Can a Christian commit the unpardonable sin?
This question reminds me of an incident that occurred many years ago at a gospel meeting in a small assembly in one of the South Wales valleys. Throughout the service I noticed that an elderly lady was in considerable distress and at the close she told me that she thought she had committed the unpardonable sin and therefore her eternal doom was sealed. No amount of reasoning from the scriptures could alleviate her obvious distress, and the matter remained unresolved. I subsequently learned that despite her continued commitment to the gospel meeting, she raised the same issue with all speakers but could never be pacified.
The anxiety experienced by this lady is not unique to her; it is something that many others have suffered, either at some time or over a period of time. In many instances, the cause is a lack of understanding as to the context and meaning of the verses, but when the Lord’s words are correctly understood the anxiety abates. In other cases, the root issue is not spiritual but psychological in that the person concerned may be suffering from depression or mental weakness. In these situations, the probability is that they will continue to worry even after having matters explained to them and, perhaps, they would be well advised to seek some medical help in addition to spiritual support.
In responding, the primary matter that requires clarification is, ‘to what sin does this question relate’, for the phrase ‘the unpardonable sin’ does not occur in any of the commonly used translations of the scriptures. In Matthew chapter 12, the Lord Jesus said, ‘Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come’, vv. 31, 32. The other occurrence of these words is found in Mark chapter 3 verses 28 and 29, and these two references are the only ones that are generally described as relating to ‘the unpardonable sin’.
Matthew chapter 12 is a critical point in the Gospel narrative. Despite many attesting proofs of His authenticity, the nation had rejected Christ’s claim to Messiahship throughout His public ministry. That rejection intensified in chapter 12 when the Pharisees held a council against Him, ‘how they might destroy him’, v. 14. However, their ultimate rejection, and the step beyond which there was no possible forgiveness, occurred when they heard of the Lord healing a man who was demon possessed, blind and mute but said, ‘This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils’, v. 24.
Throughout His life, the Holy Spirit had borne testimony to who Jesus was and what He had come to do. Despite the irrefutable evidence thus provided, the Pharisees wilfully refused to accept the witness of the Holy Spirit. Instead of recognizing the Holy Spirit as being the source of Jesus’ power, and accepting Him as God’s Son, the Pharisees attributed His power to the devil. The Lord describes this, the grossest of all possible sins, as being ‘blasphemy against the Holy Ghost’, v. 31, and such is its seriousness that it can never be forgiven, neither in this age nor in the age to come.
It is not without significance that we do not read about this sin in any of the Epistles, nor is there any warning given concerning it. Taking that into account, and bearing in mind the context in which the Lord issued this extreme warning, I am convinced that this ‘unpardonable sin’ relates exclusively to the time when the Lord was on earth. As such, it is not possible to commit this sin today and, therefore, a Christian can never be guilty of doing so, even though some may worry they have done. The very fact that a person worries about it is one sure proof that they have not, for those who had committed it during the Lord’s lifetime were so hardened in their hearts they had no care that they were guilty. In relation to those who are His, the Lord Jesus promised, ‘I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand’, John 10. 28. Therefore, we need have no fear in respect of this particular sin; it is impossible for a Christian to transgress in this way.