in the law), not to the law itself (Galatians 3:19).
24 All the nations will ask: “Why has the LORD done this to this land? Why this fierce, burning anger?” 25 And the answer will be: “It is because this people abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, the covenant he made with them when he brought them out of Egypt. 26 They went off and worshiped other gods and bowed down to them, gods they did not know, gods he had not given them. 27 Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against this land, so that he brought on it all the curses written in this book. 28 In furious anger and in great wrath the LORD uprooted them from their land and thrust them into another land, as it is now.”
— Deuteronomy 29:24-28 (NIV84)
Only One Way
This is only one way to enter into God’s rest, to open the door and let Christ into your heart, and that one way is to repent. Change your mind and accept God’s free, amazing grace of forgiveness of all your sins at the foot of the cross of Christ– every sin you erver committed or ever will commit. Grace is the narrow gate. Grace is the only way. And therefore the only way not to be forgiven is to not accept this grace and come up with your own way to follow God or to live a Christian life.
God wants you
9 “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. 10 “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” 12 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger.” Then Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.
— Job 1:9-12 (NIV84)
God gave us control over one thing: our mind. And He wants us to change our mind and accept Him. God wants you. God says, take everything, but “on the man himself do not lay a finger.”
And on this I will stake my life.