What is the “unpardonable sin”?
Jesus has just healed a demon-possessed man. The amazed crowds began to speculate that he might be the Messiah. His enemies retort that he drives out demons because he is in league with the devil himself. Our Lord responds with the most severe warning in the gospels: “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). What did he mean? What is this “unpardonable” sin?
What does the Bible teach?
Christians cannot commit this sin. 1 John 1:9 is clear: “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” “All” means all. No sin is unpardonable for a Christian.
From Mark 3 we know that this sin relates to the work of the Holy Spirit with regard to unbelievers. Jesus is warning the Pharisees who rejected him that they are in danger of this sin. So what does the Spirit do with non-Christians?
He convicts them of their sin and need for salvation (John 16:8-9). He tells them about Christ their Savior (John 15:26). He explains salvation (1 Corinthians 2:14). When they confess their sins and turn to Christ, the Spirit makes them God’s children (Romans 8:9, 11). In short, the Holy Spirit leads lost people to salvation. So we know that it is the “unpardonable sin” to refuse this salvation. To be convicted of our sin and need for a savior, but refuse to admit it. To be presented the gospel but reject it.
Why is this sin unpardonable? Because accepting salvation through Christ is the only means by which our sins can be pardoned. It is “unpardonable” to reject the only surgery which can save your life, or the only chemotherapy which can cure your cancer. Not because the doctor doesn’t want to heal you, but because he cannot. You won’t let him. You have rejected the only means of health and salvation.
The unpardonable sin is rejecting the Holy Spirit’s offer of salvation, and dying in such a state of rejection. Then you have refused the only pardon God is able to give you. Don’t do that. Be sure you have made Christ your Lord, today.
What about suicide?
Many people mistakenly believe that suicide is the unpardonable sin. What does the Bible teach about this tragic subject?
God’s word consistently warns us that suicide is always wrong. Deuteronomy 30:19 is God’s command, “Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” Job knew that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, that life and death are with God and not us (Job 1:21). Paul teaches us, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). And the sixth commandment is clear: “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13). God gives us life and he alone has the right to take it. It is always too soon to give up on life. God can always intervene, and often does. You’re not done until God says you’re done.
That said, why is suicide so often thought to be the “unpardonable sin”? Not because the Bible ever teaches this connection. Here’s the story in brief.
In the first era of Christian history, the Church came to separate “mortal” from “venial” sins. “Mortal” sins would condemn a person to hell, “venial” to Purgatory. Only by confessing a mortal sin could a person avoid hell. Murder, including self-murder, was one of these mortal sins. And of course a person could not confess this sin after committing it. So by logic, suicide was defined as the unpardonable sin. But nowhere does the Bible teach that this is so.
Suicide is always wrong, always a sin, and always a tragedy. It places far more grief and pain on family and friends than choosing life would have. It takes into human hands a decision which is God’s alone. It leads to judgment and loss of reward by God in eternity. But it is not the unpardonable sin. Those you care about who committed suicide are not in hell for having done so. Rejecting Christ is the only unpardonable sin.
What about doubt?
Don’t doubt your salvation, if you’ve trusted in Christ as your Lord. You cannot commit the “unpardonable sin,” no matter what else you’ve done. And yet so many of us worry and wonder about the security of our salvation.
Why? We don’t always “feel” saved. But nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to be a Christian. My sons are my sons even when they don’t feel like it, because they were born that way. A Christian has been “born again” as God’s child, whether we feel like it today or not. Additionally, when we sin we can think that we may not be true Christians. But 1 John 1:8 states clearly, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” The bumper stick is right: “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.”
Most of us have doubts and questions about our faith. Even Jesus on the cross cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). It takes as much faith to believe you’re saved as it did to accept your salvation. You still haven’t seen God or proven him beyond question. Doubts are normal. And they are not unpardonable.
A parish priest heard confession from a woman who claimed to speak directly with God. Skeptical, the priest told her to ask the Lord about a sin the priest had committed while in seminary, a moral failure which had plagued him even though he had confessed it to his Lord. The next week the woman returned. The priest inquired if she had asked God about his sin. She said she did. The priest asked, “And what was his response?” “He said, ‘I don’t remember.’” Neither should we.