Here is a Spiritual Conundrum submitted to Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life by a reader named Joe M:
I’ve been a sinner all my life. I even married a woman 9 years ago and I was unfaithful to her many times. We went to church. I tried counselling and medication and prayer groups yet I kept going back to drugs and sin. Now I have been convicted and am sure that I have committed the unpardonable sin and am destined for hell.
What does it mean to blaspheme against the Spirit?
Thanks for the good question, Joe.
You are not alone in thinking that you have committed the unpardonable sin, and there is no hope for you. It breaks my heart to hear how many people believe they are already doomed to eternal hell because of what they’ve said or done.
But I am here to tell you that as long as you are still walking this earth, there is hope for you.
Heaven remains within your grasp. God very much wants you to join the heavenly community. And if you want to join that heavenly community, it remains your choice. It is not God who banishes you from heaven. Only you can banish yourself from heaven. And the key to attaining heaven is in loving God and loving your neighbor.
Achieving heaven will not be easy if you are deep into wrong and destructive ways of thinking, feeling, and living. But it is possible if you wholly commit yourself to walking the difficult and painful path out of those evil and sinful ways of life.
We’ll pick up these themes later in the article. Meanwhile, let’s take up your question.
The idea of an unpardonable, unforgivable, and eternal sin is based on these words of Jesus in the Gospels:
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” (Mark 3:28–29)
Even most traditional Christian churches believe that the unforgivable sin involves much more than just verbally uttering blasphemies against the Holy Spirit. (See the Wikipedia article on “Eternal sin.”) It is generally interpreted to mean active resistance to God by refusing to repent from sins and continuing to live an evil and rebellious life. And I agree with that!
Before we dig deeper into this question, here’s a general principle to keep in mind:
Our sins are unpardonable only as long as we continue to commit them.
When we change our heart and our actions, pardon is there for us. That’s because we are no longer committing the unpardonable sin. God forgives the sins of our past (see Ezekiel 18:21–23). And we are not condemned for sins we are not committing.
Let’s take a closer look.
The unpardonable sin
Let’s look at the Bible passages that talk about the unpardonable sin.
Jesus speaks about the unforgivable sin in all three of the Synoptic Gospels. But his words do not come in isolation. They are in response to a specific situation, and to charges against him by the religious leaders of the day related to his actions in casting demons out of people who were demon-possessed.
So right from the start, it’s clear that the unpardonable sin is not only about words. It is also about actions.
Let’s read the passages from the Bible.
First from Matthew:
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
“Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can plunder his house.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:22–32)
To make it perfectly clear that he’s not just talking about words, but about what’s in the person’s heart, from which the words flow, Jesus then goes on to say:
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” (Matthew 12:33–34)
As is often the case, Mark offers a more compact version of the story:
And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”
So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.”
He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit.” (Mark 3:22–30)
Luke puts the story in a wider context. It’s too long to quote here. You can read the whole thing in Luke 11:14–12:12. The Gospel of Luke starts where the others do, with Jesus casting out demons. But it broadens the picture to include not only the resistant scribes and Pharisees, but also those among the common people who resisted and questioned his preaching, teaching, and healing. Here is the part where it talks specifically about the unforgivable sin:
Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.
“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has the power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:1–10)
As you can see, though Jesus does talk about speaking against the Holy Spirit as an unforgivable sin, there’s much more to it than mere words. What he’s talking about here are words that come from a person’s heart, and are expressed in that person’s life. We’ll return to that in a moment.
Accepting Jesus Christ and then falling away
First a slight detour.
If you’re really fired up on this subject, you can also read two related passages in the Epistles: Hebrews 5:11–6:12, which deals with those who first accept the goodness and enlightenment of God and the Holy Spirit, and then fall away from it; and Hebrews 10:19–39, which similarly deals with those who accept Jesus Christ into their lives, but later are in danger of falling away from that faith and life.
The general message in these passages is that if we accept God into our lives and begin to live a good and godly life, but then fall back into our old ways again, we are in even worse shape than when we were before we committed our life to God.
Jesus himself gives us this message in this brief parable:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24–16)
This is a matter of basic human psychology.
If we’ve started out on a new life and have begun to experience some of its benefits and satisfactions, but then fall back into our old ways, how much harder is it to pick ourselves up again?
