There is a concern among some believers that they may have committed the unpardonable sin. They may have been guilty of adultery or some other sin. They failed to resist temptation and were enticed. As a result, they believe they sinned willfully and stand condemned before God.
Is this true?
Jesus spoke of the unpardonable sin. He said: “. . . All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy [Spirit] shall not be forgiven unto men” (Matt. 12:31). What did He mean by this? Can this sin be committed by both converted Christians and non-Christians? Are sins committed by converted Christians unpardonable? Or, can a Christian commit sins, repent of them, and still remain a Christian?
Who Is Truly a Christian?
Being a true Christian entails much more than merely professing Christ. What did Jesus warn in His day? “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). The Apostle Peter gave explicit instructions as to what is required. He said, “. . . Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. . . “(Acts 2:38). This is what we must do. God, then, does the rest. Peter, in this same verse, described how. He said, “. . . and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit].”
Who, then, is a Christian?
A Christian is one who has truly accepted Christ-accepted the sacrifice He made for us in payment for our individual sins-and who has repented of sin and then been baptized. To repent means to turn around and go the other way. Peter said we must repent of sin. What is sin? The Bible tells us: “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). As a result of meeting these conditions, the repentant sinner receives the Holy Spirit. He is now a Christian. He belongs to Christ. Paul wrote, “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8:9). If, at the end of this mortal life God’s Spirit dwells in us, we are assured of salvation which we will receive at the Resurrection. “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (Rom. 8:11).
But, what happens if, in the meantime, one commits sin?
Newly Converted Christians
Are Spiritual Babes
One who has just recently received the Holy Spirit is a babe in Christ. Like any child, he is likely to stumble and fall at times. But, also, like any child, he does not get discouraged or give up. Along the way he may occasionally flounder, but he continues trying until he is able to walk spiritually in a firm and strong manner. He makes an effort to walk with Christ and follow in His footsteps. “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked” (1 John 2:6). “For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps” (1 Pet. 2:21). Like any child learning to walk, spiritual babes need a lot of encouragement and help. God gives the Holy Spirit to help us grow spiritually, but the pulls of human nature and the temptations of the world act as impediments along the path God has given us to walk. The Apostle Paul described the struggle within. He knew he must rely on God for the extra help and power needed to overcome. He knew he had to stay close to God in prayer-to go often to the throne of grace. “For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15-16).
Christians can and do sin; these generally result from spiritual weakness. What is important is the attitude behind this lapse of righteousness. One who delights in the Law of God overall, but who stumbles on occasion, can repent and be forgiven. When he sins, he will most certainly abhor what he has done and will deeply desire God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. John wrote: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:7-10). This text refers to sins we commit after conversion. A wayward act of sin does not necessarily constitute a way of life that is contrary to God; it is a weakness, a lapse of faith. Jesus Christ is our advocate before the Father. John wrote, “My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2). What is important is our desire, our intention to do right. As long as we do not walk in a spirit of rebellion, or in a lifestyle that is contrary to the Law of God, we can receive forgiveness. Like any child learning to walk, we too must learn by our mistakes, and rely on God for the help and forgiveness needed when we stumble.
The Apostle Paul provides a good example of the struggle Christians go through. By means of the Law of God he was able to understand sin (Rom. 7:7). But sin working within him compelled him to do evil. He described the battle:
For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? (Rom. 7:14-24).
Paul speaks in the present tense. Paul was not talking about his conduct before he became a Christian. He is talking about the struggle he faced after being converted. It is the same struggle we all face, the struggle that sometimes results in failure, and consequent sin. Paul describes human nature in Galatians 5:16-17. He wrote: “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” What is man up against? “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:19-21).
Can the Dilemma Be Solved?
Paul gives the answer to this dilemma in Romans, chapter eight. Paul admitted he sinned even after conversion, but he did not do so knowingly or deliberately. On occasion his mind did consent to sin, but not willfully. This is why he wrote, “. . . but the evil which I would not, that I do” (Rom. 7:19). It was Paul’s overall intention to do right in the sight of God-to live by the Law of God-but he could not always do so. He wrote, “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:22-23). He momentarily yielded to the pulls of the flesh, but he did not commit the unpardonable sin. He wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). Those who sincerely desire to follow God, but sin on occasion, do not stand condemned before God. He knows our weaknesses. When we sin, we must repent and ask for forgiveness. God is faithful and just to forgive all our transgressions (1 John 1:9). The Moffatt Translation renders Romans 8:1 as follows: “Thus there is no doom now for those who are in Christ Jesus; the law of the Spirit brings the life which is in Christ Jesus, and that law has set me free from the law of sin and death. . . .”
What we see is a difference between act and attitude. God’s Truth is a Way of Life. The Apostle John described it: “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:5-7). To repeat, if we commit an act of sin that is not the result of willful disobedience to the Law of God, we receive forgiveness. This process takes place continually. John says we are being cleansed now. He does not refer to our past, but to our present. Verse eight makes this plain. “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). So, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Unrighteousness is sin. Righteousness, on the other hand, is obedience to the Commandments. “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness” (Ps. 119:172). John addressed the Christian brethren. If anyone sins, he said, we have an Advocate, even Jesus Christ the righteous. Christ’s propitiation applies to Christians here and now, as well as to all who will be called. What we clearly see is that one who is converted is not perfect. He can sin, but that sin can be forgiven. Those who truly know God are those who keep His commandments. “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). All Christians begin as babes. They make mistakes. Older Christian brethren in the faith also make mistakes and sin. Upon repentance by the individual, God grants forgiveness, and they remain in right standing with God. They have not committed the unpardonable sin.
