Whatever Jesus meant by his puzzling statement about the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the correct interpretation will be consistent with the rest of biblical revelation. And we know that in the rest of the Bible, God over and over declares his eagerness to forgive anyone and everyone who comes to Jesus, genuinely wanting forgiveness. The God of truth has emphatically given his word about this. In the light of so many unbreakable promises, it must be that if anyone were to become unforgivable, something happens that makes that person for the rest of his/her life refuse to accept through Jesus the forgiveness that God freely offers us all.
We will carefully examine the meaning of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and look at Bible saints who were clearly forgiven, even though they seemed guilty of the unforgivable sin.
Some of the following might initially seem unbelievable, but keep reading: further biblical proof will unfold as you proceed with this webpage.
What must one do to blaspheme the Spirit?
The Bible was not even originally written in English, so – as any Bible scholar will insist – to understand what the Bible means by blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it is pointless consulting an English dictionary for the definition of “blasphemy”. Instead of jumping to our own presumptions in panic-stricken horror, we need to calmly and prayerfully delve deep into God’s Word. Let’s see what the Bible says Jesus was referring to:
Mark 3:22-30 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus . . . spoke to them . . . ‘I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’ (Emphasis mine)
These people were not cursing or swearing, nor knowingly insulting the Holy Spirit. In fact, they were devout theologians who would rather face a thousand deaths than be disrespectful to the Spirit of God. They felt certain that they deeply revered the Holy Spirit. (Sidenote)
Whatever Jesus meant by the unpardonable sin, he was not referring to the use of foul language against the Holy Spirit when he warned these people. They were not even seeking to target the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the focus of their attack. Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, was the one they sought to insult and discredit. It just turned out that, as would be expected, insulting one member of the Trinity insults all three. The doctrine of the Trinity renders ridiculous any notion that the Holy Spirit might be more holy or more sensitive or less forgiving than the Son of God.
The salvation (eternal forgiveness) of Jesus’ enemies was at stake not because they were disapproving of some aspect of Jesus’ humanity – his fashion sense, table manners, or whatever – but because they were disapproving of something fundamental to Jesus’ spiritual role as humanity’s only Savior. They were not merely insulting the Holy Spirit; they were blasting any possibility of Jesus being the Savior of the world.
If, in speaking of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Jesus was not referring to specifically targeting the Holy Spirit rather than another member of the Holy Trinity, neither could he be referring to a fleeting thought or a persistent unwanted thought. Let’s see why.
Suppose it were taught in Christian circles that thinking of blue giraffes is an unforgivable sin. ‘Think once of a blue giraffe and you’re eternally damned.’ Every Christian exposed to this teaching would end up thinking of a blue giraffe, since it is a fact of life that the harder anyone tries not to think of something, the more that person will think of it. This is not sinfulness; it is simply how the human mind works.
Do you suppose our Maker doesn’t know this? Do you think he’s set everyone up to be eternally damned? That’s what you would have to think if you suppose that God treats as unforgivable unwanted thoughts buzzing around in our minds.
So let’s look closer at Jesus’ statement to see what he meant.
Mark 3:30 He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’
This makes it crystal clear: it was specifically because these Bible scholars genuinely believed that Jesus had a demon that Jesus issued them this warning. Imagine knowing the Scriptures inside out and yet being so willfully blind as to be convinced that Jesus’ miracles were evil and that the Savior of the world – the Holy Lamb of God upon whom their eternal destiny hinges – is demon possessed!
These theologians were not merely resisting the Holy Spirit’s powerful testimony that Jesus is from God; they actually chose to believe that the Savior of the world was so anti-God as to be in league with the prince of demons. This was not some fleeting or unwanted thoughts, as hits many true believers; they were so certain that their hideous belief about Jesus was right that they strived to convince everyone else to spurn Jesus, their only hope of salvation. Christ did not say that even these people could not repent and find forgiveness, but in his love he saw them as needing to be warned.
To understand what renders unforgivable the sin Jesus was referring to, we must ask ourselves what is it that makes any sin forgivable. We know that God’s forgiveness – his ability to be committed to justice and yet overlook sin that deserves to be punished – is possible only because the Holy Son of God was sent to earth on a divine mission to bear the sins of the world. He suffered for each and every sin that any human has ever committed.
Christ could do this only because he was utterly pure and sinless. As we know from Adam’s sin, the final wages of just one sin is death. Had Jesus the slightest trace of evil in him he would have been dying not for our sin but for his own sin. His death would then have had no more saving power than anyone else’s death. Moreover, had Christ been of the devil, as these theologians stubbornly asserted, his sacrifice would have been utterly unacceptable to the Holy God.
