“Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost 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 Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matthew 12: 31-32)
As a pastor, I have often been asked the following questions: “What is the ‘unpardonable sin’? Can a Christian commit the ‘unpardonable sin’? What are the consequences of committing the ‘unpardonable sin’?” Let us examine these questions in the light of God’s Word.
What is the “unpardonable sin”?
The issue of the “unpardonable sin” is based upon an incident recorded in two Gospels (Matthew 12: 22-37 and Mark 3: 22-30). As “great multitudes followed him”, Jesus ministered to them and “healed them all” (Matt 12: 15). Among those whom the Lord healed was “one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb; and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the Son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils” (Matt 12: 22-24).
Instead of acknowledging that Jesus’ power was from God, the religious leaders attributed the Lord’s miraculous healing of the blind and dumb to satanic power. Unable to deny the miracle before their very eyes, they sought to explain it away by ascribing it to Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. By doing so, they maliciously charged Jesus with being in league with the devil. This was a direct affront to the Holy Spirit – the Spirit by which Jesus worked His miracles.
o Rejecting Christ and His Messiahship
Their slanderous accusation brought a prompt and sharp response from the Lord: “How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but have an end. No man can enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he will first bind the strong man; and then he will spoil his house” (Mk 3: 23-27).
To deny the miraculous works of our Saviour and attribute them to Satan is tantamount to rejecting Christ and His teachings. Christ, in His public ministry, had preached the Gospel, done good works and performed many miracles. He had clearly and invariably proved His deity and Messiahship. Yet these religious leaders wilfully chose to reject Him and His works by their vicious accusation.
o Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
The Lord Jesus then sounded this solemn warning: “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost 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 Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt 12: 31-32). Here, it was clear that the Lord was referring to the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit which is commonly described today as the “unpardonable sin”. The phrase, “neither in this world, neither in the world to come” has the idea of a hopeless and everlasting ruin” (Abbott New Testament Commentary).
Dr Jeffrey Khoo reiterates, “This sin is unforgivable because the only avenue of forgiveness through the convicting work of the Spirit has been rejected. The greatest sin that anyone can commit that leads to eternal damnation is the sin of rejecting Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord (Jn 3:18). The constant, persistent, voluntary, wilful, decisive rejection of the Gospel is tantamount to the unpardonable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (The Life of Christ Part I – FEBC Lecture Notes).
Scholars who study this subject of the unpardonable sin generally agree that this sin starts with a conscious resistance to conviction, followed by a downward slide to a point of “no return”; and finally, the denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives.
John Calvin aptly comments: “They sin against the Holy Spirit who, with evil intention, resist God’s truth. . . . Such resistance alone constitutes this sin.” According to Calvin, the sin against the Holy Spirit is committed by those who, convicted in their consciences, deliberately impugn and repudiate the Word of God, in that they strive against the illumination of the Spirit. This happens when one opposes doctrine once convicted that it is from God. The sin is something that one ‘falls into’. It is neither ‘a partial fall’, nor ‘a transgression of a single commandment, but apostasy, by which men wholly alienate themselves from God.’ It is an apostasy of the whole man and is a willful and deliberate act. There is a sequence of events that occurs once a person has completely fallen away from the gospel. However, this must be understood in the context of God’s sovereign will. The sin is the result of being a reprobate.” (…to be concluded)