The Unforgivable Sin

By Dr. Christopher Plumberg

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Here is an analogy. Suppose that my daughter crafted a piece of art for me without my knowledge. On her way home, it fell out of her backpack and onto the sidewalk. While out for a walk that night, I stumbled upon it. Not knowing what it is or who it was for, I carried it to a trash can and tossed it inside. This would certainly be bad, but it would also be forgivable; I didn't really know what the piece of art was or who it was for, so it's understandable that I might simply throw it away.

By contrast, imagine that my daughter herself brings the piece of art to me and, after looking at it for a few moments, I immediately take it into the kitchen and put it in the trash. As before, the piece of art ended up in the trash. But now, there is something truly awful about what I have done; I have probably devastated my daughter in treating her creation and gift to me as utterly worthless. I have no longer merely thrown away the gift in ignorance; I have discarded it consciously and with evil intent.

This is much like the difference between blaspheming against the Son and blaspheming against the Spirit. Because the Son was in the world, He is like God's gift to us which some of us, in ignorance, may choose to reject. But the Spirit who is now in the world — convicting "the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8, NASB) — to consciously reject His work and instead align oneself in opposition to Him is a truly fearsome and terrible sin. The fact that it is an eternal sin indicates that it has eternal consequences.

So then, why does the topic of eternal sin arise in Luke 12? It is not obvious, at first glance, since Jesus does not appear to be responding to the Pharisees as He was in Matthew 12 and Mark 3. The connection appears to be this: in listening to Jesus speak (in verses 8-9) about His followers confessing Him before men, some might have been concerned that there would be no forgiveness for those who had denied Christ — in other words, would it be possible for someone who had denied Christ to repent and receive forgiveness? Jesus' answer appears to be "yes," since He takes this opportunity to emphasize that only blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin; blaspheming against the Son (say, for fear of one's life, and not out of conscious rebellion) was still an offense which might be forgiven. Indeed, all of us were blasphemers against Christ before we were saved; if that offense is not forgivable, then no one can be saved. And finally, Jesus instructed His disciples not to be afraid, because the Holy Spirit Himself would give them the strength to confess Christ when the moment came. So the caution against eternal sin fits in nicely with the context of Luke 12, although Jesus is not (in this case) leveling the charge against anyone in particular.

Understanding the notion of the "unforgivable sin" in this way should offer us a great sense of freedom and relief. I have personally encountered brothers and sisters in Christ who have wrestled with whether they themselves have committed such an "unforgivable" sin. The good news here is that we should not think of this sin as an obstacle to God's forgiveness, as if God's desire to cleanse us of sin would be prevented by our having sinned badly enough. There is no sin which God is unable to forgive, and the eternal sin is the only one which God chooses not to forgive. And of course, this can only be consistent with verses like Psalm 51:17 — "A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise" (NASB) — if the one who commits the eternal sin becomes incapable of a broken or contrite heart. Thus, a person who is broken and repentant over their sin has very likely not committed the eternal sin at all.

In short, there is no such thing as an unforgivable sin. God will never reject the heart which is broken and contrite over its sin. And that is very good news.

Image Credit: phoenixsierra0; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | Sin-Evil  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 3-27-17