Anyone blaspheming the Spirit in the sense that Jesus used the term, genuinely believes that the Spirit through whom Jesus ministered was evil. We know that there is salvation only through Jesus and that no one can find God’s forgiveness while he/she is actively rejecting Jesus as Savior. We can get many things wrong about Jesus and the way he won our salvation – no one has perfect theology – but believing Jesus is working for the devil is just too fundamental an error. Anyone believing this about our Lord will refuse to accept that Jesus offers divine forgiveness. No matter how compassionate God is, no one believing that Jesus was acting on behalf of the devil could be forgiven in this life, nor in the next, because such a person is rejecting his or her only means of salvation.
Should, however, anyone stop believing that blasphemy and start believing that Jesus is God’s sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world, that person is no longer blaspheming the Spirit by which Jesus operated, and can now find forgiveness through Jesus.
We all know that people who for a period in their lives have rejected Jesus as Savior can find forgiveness if they change their beliefs about Jesus. Likewise, forgiveness is available to every former blasphemer of the Holy Spirit who reverses his or her beliefs about the Spirit who indwelt and empowered Jesus. We will carefully prove this from Scripture.
Hope for Those Who Have Blasphemed the Spirit
Since we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, what we believe about Jesus is critical to our salvation. And since we are not saved by works, our firm beliefs about Jesus are far more important to our salvation than any slip of the tongue or spur-of-the-moment action.
Anyone trusting in Jesus’ salvation can be forgiven even of the sin of having in the past believed that Jesus, the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5) is so vehemently opposed to God as to be in league with the devil. But no one can ever be forgiven while they believe Jesus is in league with the devil. This offer of forgiveness for past blasphemy is confirmed in the book of Acts.
Beginning with his Spirit-filled sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter repeatedly preached forgiveness of sins to people to whom he said such things as, ‘Jesus, whom you crucified,’ and ‘You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . .’ (Scriptures).
The religious people Peter charged with these offenses obviously did not believe they were killing a godly man, and yet they were well aware of the undeniably supernatural character of Jesus’ miracles. If the power behind Jesus’ miracles were supernatural but not from God, it had to be demonic. These people must therefore have blasphemed the Spirit of God by passionately believing that Jesus was empowered by an evil spirit. And yet Peter, under the Holy Spirit’s anointing, offered these very people salvation if they were willing to repent – to change their beliefs about the Spirit through whom Jesus operated – and put their faith in Jesus as their Savior.
Tucked away in this Pentecost sermon is something else highly significant. Forgiveness is offered to people who ‘disowned’ (the word, translated ‘denied’ in the King James Version, is used twice in Acts 3:14-15) Jesus. In the original Greek, this very word is the one Jesus used when he stated:
Matthew 10:33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Jesus’ pronouncement here is as emphatic as the one he made about the unforgivable sin. It offers no hope for anyone disowning/denying him, and yet Scripture elsewhere proves beyond doubt that this sin can indeed be forgiven. This highlights the fact that whenever we see in Scripture what seem like terrifying pronouncements of doom, they apply only to those who die without ever regretting that sin and seeking forgiveness for it through Jesus’ shed blood.
Consider this Scripture:
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Like very many other disturbing parts of the Bible, this seems to give no hope to anyone found guilty. If we panic, however, it is because we have ripped such verses out of the Bible; reading them in isolation, without adequately considering the rest of Scripture.
In this case, the answer is in the very next verse:
1 Corinthians 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
It is simply not true to the nature of the Bible, however, to always expect to find hope in the immediate context. For example, we read something similar in the book of Revelation, but the surrounding verses do not hint at forgiveness being available. The verse seems to say that all liars are sent to hell, but we know this cannot be true because that interpretation is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, and what human has never lied?
Revelation 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
It makes no difference whether the interpretive key to a Scripture is in the next verse or a hundred verses away; it is a serious mistake to try to interpret supposedly damning Scriptures while disregarding the repeated teaching of the Bible about the power of our risen Lord to forgive all sin.
A verse is taken out of context not only if surrounding verses are overlooked but whenever a passage is divorced from the full biblical revelation of God. Statements of doom, like ‘the wages of sin is death’ or ‘anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven’ were never divinely intended to be torn from the rest of the Bible and twisted into something that nullifies other parts of God’s revelation.
Suppose a parent warns a child, ‘Disobey and I’ll kill you!’ The correct interpretation of those words depends entirely on the person’s character. It will mean radically different things if the parent is loving and gentle, with a sense of humor, or is harsh, or is quite capable of murder. To correctly understand the Word of God, one must understand the heart of God. So what is the heart of God? Love, says the Bible. It is love that causes him to strongly warn and it is love that causes his heart to melt and forgive at the first sign of repentance.
