Here is a commonly misunderstood subject. Many have been confused by misinformation. Can you discern the difference between the facts and fallacies of this vital doctrine? This article makes it clear.
IS THERE a particular sin which God CANNOT forgive? Some sin so heinous and despicable that it is IMPOSSIBLE for God to pardon! For many, the question of the unpardonable sin is a dark and foreboding subject fraught with grave doubts and fears. Maybe you have fearfully considered the possibility that God may not have forgiven you of some sin — that He has decided to "wash His hands of you" — that you have been cut off from God! Some have suffered for years under this agonizing uncertainty. Others have decided to give up and quit, because they felt that all hope for salvation was gone. Do you thoroughly understand the TRUTH about the unpardonable sin? Or have you been confused and disturbed by misunderstanding and superstition? You need to know the difference between the fact and the fallacy of this often — misunderstood doctrine. Your eternal life may depend on it!
The Common Assumption
Many people assume that the unpardonable sin is a particular act that God is either unable or unwilling to forgive. Some have even speculated as to what it might be. The list includes such acts as adultery, murder, blasphemy and suicide. To them, these sins appear to be so loathsome and base that God just couldn't bring Himself to ever forgive them. This common but erroneous view focuses attention on the act itself rather than the attitude. It pictures God as being utterly oblivious to the fervent prayer of the sinner for forgiveness. The person has gone too far — sunk too low — for God to bother wasting His time on such a worthless individual. Here God is seen as the One who determines whether or not a person can be forgiven based on the seriousness of the offense. The attitude of the one having committed the sin becomes secondary in importance.
GOD'S Nature At Stake
Few seem to realize that this concept of the unpardonable sin is actually a satanically devised scheme to impugn the very character of God — to belittle and limit God's bountiful and merciful offer of forgiveness of sin. It pictures a God who is TOO SMALL — who isn't BIG enough to pardon ALL our sins! Instead of being unwilling to pardon sin, God reveals that He is ready to pardon (Neh. 9:17). God is ready, willing aid anxious to forgive us of our sins. God is the One who masterminded the entire plan of salvation. He is the One responsible for sending Jesus Christ to die for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). We don't have to beg, plead or agonize in order to persuade God to "break down" and forgive us. God wants to forgive us even more than we want to be forgiven! Forgiveness is not something which is alien to the nature of God. It isn't something He reluctantly does. Rather, it is actually a direct reflection of His tremendous love for all mankind. Neither is there some sin which God can't forgive — which He stands powerless to forgive, even though He desperately desires to forgive it. God leaves no doubt in our minds on this point. David was inspired to write that God forgives ALL our iniquities (Ps. 103:3). He then continues to describe God's effectiveness in forgiving sins: "He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities [God's forgiveness removes the penalty that we deserve to receive because of our lawless ways]. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Ps. 103:10-12). God also reveals that when He forgives He also forgets. "I, even I, am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins" (Isa. 43:25). How wonderful it is to understand the greatness of God's mercy and the all-encompassing scope of His forgiveness!
The FACT of Unforgiven Sin
It becomes abundantly clear then that God is both ready and able to forgive any and all sin. There is no such thing as a sin God can't forgive. There is no sin which is beyond the scope of God's mercy. Therefore, the common idea of the unpardonable sin is a FALLACY! Does this mean, however, that all sin WILL be forgiven? Despite God's gracious offer of forgiveness, the Bible reveals that all sin is not going to be forgiven. Jesus Christ warned the Pharisees about a sin which would never be forgiven. Notice Christ's statement in Matthew 12:31-32: "Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." WHY wouldn't this sin be forgiven? Who is responsible — who is at fault? Is God to be blamed and His mercy impugned? Or does the answer lie in the attitude of the Pharisees who received this warning?
