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Have I Committed the Unpardonable Sin?

October 04, 2017
Benjamin Spalink

The "unpardonable sin" is mentioned in all three synpotics (Matthew, Mark and Luke).  There are similarities and differences in how it is used which help us get to the heart of what, exactly, the unforgivable sin is.

It is my conviction based on the phrase's use in all three Gospels that the primary issue at stake is one of identifying the validity and basis for Jesus' ministry of Kingdom inauguration and soul liberation. To "blaspheme the Holy Spirit" is another way of saying that one denounces as illegitimate the person and work of Jesus. This is tantamount to simple unbelief. The unforgivable sin is the one of denying the Son of God, the validity of his ministry based in the power of the Holy Spirit, thereby resulting in exclusion from his family and scattered with God's enemies.  It is less a specific instance of sin and more a general and permanent attitude of denying the person of Christ. If you believe Jesus is the Christ, you have not and cannot commit this sin.

In Mark, the story is sandwiched between concerns for Jesus' true family. In Mark 3:20 - Jesus' literal family is trying to "seize" Jesus because he's "gone out of his mind."  The scribes, looking to de-legitimize Jesus' ministry attribute his exorcisms to Beelzebul.  Jesus warns of the unforgivable sin. Then again, Jesus' "family," his literal family, come looking for him. But, Jesus claims that his true family are those in his circle, those who do God's will.  Mark is redefining "in" and "out." Blasphemy against the Spirit is a catch all for "out," for those who deny Jesus' validity, who disconnect his saving mission from the Work of God, and who refuse to submit to his Kingdom agenda. To be "in," and thus to steer clear of the unpardonable sin, is to embrace Jesus, to recognize his authority as the Spirit empowered Son of God, and to come under the liberating power of the Strong Man who is in fact "tying down" and plundering Satan.

What is implied in Mark is even more explicit in Matthew.  In its context, the question is one of response to Jesus' ministry.  The crowds are amazed and catching on (Matthew 12:23). The Pharisees are skeptical and de-legitimatize his ministry by attributing his power to Beelzebul, not the Spirit.  Jesus is emphatic, "If by the Spirit of God I cast out demons the kingdom of God is upon you!" (vs. 28).  Jesus then draws a line in the sand between those who gather with him, and those who scatter (vs. 30). Those who "scatter" are those who fail to recognize the authority and validity of Jesus, the true Strong Man, who is tying down Satan and plundering the enemy right before their eyes.  Those who gather with Jesus, on the other hand, are the ones who are "with me."  They recognize the Kingdom of God coming in this Man who casts out demons. They correctly interpret the events of liberation as coming from God.  Again, then, the unpardonable sin is associated with non-faith, scattering as a result of failure to put one's faith and trust in Jesus, the Spirit-empowered Son of God who come to liberate.

Interestingly, in Luke, when Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, there is no mention whatsoever of the unpardonable sin (see Luke 11:14-28). Apparently, Luke did not find it critical to warn against this sin as if the sin was a one-time error of misinterpreting the source of Jesus' power.  Why not? Because the real danger is not so much in a momentary lapse of judgment as it is in a permanent attitude of unbelief in the validity of Jesus as Savior.  In this passage also, the lines demarcating "in" and "out," are along the lines of faith in Jesus.  A woman yells out, "'Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.' He replied, 'Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it'" (vs. 27-28).  Blessing (i.e. salvation) is for those who "obey God's word." Obedience in Luke is 100% based in faith - that is, the acknowledgement of Jesus' authority and prerogative to represent the Father's agenda of establishing his Kingdom, and the sincere realignment of one's own personal values and actions and resources in line with the coming kingdom. Obedience and faith are inseparable in Luke and elsewhere.

Later in Luke (12:8-10), the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit is mentioned.  Again, it is associated not with saying something nasty about the Spirit per se, but with a failure to recognize the validity of the Son and his prerogative to establish his Father's gracious and liberating kingdom in the power of the Spirit: "Whoever disowns me will be disowned before the angels of God" (12:9). To be permanently unforgiven is the result of speaking against the Holy Spirit, meaning, failing to acknowledge the work of the Spirit as manifest in the Spirit-empowered Son who comes as God to save us from all sin.

In short, to commit the unpardonable sin and find one's self in a state of judgment is the fruit of a continual and determined effort to deny the validity of the Son, to de-legitimize his power and authority, and as a result to fail to accept the offer of rescue and liberation that Jesus freely offers by virtue of his work on the cross.

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