To understand what God means by harsh statements that seem to deny all possibility of forgiveness, we must get to know God as deeply as we possibly can. A key way of knowing how someone will react in a new situation is to observe over a long period how he handles similar situations. So to understand how God will react to someone blaspheming the Spirit, let’s look at how he acted previously, after issuing other dire warnings. Over and over, the Bible records God seemingly giving people no hope, and yet letting them off the hook anyhow, the moment they changed their attitude and looked to him in faith. For example:
* God told Moses, ‘Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ Moses disobeyed the Almighty’s command to ‘leave me alone.’ That’s a bold act, since it was for disobedience that all the others were about to be destroyed. But this man knew God’s heart. He prayed and God reversed his decision to destroy them (Exodus 32:10,14).
* Not only was Rahab a prostitute, she belonged to a tribe that was so corrupt that the Lord insisted that every member of it must be exterminated (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:1-2) and yet she was not only spared but became an ancestress of the Messiah.
* The Law of God said no Moabite could ‘enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation’ (Deuteronomy 23:3) and yet Ruth, David’s great-grandmother, was a Moabite and became another of God’s chosen in the Messiah’s family tree.
* God’s law said that everyone guilty of adultery must be put to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; John 8:5). David the adulterer repented and, despite God’s anger, he was not only allowed to live but to continue to reign as king with God’s full blessing (2 Samuel 12:13).
* Jonah was a prophet (2 Kings 14:25). His entire prophecy, according to Scripture, was ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’ (Jonah 3:4). The prophecy held not a shadow of hope. God’s chosen instrument to pronounce this death sentence was a man who hated these people with a passion. He wanted them annihilated. You can be sure there was nothing about the body language or tone of voice of this messenger from God to hint to these pagans that the God of this foreigner might be loving or merciful. Everything hitting their senses told them they were doomed. They were wicked. They deserved destruction. Their time was up. Yet they repented and the divinely inspired prophecy fell to the ground.
* The prophet Micah prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah, saying, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.”’ Hezekiah sought the Lord, and God relented (Jeremiah 26:18-19).
* King Hezekiah was terminally ill. The great prophet Isaiah said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’ Hezekiah prayed and another prophecy hit the dust (Isaiah 38:1-5).
* The Bible clearly indicates that prophecies of doom are not given so that God can prove how smart he is in predicting the future, but are given in the hope that the prophesied condemnation will be averted by the people repenting. ‘If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation . . . repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned’ (Jeremiah 18:7-8, see also Jeremiah 26:3.13; 36:3). ‘And if I say to the wicked man, “You will surely die,” but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right . . . None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. . . he will surely live’ (Ezekiel 33:14,16). Why is this? Because of the heart of God: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live . . .’ (Ezekiel 33:11).
* Jesus repeatedly rebuffed the Canaanite woman, calling her a dog and saying in response to his disciples’ plea to get rid of her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ and later, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs’ (Matthew 15:24,26). She persisted and got what she wanted – the very thing Jesus had just pronounced ‘not right’ and contrary to his divine mission.
This overview allows us to see deep into the heart of God and know what he really means by harsh statements that seem to give no way out. Their very harshness is intended to move people to seek God so that he could relent.
God is neither fickle, nor a liar. He sticks steadfastly to what he means; never to anyone’s misunderstanding of what he means. The only way to avoid misunderstanding God is to never underestimate his merciful, loving heart, and how an offender’s change of heart and faith in Christ’s sacrifice frees God to forgive as he longs to, and suddenly the impossible becomes possible. Of course, if a person does not respond the way God hopes, the dire statement remains in force.
To understand what God means by an unpardonable sin, it is essential to interpret it in the light of God’s forgiving heart, and his ability to forgive through Christ, and his inability to forgive outside of faith in Christ. If, however, instead of reading the Bible in sync with God’s heart, we read it while letting ourselves be dominated by a condemning conscience or by fear that Jesus is not ‘able to save completely those who come to God through him,’ (Hebrews 7:25) we will repeatedly get it wrong.
Sadly, feeling sure of God’s forgiving nature is particularly difficult for some people suffering psychological afflictions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (free-floating anxiety can be misinterpreted as being unable to be freed from guilt), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (which can cause a condemning conscience and/or uncontrollable, blasphemous thoughts), major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or delusional disorder. I explain this more – especially OCD – in subsequent pages. Of course, not everyone suffering this way has been diagnosed. Treating such illnesses will help people read the Bible in a way that is closer to how God intends it to be understood.
Another Holy Spirit Blasphemer Forgiven
We saw that Peter was divinely inspired to offer forgiveness to Jews who had committed the unpardonable sin of so hardening their hearts as to genuinely believe that the Spirit by which Jesus operated was demonic. Let’s explore this further by looking at Saul of Tarsus, who later became the apostle Paul.
I can find just one explanation for Saul’s behavior: he believed – and did all he could to force others to believe – that Jesus performed his miracles through the power of demons. The supernatural character of Jesus’ ministry was common knowledge at that time in his part of the world. So much was this the case that Peter could confidently say to a stranger living on the geographical fringes of Palestine, quite distant from Jerusalem and Galilee where Jesus performed most of his miracles, ‘You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him’ (Acts 10:37-38).