There are definite conditions man must meet before God will forgive sin. If one refuses to meet these requirements, then his sins will remain unforgiven. What are these requirements which God has set forth? God makes it very clear that He will not clear or pardon the guilty (Ex. 34:7). As long as a person continues to transgress and rebel against God's laws, God absolutely will not forgive him, even though he might go through the pretense and formality of asking God for forgiveness. The prayer of such a person will not even be heard (Lam. 3:42-44). We must REPENT of our sins before we can ask God for forgiveness. The apostle Peter commanded: "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that [in order that) your sins may be blotted out...." (Acts 3:19.) It is obvious that our sins aren't going to be forgiven UNTIL we have repented. Isaiah said: "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and [after he has met the prior conditions] he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon" (Isa. 55:7). When we come to God in a RIGHT ATTITUDE — one of humility and true repentance — God has promised to "forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (I John 1:9). His mercy is offered only to those who confers and FORSAKE their sins — not to those who try to cover them (Prov. 28:13). Unforgiven or unpardoned sin is the result, therefore, of an UNREPENTANT ATTITUDE. It is the ATTITUDE that causes the particular sinful act to go unpardoned. It is the person who is to blame. God never refuses to forgive a repentant sinner. It is only the UNrepentant sinner, who stubbornly and deliberately refuses to forsake his sin and ask God for forgiveness, whose sin remains unpardoned.
Seriousness of Blasphemy
Christ warned the Pharisees of the danger of blaspheming God's Spirit. What constitutes blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? And why should it be so irrevocable and final in nature? The Pharisees were guilty of refusing to acknowledge the miracle of healing Jesus Christ had just performed through the power of Gods Spirit. Instead, they falsely and maliciously attributed it to Beelzebub or Satan the Devil. In so doing, they repudiated and rejected the very work of Almighty God. God works through the agency of His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the very mind of God in action. Through it, whatever God purposes is carried out. AF electricity flowing out from a generator or light emanating from a light bulb, so God's Spirit proceeds forth from God, performing the work of God. Jesus Christ showed that no one can come to Him and receive salvation unless God the Father draws him (John 6:44). This takes place through the operation of God's Spirit. It is through His Spirit that God begins to open a person's mind to the reality of His truth. Until this occurs, man is hopelessly incapable of grasping and understanding spiritual principles. The apostle Paul showed that "the natural man [the average, normal person] receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned' (I Cor. 2:14). It is only through God's Spirit working with us that we can understand. It is God's Spirit which reproves us of our sins (John 16:8) and convicts us of the need to repent. We come to understand the necessity of changing our way of life and of beginning to obey the laws of God. God is thereby bringing us to repentance. Our responsibility is to respond to God as He works with us through His Spirit. As free moral agents, we must decide to accept God's offer of salvation. We must yield ourselves to Him. We must surrender — not rebel. If we fail to respond by hardening ourselves to the influence of God's Spirit, we then become guilty of the very same sin of which Christ warned the Pharisees. We would be rejecting God's call. We would be refusing to permit God to work with us. A mind which has been opened by God's Spirit and is therefore able to REALLY understand God's truth is the result of a supernatural miracle as much as the healing which the Pharisees refused to acknowledge. To understand the truth and be privileged to obey is such a priceless opportunity that anyone who deliberately rejects it has repudiated the God who has offered it to him. To blaspheme God's Spirit, therefore, is to deliberately and totally denounce, blaspheme, and reject the very Spirit, or Power, by which God might bring one to the very repentance required to obtain forgiveness. It means to deny, reject, speak against, blaspheme the very AGENT of forgiveness. This is tantamount to a total rejection of God. It automatically cuts the individual off from God, because he has rejected and severed himself from the only method by which God deals with man — through His Holy Spirit. This sin applies to an unconverted person who has come to a knowledge of the reality of God, and of God's Holy Spirit, and realizes what he is doing. A carnal-minded person, not really comprehending the reality of God and His Spirit, might say things against the Holy Spirit in his ignorance and still NOT condemn, blaspheme, or falsely accuse God's Spirit. Such a one could later be brought to this knowledge, and then brought to real repentance by God's Spirit. But when the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Satan, they KNEW Jesus was the Christ. They KNEW He was the Son of God — the Messiah — and therefore that the power He used could not be that of the devil, but the Holy Spirit. Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He spoke of the Pharisees in general when he said, "Rabbi, WE KNOW that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except GOD be with him" (John 3:2). The Pharisees KNEW these miracles could not be done except by the POWER OF GOD — which power IS the Holy Spirit! (See also Matthew 22:15-16; Mark 12:13-14; Luke 12:47-48.) Of course the Pharisees did not KNOW Christ — or KNOW God, in the sense of having reconciled contact, as a true Christian does. They did know about God, and they did know Jesus acted on God's Power. This sin, of course, could also be committed by a person who had been converted, had the knowledge, but had become embittered and of deliberate hostile, rebellious, antagonistic attitude. It is an ACTIVE sin. There is another sin, possible of once — converted persons, who turn deliberately and intentionally from God and His WAY, which might be a more PASSIVE sin — or one of neglect, referred to in Hebrews 6:4-6 and 10:26-27. If one has received God's Spirit, tasted the joys and blessings of fellowship with God, but through neglect, worldly interests, or other cause falls clear away until God's Spirit has completely left him, he has cut himself off. It is impossible to ever renew such a person to repentance (Heb. 6:4, 6). Repentance comes as the result of God's Spirit at work in a person's life. And this person has rejected its influence and refused to respond in obedience to God. It is REPENTANCE IN REVERSE! Instead of determining to surrender to God in loving obedience — which is repentance — the person hardens himself and determines to deliberately disobey God. The apostle Paul warned, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation" (Heb. 10:26-27). When this happens, the person is destined to be cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). Does this mean that if we ever sin, once we have come into a knowledge of God's truth, it is automatically unpardonable? If you know better but go ahead and commit a sin, is this willful sin? The apostle John wrote that "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth isn't in us" (I John 1:9). Christians do sin! If anyone says that he doesn't sin, he makes God a liar (I John 1:10). If we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that most of the time we sin we understand that what we are doing is wrong. In other words, WE KNOW BETTER! Why then isn't this unpardonable? Isn't knowledgeable sin the same as willful sin? Not necessarily!
Why Do We Sin?
There are other factors which must be taken into consideration. Stop for a moment and consider David's sin with Bathsheba and his subsequent plot to murder Uriah, her husband. You can read the entire account in II Samuel 11-12. Remember that David at this time was the king over all Israel. Don't you think that he was well versed in the laws of God? Didn't he realize that adultery and murder were sins, deserving capital punishment? Of course he did! He was the one responsible for seeing that God's laws were enforced as the law of the land. Therefore, David knew better! He understood that what he was doing was SIN — yet he went ahead and did it anyway. He knowingly broke God's law. Did this, however, constitute deliberate or willful sin? Were David's actions unpardonable? It might appear that David's sins were so despicable and irreparable that God should have totally cut him off. However, God did not reject David — as He had previously rejected Saul from being King of Israel. What was the difference? Both men admitted that they had sinned (compare I Samuel 15:24 with II Samuel 12:13). Yet God rejected Saul, but didn't reject David. In addition, God's prophet, Nathan, told David that "The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die." Was God guilty of "playing favorites"? Did God forgive David because He "liked" David more than Saul? The reason God forgave David and refused to forgive Saul was that David repented and Saul did not! Saul had lied to God's prophet in an attempt to cover up his sin by claiming he had obeyed God, even though he had not (I Sam. 15:20). Next, he tried to justify his lack of leadership by shifting the blame onto the people (I Sam. 15:21). it was only after Samuel had severely rebuked him for his REBELLION and STUBBORNNESS (I Sam 15:23) that Saul reluctantly and halfheartedly admitted that he had sinned. This