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5. The Unpardonable Sin and The Sin Resulting in Death

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What are the unpardonable sin (or the blasphemy of the Spirit) and the sin resulting in death? We’ll consider the unpardonable sin first. In the context of the Pharisees declaring that Christ was doing miracles through the devil’s power, Christ said:

For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

Matthew 12:31-32

What is the blasphemy of the Spirit, which can never be forgiven? There are numerous views on what this actually means:

  1. Some believe the blasphemy of the Spirit is something that can never happen today. They focus on the context of the Pharisees declaring that Christ’s miracles were done through Satan instead of the Holy Spirit. Since Christ is no longer physically on the earth doing miracles, that sin cannot happen anymore.
  2. Some believe the blasphemy of the Spirit is unbelief. Those who persist in unbelief and therefore reject Christ as their Lord and Savior will never be forgiven. Certainly, this is true, but it doesn’t seem to clearly reflect the context in which Christ said this.
  3. Some believe the blasphemy of the Spirit is a sin only certain unbelievers can commit. It is the sin of those who have experienced tremendous, repeated exposure to the witness of God’s Word and his Spirit but continually reject it. They typically profess faith in God and associate with a body of believers but are not truly saved. Their repeated exposure to the truth and rejection of it eventually hardens their hearts to the point where they cannot repent, and consequently, they will never be forgiven by God.

It seems that the third view is to be preferred, when considering the context and other similar Scriptures. The Pharisees not only heard God’s Word through Christ, but also studied and taught the Mosaic law, as Israel’s spiritual leaders. Also, as Christ mentioned, their “sons” (other Jews under their leadership) even cast out demons (Matt 12:27)—presumably by the same Holy Spirit that Christ cast them out. However, though the Pharisees had great exposure to God’s Word and God’s Spirit, they still rejected God and therefore hardened their hearts to the point of no return.

This seems to correspond to how Christ responded to the Israelites, whom the Pharisees represented, in the next chapter of Matthew. In Matthew 13, after the leaders of Israel rejected Christ’s ministry, Christ changed his method of teaching. Instead of clearly teaching God’s Word, he started to teach in parables, which hid the truth from the hearers. After this change, the disciples asked him why he was teaching in parables. Christ said this in response:

He replied, “You have been given the opportunity to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but they have not. For whoever has will be given more, and will have an abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. For this reason I speak to them in parables: Although they see they do not see, and although they hear they do not hear nor do they understand. And concerning them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: ‘You will listen carefully yet will never understand, you will look closely yet will never comprehend. For the heart of this people has become dull; they are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes, so that they would not see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

Matthew 13:11-15

If this corresponds with the blasphemy of the Spirit, which it seems to because of the context, the Pharisees’ sin had to do with receiving God’s revelation and continually rejecting it. Christ says, “For whoever has will be given more, and will have abundance. But whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (13:12). Then, Christ quotes Isaiah and how Israel would become dull of heart, hard of hearing, and blind, so they would not repent and be saved (v. 14-15). They would not be forgiven because they would not repent. Israel and their leaders had seen Christ’s miracles, heard his Word, and some had even taught God’s Word and possibly done miracles, yet they still rejected the Spirit’s work. Consequently, they had hardened their hearts and blasphemed the Holy Spirit; therefore, they would never repent and never be forgiven.

Many also connect the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit with the difficult passage of Hebrews 6:4-6. It says,

For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.

The Hebrew Christians, in this context, were being tempted to reject all they had learned and experienced in Christianity to return to Judaism. The writer warns them if they reject Christ after tasting God’s Word, experiencing the Holy Spirit and his miracles, it will become impossible for them to repent (v. 6). Though some believe this text refers to believers actually losing their salvation, the whole counsel of Scripture seems to indicate that is not possible. For true believers, God gives them “eternal life” (John 3:16). Christ puts them in his hand and God’s hand, and nobody will be able to snatch them out (John 10:27-29). Christ came to do the Father’s will and his will is that those given to Christ by God would not be lost but raised up on the last day (John 6:38-39). To do this, Christ not only holds believers in his hand, but he also prays daily for them so he can save them to the uttermost (Heb 7:25). Therefore, if a professed follower turns away from God, it proves they were never truly saved. Like Christ said, though they may call him, “Lord, Lord,” he will say to them, “I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!” (Matt 7:23).