Saul, a most intelligent man with connections with the top Jewish leaders, and deeply involved in trying to change Christians’ beliefs, would have had to have known all about Jesus’ famous miracles. Furthermore, he was not some modern day skeptic. Being a Pharisee, he strongly believed in the supernatural – angels, demons, life after death, and so on. Clearly, when Saul was violently opposed to Jesus, the miracle worker, he must have been convinced that Jesus’ power to supernaturally heal was demonic.
The man who became God’s chosen apostle, literally tortured Christians, trying to force them to blaspheme (Acts 22:19; 26:11). Since he was a God-fearing man who thought he was serving God by doing this, he could not have supposed at the time that he was seeking to make them blaspheme God. He must have been trying to get Christians to utter the blasphemous things about Jesus and the Source of Jesus’ power that at that time Saul himself firmly believed to be true.
To leave us in no doubt, Paul himself declared in writing that he ‘was once a blasphemer and a persecutor’ (1 Timothy 1:13). He said he acted in ignorance, but it was a very limited ignorance. He blasphemed despite being a Bible scholar, knowing every word of Old Testament Scriptures, including all the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. And he continued to be a blasphemer despite the witness of all the countless Christians he argued with and all those he tortured. This man’s total forgiveness proves how eager God is to find reason for mercy.
In contrast to Christians who blaspheme only half-heartedly or occasionally, Paul was relentless in his blasphemy and in his determination to force Christians to blaspheme. ‘But Saul was not a Christian when he thought such horrible things about Jesus,’ object people who feel if they sin after becoming a Christian it somehow stops God from being forgiving. This implies that God was more loving or gracious towards us when we were his enemies than after he had made us his own. That’s ridiculous! If God can find the grace to forgive his enemy, can he not forgive his own child?
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Emphasis mine)
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
If Saul’s evil could not only be forgiven but he was selected by God to be one of the greatest Christians, then God will forgive you and make you great.
As Scripture affirms, the Lord truly is ‘patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). (In the original Greek, ‘repentance’ literally means to change one’s mind.)
So Saul, and anyone like him, could be forgiven and wondrously used of God for the rest of his life simply because he had a change of heart and no longer believed that Jesus had a demon.
What makes people unforgivable is not God hardening his heart against them. The God of eternal love, who wants no one to perish, does not suddenly crack and no longer want to forgive certain people. They are unforgivable solely because there is salvation through no one else but the One they are dismissing as demonic. It is an eternal sin because once a person dies still consciously rejecting Jesus’ salvation, there is no opportunity for forgiveness in the next life. Anyone repenting and believing in Jesus before death, however, will be forgiven.
Impossible to be Saved?
When forgiveness is impossible, cling to Jesus, and ‘impossible’ becomes a word that loses all meaning.
It is utterly impossible for any camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and yet Jesus said that even that impossibility would be easier than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s not water down what Jesus was saying. A camel was the largest creature commonly found in the nation and the eye of a needle was the tiniest easily describable opening. It’s not just hard; it’s impossible. The disciples understood. They were flabbergasted. ‘Who then can be saved?’ they asked in astonishment. If ever you are tempted to think it is impossible for God to forgive your hideous sins, then burn Jesus’ reply into your brain, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’ (Mark 10:27).
Let’s clarify the matter by revisiting this incident. Jesus stated that it is impossible for some people to be saved. Then – apparently only because the disciples queried him – in the next breath he said that with God nothing is impossible. From this we see that no matter how impossible it might be for a Holy Spirit blasphemer to be saved, it suddenly becomes possible when the God of the impossible becomes involved.
The issue then becomes: will such a person change his or her attitude and seek God for this miracle or will the person continue to spurn his or her only hope of salvation? We already know where God stands – he wants no one to perish. The ball is back in the blasphemer’s court.
The Truth Distilled
At first reading, Jesus’ statement about an unforgivable sin seems to contradict the rest of Scripture. The Bible says every sin can be forgiven; Jesus says the sin of blaspheming the Spirit by which Jesus operated – believing that the Spirit in Jesus is of the devil – cannot be forgiven.
In reality, they are saying exactly the same thing. The Bible says your every sin will be forgiven, if you believe that Jesus is God’s means of salvation. Jesus says your every sin will be forgiven, unless you refuse to believe that Jesus is God’s means of salvation, and instead choose to believe Jesus is of the devil.
No one believing the damning doctrine that Jesus is demon possessed can be forgiven, but anyone no longer believing that blasphemy can find forgiveness.
As explained earlier in this series of webpages, however, God’s eagerness to forgive does not mean he will make faith easy. It is those who face great challenges to faith who end up achieving great things for God and will enjoy immense eternal glory. For your loving Lord to make it easy for you to believe that you are forgiven, would be to rob you of a reward greater than we could ever imagine.
