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It is commonly assumed that there are certain kinds of sins which God absolutely will not forgive no matter what. The idea is that if you commit one of these sins one time, you’re eternally damned. Different Christian denominations and individuals put forth various candidates for the “unforgivable list.” Popular choices which are based on various passages of Scripture are publicly disowning Christ (Lk. 12:8-10), refusing to forgive someone else (Mt. 6:14-15), blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Mt. 12:30-32, Mk. 3:28-30, Lk. 12:8-10), and intentionally sinning after salvation (Heb. 6:4-8, Heb. 10:26-29).
Other popular choices for sins which will not be forgiven are suicide, abortion, murder, divorce, and child molestation. Some even take it so far as to say that certain kinds of people are born under a Divine curse because of external characteristics such as dark skin, or because of internal wiring such as homosexual desires.
The good news is that this is all a bunch of hooey. There simply isn’t any sin we can name that God will refuse to forgive across the board. That said, God refusing to forgive people and deciding that they are eternally out of chances is a very real thing. So let’s learn more.
THE TRUTH: GOD FORGIVES THE UNFORGIVABLE
Choose any sin that is supposedly unforgivable based on biblical passages, and you can find plenty of other passages which describe God forgiving it. For example, in Luke 12:8-10, we find Jesus saying that if anyone disowns Him on earth, He will disown that same person before the angels in Heaven. In other words, disown Christ on earth and you’ll never obtain salvation. Well, what does it mean to disown Christ? It means you refuse to submit to His Authority as God Almighty. Well, what do you think the Jews were doing when they demanded that Christ be crucified? Talk about disowning Him. The Jews not only rejected Christ as the promised Messiah, but also as God. And yet what did Christ say as He hung on the cross? Did He declare His murderers to be damned forevermore because of their defiance? No, He said:
“Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk. 23:34)
Yet clearly they did know what they were doing, because listen to how informed their comments were:
The people passing by shouted abuse, shaking their heads in mockery. “Look at You now!” they yelled at Him. “You said You were going to destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Well then, if You are the Son of God, save Yourself and come down from the cross!”
The leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders also mocked Jesus. “He saved others,” they scoffed, “but He can’t save Himself! So He is the King of Israel, is He? Let Him come down from the cross right now, and we will believe in Him! He trusted God, so let God rescue Him now if He wants Him! For He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” Even the revolutionaries who were crucified with Him ridiculed Him in the same way. (Matt. 27:39-44)
These people are clearly disowning Christ, yet Christ responds with a desire for mercy. So much for being unforgivable.
And then there is this business of willfully sinning after salvation. The author of Hebrews says:
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the Blood of the Covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)
So according to this Jewish teacher, once you understand about the New Covenant, if you treat Jesus with disrespect and willfully sin after He has graciously granted you forgiveness—or if you’re refusing to submit to Him in the first place—you’re out. Well, clearly the author of Hebrews was wrong, because when we turn to Revelation, we find Jesus talking to all kinds of Christians who are willfully defying Him and urging them to repent. In His letter to the church in Sardis in Revelation 3, Jesus accuses the folks there of being Christian posers: souls who claim to be right in God’s eyes when they’re really not. He even says that they once believed the truth but turned away from it. Well, that’s exactly what the author of Hebrews says is unforgivable. Yet Jesus doesn’t say this is an unforgivable offense—instead, He tells the souls in Sardis to shape up and return to Him while He is still willing to receive them. So much for God refusing to forgive the unforgivable.
BLASPHEMING THE HOLY SPIRIT
The most famous of all supposedly unpardonable sins is that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This one gets extra attention because there are more verses about it in the Bible. Well, to be more accurate, it’s that we have three Gospel writers each recording the same event.
In cases of demonic possession, God allows demons to gain more control over our earthsuits than they normally have. This is why possessed people often find themselves experiencing times when they are unable to control their physical movements or their speech. In the Gospel accounts, we read about Jesus driving demons out of folks who are being tormented in various ways. Some convulse. Some keep injuring themselves. Some attack people. In the famous blaspheming passage, Jesus has just healed a possessed man whose resident demons were blocking his ability to speak. When Jesus casts the demons out, the mute man is suddenly able to speak. Everyone is impressed, but the Jewish pastors get all huffy and accuse Jesus of being possessed.