The Unpardonable Sin-Sinning Willfully
Upon repentance and baptism, the converted Christian receives the Holy Spirit. Salvation is now conditional. This Spirit is called the Spirit of grace. The converted Christian is now on the path to salvation-his goal is to attain the Kingdom of God. But, he has not yet attained that salvation. As a free moral agent can he ever change his mind and reverse his course? Yes, indeed! If he takes his eyes off the goal of God’s Kingdom and purposely determines to go back to his old way of living-to worldliness and carnality-he has set his mind on premeditated, deliberate, and willful sin. If his overall attitude is contemptuous toward God, and if he develops a disregard for God’s Law, he has either done, or is in danger of doing, despite to the Holy Spirit. Such a one is in danger of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This is not an example of stumbling along the way. One who stumbles along the way may repeat a sin over and over, but he will always repent. His attitude and goal in life is obedience to God, with the desire to live God’s way of life and to enter the Kingdom of God. There is a difference between stumbling along the way, even repeatedly, and then repenting, as opposed to a deliberate, willful, and fixed purpose that is contrary to God’s Way. One who changes his attitude from submissive obedience to God to one of hostile rebellion is in danger of committing willful sin.
Notice what the Apostle Paul tells us:
For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29).
The above passage tells us that those who commit willful sin after being truly converted are dangerously close to blaspheming the Holy Spirit and thus committing the unpardonable sin.
For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy [Spirit], And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame (Heb. 6:4-6).
What Paul tells us here is that if one falls away, it is impossible to renew him again to repentance. One who has come to that point in his life is unable to repent. He has, in fact, completely lost the desire to repent. He has “fallen away.” God is the One who grants repentance (Acts 11:18; 5:31). As free moral agents, God we not forced to repent. One who has repented has done so of his own free volition. But, that volition is no longer a part of one who has committed the unpardonable sin. He has no interest in repenting and will not do so. This state of being is to be distinguished from one who “backslides.” One who backslides can yet repent if he comes to himself. It is all in the attitude. The Apostle James wrote, “Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (Jas. 5:19-20). The Moffatt Translation renders these verses: “My brothers, if anyone of you goes astray from the truth and someone brings him back, understand that he who brings a sinner back from the error of his way saves the man’s soul from death and hides a host of his own sins.” One who has committed the unpardonable sin will not repent. One who has backslidden can repent if he so desires. The “backslider” has not yet reached the inability to repent. He has not yet committed the unpardonable sin.
The Unpardonable Sin-Another Consideration
There is one more thing that must be taken into consideration in the matter of the unpardonable sin. An incident described in the Gospels gives a sobering look at another way this sin can be committed.
Read what happened:
Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils (Matt. 12:22-24).
The Pharisee attributed this miracle, which was done by the power of God, to Beelzebub, the prince of the devils. In effect, they accused Jesus of being demon possessed!
Here is His reply:
. . . Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy [Spirit] 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 [Spirit], it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come (Matt. 12:25-32).
In Mark’s account we read: “Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy [Spirit] hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:28-29).
Strong words, these above-mentioned passages. Jesus had just cast out a demon. He was the instrument of God; He used the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish God’s work. God the Father worked through Jesus’ human body. Jesus did not cast out the demon by His own power. He said the Father who dwelled in Him, by means of the Holy Spirit, did the work (John 14:10). The scoffing Pharisees denied this act was the work of God. Rather, they accused Jesus of working by the power of Satan. The Pharisees attributed the work of God to the Devil. Jesus said, this was blasphemy against the Holy Spirit! Men can be forgiven for speaking against the Son of Man-the human Jesus-but they cannot be forgiven for speaking against the Holy Spirit. The work that Jesus did was the Work of God, done by means of the Holy Spirit. One who rejects the true Work of God, done through the power of the Holy Spirit, has no chance to receive forgiveness ever, so Jesus warned.
Salvation means entering eternal life. This physical body must be changed into spirit (1 Cor. 15:50-53). For the converted, this change will come at the time Christ returns (1 Cor. 15:20-23). Salvation depends upon the Holy Spirit dwelling in one at the time of his death (Rom. 8:11). Those who are overcoming and enduring to the end will be saved (Rev. 3:21, Matt. 10:22). Human beings are naturally hostile to the Law of God (Rom. 8:7). One who repents has a change of mind and heart. He comes to believe in Jesus Christ, and accepts His sacrifice as payment for the sins he has committed. With the receipt of the Holy Spirit, he becomes spiritually minded and desires to obey God and His law. He starts down the long road toward salvation and continues on that path until the end of his life. His goal is to attain to the Kingdom of God. He starts out as a babe in Christ and stumbles many times along the way. Each time he repents and continues on. Though weak in the flesh, his attitude is right with God. His desire is to do right. He has not committed the unpardonable sin.
If, along the way, this attitude changes and he becomes hostile and antagonistic toward God and His Way of Life, he begins missing the mark. If he continues too long in this spirit, he can commit the unpardonable sin. He does this by rejecting the power of the Holy Spirit as the means to overcome the pulls and weaknesses of the flesh. He neglects prayer and Bible study. He no longer cares about forgiveness. He begins to knowingly reject God’s Truth and deliberately goes contrary to the will of God. He is sinning wilfully. He is headed in the wrong direction. He is on the path to committing the unpardonable sin.
The other way the unpardonable sin can be committed is by attributing the work of God to the Devil, as Jesus said the Pharisees had done. These unconverted Pharisees hated God’s Way and they hated Jesus Christ. This is a good lesson for us. We must always be on guard lest a spirit of bitterness toward God and His Way of Life enter into our hearts and minds (Heb. 12:15). This spirit of bitterness prevents us from being right with God and can eventually lead to rejecting or blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This is the other way that can eventually lead to the unpardonable sin.