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Tough Questions: What is the Unforgivable Sin?


“Therefore, the unforgiveable sin is not so much a specific category of sin, rather an irrevocable spiritual state of being,” says The Rev’d Charlie Lacey from St Andrew’s, Springfield

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All three synoptic gospels record Jesus saying that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Many Christians question what Jesus meant by this, and some fear that they may have inadvertently, or even deliberately, committed the “unforgivable sin”. This is pastorally significant, since everyone who has put their faith in Jesus ought to be confident of their forgiven status.

In the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus speaks about blaspheming the Holy Spirit immediately after the Pharisees accuse him of using demonic power to cast out demons.

Matthew 12.31-32:

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but 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.

Given the context, it could be inferred that to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to attribute the Holy Spirit’s work to demonic forces. However, such a distortion of the truth is more likely symptomatic of a sinful mindset, whereby a person wilfully and routinely opposes the work of the Holy Spirit.

There is a sense in which we all oppose the work of the Holy Spirit because that is essentially what sin is. However, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to oppose him so thoroughly and determinedly, that one is no longer able to repent and believe. It is to harden one’s heart to such a great extent that repentance is no longer possible. Therefore, to blaspheme the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable, not because the Lord chooses not to forgive it, but because the offender refuses to repent and be forgiven.

The person who fears that they may have committed the “unforgivable sin” almost certainly has not. Even some of the hard-hearted Pharisees eventually gave their lives to Christ, most notably the Apostle Paul. Their willingness to repent demonstrates beyond doubt that they had not committed the unforgiveable sin. By contrast, those who heard the Gospel from Christ himself, witnessed his miracles, and saw the Spirit’s power at work in the church, yet remained resolutely opposed to the truth until their death, were guilty of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit today will reject and oppose any evidence that points to the truth of the Gospel and will remain entrenched in their unbelief until the end of their days.

Therefore, the unforgiveable sin is not so much a specific category of sin, rather an irrevocable spiritual state of being.

To the person who truly repents forgiveness is available, no matter how heinous the sins of their past. As it says in 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.’” In short, no sin is unforgivable for the person who is willing to repent.

First published on the St Andrew’s, Springfield website on 29 April 2024.

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