If the professing Christians in Hebrews 6 did in fact turn away from God after all they had experienced (God’s Word, his Spirit, the powers of the coming age, etc.), they would be just like the Pharisees and the Jews in Matthew 12 and 13. They identified with God’s people, professed him, served him, learned his Word, taught his Word, and possibly even did miracles like casting out demons, but because they never truly repented, their continued rejection of God hardened their hearts, making it impossible for them to repent. They had blasphemed the Spirit.

Because of this, it should be understood that if a person thinks that he somehow committed the unforgivable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, but still desires to repent and follow God, it means that he has not committed this sin. A person who committed this sin will not want to repent, which is why he will never be forgiven (Heb 6:6).

Another potential example of blaspheming the Spirit is the apostle Judas. Christ gave him power to heal and cast out demons (Lk 9:1). He preached the gospel in various villages (Lk 9:6), and yet throughout his time following Christ, he continually stole from the disciples (John 12:6) and eventually betrayed Christ (Lk 22:47-48). Though Scripture never says he committed the unforgivable sin, the characteristics mentioned in Hebrews 6:4-6 are true of him. He had been enlightened, partook of the Holy Spirit, tasted of the heavenly gift, the word of God, and the miracles of the coming age, and yet committed apostasy. Though he professed Christ and served him, Scripture teaches that he never was a true born-again believer and actually calls him a “devil” (John 6:70). No doubt, his continual exposure to and rejection of the things of God only further hardened his heart—hindering his ability to ultimately repent (Matt 13:12, 15, Heb 6:6).

The Sin Resulting in Death

Several passages also describe something called a “sin resulting in death.” For example, John 5:16-17 says,

If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.

Also, James 5:19-20 may be referring to this, when it says,

My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone turns him back, he should know that the one who turns a sinner back from his wandering path will save that person’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The sin resulting in death refers to God allowing unrepentant believers to die early as a form of discipline. An example of this is seen in the story of Ananias and Saphira. In Acts 5:1-10, this married couple sold their land and gave the proceeds to the apostles as a gift. However, they lied and said they gave all the proceeds when they had really kept back a portion of it (even though they were under no pressure to give any of it). Because of this public sin, probably inspired by pride and their desire to be revered by all, God struck them dead. Also, in 1 Corinthians 11, the believers were taking the Lord’s Supper in a dishonorable manner, with drunkenness and division (v. 20-22). Because of that, God judged some by taking them home. First Corinthians 11:30-32 says, “That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead. But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world.”

The sin resulting in death is a form of God’s discipline, in which he corrects believers and helps them become holy. Hebrews 12:5-6 (NIV) says,

And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

In these verses, “discipline” seems to be a general word for how God corrects his children, and “rebukes” and “chastens” seem to be two of the methods. When we are in sin, God rebukes us through his Word, often given through other saints—seeking to turn us away from sin. Then, if we don’t respond, eventually he chastens us, which literally means “whips” or “spanks.” Because of continued rebellion against his rebukes, God brings whippings, often appearing in trials to turn us away from wrong attitudes and actions. At times though, if we continue to persist in sin or commit a specific sin which is particularly grievous, the “whipping” may be as severe as taking one of his saints home. This is the sin resulting in death.

Reflection

  1. What stood out most in the reading and why?
  2. What are the various views about the unpardonable sin? Which view do you think is correct and why?
  3. What is the sin resulting in death? How should the reality of this sin and its discipline affect us and how we relate to others in sin?
  4. What other questions or applications did you take from the reading?

Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown

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Related Topics: Christian Life, Hamartiology (Sin)

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