Many people never recover from such a relapse. They throw up their hands, admit defeat, and no longer even try to fix up their lives. And when they do, it is their own resignation that causes them to fall into the “unpardonable sin”—which in this case means continuing to live an evil life and making no effort at all to change and reform oneself. As I said in the introduction, our sins are unpardonable only as long as we continue to commit them.
And yet, it’s still not impossible for us to reform after a relapse. It’s just a lot harder.
The general message of these Bible passages is this: Once you’ve started on a path, steel yourself for the journey and keep moving forward. As the old saying goes, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!”
For more on this, see the article: Don’t Look Back! Press Onwards and Upwards!
Words, actions, and motives
Many people who have heard about the unforgivable sin are deathly afraid of saying the wrong words and ending out in hell. They seem to think that if they utter a string of curse words against the Holy Spirit, God will strike them down with a thunderbolt so that they’re dead, dead, dead.
But the Bible is quite clear that mere words by themselves don’t mean anything. Here are just a few passages from the Gospels that make this point:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
And from later in the same Gospel:
“What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’
“‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.
“Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.
“Which of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The first,” they answered. (Matthew 21:28–31)
In other words, if our words and actions don’t match, it’s the actions that matter.
And although he was dealing with a different issue at the time, Jesus makes the connection between our words and what’s in our heart in this passage:
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” . . .
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.” (Matthew 15:10–11, 15–20, italics added)
In other words, the Bible is not concerned with mere words. It is concerned with words that reflect the state of our heart. And the same is true even of our actions. While actions are important, what’s most important for our spiritual state is the heart from which the actions come.
Another way of saying this is that when it comes to our spiritual state, it is the motives from which our words and actions flow that are most important.
- If we say and do things out of a desire for power, pleasure, and possessions for ourselves, then we are indeed on the highway to hell.
- However, if we say and do things intending to help other people, but we misfire and hurt them instead, though we do need to rethink our words and actions, we are still headed toward heaven rather than toward hell.
In short, the Bible doesn’t take anything in isolation. There’s nothing we can say or do that by itself will cause us to go to eternal hell. Rather, it’s when our motives, beliefs, words, and actions, are all working together to serve only our own interests, regardless of how much damage we do to anyone else, that we are committing the unforgivable sin.
Why is the unpardonable sin unpardonable?
Why is it unforgivable?
Because we have no interest in being forgiven.
When we actively oppose God’s will by persistently engaging in selfish, greedy, and destructive words and actions, we put ourselves in direct opposition to God, and we reject God’s forgiveness.
God always loves and forgives us, no matter what we say or do. That’s not the issue. The issue is whether we are willing to accept God’s forgiveness. And that’s impossible to do when we keep right on saying and doing the evil and false things that flow out of a selfish and greedy heart. (For more on this in the context of human relationships, see: Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness.)
Once again: Our sins are unpardonable only as long as we continue to commit them.
The problem is, when we confirm and harden ourselves into selfish and greedy ways of thinking and acting, it becomes very difficult for us to stop saying the destructive words and engaging in the evil actions that flow from our selfish and greedy heart. We become crystallized into an evil and destructive pattern of life, and we lose any desire to change.
Could we still be forgiven if we were to genuinely repent and begin a new life?
Yes, we could.
God is always ready to forgive us. God is always ready to lift us out of the personal hell into which we have fallen, and raise us up into the heaven of living from love for God and love for our fellow human beings.
It’s not that God will never forgive us if we actively speak and act against the “Holy Spirit”—meaning against God’s active power for good in our world and in our own heart. Rather, it’s that once we’ve become hardened into a selfish, greedy, self-indulgent, and evil life, the chances of our repenting and turning our life around become slimmer and slimmer.
And once we die, even that slim chance has come to an end. Once we die, the pattern of our soul becomes fixed, like a clay pot that has been fired in a kiln. It is no longer possible for us to change because we have already made our choice, and our choice is to enjoy engaging in evil, sinful, and destructive ways of living.
We then go to hell, not because God sends us there, but because we ourselves insist on going there. For more on this, see: Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
What is the unpardonable sin?
The unpardonable sin, then, is not merely speaking careless words against the Holy Spirit. It is not even committing some terrible sin against God.
