What is the unforgivable sin? Mark 3:20-35

Mark 3.19-35

What is the unforgivable sin?

I was reading online someone who wrote: murder, torture, and the abuse of any human being especially children or animals is unforgivable.

I hope not. I am not saying that those things are not dreadful, and I am not saying that there is no justice in the universe, but Jesus said that if we hate someone, we are guilty of murdering them in our heart. And who of us can claim that we have never used someone for our own purposes, against their wishes.

If those sins are unforgivable, then I am unforgivable.

But the one sin that Jesus says is unforgivable is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

‘Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’. And the passage continues, he said that because the Pharisees are saying that ‘He has an unclean spirit’.

We can never have forgiveness when we call the work of the Holy Spirit evil.
Because then we are taking the precious gift of God and choosing to rip it up, we are calling good evil. 
The Holy Spirit has brought us to Jesus, and we are choosing to walk away from him.

And that is what we see with the Pharisees

They have heard his teaching about the Kingdom of God. They have seen him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, heal people.

He has, earlier in Mark, healed many. And we are told specifically of how he healed someone with leprosy, a man who was paralyzed, and a man with a withered hand.

And they have seen him cast out evil spirits.

They have seen him make people who were unclean – clean. Clean in the eyes of God, clean in the eyes of society and clean in their own eyes.

They have misunderstood nothing: the Holy Spirit has spoken clearly to them, in their hearts and in their minds.

They have seen him welcome sinners, they have heard him forgive sins, reinterpret the law – claiming both to be more important than the law, and that the law was given for the wellbeing of people.

And they have rejected those words and works, the works and the words of the Spirit, and they have rejected him.

And that is unforgiveable.

Not unforgiveable in the sense that God says to them, ‘Well you have rejected my Spirit, you have now crossed the line, and I am going to get my revenge on you and send you to hell’, but unforgiveable in the same way that a drowning man who is thrown a life saving rope, who understands what it is, but who chooses to swim away from it, is unsaveable.

If we deliberately reject the one who can make us clean, who offers us forgiveness, who can set us free from the burden of legalism, who offers to change us so that we begin to love as God would have us love, who offers us a relationship with God, who can give us eternal life, then there can be no forgiveness.

This is why I am not a universalist.

A universalist is someone who believes that everyone in the end will be saved, everyone will be forgiven.

I am not a universalist because there is an unforgiveable sin: the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit. It is when the Holy Spirit has spoken to you – in your experience, in your heart, in your guts, in your mind and thinking – it doesn’t matter – but it is when the Holy Spirit has made it clear to you what Jesus is all about, and – for whatever reason, a mind twisted by sin or pride – you call what he is doing evil and you reject him.

Often, when people read this passage about the unforgiveable sin, we begin to worry whether we have committed it.

I would say three things

1. This is not about saying or thinking something bad about God or Jesus. It is not about a single thought. Most of us doubt, struggle with think, think weird things from time to time. This is not about that. This is about a consistent chosen rejection of Jesus and of God’s offer of forgiveness and of God’s love – indeed more than rejection – this is about a consistent calling of what Jesus has done evil.

2. If you worry that you have committed the unforgiveable sin, then you almost certainly have not committed it. If you have committed it, then you would not be worried. You would be now so closed to God that you would be completely unconcerned. If you have committed the unforgiveable sin then you would never turn to Jesus to ask for forgiveness.

So, if you are fearful that you have committed the sin, turn back to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. The very fact that you are asking for forgiveness means that you have not committed it.

3. This is the unforgiveable sin. All other sin is forgivable.

- Ignorance and misunderstanding is forgivable. Jesus’ own family think he has gone bonkers. They look at him, at how exhausted he is, at the crowds coming to him, at his missing a number of family get togethers, at how he hasn't slept properly in the last month - and they think he has gone mad.

- Denying Jesus is forgivable. Peter publicly denies Jesus – and he is forgiven 

- Doing a dreadful thing is forgivable. When Jesus was crucified, he was hung between two people who had committed murder. As he is dying one of them cries out to Jesus to have mercy on him, and Jesus promises him that that very day he will be in paradise with him.

- Even crucifying the Lord Jesus himself is forgivable, if it is done in ignorance. As Jesus hangs on the cross he prays, ‘Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’. (Luke 23.34). The Roman soldier standing at the cross sees how Jesus dies and he realises who Jesus is. And he turns to God.

All we need to do is, like him, to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to our hearts and our understanding, to show us our misunderstanding, to convict us of our sin, to draw us to Jesus – and coming to church, or going to one of our groups, is a pretty good start – so that we then turn to the Lord Jesus in genuine repentance, and commit ourselves to doing the will of God.

And if we do that, whatever we have thought, whatever we have said, whatever we have done, we will receive forgiveness.


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