Have you committed the unforgivable sin?

October 20th, 2014

Since my earliest days reading the Bible, the concept of an “unforgivable sin” has struck me as odd. I even remember the questions it raised for me the first time I read about it when I was 16 years old:

What kind of sin is too big for Jesus to forgive?
How bad does a person have to be to disqualify themselves for forgiveness?
Is this a sin just anyone can commit?
Just Christians? Just non-Christians?
Is this something that can happen accidentally?
Is this Jesus’s punishment for bad church signs, terrible Christian memes, looking lustily at girls, or other pets sins of mine?
Have I committed this sin?

What’s interesting is, when you actually look at the details of the passage where Jesus talks about the unforgivable sin, none of those questions really matters. Jesus’s concern is entirely elsewhere.

The larger context of this discussion in Mark 3 has to do with the identity of Jesus. The demons seem to recognize who he is (though he silences them so that they won’t tell anyone), but many of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’s day don’t recognize who he is at all, and Jesus’s own disciples barely understand who he is.

So at one point, in Mark 3:22, because of their (willful) ignorance regarding Jesus’s identity, a group of “teachers of the law” accused Jesus of being “possessed by Beelzebub.” Further, the claimed that all the demons Jesus had driven out were exorcised “by the prince of demons.”

To this accusation, Jesus discusses the unforgivable sin. He starts by asking a few questions, rhetorical questions to show the absurdity of the accusation, “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.”

The immediate accusation of Christ being possessed of Satan is met with Jesus’s own accusation that this is an absurd idea.

But after dealing with the immediate problem, he jumps to the heart of the matter, “I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

Now, this is obviously the debated and misunderstood saying. What does “blaspheme of the Holy Spirit” mean?

I think that question can only be answered by the context in which Jesus makes the statement. In fact, that’s exactly what Mark thinks, too. Mark follows up Jesus’s comment by giving the reason Jesus made the comment: “He said this because they were staying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”

So here, then, is the point: Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the unforgiveable sin. But what is “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit”? Simply this: It is attributing the work of God, in Christ, to Satan. It is being so thoroughly committed to an anti-Kingdom mentality that when justice comes via the hand of God, when healing happens by the work of the Spirit, when God-in-the-flesh shows up and begins to set the world right again, you attribute all of that goodness to Satan. In a very real sense, you have so pitted yourself against the work of God that you now see evil as good, and kingdom good as downright satanic.

This passage is not as mysterious as it initially seems. Guilt-trippy preachers and Sunday school teachers may have used to scare their congregation and students. But Jesus wasn’t referencing your normal, everyday kind of sin here. He wasn’t talking about your favorite pet sins disqualifying people from the kingdom.

No, Jesus was talking about someone who is so warped that their sense of good and evil, justice and injustice, God and Satan are turned upside down and they simply do not want to see the world any other way. It is what C.S. Lewis calls “broken” instead of merely “bent” by sin.

Jesus is not issuing a warning against ignorant, private, personal, middle-class sins. He is warning them about intentional, direct, knowing rebellion against the very fabric of the universe and its Creator.

Your Turn: Have you ever wondered about the Unforgivable Sin? How have you understood this passage or heard it taught? 

Tom Fuerst blogs at Tom1st.com. You can subscribe to his blog via email here.

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