What is the unforgivable sin?

blasphemeThe latest edition of TIME magazine is called “The Answers issue”  and it has 52 pages of answers to all kinds of questions:

Who has the most YOUTUBE subscribers?

Swedish gamer known as PewDiePie with 37 million subscribers

Who dreamed the biggest dream?

Susan Boyle’s “I dreamed a dream”, sold 700 000 copies in its first week, biggest debut album for a female solo artist

What’s the country with the fastest internet?

South Korea, with an average speed of 23 megabits per second

What’s the healthiest vegetable?

Watercress

What’s the world’s deadliest creature?

Mosquitoes, which cause 755 000 deaths per year.

Perhaps a “Christian” edition of TIME magazine would include the question, “What is the unforgivable sin?”

In the past, some have thought the unforgivable sin was suicide, murder, divorce or even explicit sexual sin and thus this question has caused a lot of confusion.  The question comes from Jesus’ remarkable statement in Mark’s gospel chapter 3, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”. (v29)

Son of Satan

It is important to note the context of this verse.  The religious leaders were saying that Jesus used occultic power to cast out demons.  They were saying that Jesus was the son of Satan and using Beelzebul’s power (a folk name for Satan).  Jesus responded in three ways:

1. An easy question

v23 And he called them to him and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan?

Jesus said that common logic says that they were wrong.  Satan won’t cast out Satan.  It’s illogical and ludicrous.

v24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.

Imagine a country where citizen fight each other? That country will be unstable and ultimately collapse.

v25 And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.

If a husband and wife pull in their own directions it will lead to divorce and the end of the family unit.

v26 And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to and collapse.

This principle is true for families, political parties, churches and Satan’s domain.  The scribes had hardened their hearts and were calling good evil.   Just like many people today who reject Jesus and even view Christianity as harmful and malicious.

2. An undeniable fact

Jesus claimed that the reason he was able to cast out demons was that he is stronger that Satan.

V27 But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.

Jesus admits Satan is a strong man with power and influence.  But Jesus is the Stronger Man, who plunders his house.  We may sometimes have an inadequate view of Jesus.  We may picture a baby in a manger, very meek and mild.  We may imagine an effeminate man with long hair and open-toed sandals, kissing children and telling people to make tea not war.  But in reality, Jesus is the Stronger Man who plunders Satan’s house.  Jesus is the Conquering Hero who is pictured in Revelation 19 with eyes like fire, riding a white stallion,  wearing a robe dipped in the blood of his enemies.

Ultimately, Jesus conquered and defeated Satan on the cross.  Satan’s power over us is sin and death. On the cross Jesus paid for our sins and then rose again triumphing over death.  Satan was stripped of his power.  We can’t conquer Satan – he is too strong – but we can share in Jesus’ victory.  We don’t automatically share in Jesus’ victory.  We must first follow and submit to him as king.

3. A glorious and sobering statement

v28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Before we think of the sobering v29, we must take on board the glorious v28.

There are some people, even Christian people, who think that they have committed such a grievous and heinous sin that they cannot possibly ever be forgiven. We must remind ourselves of God’s glorious gospel.  Jesus said that “all sins” and “whatever blasphemies” will be forgiven.  Through trust in Jesus nothing can separate us from God’s love.  In Christ we have complete and full and forgiveness.

Yet, soberingly v29 says:

v29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin

What is Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?

It’s not

It’s not cursing God. That’s wrong, but many have once cursed Jesus and then were forgiven – like the Apostle Paul.

It’s not denying God. Peter, the disciple of Jesus, denied Jesus and was forgiven.

It’s not doubting. The disciple Thomas doubted and he was forgiven.

It’s not murder. King David committed murder and was forgiven. Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of the Roman soldiers who crucified him.

It’s not a sexual sin.  According to 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, the early church was full of those who sinned sexually and were forgiven.

It’s not suicide.  Suicide is self-murder and the Bible tells is that murder can be forgiven.

Neither is it an on-going sin that you struggle to overcome.  We may struggle with a particular sin until the day we die.

To understand blasphemy against Holy Spirit we must again look at the context of this verse.  V30 is the key.

v29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— v30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”

The religious leaders were rejecting the truth about Jesus despite the clear evidence.

Blasphemy

Blasphemy in general is the mocking of God.  Blasphemy against the Spirit, who is God, is rejecting the truth about Jesus despite the clear evidence.  The religious leaders were saying that Jesus’ power came from the devil.

The Holy Spirit, who is the third member of the Triune God, empowered the life of Jesus.  The Spirit’s role is to convict people of sin and convince them of the truth about Jesus.    It’s the Spirit’s role and delight to point people to Jesus.  He never draws attention to himself, but always points people to Jesus.  By the way, if you attend a church that makes much of the Holy Spirit and not much of Jesus – then it’s probably not really a Spirit-filled church.  When the Spirit seeks to convince someone of the truth about Jesus and that person rejects that truth (like the religious leaders), that person blasphemes the Holy Spirit and that is unforgivable.  It’s unforgivable because you are cutting yourself off from the very source of forgiveness.  It’s impossible to be forgiven apart from Jesus.  If you are unforgiven, it has eternal consequences, that’s why Jesus calls it an “eternal sin” (v29).  If you die rejecting the truth about Jesus, you will remain eternally under the judgment of God because you de facto are saying, “Jesus, you are not Lord. I reject you. You are not God, you are not Saviour.”  That was the attitude of the religious leaders to the point of murdering Jesus.

Attitude

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not necessarily a once-off sin, but a settled attitude or disposition towards Jesus.  Can Christians blaspheme the Holy Spirit? Certainly not.  Christians can grieve the Spirit with deliberate sin, but never blaspheme him as they have embraced Jesus, not rejected him.

Good news  

The good news is that this sin is only unforgivable as long as you keep committing it.  If someone has been ignoring or rejecting Jesus for many years, but then trusts in Christ, they will be forgiven.   Jesus said that “all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” God’s glorious gospel.