(September 10, 2018) Dr Jim McClure, straightshooting theologian, shares…
Every now and then I hear these condemning words from a sad, heavy-hearted Christian, ‘I’ve heard that there’s a sin that God can’t forgive… “the unpardonable sin.” I feel, I think I’ve committed it! God couldn’t possibly forgive me…’
What such a tormented person is really thinking in his (or her) troubled mind is this – ‘Is it possible that I committed such a big sin, or so many sins, that I’ve gone beyond the point where I can’t be forgiven, can’t be saved?’
The good news of the gospel
I feel for such people (incidentally some non-Christians also often believe their sins are too great to be forgiven!). And if they’d share with me I hasten to point out that the gospel – the good news – of Christ is that our sin, whatever they are or how big or many, cannot exceed the love, grace and mercy of God.
The reality is that very person who has ever lived has been in rebellion against God at some time – but Romans 5:10 affirms the great truth that ‘When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!’
Good news indeed!
But note… there are a few verses in the Bible that suggest that some sin is unforgivable and for centuries biblical scholars have wrestled with finding the correct interpretation.
Unrepented sin that leads to death
Concern arises when we consider such verses against other New Testament affirmations such as Romans 5:20, ‘Where sin increased, God’s grace increased much more’ and 1 John 1:9, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
Let’s consider first the ‘sin that leads to death’ (1 John 5:16). Clearly at one level we understand that all sin leads to spiritual death… the Bible makes this clear and Paul succinctly writes, ‘The wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23).
Some have argued that the ‘sin that leads to death’ refers to physical death, but that interpretation is hard to sustain. However, if John was referring to sin that leads to spiritual death, we have to consider that in the context of a belief that all sins can be forgiven.
But the Bible never states that! We must take note that unrepented sin will not be forgiven.
Repentance is a prerequisite for God’s forgiveness to be received. ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord’ (Acts 3:19).
Ignoring God’s offer of salvation also leads to eternal loss for Hebrews 2:3 declares: ‘How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?’
Our Saviour’s warning in Matthew 12:31-32 should concern all of us: ‘I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.’
- What then is this sin that ‘will not be forgiven’?
- What is ‘blasphemy against the Spirit’?
We must understand this phrase in the context of the passage in Matthew 12. There we find that the Pharisees, despite the evidence, not only rejected Jesus but also tried to distort the significance of Jesus’ miracles, and, in effect, described the work of the Holy Spirit as evil.
In John 16:8 Jesus further described the ministry of the Holy Spirit this way: ‘When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment’ Before we can be saved, we need to be aware of our sin and to realise that we need a Saviour. The Holy Spirit stirs our consciences, convicts us of our sin and directs us to Jesus who saves us.
Respected New Testament scholar, Dr F F Bruce, has written… ‘The Holy Spirit persuades and enables men to accept Christ and enjoy the saving benefits of the gospel (John 16:8; 1 Corinthians 2:12-14; Acts 7:51), but if anyone refuses to submit to the Spirit’s gracious constraint, preferring to call good evil and evil good, how can the gospel avail for him? The deliberate refusal of the grace of God is the one sin which by its very nature is irremediable.’
No one is too guilty for God to forgive, but people can fail to discover God’s forgiveness because they have not responded to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.
But here is a word of assurance – anyone who seeks Jesus’ forgiveness certainly has not committed the sin that ‘will not be forgiven’!
Jesus promised, ‘Whoever comes to me I will never drive away’ (John 6:37).
Incidentally, it appears that John uses the word ‘brother’ in 1 John 5:16 (and other verses) in a generic way that includes non-Christians. We cannot, therefore, conclude that he was referring exclusively to Christians!
Dr Jim McClure, author of several books and Bible study series, welcomes questions from Christians seeking enlightenment on biblical perspectives.
Recommended is his enlightening Looking for Answers in a Confusing World, available in electronic version in EPUB, Kindle and PDF formats with hyperlinks and offered free. Link for orders and questions: firstname.lastname@example.org