To properly understand this passage, you have to understand how the Jews perceived Jesus at this time. They didn’t recognize Him as the God that He is. To them, He was just a normal human being. And since they thought He was only human, and humans do not have supernatural powers, clearly Jesus was getting help from an outside source. The only two options were Yahweh Himself or demons. At the time Jesus talks about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the Jews understood the Holy Spirit to be the Spirit of Yahweh Himself. They didn’t recognize the Holy Spirit as the separate Deity that He is. They still thought there was only one God: Yahweh. Since prophets in the past had performed miracles by the power of Yahweh’s Spirit, those who followed Jesus believed He was doing the same thing. The twelve disciples assumed that all of Jesus’ power was really flowing from Yahweh, not from Jesus. This is why they later taught that it was Yahweh who raised Jesus from the dead. Jesus actually claimed to raise Himself from the dead using His own Divine power, thus proving that He was Yahweh’s equal. But this was too fantastic of an idea for the Jews to grasp, so guys like Peter and Paul taught that it was actually Yahweh who raised Jesus (see Who raised Jesus from the dead?).
So then, what we find in Matthew 12 and Luke 11 is an account of Jesus exorcising demons out of a man. Jesus is intentionally flaunting His supernatural power in order to force people to question what the source of that power is. Many Jews are considering the possibility that Jesus is indeed being powered by Yahweh, and if that is the case, then clearly Yahweh approves of Jesus and they ought to pay attention to what He’s saying. This was the logic stream Jesus was pushing people to follow. But the Jewish pastors who felt totally threatened by Jesus’ growing influence among the people couldn’t afford to acknowledge that He could have Yahweh’s approval. So in Matthew 12, Luke 11, and Mark 3, we find Jewish leaders publicly claiming that Jesus’ power is demonic in origin. They say that Jesus is possessed by the very powerful Beelzebub—the supposed ruler of demons who would have the power to push around lesser demons. Is Beelzebub even real? Well, demons are certainly real, but whenever you find humans claiming to be able to pick one demon out of the pack and understand how that individual demon ranks among his fellow demons, you’re just listening to nonsense (see The Spirit of Jezebel: The Futility of Classifying Demons). The truth is that we humans understand very little about demons, and we certainly can’t tell one from another when they come at us in a myriad of disguises.
So here’s the debate: Jesus says He’s powered by Yahweh, the Jewish pastors say He’s powered by demons. Why is this such a critical subject? Because Jesus’ credibility is on the line. Should people be listening to Him or not? Clearly not if He’s just acting as a servant for demons. So how does Jesus respond to the Jewish pastors? He says:
“How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rebels against himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished!
On the other hand, no one can enter a strong man’s house and rob his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he will rob his house. I assure you: People will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they may blaspheme. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mk. 3:23-29)
Jesus is claiming to be backed by Yahweh, which the Jews take to mean Yahweh is the One giving Jesus power. It is within the context of this incorrect theological assumption that Jesus says “Hey, so if I’m saying I’m powered by the Spirit of Yahweh, and you’re saying I’m really powered by Satan, then that’s the same as you calling Yahweh Satan. Really?? You think He’s going to let you get away with that?”
To properly understand this passage, you need to understand that these same Jewish leaders claim to be perfect in Yahweh’s sight. They say that they are totally righteous in the sight of God and that it’s a given that they’ll be welcomed into Heaven when they die. So this isn’t a case of a bunch of atheists accusing Jesus of being delusional. The modern day parallel would be a bunch of well-known and super respected Christian pastors suddenly announcing that Jesus is actually evil incarnate at the same time as they claim to be pleasing in His sight. It’s insanity. Jesus is saying, “You guys claim to be totally approved of by Yahweh while you stand here calling Him Satan. Are you kidding Me??”
