Ambassador of Reconciliation
11/29/15 at 02:01 AM 10 Comments

The Unpardonable Sin

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People sometimes ask me, “How can you believe that all people will eventually be saved if the Bible says there is at least one sin that will never be forgiven?”1

“[T]he blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven…. [W]hoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12:32b, ESV).

“[W]hoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mk. 3:29, ESV)

“[T]he one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven” (Lk. 12:10, ESV).

Some see an open-and-shut case here that those who have committed the sin called “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” can never be forgiven, and that therefore not all people are saved. But there is no consensus about what exactly this sin is, what the results of it are, and what “the age to come” is. In fact, you can find a variety of interpretations, both within a framework of eternal damnation and within a framework of ultimate restoration. Let me suggest one possible interpretation.

Salvation requires repentance from sin and submission to the convicting and saving work of the Holy Spirit. A person can be guilty of all kinds of sins and still come to Christ for forgiveness and salvation. But he cannot be forgiven if he rejects God’s forgiveness as applied by the Holy Spirit. So as long as he remains in a state of resistance against the conviction and forgiveness of the Holy Spirit, he cannot be saved. In other words, you cannot reject the saving work of the Holy Spirit and simultaneously receive the saving work of the Holy Spirit. Anyone who “speaks against the Holy Spirit”—denies or rejects His work of regeneration—cannot be regenerated.

Even the most heinous sins can be forgiven, because Jesus died as the atoning sacrifice for those sins. But as long as a person refuses to allow the Holy Spirit to work in his heart, he cannot receive that forgiveness. These principles apply in “this age” and in “the age to come,” whatever those ages refer to. However, the Holy Spirit is not powerless in the face of a person’s present rejection of His work. It is His job to convict of sin, and He will continue to do so until the job is done. Ultimately He is able to bring every knee to bow and every tongue to confess Jesus as Lord.

Every explanation of the unpardonable sin that I have read tries to assure you that if you are afraid you have committed the unpardonable sin—you haven’t. I would add my reassurance that, whatever your condition, it is not beyond hope. Yet I do believe that you can be guilty of this sin—guilty of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit in the sense of standing in defiance of His convicting and redeeming work. However, you are not hopelessly lost—you can allow the Holy Spirit to bring you to repentance and draw you to the cross, where you will be freely pardoned.

This is only one possible interpretation of these difficult passages. I invite readers to offer their interpretations. Perhaps with input from each other we can all come to a clearer understanding.

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1It must be noted that these passages indicate that every other sin will be forgiven:

“Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” (Mt. 12:31-32a).

“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter…” (Mt. 3:28).

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” (Lk. 12:10).

And the Matthew passage suggests that sin can be forgiven in the age to come, which is a discussion for another day.

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