Rather, the unpardonable sin is when we persistently speak and act against the will of God because our heart is bent on gaining power, pleasure, and possessions for ourselves, regardless of who else we trample on in the process.
Keep in mind that Jesus’ words about the unforgivable, eternal sin were aimed especially at the religious leaders of the day, who persistently opposed him at every turn, accusing him of acting from the Devil, of having an evil spirit, of violating the sacred law of God, and of blaspheming against God—even though his words were words of truth, and his actions were actions of healing and of love.
It was their persistent, stubborn, and dogged opposition to everything Jesus said and did that prompted Jesus to speak of them as committing the unforgivable sin, which is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It was the fact that they continually opposed the work of the Holy Spirit—which is the power of God to transform human lives—that he said that they were committing an eternal sin.
And the fact is that most of them continued to bitterly oppose the love, truth, and healing power of Jesus. In the end, they engineered his execution by the Romans in order to rid themselves of a man whose spiritual and divine power was threatening their own authority and influence over the people, and the wealth and power they gained from it.
It is this sort of dogged opposition to the power of God in both words and actions, from a greedy and power-hungry heart, that is the unpardonable sin. And it is unpardonable because once we’ve become hardened into a heart and a life that is completely opposed to God’s will, we will most likely persist in it to the end of our lives on earth, and right into the afterlife.
To borrow Jesus’ words, neither in this age nor in the age to come can we be forgiven when we persist in evil words and actions from an evil heart.
Have I committed the unpardonable sin? Am I doomed?
Here’s a reality check:
If you’re worried about having committed the unforgivable sin, then you haven’t actually committed it.
People who are engaged in the unforgivable sin of being totally committed, heart, head, and hands, to a selfish, greedy, evil, and destructive life do not care whether they’ve violated God’s will. They don’t care whether they’re going to heaven or to hell. They don’t care about anything other than achieving their own goals, which usually involve amassing greater money and power and pleasure for themselves, often by depriving other people of their money, power, and pleasure.
In fact, people who have committed the unforgivable sin take great pleasure in their evil words and actions, and in grinding other people down in order to enhance their own wealth and status.
In short, people who have committed the unforgivable sin have destroyed their own conscience. They no longer even think about whether the things they do are right or wrong. They simply follow the desires of their evil hearts, and say and do whatever is necessary to achieve their corrupt goals.
If you are worried that you might have committed the unforgivable sin, that means your conscience is still active. If you have been “convicted” of sin in your own mind and heart, that in itself shows that redemption is still actively available to you because you are willing to admit that the things you have been doing are wrong, evil, and sins against God.
The pathway out of “unpardonable” sin
Of course, you still have a lot of work to do.
You can’t keep right on sinning and expect to end out in heaven. That’s not how it works.
If you are engaged in adultery, theft, murder, jealousy, and other evil thoughts, desires, and actions that are harming the people around you and destroying your own life, you have some serious work to do.
The hard truth is that as long as you continue to engage in these evil desires, thoughts, and actions, you cannot be forgiven, because you keep on saying and doing the very things that are dragging you down to hell and causing you to reject God’s forgiveness.
In short, although God does forgive all of your sins, even the most terrible ones, that doesn’t give you a get-out-of-jail-free card. You still have to do the work of repenting and turning your life around.
God will help you to do that if it is truly what you want, and if you are willing to commit yourself wholeheartedly to the task. But you must make that decision and commitment for yourself. God cannot do it for you.
And then you must do the hard work day after day of leaving your old ways behind, and building a new and better life based not on self-absorption, self-indulgence, and addiction (which is a form of slavery to evil), but on putting God’s will first in your life, and focusing on loving and serving your fellow human beings.
It’s not going to be easy.
But it is possible.
And if you do that work day in and day out, seeking the help you need, and picking yourself up whenever you start falling back into your old ways, then you will, in the end, find your way out of your old evils and addictions, and into a good life of loving God above all, and loving your neighbor as yourself.
Here are some articles to help you do just that:
- What does Jesus Mean when He Says we Must be Born Again?
- If You Think You’re Going to Hell, Please Read This First
- Is it Easy or Hard to Get to Heaven?
- Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
- How Can a Criminal Get to Heaven?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
This article is a response to a spiritual conundrum submitted by a reader.