Author: Ron Graham
The Unforgivable Sin?
—Barriers to forgiveness
Some folk believe in an “unforgivable” or “unpardonable” sin. Consequently, they may worry that they have committed this sin, and that God refuses to forgive them. Where do people get the idea that there is an “unforgivable” sin?
1 Scriptures Used to Support the Idea of an Unforgivable Sin
Five passages are listed below, from which the idea of an unforgivable sin may be mistakenly drawn...
- "...an eternal sin... will never be forgiven." (Mark 3:27-30)
- "...impossible to renew them to repentance." (Hebrews 6:4-8)
- "...there remains no more sacrifice for sins." (Hebrews 10:26-31)
- "...a sin unto death." (1John 5:16-17)
- "...consience seared with a hot iron." (1Tim 4:1-2)
2 Difference Between Unforgivable and Unforgiven
In no Bible passage can we find the terms “unforgivable sin” or “unpardonable sin”. There is a vast difference between a sin that is “unforgivable” (as some say) and a sin that is "unforgiven" (as the scriptures say).
When one speaks of an “unforgivable” or “unpardonable” sin one is not speaking as the scriptures speak.
The Unloved Orphan Boy
Suppose you saw a documentary about the sad life of a forlorn little boy, an orphan from birth in a war-torn, disease-ridden village. The commentator describes the poor little chap as "unloved." Would you think he meant that the boy is unlovable?
There's a lot of difference between “unloved” and “unlovable”, isn’t there? Even if the commentator said, the boy "will never be loved", you’d still not think the boy was unlovable, would you?. Death might claim the little boy before a merciful person can rescue him. He was loveable, yet was never loved.
The Unused Hammer
Suppose I had just purchased a new hammer at the ironmongers. I could say my new hammer is unused. But I certainly would not mean it was unusable, would I? There's a lot of difference, isn't there, between “unused” and “unusable”. It is even possible for the hammer to never be used, yet still be usable.
The Unforgiven Sin
Jesus spoke of sin that is "unforgiven" and "never forgiven". He did not say it was “unforgivable”. Just as we do not assume that an unloved boy is unlovable, or an unused tool is unusable, so we should not say that an unforgiven sin is unforgivable. When Jesus calls a sin unforgiven, even when he says it will never be forgiven, let us not put words into his mouth and call the sin unforgivable.
3 Conditions Preventing Forgiveness
If a sin is unforgiven, there are conditions preventing its forgiveness. No sin is unpardonable when the barrier to forgiveness is removed. God never puts up a barrier to forgiveness, but sinners often do.
Each of the passages mentioned at the beginning of this article show that the problem is not in God's heart, or in the nature of the sin itself, but lies with the sinner’s own heart and will. The sinner (not the sin) creates the conditions preventing forgiveness.
Not Binding the Strong Man (Mark 3:27-30)
To understand the meaning of verses 28 and 29, we need to think about the parable of the strong man in verse 27.
To plunder strong man’s house you first have to bind the strong man. Jesus had plundered the house of Satan when he cast out demons. He did this not by unleashing Satan’s power as he was accused of doing, but rather by binding Satan and rendering him powerless.
Jesus also plunders the house of Satan when he forgives sins. But he can do this only if he first binds Satan. If something should prevent Christ from binding Satan, then he cannot plunder Satan’s house, he cannot forgive sin. What we have to discover, is what prevents Christ from binding the strong man?
Unwillingness to repent (Hebrews 6:4-8)
There's one thing we know for certain about the conditions that prevent forgiveness of sin. There is an unwillingness to repent, and a determination to go on sinning.
No contrite person, who approaches God in penitence and humility, is ever refused forgiveness. But the person of stubborn will, who refuses to yield to God and ask forgiveness —that person's sin is not forgiven. Some people are so bent on evil that it is impossible to persuade them to repent. For them Satan cannot be bound and his house cannot be plundered of their sins.
What prevents forgiveness is the sinner’s determination to be a soil that brings forth thorns and briars instead of useful herbs. Sin is unforgiven because the sinner won't repent.
Going on sinning wilfully (Hebrews 10:26-31)
The condition we have been talking about is clarified in the words, "If we go on sinning wilfully..." Whether or not a sin is forgiven depends upon a decision we make, namely whether to continue in it or turn away from it. Everything else is in place. Christ has made forgiveness possible.
However, people who know the truth and wilfully go against it, are trampling underfoot the blood that was shed for them —instead of appealing to that blood or seeking its cleansing power. That's why sin remains unforgiven. God never refuses forgiveness to those who wish to wash their robes white in the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:14).
Sinning unto death (1John 5:16-17)
When John speaks of "a sin unto death" he refers to what he wrote at the beginning of his letter that "if we confess our sins God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1John 1:7-9).
A sin unto death is a sin which one refuses to acknowledge, confess, and seek forgiveness for. God never refuses forgiveness to those who try to walk in the light, who bring their sins to him in penitent confession.
The cauterised conscience (1Tim 4:1-2)
Paul speaks of a "conscience seared with a hot iron." The conscience like that is beyond feeling. Its nerve endings have been killed and it is numb.
The sinner who tosses and turns through the night troubled by his sin, is not like that. He or she is not the sort of person whose sin is never forgiven. Rest assured that such a person, whatever their sin, may obey God and be forgiven.