It isn’t the Holy Spirit that these Jews are blaspheming, it’s Yahweh Himself. This entire exchange takes place before anyone understands that there are multiple Gods, so to these Jews, the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Yahweh are synonymous terms. Look through the Old Testament and notice all those references to the Spirit of the LORD where the word LORD is in all caps. Then flip to the very front or very back of your Bible and rifle through those notes that you never noticed were there which explain how your particular Bible was organized. Somewhere in those notes you’ll find it said that the Covenant Name of Yahweh was replaced in the text by an all caps LORD. This is a very common device in modern day English Bibles—everyone has decided that it’s okay to write Jesus but it’s not okay to write Yahweh. The result is a whole lot of confusion, because you don’t realize that Yahweh’s Name is used around 6,000 times in the Old Testament (see An Introduction to the Gods of the Bible).
The Old Testament is about Yahweh, not Christ, and not the Holy Spirit. So the next time you hear it said that “Christ is on every page of the Old Testament,” no, He’s really not. That is an absurd thing for any Christian to claim, yet it is a very common assumption that has been made possible in part by the fact that we intentionally scrub Yahweh’s Name out of the text. What can we say? We Christians really act like dingdongs sometimes. And by the time we’re done confusing ourselves about which God is being referred to where, it’s no wonder that we totally misunderstand so much of what Jesus said.
Today you can find online sites where snarky little God haters challenge people to post recordings of themselves publicly blaspheming the Holy Spirit. But the irony is that the God who everyone talks about blaspheming today is not the same God who Jesus was talking about when He warned against blaspheming. According to Old Covenant theology, the Holy Spirit was just another title for Yahweh. According to New Covenant theology, the Holy Spirit is a separate and distinct all powerful God who is a Peer of Yahweh and Jesus. Because very few Christians understand this difference, today we have a bunch of people freaking out or getting excited about blaspheming a different God than Jesus was referring to. And what makes this even more ridiculous is that those who boast of doing exactly what Jesus said not to do aren’t even doing what He said not to do.
Jesus was talking to folks who publicly claimed to be dedicated Yahweh followers while they inwardly despised that same God in their hearts. Throughout the Gospel accounts, we find Jesus calling the Jewish pastors out on their spiritual hypocrisy many times. He essentially says, “Keep up this absurdity, and you jokers are going to end up in Hell. Yahweh isn’t an idiot. Even though you talk a great story about honoring Him, He sees that in your hearts you really despise Him.”
Today the folks who get high off of blaspheming God aren’t pretending to revere Him like the ancient Pharisees did. Blaspheming is most popular in circles of angry atheists who openly loathe the whole idea of submitting to the Christian Gods. For these clowns to openly blaspheme God is just one more stanza in their ongoing “We hate God” song. Interestingly, openly defiant God haters aren’t who Jesus spends time talking to in the Gospels. His main audience is composed of Jews who are pretending to care about God while they really don’t. It’s posers who Jesus is constantly chewing out, not the openly rebellious. And posers abounded in New Testament Israel, because Judaism was her national religion.
Many Jews viewed a ritualistic belief in Yahweh to be an important part of their identity, and a key characteristic that separated them from the polytheistic Romans. But merely going through religious motions is a totally different deal than sincerely caring about God in your soul. Because New Testament Israel revolved around Judaism, the pastors were the political heavyweights. They controlled the society as much as Rome would allow, and they really got into flaunting their religiosity. They were also leading many souls astray by intentionally preaching lies about God in order to keep the masses under their thumb. It was the strategy of trying to use the topic of Yahweh as a means of gaining power for oneself that really got Jesus fired up (see Know Your Bible Lesson 62: Woe to the Pharisees). Today, we Christian leaders get ourselves into similar trouble with God when we try to turn Him into a tool that we can use to build a kingdom for ourselves on earth. Teaching people that they’ll burn in Hell unless they pay us a bunch of tithes, teaching people that God will punish them for questioning us, teaching people that we’ve got more Holy Spirit than they do—these are just a few ways that modern Christian leaders are using the topic of God as a tool for manipulating others. What can we say? If you think you can intentionally abuse God’s lambs and not end up in serious trouble with the Shepherd, you’re in for a nasty surprise.
