What is the Unforgivable Sin?
Years ago, I was in my very first ministry assignment at a church, and a young member of the youth group asked to meet with me. He was a young man who was very, very clearly burdened and overwhelmed with something that was weighing down his soul. As we got talking, he made it clear that he believed that he had committed the unforgivable sin. He was afraid that because he had committed the sin of looking at pornography when he did that, he had committed the unforgivable sin, and he wanted to know if he was stuck with a sin that would never be forgiven and that would ultimately send him to hell.
That was the first conversation that I remember having about the unforgivable sin. It has not been the last. In fact, the question “Have I committed the unforgivable sin?” is one of those questions that I have been asked most regularly throughout my adult life in ministry. One of the places where the Bible mentions this unforgivable sin is in Matthew 12:31, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” So when we talk about the unforgivable sin, we are saying that Jesus himself affirms that there is a sin that cannot be forgiven, that will not be forgiven, and that sin is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. So the question is, what is that? How can I know if I have committed the one sin that is not forgivable?
Well, it’s important to note that Jesus says this in Matthew 12:31 in a larger context. In Matthew 12, Jesus has actually healed a demon-possessed man. This demon-possessed man was presenting as a blind and a mute. He was brought to Jesus, and Jesus healed him so that, as the Bible says, “The man spoke and saw” once Jesus unleashed his power on this poor and oppressed man, and as he did that, then the religious leaders of the day began to speak back and say, well, Jesus, did that using the power of the devil. Jesus says that what those guys were doing, what those religious leaders were accusing him of, at least placed them at risk of committing the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. If you’re concerned that you might have committed this sin, I want to tell you that it requires three things.
1. It Requires an Obvious Knowledge of Jesus Christ
The unforgivable sin, first of all, requires an obvious knowledge of Jesus Christ. These religious leaders who were at least at risk of committing the unforgivable sin had a specific and obvious knowledge of Jesus. In Matthew 12:22, Jesus has healed this man who was demon-possessed, who was blind and mute. And in verse 24, when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It’s only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” They had specific knowledge of Jesus. They saw an amazing miracle of Jesus. The event itself, Jesus’s healing, is not in question. The question was, how did he get the power to do it? And so these people had very specific knowledge of Jesus. They had an amazing, even firsthand knowledge of Jesus and his power. And what is happening here is as they have that obvious knowledge, they’re giving a certain explanation about how to do it, so in order for you to commit the unpardonable sin, the unforgivable sin, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, you’ve got to have first and obvious straightforward knowledge of Jesus Christ, but even that’s not enough.
2. It Requires an Overt Rejection of Jesus
Second, you have to engage in an overt rejection of Jesus. So having this obvious knowledge, you have to engage in an overt rejection. The Pharisees certainly do that in verse 24 when they say, “It’s only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” That is, the specific kind of rejection is you have to take the power of Jesus and explain it by the work of the devil. You have to specifically reject his power in that specific way. To be quite frank, there are certain kinds of rejection of Jesus that are forgivable. Jesus says this himself in Matthew 12:32, “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven.” He goes on, “But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
Jesus says you can speak against me. You can speak against the Son of Man and be forgiven. There are kinds of rejections of Jesus that are forgivable. What the rejection of Jesus that is so bad here is they are rejecting Jesus with knowledge of his power, and they’re attributing the power to demons. What you’re not allowed to do is reject Jesus and the Holy Spirit as the source of his power. In Matthew 12:28, it says, “If it is by the Spirit of God, that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Jesus’ miracle-working power happens by the power of the Holy Spirit. And the unforgivable sin is when you reject Jesus, and you reject his power being accomplished by the Holy Spirit. So you’ve got to have this obvious knowledge of Jesus, you’ve got to overtly reject Jesus, but even still, even with those two things, you haven’t exactly committed the unforgivable sin.
3. It Requires an Open Hostility to Jesus
There’s a third ingredient, and that is a requirement that there be open hostility to Jesus. You see the open hostility of these Jewish leaders in Matthew 12:23 all the people when they saw the healing, “All the people were amazed and said, ‘Can this be the son of David?’” There’s a group of people who see this miracle, who see this power of the Spirit unleashed in the life and ministry of Jesus, and they want to believe him. They’re intrigued. They’re thinking of coming to him. And then the Jewish leaders try to stamp on that. They try to keep them from believing by saying, well, this isn’t coming from God; this is coming from the devil. Jesus makes it very, very clear in verse 30, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and who does not gather with me scatters.”
These are people who are engaged in scattering. They’re taking people who want to come to Jesus and who want to get close to Jesus, and they are seeking to scatter him scatter those who would follow him. These are people who aren’t just seeing the powerful working of Jesus, they are people who are rejecting the powerful working of Jesus, and they are people who are trying to convince other people not to trust in Jesus.
What the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, then what the unforgivable sin is, is apparently some kind of ultimate and final rejection of Jesus, where you see him as he is, you have encountered the truth of who he is, you know, he comes in the power of the Spirit, you know, people are called to believe in him. And you say, “No, I reject that.” I think this is demonic. I think this is wrong, and I am going to keep other people from coming to Jesus. That’s the unforgivable sin.
Quite frankly, if you’re listening to this and you are concerned about it, you don’t need to worry about it. The kind of concern that makes you worried that you might have committed it already indicates a sensitivity in your heart and your spirit that has not rejected Jesus the way the unforgivable sin requires. And so, there is an unforgivable sin. But if you love Jesus, if you have a heart for Jesus, then you are not at risk of committing this sin. And so, the call is don’t reject Jesus but embrace Jesus, look to Jesus, look to his power, look to his death on the cross for you, and don’t reject him, but believe, and you will be forgiven and forgiven forever.