The Unforgivable Sin


by Nick Goldsworthy

Just the other day I was asked about the unforgivable sin, so here are a few thoughts by way of response. The verses in question appear in Matthew Ch.12 where Jesus says …

“… and so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven … anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come …” (Matthew Ch.12 vs.31-32)

For obvious reasons this has been a verse that has caused many a Christian significant unease. So many words come out of our mouths each day; so many of them are ill-considered. I’m bound to have said something stupid about the Holy Spirit at some point. Assuming I have, this would seem to mean it’s curtains for me. This – and Jesus is clear here – is unforgivable.

Firstly, we need to think about the context. Quoted in isolation (as above), this verse is very stark indeed. But Jesus didn’t suddenly announce it one day in a historical vacuum; it flows out of what has just been happening. And what has just been happening is rejection of his message.

Rewind to a few verses before the passage. Jesus has healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (told with enormous economy in verse 22). The people are amazed (vs.23); the Pharisees less so, saying: “… it is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons …” (vs.24)

Their claim is simple: Jesus’ power is Satanic. His control of these demons indicates (so they say) that he has significant ranking in the demonic hierarchy. His authority comes from being higher up the ladder than the demons. The Pharisees don’t deny the miracle has taken place; they are forced to account for it as an expression of satanic power.

Jesus takes them to task in the next verses. The size and effect of his power indicates he is stronger than Satan. He is robbing the strong man of his possessions: people. The New Testament describes Christians as those who have been “… rescued from the dominion of darkness and brought… into the kingdom of the Son…”. This all comes by through Jesus’ death, by which we have “… redemption, the forgiveness of sins…” (Colossians Ch.1 vs.14).

It helps to remember that in the Bible the devil is often called the accuser and his trump card is our sin; it is his boast and claim on us. Through the cross Jesus pays for our sin and provides forgiveness, and so Satan is plundered. He has no claim over us any more.

This cross-work is anticipated by Jesus when he describes himself as the binder of Satan (Matthew Ch.12 vs.29), and previewed by the deliverance of the demon-possessed man. It is this work of Jesus that the Pharisees attribute to Satan himself. Jesus is destroying the work of the devil and the Pharisees call this evil. They were not the last to describe Jesus’ means of binding Satan immoral. It is in this context that Jesus warns of the unforgivable sin: blasphemy against the Spirit.

We need to understand the significance of the Spirit to Jesus’ ministry. By the Spirit Jesus is bringing the kingdom of God (vs.28). By the Spirit Jesus was led to the wilderness to confront Satan (Matthew Ch.4 vs.1). By the Spirit Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross (Hebrews Ch.9 vs.14). By the Spirit we are able to see the truth of all this (John Ch.16 vs.13).

Blasphemy of the Spirit, I take it, is therefore the ongoing refusal to see the goodness of Jesus’ work in defeating the Devil. It is blasphemy against the Spirit because it is by the Spirit Jesus does this work. It is unforgivable because it is a rejection of the only means by which we can be forgiven in the first place. It is the spiritual equivalent of sawing off the branch you’re sitting on.

Three things follow:

  • The person who worries that they might have committed this sin almost by definition has nothing to worry about. The concern that you might have out-sinned the forgiving death of Jesus is not one that would be shared by someone who regards that death as immoral.
  • If you were blaspheming or had blasphemed the Spirit, you would not be worried about it.
  • Whatever you have done that you are worried about – look again at the first half of verse 31, “… every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men …”

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