One of the questions I’m regularly asked is, “Pastor, can I commit a sin that God cannot forgive?”
Jesus addressed the topic in Mark 3:20-30, a passage that ends with these words: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:28-29).
According to Jesus, there is one thing a person can do for which there is no forgiveness either in this age or in the age to come: blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. But what do does it mean to blaspheme the Holy Spirit?
The only way to understand those words is by studying them within the context of the overall passage. This is vital anytime we study Scripture.
For this article, I want to move directly to Jesus’ finishing statement in verses 28-30: “‘Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation,’ because they said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’”
This paragraph has been the source of great misunderstandings in Christendom. To arrive at the correct interpretation, we have to begin with the last phrase, which explains why Jesus made this statement. He gave this teaching because His foes were accusing Him of having an unclean spirit (verse 22). Our Lord was telling them, in essence, “There is a sin that you are on the verge of committing. You should be very careful, because you’re about to do something for which there is no forgiveness.”
What was it?
It’s Not a Thoughtless Mistake
Let me take a moment and say the unpardonable sin isn’t something that someone commits randomly. The scribes who came from Jerusalem didn’t just do this on a whim. If you follow the references to these scribes throughout the book of Mark you’ll see there is a progression to their unbelief. They were initially curious about Jesus and His ministry. Then they had questions. In time, they grew indifferent; but then their indifference metastasized into a malicious attitude that became so hateful and vengeful that it ultimately nailed Jesus Christ to the cross.
In our story in Mark 3, there’s an interesting fact that’s only apparent in the Greek New Testament. According to verse 22, the scribes said, “He has Beelzebub.” The verb form for “said” is in the imperfect tense. It can be translated as, “They kept on saying.” It wasn’t just a matter of a sudden thoughtless word or an instant reaction. Their words represented a hardened attitude and an embittered and impenitent heart.
It’s a Progressive Rejection
When God convicts us of sin and presents us with the Gospel, it’s dangerous to neglect it, especially if our procrastination becomes chronic. We resist and resist and resist. After a while, we can become so hard-hearted and sin-hardened that we grow calloused of soul. Our ears can’t receive the truth. Our minds shake off the conviction of the Spirit. We become cynical of conscience. And although the grace of God is still available to us, we push away from it.
These scribes had become Jesus-resistant because of the time-lapsed attitudes of their own evil hearts. It’s tragic, for these scribes had devoted their lives to copying the Word of God. Note the relationship between the words scribe and scribble. These men had copied and recopied the Old Testament. Every day they copied an ancient Scripture scroll by hand.