Any sin for which you sincerely seek Jesus’
Scripture promises forgiveness to any wicked person who turns to God.
forgiveness, is not the unpardonable sin
Isaiah 55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Emphasis mine)
[Other wonderful Scriptures to read]
Anyone who seeks Jesus’ forgiveness is obviously turning to God. It would make God a liar if he were to spurn anyone who regrets his sin and seeks God’s forgiveness. The judgment of God upon those who continually resist his Spirit is not that God won’t respond when they turn to him. The judgment is that they would become so hardened that they do not turn to God for forgiveness.
Isaiah 6:10 Make the heart of this people calloused . . . Otherwise they might . . . turn and be healed. (Emphasis mine) [Full verse]
Do you see it? If they turned they would be forgiven (healed of the eternal consequences of sin). The judgment is that their heart becomes so callous that they refuse to turn to God and put their faith in Jesus’ power to forgive.
Proof that you have not blasphemed the Holy Spirit
Jesus’ warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit sends a chill down us. And rightly so. We dare not abuse God’s grace. It is true that God’s Spirit will not ‘always strive with man’ (Genesis 6:3). However, if you find yourself longing for fellowship with God, it is clear that the Spirit is still ‘striving’ with you – passionately working within you in an attempt to woo you back to God.
John 16:8 When he [the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment
Since conviction of sin is the work of the Spirit, if you feel convicted of your sin, the Holy Spirit obviously has not withdrawn from you. On the contrary, he is actively working in your life seeking to bring you back to Jesus. Feeling the need of forgiveness is clear proof that God has not given up on you.
John 6:44 No-one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.
Your longing to come to Jesus is proof that Father God is drawing you. It is irrefutable confirmation that he has not abandoned you.
Someone who is unforgivable must be someone who no longer meets the conditions of God’s promises of forgiveness. In other words, they become so hardened that they do not want Jesus to forgive their sins. Either they turn their back on God so defiantly that they refuse to return to Jesus, or they never seek forgiveness because they imagine God approves of their sin. An example of the latter might be someone so caught up in sexual immorality or damnable heresy that for the rest of their lives they believe that their sin is acceptable to God.
There is a huge emphasis in Scripture that forgiveness is freely available to anyone who comes to Jesus in simple trust, willing to let go of their sin. (Here’s a few examples.)
Moreover, the Bible indicates that it is not those who have done little wrong who most easily find salvation, but those who see themselves as among the worse sinners (Relevant Scriptures).
Consider Paul, so mightily forgiven and blessed of God. He saw himself as the greatest sinner (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
A friend of mine suggested a very different approach to this subject. Suppose God were to declare someone totally unforgivable and that no matter what the person does he will end up in hell anyway. Such a person would probably conclude that he has no incentive to live righteously and that he might as well get his fill of sin, regardless of who else gets hurt. Do you really think the Holy Lord would do anything that could encourage sin? It is only in the interest of the Evil One to suggest to anyone that he is unforgivable.
Why most Christians have thought themselves guilty of the unpardonable sin
It is normal for Christians to find themselves strongly tempted to think that they are beyond God’s forgiveness. This is so common because we all have the same spiritual enemy. Relative to the God who dwells in us, our enemy is such a weakling that he can do little else but tell us cunning lies in the hope of tricking us.
The devil is like a school bully. He hates you furiously but he is powerless to hurt you because your best friend towers over him. As long as you and your friend remain inseparable, the bully can only fume in utter frustration at his helplessness. Your friend is faithful and will never desert you. The bully’s only hope is if you wander away from your friend. But why would you be so stupid? You would only do so if you imagined your friend no longer cared for you and would not defend you.
The devil knows his options are limited. For as long as you cling to your friend Jesus, you are a thousand times more powerful than the devil. So he hatches a plan. Somehow he has to convince you that Jesus is no longer devoted to you. If you believe that lie you will wrongly imagine that prayer and staying close to Christ are pointless. You might therefore gradually drift from the only Person who can foil the Evil One’s plans to destroy you. If he can fool you into not calling upon the devil-crushing power of Christ when Satan attacks, he can turn you into his plaything.
So the Accuser of the brethren feverishly tries his old con job on you, just like he does with every other Christian, hoping to trick you into thinking the loving Lord has rejected you. If this diabolical trickster could succeed in fooling you, he could twist you around his little finger, like someone ordering people around because they do not realize that what looks threatening is nothing but a toy gun. If you see through the devil’s trick, however, he is a goner. He’ll have to run for his life.
No one on this planet deserves divine forgiveness. God offers forgiveness, not because of what you have or haven’t done, but because of what Jesus has done. In his extravagant love God wants to treat everyone as if he/she were sinless. What Justice requires is that you make it legal for him to pardon you. This happens when through faith you identify with Christ, believing that he died for every sin you have ever committed. A divine exchange then takes place whereby Christ receives your sin (that’s what killed him) and you receive his sinlessness (that’s what gives you spiritual life).
