Recently Tim Challies posted some thoughts on the question of the unpardonable sin. I’d like to extend his remarks a bit.
Most Christians have read the passages that raise this question. The unbelieving Pharisees, trying desperately to discount the power of Jesus’ miracles, have accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Mt 12.22-32; Mk 3.22-30; Lk 12.8-10). Jesus responds by saying,
Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Mt 12.31-32).
So what’s he talking about?
The first thing I notice is that when you look at the commentaries, they don’t seem to know—at least, not with any certainty. There are several interpretations:
- Taking the context very narrowly, Jesus is simply saying that if you lived at the time of Jesus, and you ascribed his miracles to demonic power, then you wouldn’t be forgiven. So this is a sin that nobody today can commit, because Jesus is no longer walking around on earth doing miracles.
- A variation on that view is that you can still commit that sin today; if you say that Christ did his miracles by the power of Satan, then you’ve committed the unpardonable sin. This view, or the previous one, appears to be the position that Challies takes in his post.
- Some suggest that the unpardonable sin is hardening one’s heart to the degree that the Spirit’s convicting call is no longer heard. This, it is suggested, is where the Pharisees now found themselves. So the problem is not so much a particular sin, but the persistence in sin that hardens the heart over time, making the sinner, in effect, spiritually deaf.
- Others say that the unpardonable sin is effectively your last one; it is dying without having repented. In this view, everyone in hell has committed the unpardonable sin.
Well, this is a conundrum. We’re not even sure what it is.
I’ll tell you what it isn’t.
It isn’t that God has designated a certain sin as unforgiveable, and boy, you’d better not commit that one, and by the way, when I tell you about it, I’m going to make the definition of the sin really unclear, just to keep you on your toes.
That view seems to me to be blasphemous.
Here’s what we do know.
- We do know that God delights in repentance and never turns any repentant sinner away, no matter what he’s done.
- We do know that conviction of sin, and sorrow for sin, are works of the Holy Spirit, and those works are not frustrated.
So if you’re worried that you might have committed the unforgiveable sin, stop the fear and the hesitation and run to the Father, whose arms are open wide to welcome you into his family and to his dinner table. There is forgiveness for all who come. There has been forgiveness for even me. There is certainly forgiveness for you.
But here’s what else we know.
We know that if you harden your heart against the gentle pleading of the Spirit, the day will come when time runs out. It may be at the end of a long period of terminal illness, during which you have plenty of time to think about what’s ahead. Or it may come in an instant, with a vise-grip pain in your chest, or a flash of light in your brain, or the sudden sound of a horn and a screech of tires on pavement.
And when time runs out, there will be no repenting then.
It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Heb 9.27).
So enough of idle speculation about this or that obscure passage. Why test the limits, when repentance—hearing the convicting voice of the Spirit—is the obvious solution to the great problem of sin?
Why play such a deadly game?