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The Unforgivable Sin
What is it and can you commit it?
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Lightly Edited Video Transcript (which barely makes sense without the video)
What is the unforgivable sin, and can you commit it?
We encounter this concept in the Gospel of Mark, chapter three. Since we just covered this chapter (but not this section) last weekend at Riverview Church, I thought it would be a good idea to use this as an example of how to dig into God's Word on a controversial topic.
In Mark three, this idea of the unforgivable sin comes from verse 29, where it says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” Some translations say “an unforgivable sin.” The big idea is that you can never be forgiven for committing a certain kind of sin because it is an eternal sin.
So when we're looking at something like this, we determine what it means by not just coming up with an idea in our mind and assuming that’s the correct interpretation. Instead, we look at it in context.
To dig into something like this, you kind of want to start with the verse in which you get the idea and expand from there. You do this by looking at the specific verse, the paragraph around it, and then the other Gospel accounts. So that's what we're gonna do; we'll let the text tell us what the unforgivable sin is, the sin that never has forgiveness, the eternal sin.
The first thing that we see is that it says here that this sin is committed by someone who “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit.” This phrase only appears three times in three different gospel accounts, and we're going to look at those in a bit. But we have to start by defining our terms.
What is blasphemy? Simply, it means to be defiantly irreverent towards something or someone. There's an act of will to this defiance, it’s intentional. So let's see if we can figure out what it is.
This passage says, “whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin because (oh, that means we're about to find out), they were saying he (whoever this ‘he’ is) has an unclean spirit.”
So we now know that this eternal sin—blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—has something to do with saying that someone has an unclean spirit. This is where we start. Who is that someone? Jesus.
Let's go back up to the top, all the way up here to verse 20, to see the context of what's happening. It says, “Jesus entered a house, and the crowd gathered again so that they were not even able to eat.” In other words, Jesus wanted to eat, but the place was just crazy full, with people overflowing out of the house. And then it says, “when his family heard this, they set out to restrain him.”
Have you ever caught that verse before?
Jesus’ family wanted to restrain him because they thought he was out of his mind. Now, remember this is super early in Jesus' ministry. He's been performing miracles, healing people, casting out demons, all kinds of stuff like that. And his family is like, this is crazy. He can't even eat. He's out of his mind. We gotta restrain him, right?
I don't know what that means. “We're going to throw him into Arkham asylum” or something, but they want to restrain Jesus because they think he's out of his mind. I want you to hold onto that because this will become important in a little bit.
So I'm just gonna put a little question mark right here, and we're gonna get back to that in a second.
Then it says that the scribes who had come down from Jerusalem said he, that's Jesus, is possessed by Beelzebub. They are saying He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.
“So he summoned them and spoke to them in parables. He said, how can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, the kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he can't stand but is finished. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man, then he can plunder the house. Truly, I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit has never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin because they were saying he has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:20-30)
Right here, Jesus tells us what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is. It is when these people, like these scribes who came down from Jerusalem, attributed Jesus' work to the devil. When they said to Jesus, “you are not doing this righteously. You're not from God. You don't have the Holy Spirit. You have a demon that is casting out other demons.”
So this idea of blaspheming the Holy Spirit—according to this text—is saying that Jesus' miracles, His healings, were done by the devil and not by the Spirit of God.
Oh, and remember the question mark up here? This is where it gets fun because there's another tricky passage all the way down here.
Remember, his family was on their way to Jesus, right? They weren’t in the room for this exchange. They were on their way to Jesus to restrain him. Now, follow this line down here to where it says his mother and brother came, right? So his mom and his brothers, they're like, “dude, we gotta talk to Jesus. We gotta restrain him. We gotta throw him into Arkham asylum.” That's what they're doing here. It says they sent a word to him and called him, and a crowd was sitting around him and said, “look, your mom and your brothers and sisters, they're outside asking for you.”
And He replied to them, “Who's my mom? Who are my brothers? Looking at those sitting in the circle around him, he said, here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does God's will is my brother, sister, and mother.”
This is just such a fascinating passage. Jesus is basically saying, “Hey, those who believe in me. Those who do the will of God, that's my family.” And it sounds like he's totally dissing his family. But we know that his mom and his half-brother James, who wrote the book of James, do end up supporting his ministry.
It was just this crazy aside, which we don't have time for.
So now there are two other passages in the gospels that talk about this blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The first one is in Matthew 12, verse 24, where it says, “when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘this man drives out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’”
Oh, we've heard that before!
“Knowing their thoughts. He told them, “every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. If Satan drives a Satan, he's divided against himself…” (Matthew 12:25-26)
This sounds familiar, right? It should be because it’s the same story. But if you jump past the familiar part, He adds this bit: “Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it'll be forgiven them.” (Matthew 12:32)
Well, that's kind of weird. Jesus is basically saying, “you'll be forgiven if you speak against me. But if you speak against the Holy Spirit, you won’t be.” That's kind of crazy.
Hold on to that because we need to go to the third passage now in Luke 12:10, where it says, “anyone who speaks a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes (and remember what blaspheming means: to defiantly be irreverent) against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” And that's all that text really says.
From this, we can conclude that our original passage in Mark is the primary text. It gives us the most context and tells us exactly what that blasphemy is.
We know that there were people who dishonored Jesus, who didn't believe in Jesus, and who spoke against Jesus. Like maybe his mom and his brothers? The Apostle Paul in another text?
They were all forgiven.
But something about this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit makes it an eternal sin where you never have forgiveness. What is it?
Simply put, the unforgivable sin is attributing Jesus' miracles to the devil. That’s it.
So can you do that today?
I don't think so. Jesus isn’t physically walking around performing miracles and casting out demons.
Many people try to come up with ways to dance around this text and make it mean something else, saying that the unforgivable sin is unbelief or a lack of faith in Jesus, but that’s going further than the text does.
Bottom line? You cannot commit the unforgivable sin.
And if you're worried about it, it's actually probably a pretty good sign that you have the Holy Spirit in your life, so you're okay.