Remember that when Jesus was tempted, the devil quoted from the Bible. Jesus exposed the devil’s lies, proving that the devil had distorted God’s Word, by quoting Scripture back at him. That is what I have done in this webpage and in the next, and indeed in this whole series of pages. Don’t let the Deceiver mess with your mind by quoting certain Scriptures as if the rest of the Bible were non-existent. Instead, resist the Evil One’s powerfully persuasive brainwashing by continually immersing yourself in the truth of these webpages. Don’t dwell on his lies, thereby giving him license to deceive.
For effective medical treatment one must take identical pills day after day. Likewise, you need to absorb these truths by reading them over and over. Jesus overcame the devil’s lies by quoting Scripture from memory. And he was so conversant with the full teaching of Scripture and with the heart of God that despite the deceiver’s powerful intellect, Jesus saw through every cunning attempt to distort God’s Word.
Forgiven people whom one might guess had committed the unpardonable sin
Who was the greatest first century Christian? Some would say Peter. Some would say Paul. And yet both committed sins so grievous as to seem unforgivable. Despite having already examined some of their sin, we should probe even deeper. To gloss over the gravity of their sin could cause us to miss something very significant about the extent of God’s forgiveness.
It was not false modesty that moved Paul to label himself the ‘chief of sinners’. Though his mind had been saturated with Scriptures that told him the opposite, he sought to murder powerful Christians like Stephen who, if allowed to live, could have saved thousands of souls from eternal torment. Even worse, he tried not just to end their precious lives, but to torture Christians in the hope that they would blaspheme and reject their only possible means of salvation. Even mass murderers and violent, hate-crazed rapists rarely try to violate their victims’ eternal destiny. Some people have tried to banish Christianity from their country, but few people in history have tried like Paul to obliterate every trace of Christianity from the entire planet. Above all men, Paul was most worthy of destruction, yet God was so eager to forgive him that the Lord dramatically took the initiative by powerfully intervening on the Damascus Road.
And consider Peter, the other contender for the title of greatest First Century Christian. When he first came to Jesus he was so overwhelmed by his sinfulness that he fell at Jesus’ knees, begging the holy Lord to leave him (Luke 5:8). Jesus welcomed Peter not only as a beloved follower, but as an apostle, and not only an apostle, but one of the inner circle of three (Peter, James and John). And yes, even among these three, Peter’s name regularly topped the list.
Yet we find Peter committing one of the most grievous sins imaginable – being used as a tool of Satan to tempt the holy Son of God. And this was no minor temptation. He sought to use his special friendship with Jesus to entice the Lord to reject the way of the cross – the only means whereby anyone on this planet could be saved. Had Peter succeeded, we would all have been spiritually doomed! And coming from someone so close to Jesus’ heart, and from someone who had just delighted Jesus by his sensitivity to the Spirit, Peter hurled at Jesus a most enticing temptation. ‘Get behind me Satan!’ Jesus was forced to retort. (Comment)
Still later, Peter disowned his Lord, not once or twice but three times, using oaths and everything he could think of to totally disassociate himself from his only Hope of salvation.
In the original Scriptures, the very same word is used in each of these verses:
Matthew 26:70 But he [Peter] denied it before them all. . . .
Matthew 26:72 He denied it again, with an oath: ‘I don’t know the man!’
Matthew 10:33 But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (KJV)
Years later, Paul had to confront this powerful church leader, compelled to publicly accuse Peter of hypocrisy, lest he lead many astray. It was through Peter that God had given the entire church the monumental revelation not to call the Gentiles unclean (Acts 10:28; 11:1-18). Despite his three-fold vision from God on the matter and having once boldly championed his Spirit-led decision to eat with Gentiles, Peter ended up caving into fear and backsliding into not eating with Gentiles (Galatians 2:11-14).
Yet Peter was fully forgiven and showered with spiritual blessings. And that same offer of divine forgiveness – that same extravagant love – is eagerly extended to you.
Very many people write to me, terrified that they have committed the unforgivable sin. Usually it is for one or more of the following reasons:
* There was a time when they deliberately swore at the Holy Spirit or said something foul about him and now they are riddled with guilt over it.
* Like troublesome flies, thoughts they do not want and are not what they truly believe, keep buzzing around in their minds despite their every attempt to shoo them away.
* Knowing that Satan masquerades as an angel of light, they were once so anxious not to fall into the deceiver’s trap that they mistakenly confused an act of God for a trick of the devil. The Lord has now graciously opened their spiritual eyes and they are filled with remorse for being overzealous in their desire to reject the devil’s trickery.