is NOT repentance! Saul's confession was a mere mouthing of words and not a deep, heartfelt repentance of sin. God knew what was in Saul's heart, and God could see that he was anything but repentant. Therefore, God did not forgive Saul and rejected him as king of Israel. David's attitude was totally different from that of Saul. When Nathan confronted David with the enormity of his sin, David didn't try to cover up his sin by lying or self-justification. His confession was a sincere and straightforward response resulting from a broken and deeply repentant attitude of mind. David's repentance was so total and genuine that God actually inspired his prayer of repentance to be recorded and preserved in the Bible as a perfect model for all future generations to follow (Ps. 51). Who could ever doubt the genuineness of David's repentance and the validity of his forgiveness after reading this Psalm? If David's sins had been deliberate and intentional acts of rebellion against God, he would never have repented of them. Remember the apostle Paul's statement, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened... if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance...." (Heb. 6:4, 6). The very fact David did repent PROVES he had not willfully sinned! When one is guilty of willful sin, he can never again come to repentance because he has WILLED (set his will) NOT to repent! He has so hardened himself against God that he absolutely refuses to obey God, much less pray to God for forgiveness of his sins. Why then did David sin? David was human. He had carnal human nature and so was subject to all of its weaknesses, drives and pulls. Instead of resisting the temptation aroused within him by the sight of Bathsheba, David permitted himself to be caught up in a vortex of human passion and swept along until his human lusts overpowered his better judgment. David fell prey to his own human nature. Having committed the sin of adultery, David once again allowed his deceitful human nature to trick him into an even more disastrous mistake. When his plan to cover up his sin failed, he engineered a scheme by which Uriah would be killed. Yet even in this, it was very easy for David to deceive himself that he wasn't really to blame since — he could reason — Uriah was just another unfortunate military casualty (II Sam. 11:25). Despite the heinous quality of these sins, David never once hardened himself against God. Overpowered by human lust and tricked by deceitful human reasoning, David fell prey to his own human weaknesses. Yet at no time did David maliciously and intentionally turn away from Cod. When he finally came to himself and felt the full impact of what he had done, David felt crushed beneath the weight of guilt and turned to God in total repentance. Yes, David repented and was forgiven. David faced the same problem as we do — mastering self and overcoming human nature. The apostle Paul graphically describes this struggle in the seventh chapter of Romans: "For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with mc; but how to perform that which is good I find not" (vss. 14-18). Whenever we drop our spiritual guard and fail to me God's Spirit, we are going to encounter the same difficulties David did. We, too, will break God's laws — not deliberately, but out of human weakness.
It is also possible to sin out of carelessness. In Psalm 119:10, David prayed for God to keep him from wandering from His commandments. Here again, there is no deliberate turning away from God; otherwise, there could be no repentance and return to God. Does this then justify or excuse our sin? ABSOLUTELY NOT! Sin is sin, whether it is done out of weakness, carelessness or ignorance! In order to avoid sinning, a Christian must be absolutely alert and constantly aware of the various pitfalls into which he could fall. We are constantly being bombarded by many different temptations. Our own human nature is continually exerting a downward pull. Our carnal minds are an inexhaustible source of wrong thoughts. The society in which we live provides an environment replete with wrong influences and allurements. And if this weren't enough with which to contend, Satan the Devil is going about as a "roaring lion... seeking whom he may devour" (I Pet. 5:8). Satan is the Tempter (Mat. 4:3), and he very cleverly makes sin appear to be very attractive and desirable Nothing short of alert and careful vigilance can succeed in the face of such powerful opposition. We must be thoroughly aware of our enemies and be on guard against them. What would be the chances of survival for a soldier who fell asleep on guard duty in a critical combat zone? Very slim indeed! In fact, the Army has a very stringent penalty for any man found asleep on guard duty, whether in combat or not. The very same principle applies to the Christian. We are at war! The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy about how to wage "a good warfare" (I Tim. 1:18). As such, we are not to become careless and drowsy. Notice Paul's instructions: "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us WATCH and be sober ... putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation" (I Thess. 