So Scripture mangling aside, what about this concept of unpardonable sins? Is it true that there are some actions which God just won’t forgive? Since actions are something you do with your earthsuit, no, there aren’t. Salvation is God’s response to your soul choices, not your earthsuit actions. Salvation is obtained through submission to Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It has nothing to do with striving to be morally perfect while you keep your flesh in check. You can’t keep your flesh in check—at least not without God’s empowerment, and He simply isn’t going to empower you to live a sinless life (see The Great Gift of Sin: Why Our Depravity Gives Us Hope).
Unnecessary fears about unforgivable sins begin with not understanding how salvation works under the New Covenant. Under this Covenant, salvation is a permanent deal. You sufficiently submit to your Creators, and They decide to move you into a different category of souls. Look around at this world, and you could classify all the people you see into three mental categories: people you don’t like, people you do like, and people who you’re undecided about. Our Creators categorize us in similar ways. As a soul, you can fall into one of three categories: eternally accepted or “saved”, eternally rejected or “damned”, or still being invited. Under the New Covenant, if you’re a Christian in God’s eyes, than you are eternally accepted and you don’t need to fear being cast out. Many Christian teachers will tell you that you do need to fear being cast out because they have personal problems with the fact that when Yahweh changed His Covenant, He chose to extend the bounds of grace. Under the Old Covenant, there was no confidence that you would never be cast out by God. On the contrary, He said that if you got too attitudinal with Him even after you sincerely converted to Judaism, He would reject you. Under the New Covenant, this system changed, but many Christians today won’t accept that, so they cling to the idea that salvation can be lost through bad behavior. If you’re worried about this possibility, ask God to give you clarity on the issue. God is the One writing the rules, not your pastor, so God is the One you need to talk to if you want to be certain of what the rules are.
Now then, once you’ve been granted salvation under the New Covenant, you are eternally accepted by your Creators and you do not need to fear being cast out or disowned or having your salvation revoked. If you are afraid of these things, then you need to learn more about the topics of conviction, alignment, and Divine judgment. It is not understanding what God expects from us and how He communicates with us that leads us into fears that we’ve been eternally cut off (see Understanding Divine Judgment: Illumination, Empowerment & A God Who Delights In Mercy).
If you are in the eternally damned category, then you’re already beyond hope, but this simply doesn’t bother you because God has taken away your desire to repent. Being eternally damned by God is like having your name scratched off of the invite list by a party giver. Because they scratch your name off, they never send you an invitation. Because you don’t receive an invitation, you don’t even know the party is happening, so do you sit around mourning the fact that you weren’t invited? No. You’re oblivious. In the same way, souls who have been eternally cut off by God are oblivious to what a terrible place they’re in. They don’t sit around stressing over being cut off by God. They simply don’t care. So if you’re not a Christian and you’re afraid that you can’t ever get saved because of something you’ve done, then you need to realize that the very fact that you want to get in a good place with God is proof that you still can. Your desire for Him is evidence that He’s still inviting you. The solution for you is to stop stalling and submit to your Makers.
The only folks who are in danger of becoming eternally damned are those who are in God’s “still being invited” category. He’s calling you, but you’re dragging your feet about submitting to Him. At any point, God could suddenly announce that He’s fed up with your stalling and cancel His invitation to you. You would then find yourself ceasing to care about the whole God thing. You’d go on with your life and when you die you’d end up in an epic mess.
When people talk about unpardonable sins, what they’re really trying to do is define exactly what the switch is that will make God flip people into the eternally damned category. We humans would like God to be a whole lot more predictable than He is, so we’re always trying to confine Him to patterns. But the reality is that there is no pattern to this damning business. In the first place, God gives every soul a different amount of time to come to Him. Look around the world and notice how He’s killing us all off at drastically different ages. Some die in the womb, some live past 100. Most deaths seem ill-timed to us. Children dying of cancer. Car accidents. Terrorist attacks. Plane crashes. War. These things don’t feel right to us, they feel like rip offs. And if we can’t get comfortable with the fact that God kills us off at such different ages, we’re not going to get comfortable with the fact that He gives us different amounts of spiritual illumination. One soul rejects a thousand invitations from God, another rejects only five before God declares them both damned. It doesn’t seem fair to us. We want God to treat us all the same, but the reality is that He doesn’t. He treats us vastly differently, and there’s no window you can peek through so you can see how He’s treating some other soul and then compare His treatment of them to the way He treats you. When it comes to His dealings with other souls, God intentionally keeps you out of the loop (see Behind the Scenes with God: Human Variation, Lifespans, and the Mechanics of Salvation).