Seriously, how does such behavior stack up against the sins of Peter and Paul? Consider all the grave offenses they committed despite having a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Does it make the slightest sense that God would freely forgive them – and not only powerfully bless and anoint these men but present them as role models for every subsequent generation of Christians – and then refuse to forgive someone’s overzealousness, or a past failure to control an unruly tongue, or unwanted, often uncontrollable, thoughts?
King David, at the height of his spiritual maturity, committed atrocious sins. Before Christ even offered his sacrifice for the sins of the world, however, God so fully forgave David of those grievous offenses that David not only continued as anointed king, he remained so Spirit-filled as to write divinely inspired Scripture (see Psalm 51, title) as did Peter and Paul. Could a just God forgive David of adultery and the premeditated, cold-blooded murder of the innocent husband, and not forgive anyone filled with remorse over past offenses and trusting Christ as Savior?
Seal it with a prayer
Here’s a prayer I suggest you read to God.
I am overwhelmingly aware that I have nothing to boast of in your presence. And yet this realization is bringing me into line with exactly the attitude you say we should have. ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast’ (Ephesians 2:8-9). And again you say you deliberately choose those who are lowly and despised by this world so that no one may boast (1 Corinthians 1:28-29).
So here I am, finding myself utterly unlike the Pharisee Jesus spoke of, who could boast, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.’ Whether I like it or not, I am the opposite of this man, who saw no need to ask forgiveness. Instead, I find myself like that despised tax collector of whom you said, ‘He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” ’ And yet you said of this tax collector, ‘This man, rather than the other, went home justified before God’ (Luke 18:10-14).
You say, ‘If we claim we have not sinned, we make him [you] out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives’ (1 John 1:10). I am certainly in no danger of that. I am overwhelmed by my sin, and yet you say, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). I might think myself the greatest of sinners, but the apostle Paul was certain that title belonged to him (1 Timothy 1:15) and you clearly accepted him.
You say repeatedly in your Word that the basis of salvation is our faith in you – faith that you are so loving and so powerful as to purchase through Christ our forgiveness despite the magnitude of our sin. Since faith is critical to salvation, it is obvious that the one you call the Father of lies would focus his deceptive powers on trying to undermine my faith in your forgiveness. I determine with your help not to dishonor you by surrendering to satanic lies about your power and willingness to forgive those who seek your forgiveness.
I regret everything I have ever done to dishonor you, and I refuse to continue to dishonor you by disbelieving your willingness to forgive me. I exalt you, Lord Jesus, as the sinless Son of God who chose to die and rise again, thereby enabling me to live with you forever.
I choose to believe you, not satanic attempts to twist your words against you. I choose to believe you when you said, ‘I am with you always, to the very end of the age’ (Matthew 28:20) and, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’ (Hebrews 13:5).
You say your relationship with Christians is like that of a husband and wife, and you say you hate divorce (Malachi 2:16). If a husband will not leave his wife, the only way they could possibly split up is if the wife refuses to live with her husband. That’s not me, Lord. I long to live with you.
Obviously, it would delight the Deceiver if I were to doubt your love and shrink from you in despair. So I choose to draw near you, conscious of your promise that you will draw near to those who draw near to you (James 4:8) and that whoever comes to you, you will never drive away (John 6:37). So I put my faith in your faithfulness. I trust not my righteousness, but your righteousness. I refuse to accept the Liar’s attempt to slander you as being a liar. I praise you that because you are righteous you will keep your word. And because you keep your word about forgiving those who repent and put their faith in Jesus, I am one of the millions who enjoy your undeserved forgiveness.
Thank you, Faithful One that I can say, ‘Rejoice not against me, O my enemy: when I fall, I shall arise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord shall be a light unto me’ (Micah 7:8). I delight in the fact that you never start something you cannot finish. You are no quitter. You have begun a good work in me and as I yield to you, you will persist until your work in me is perfected and I am ready to enjoy eternity with you.
Thank you that your love is boundless and that my salvation depends on you.
Over and over and over God has made such promises as ‘God so loved the world [no exceptions] that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever [no exceptions] believes in him shall not perish’ (John 3:16, KJV). A list of very many more such Scriptures can be found in the links at the end of this page.
There is no sin that can turn into a liar the God of Truth who made these promises. Neither is it a case of God reluctantly having to keep his word. He longs to forgive everyone of every sin because that is the very nature of true love.
But the Holy Lord cannot let sin go unpunished. God went to the extreme of the Eternal Son of God being punished for the sins of the entire world (every sin you have ever committed) because there is no other way by which anyone can be saved. If we refuse to accept Jesus’ sacrifice as punishment for our sins, it breaks God’s heart but there is no alternative: we must bear the punishment ourselves.
Those who blaspheme against the Spirit are not those who cuss the Holy Spirit. They are those who render themselves unforgivable by rejecting as a Satanic hoax their only means of gaining forgiveness. To remain permanently unforgivable, however, they must keep rejecting Jesus’ forgiveness for the rest of their lives.