5:5-8). Here the Christian is pictured as wearing combat armor. He must not go to sleep on the job. He must be watchful and alert — prepared to defend himself at all times against any attack. Many a traffic accident is caused by a driver carelessly wandering either off the road or across the middle line into the oncoming traffic. Carelessness can also he responsible for causing one to temporarily wander off "the way" of righteousness and into an "accidental" breaking of God's laws. David understood this tendency and prayed for God to keep him from wandering from the way of righteousness. Once again, it is obvious that this type of sin — like that of sinning out of weakness — is NOT willful and deliberate. Therefore, when the person regains his "spiritual consciousness" after the accident (sin), he can repent and receive forgiveness. No one in his right mind is going to go out on the highway and deliberately jeopardize and imperil his own life. Yet some in God's Church have not yet awakened to the imminent peril in which they are placing their spiritual lives. Some have gone spiritually to sleep at the wheel and are careening through life on a collision course with disaster! Possibly some of you feel relieved to know that not all knowledgeable sin is unpardonable. That sin due to weakness and carelessness is forgivable — if repented of. God is patient and He is merciful. Christ is a merciful High Priest who thoroughly understands all the weaknesses and flaws of human nature. However, don't allow this to lull you into an attitude of excusing and living with your sim. God also DEMANDS OBEDIENCE! Jesus Christ stated: "To him that overcomes [not merely to him that tries to overcome] will I give power over the nations" (Rev. 2:26). The apostle Paul stated: "Be not deceived [some are deceiving themselves on this very point]; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting" (Gal. 6:7-8). Do you think that you are ever going to qualify for God's Kingdom as long as you are losing more than you are winning in the struggle against temptation? Weakness is NO EXCUSE for continued and repeated sin. Whereas the sin may not be deliberate, nevertheless, continued disobedience lessens the pangs of conscience, so that the person feels less and less troubled and guilty about his sin. The end result is an absolute searing of the conscience (I Tim. 4:2) — an "I don't care" attitude, which places him beyond the influence of God's Spirit and therefore constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit. Though there are certain sins which seem harder to resist than others, if a person earnestly wants to overcome his weaknesses and character flaws, he WILL SUCCEED. We can have this confidence because God is the One who gives us the spiritual power to overcome through His Holy Spirit. God's Spirit is a spirit of POWER (II Tim. 1:7). Through this power, we CAN overcome. No human weakness is more powerful than God's Spirit. The apostle Paul said that he could do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthened him (Phil. 4:13). Sin will not have dominion over us if we use this power and put it to work in our lives (Rom. 6:14; 8:4). Neither is carelessness justifiable in light of the awesome and overwhelming offer of salvation which God has set before us. As heirs of salvation, "we ought to give the more EARNEST HEED to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip ... How shall we escape, if we NEGLECT [let carelessly slip through our fingers], so GREAT SALVATION" (Heb. 2:1, 3). Brethren, this is our day of salvation. We will have no other. Unless we qualify NOW for the Kingdom of God, we will face the ultimate fate of all those who have either through weakness, carelessness or deliberate rebellion turned their backs on God's gift of life and chosen the way of death. No longer should anyone be confused concerning the unpardonable sin. God is ready and anxious to forgive us of any and all sin we might commit. It is only the stubborn and unrepentant attitude of the sinner which would ever result in a sin not being forgiven. When we humbly and fervently beseech God for forgiveness, our sins will be forgiven. We must not question God's promise of forgiveness. Neither should we go on living with guilt complexes over past sins, which we have already asked God to forgive. Instead, we should fact the future with total confidence in the all-encompassing mercy of God. We must do battle with our sins and overcome them. God desires more than anything else that YOU be born into His Kingdom! It is not His will that any single one be lost. However, the choice is entirely up to YOU!