What people claim to understand about God with their lips and what they actually understand on a soul level are two vastly different things. You can’t just look at someone’s behavior and accurately assess how much God has been working with them on a soul level. An adherent of Islam may understand far more about who Christ is than a fellow who claims to be Christian. The Muslim is willfully defying God while the Christian is just going through religious rituals that were passed down to him from his family. Neither man is saved, but the Muslim has all of the information that he needs to get saved while the fellow claiming to be a Christian hasn’t even begun his spiritual education because the Holy Spirit isn’t calling him yet. But wait–the guy who says he’s a Christian is going to church every Sunday and he’s memorized John 3:16, so how can he not understand how to get saved? Because we humans do not control the illumination process. You can preach at someone all day, but unless the Holy Spirit helps them understand what you’re saying, your words will be like so much noise (see How to Avoid Witnessing Burnout: It’s Not Your Job to Save the World). We find both Yahweh and Jesus discussing this principle in the Bible: hearing is not the same as understanding (see Jesus: The Bewildering Teacher). What this means for you is that you can’t tell where someone’s soul is at with God merely by observing their behavior. Religious labels and rituals mean nothing. The fact that someone goes to church doesn’t mean they care about God. The fact that they read a Bible doesn’t mean they understand it. To many, the Bible is just another religious textbook. To others, it contains life changing insights about God. It is God who illuminates our souls with truth and that illumination is a private thing which other humans cannot track or measure. So when someone dies before you wanted them to, you have no grounds on which you can complain that God treated them unfairly. You don’t know the first thing about how He treated them. You have no idea about how many chances He gave them to come or what lengths He went to in order to motivate them to submit to Him. God hounds some souls with brutal discipline while He walks away from others after a few calm exchanges. While God does love us all and He wants us all to come, He does not treat us all the same. We’re not all given the same amount of time and chances, and this is what makes submitting to God such an urgent issue. Because regardless of how God treated someone else, you don’t know how much longer He’s going to be willing to wait for you to get over yourself and submit to His Authority.
While God treats us all differently, the souls who end up in Hell are all there for the same reason: willfully defying God. No one ends up in Hell for failing to submit to a God who they didn’t even know existed. God is incredibly gracious, and that means He is extremely easy to succeed with. If you want to get in a good place with Him, He will give you the resources and understanding you need to get there. God does not cruelly toy with us by dangling salvation before us only to keep yanking it away whenever we try to reach for it. If this is what you think He is doing with you, it is because you have accepted some very wrong ideas about God’s Character and methods. The solution here is to ask Him for help. God is very easy to please and He puts His approval well within your grasp.
For those who sincerely care about succeeding with God, the topic of an unpardonable sin is simply irrelevant. Rather than be an insurmountable obstacle in your relationship with God, problems that arise due to sin are very easy to deal with once you have a proper understanding of what God wants from you. So if you’re currently stressing over your standing with God, further education is the key. Ask Him to help you. We have a lot of material available that can expose you to the principles you need to succeed with God. But He is the One who makes truth resonate as correct to your own soul, so He is the One you need to be looking to as your Instructor in life. God is for you and He wants you to thrive in your relationship with Him. So if you are anxious about something, take your worries to Him and He will give you the guidance that you need.
Spiritual Bondage: Exposing the Scam
Spineless in the Face of Death: Encouragement for Christians Who Have Publicly Disowned Christ
Cussing God Out: How Our Meltdowns Move Us Forward
Salvation: How do you know when you’ve met God’s requirements?
Understanding Salvation: Getting the Holy Spirit