The book of Hebrews, which also contains stern warnings, was written to Jewish Christians who were in danger of rejecting Jesus as their Savior and turning back to their former Jewish beliefs. We can reject Jesus a thousand times and still find salvation by changing our minds and accepting Jesus’ salvation. But for as long as someone is continually rejecting Jesus as his means of salvation, he is unable to be forgiven.
There is no sin so great that it cannot be forgiven when God’s forgiveness is sought through Jesus, but there is no sin so small that it can be forgiven if we refuse to ask God’s forgiveness through Jesus.
The size of our sin is of no consequence whatsoever. The one thing that matters is whether we accept Jesus as our Savior. What matters is not our past sin but our present belief in Jesus’ power to forgive.
We dare not dishonor God by taking his warnings lightly, but it is even more vital not to dishonor him by continuing to suppose he is unable or unwilling to forgive every sin of everyone who seeks forgiveness through Christ’s shed blood. Ironically, it is precisely because God’s warnings are terrifyingly serious that we must not think we are damned. Supposing that we are beyond forgiveness undermines faith in Christ’s power to forgive, and/or our motivation to repent, which are the very things that will protect us from the danger he is lovingly warning us about. More than any other sin, it is refusing to believe Christ’s power to forgive us that we must particularly strive to avoid. Nevertheless, every sin, including this one, will be forgiven once we recognize our error and seek forgiveness through faith in Christ.
Simple logic is all it takes to prove that if anyone is filled to overflowing with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) it is the Spirit of God himself. He is love, kindness, gentleness, patience and self-control personified. He is not fickle, nor does he hold grudges. He is not offended by thoughts you do not firmly believe or by anything you now regret. What offends God is continually rejecting Christ dying for you; rendering his sacrifice for you an agonizing waste by refusing to put your faith in the fact that his suffering on your behalf is sufficient to spiritually cleanse you from every sin.
Fear distorts our view of everything and fear is not from God (2 Timothy 1:7). God’s antidote for fear is faith, and especially faith in the power of Christ’s sacrifice to forgive every sin. Delight him by continually believing it.
Upon finding this webpage, a friend of mine e-mailed me, saying:
Why would someone curse the Holy Spirit? Answer: Simply because they are trying to be bad. They are at the end of their rope, feel helpless or hopeless, and actually try to commit the unpardonable, sort of like a mini-spiritual-suicide.
I am reminded of one time when my 16 year old daughter in frustration shouted at the family, “I worship Satan!” similar to how she used to say, “Once I’m out of here, I’ll never speak to any of you again!” Of course, now that she’s grown and living on her own she still speaks to us, and the week following that outburst she was the one who wanted most to go to church.
I stopped reading Eric’s e-mail and replied:
What you say is true for most people. Surprisingly, however, it is more complicated than that for some. Many sincere Christians become terrified of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and by a trick of the mind this terror drives them to think the very thoughts they fear. This is explained in detail in such webpages as When a Christian
Can’t Stop Blasphemous Thoughts: Unforgivable Sin or Just a Spiritual Attack? I have been forced to devote so many webpages to this – and a huge portion of my counseling time – because the torment these dear people suffer is horrific and they are almost inconsolable.
I then returned to the rest of Eric’s e-mail and read the following about those who deliberately curse the Holy Spirit. I like the way he expressed it:
The thing is, it’s a failed attempt at spiritual suicide. They think they are committing the unpardonable, but perhaps God in wisdom placed that tripwire, sort of like leaving harmless pills in a bottle marked poison where you know your at-risk teenager might try it [rather than finding something that truly is deadly].
Not to be sold. © Copyright, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2015 Grantley Morris. Not to be copied in whole or in part without citing this entire paragraph. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings by Grantley Morris available free at the following internet site www.net-burst.net Freely you have received, freely give.
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The Beginning The only way to not miss any of this feast of uplifting webpages about false guilt is to start at Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope! and follow each link. You won’t regret it!
Feeling Rejected by God An important part of this series of webpages
Unforgivable? The part of the series that deals with the unforgivable sin
Testimonies They thought they were unforgivable
Scriptures Some of the vast number of Scriptures proving that you can be forgiven
How Much Does God Love Me? Receive Your Personal Revelation of God’s Love A separate, very important series
Demons The beginning of a series of webpages
Dealing with Depression and Discouragement
God & Suffering Coping with fears that God might be harsh and unloving
Becoming a Winner Breaking addictions and besetting sins
Encouragement When You Feel Defeated
Index to Entire Site A treasure trove of stimulating, compassionate, often humorous, webpages for Christians by the same author on a vast number of topics. This website is enormous!
Scripture quotations are from the New International Version © Copyright, 1978 by New York International Bible Society