remember the first time I read Matthew 12:32. I was about 16 years old when I first learned of an “unforgivable” sin. My immediate thought was not one of comfort, but concern. I wondered, An unforgivable sin? Is it possible that I have ever committed one?
Many Christians over the years have become similarly concerned, worried, even bound with fear, that they might have committed “the unpardonable sin.” But is there really a sin God simply refuses to forgive? Or, a sin so extreme it is incapable of being forgiven?
Theologian A. W. Tozer once said there is likely no doctrine in the New Testament that has been misunderstood more than this one. So, in order to understand what this sin truly is, and is not, we must take a closer look at what Jesus actually said.
The setting of this story is essential (vv. 22-37). When studying the words of Jesus, we must also consider the context, or the situation in which the words were spoken. In this case, Jesus had just delivered a demon-possessed man who had been both blind and mute. It was such a miraculous deliverance, most of the eyewitnesses said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (v. 23 NKJV). In other words, Could we be about to experience the restoration of a glorious kingdom? Is God in our midst?
When the Pharisees heard of this miracle, they said something entirely different: “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (v. 24 ESV).
To paraphrase, it is as if Jesus says to the blasphemers: “Are you crazy? How could Satan ever cast out Satan? Or, why would he? No, you are seeing Me cast out Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, be careful what you say about Me, and be very careful what you say about the Holy Spirit. Remember, if you cut Me off from your life, you still have one more hope that is yet to come, the Holy Spirit. But, if you cut Him off, you risk having no more hope” (see vv. 26-32).
Yes, there is a sin that cannot be forgiven. Jesus made this quite clear. The passage is not an elusive one; it is vividly told by Jesus. However, in order to effectively consider and interpret this story and warning in the Bible, it is important to remember seven facts.
1. Jesus was not talking here to people who were seeking Him.
No. He was warning people who opposed Him.
2. This event was extraordinary, and so was the sin they committed.
This was a group of enemies in full view of Jesus’ Spirit-empowered ministry and
miracles. Charles Stanley defines the sin they committed as “to attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the power of Satan in the face of undeniable evidence to the contrary.”
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
He is a member of the Holy Trinity sent here to draw you and me to Jesus Christ. In a sense, the coming of the Holy Spirit represents our final chance of salvation.
There is something profoundly mystical about the Spirit and His work in us. While God the Father is over us and the Son is “God with us,” Jesus said the Spirit is, in fact, in us as believers. When Jesus spoke of the Spirit’s coming to His disciples, He told them the Spirit “will be in you” (John 14:17 NKJV). In other words, His presence will be powerful and personal. We don’t ever want to treat the Spirit, His work, or His presence lightly or frivolously. He is not only the Spirit, but the Holy Spirit. Let us honor Him as such.
4. The“unpardonable sin” is not a careless act.
Some believe that sacrilegious behavior or irreverence alone is the unpardonable sin, but it is not. The sin Jesus speaks of is something more—it is deeply and ultimately a sin against the Holy Spirit. It is an ultimate rejection of God’s Spirit who is sent to draw us to Jesus.
5. Jesus said all confessed sin will be forgiven.
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross was for all of us—sinners, idolaters, blasphemers, adulterers—all, you name it.
6. If you’re worried you have committed an “unforgivable sin,” no matter what you might have done, the apostle Paul would tell you he has done worse.
Paul referred to himself as “the chief” of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He wrote it to his young protégé in ministry, Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst” (NIV).
7. God forgives all sin for which we confess and repent.
John Piper wrote, “Any sin that you can authentically repent of and embrace Christ for will be forgiven.”
When I came to realize as a young Christian that my concern about having possibly committed the unpardonable sin was a sign itself that God’s Spirit was still at work within me, I took great comfort, and the joy of my salvation was renewed. Humility and sorrow of sin is a dead giveaway that one has not committed it. Tozer also said, “The man who knows he belongs in hell can’t go there, because that knowledge is one of a penitent soul. That kind of soul can never die nor commit the unpardonable sin.”