Today I taught on the unpardonable sin.
Here is the text:
Mat 12:22-37 ESV (22) Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. (23) And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” (24) But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (25) Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. (26) And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? (27) And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. (28) But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (29) Or how can someone enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. (30) Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (31) Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) And 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. (33) “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. (34) You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (35) The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. (36) I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (37) for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
I began by saying that today we were going to be looking at “the unpardonable sin.” We have all heard of it, but we have a lot of confusion about what it is specifically.
First, I do not believe that this confusion was shared by Jesus’ immediate hearers. I think they knew what he was saying.
Second, I think we can error in two directions with this topic. We can relegate it to history as something that was only possible in the past and just sort of skip over it. (A rather dangerous assumption if we are wrong) or we can make violating our own pet peeve topic the unpardonable sin. Be that the Sabbath, or tongues, the list goes on. Today I wanted to try to look at what is specifically said in Scriptural context about this topic, and hopefully shed light on it.
We started by looking at the immediate context, where the Pharisees conspired to kill him, and he withdrew because that was the fulfillment of Isaiah 42. He would not quench a smoldering wick, or uproot a bruised reed. He recognized the critical nature of where these people were, and left them alone so they had time.
Then a demon oppressed or possessed man was brought to him, who was blind and mute. Jesus healed him. There were two reactions. The broader reaction is an uncertain questioning by the people “Can this be the Son of David?” The Pharisees had a more exact and definite reaction. It was their determination that Jesus was working through the power of the Devil. There are two words used here for “said” the one in verse 3 is a verb derived form logos, and conveys a broad idea. A very commonly used word. The other word used in verse 24 is only used in the past tense, as a completed action. Very specific and definite. It is used by the centurion in Matt 8 when he tells Jesus to “say the word” and his servant will be healed. It is used by the scribe who says, “I will follow you where ever you go” It is used by Jesus when he calms the waves. I would compare it to our saying “I do” at our weddings. Not a light thing at all.
Jesus answers them in a very interesting way. He says that a house, city, or kingdom that is divided is weak and its destruction is eminent. So, if that is what he is part of, its doom is pending, and of course the Pharisees who are supposedly speaking from a position of righteousness must be able to regularly demonstrate power over the demons. He is in essence telling them that in order to hold their position that Jesus is working through the power of the Devil, they must believe that the Devil’s power is in disarray, but they are even more powerless. This means that they are under the power of the Devil themselves, as they are not able to exercise power over the demons. Since they cannot command the demons, the demons are in authority over them.
On the other hand, if Jesus is in fact battling in the power of God, than the kingdom of God is upon them, the kingdom they have been waiting for, and they must come under his authority. He maintains that he is plundering the Devil’s house because he has the power to bind the Devil. He also establishes that there are no spectators in this situation. Everyone who is not for him is against him. Whoever is not gathering with him is scattering.
Then he says:
(31) Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. (32) And 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.
He basically says the same thing here twice. First he uses the word blasphemy, but second he uses the same word used in verse 24. I spent a lot of time this week digging into the Greek to find out what Jesus said here. While I don’t read Greek, both my Dad and older brother have 2 years of NT Greek each. I spent a lot of time going back and forth with them trying to find out what is actually said here. What I found is that the English is pretty accurate in this instance.
So the next thing I did was to go to the subject matter, and look at other times Jesus spoke of these things.
First, what does Jesus say in Matthew about when and when we are not forgiven?
Mat 6:14-15 ESV (14) For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, (15) but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Here we have a very similar statement, but rather than speaking of the Holy Spirit, now we see our forgiving of others tied to our own forgiveness.
Mat 18:34-35 ESV (34) And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. (35) So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
So Jesus ties our own forgiveness to forgiving others. The other topic Jesus includes here is the Holy Spirit. What did Jesus teach about the Holy Spirit?
Joh 16:7-11 ESV (7) Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (8) And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: (9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; (10) concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; (11) concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
It would appear that Jesus is stating in part here that the work of the Holy Spirit in the world is to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. Now it would appear that the Holy Spirit does a lot of other things in the believer, but it appears to me that this is the primary work of the Holy Spirit in the world, or to the lost, through the believer. In Matt 3 and 4 we find that the Spirit was upon Jesus, and that he worked through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In the verses that precede our text today, again we find that God’s Spirit is upon Jesus, and that he is working through the power of the Holy Spirit.
So I would say that the Holy Spirit was in the process of convicting the Pharisees of their sin, of Christ’s righteousness, and their own impending judgment. But rather than respond in repentance (as was Jesus’ and John the Baptist’s primary message, “repent”) they attribute the power of Christ to the Devil.
To go a little further in scriptural context, let’s look at the same topic in Hebrews 6. Like Matthew, the author of Hebrews is speaking to the Jews. Like Matthew, he is claiming that Jesus is the fulfillment of all they have been expecting. Like Matthew he is presenting Jesus as the only option for them to continue in the Faith of their fathers.
Heb 6:1-8 ESV (1) Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (2) and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (3) And this we will do if God permits. (4) For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, (5) and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, (6) and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. (7) For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. (8) But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
We then focused on the agricultural aspects of both of these texts. In the same way that Matthew records Jesus speaking of trees and fruit, the author of Hebrews looked at the seasons of agriculture, the land drinks up the rain, and the plants bring forth fruit in keeping with their kind. If they are profitable seed, they bring forth fruit. If they are not, they are burned. Jesus said “make the tree good and the fruit will be good.” We “make” a tree by planting the right seeds, and nurturing the right type of plant. He calls to their attention the fact that they are bringing forth bad fruit in their speech and decision because they have the wrong seed. The evil in their hearts is resulting in evil in their speech. And we will all be judged by what we say because it comes from who we are.
To sum up. I think the unpardonable sin is to reject the work of the Holy Spirit that moves the unbeliever to repentance. You see, the Pharisees wanted their place in the kingdom of Heaven while nurturing the tree of the flesh. God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Refusal to repent before Christ in response to the calling of the Spirit cannot be forgiven. There is no other path to redemption.
I believe that Jesus died to purchase the debt, or sin of the whole world. The debt we owed to God by being lawbreakers, we now owe to Christ. He determines who is to be forgiven and who is not. He resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. There is no other way to being right with God than to respond to the Holy Spirit and repent. Failing to repent is the one reason anyone will ever go to Hell. Not only is it the unforgivable sin, it is the only sin for which there is no remedy. If you reject repentance, you can’t get there from here.
I have always struggled in understanding what Jesus was speaking about in this text. But as I set aside my own ideas and just studied what is actually said, I was struck by the fact that this topic actually appears 3 times in Matthew, once in rejecting the Spirit, and twice in refusing to forgive. The proof that I have been broken before God and am truly forgiven is that I recognize that the debt I owed and have been forgiven is much greater than any grudge I may hold toward my fellow man. The proof that I have been forgiven is that I forgive.
Secondly, I believe that the agricultural aspect of these teachings indicates that there is a time to repent, and a time when it is not possible. God plows, prepares the soil, plants, and then the plant grows and bears fruit. Now I cannot say where someone else is in this process, but if the Holy Spirit is bringing one to the point of repentance through Jesus Christ, there is no guarantee that there will be another chance. Now is the appointed time. Today is the day of salvation.
This is an interpretation of The Unpardonable Sin that agrees with the nature of who God is, and fits with the Gospel.