Nearly every Christian in a position of leadership has had someone ask them about the “unforgivable” or “unpardonable” sin. The question involves the story in the New Testament when Jesus said that anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven “either in this age or in the age to come.” (Matthew 12:22-32) It appears a lot of people worry that they may have committed this sin and that they now have no hope of heaven.
Shall I explain what it means?
Nope. Decided not to unless someone asks…
BUT I have a passage to share here that is much easier to understand, and that says much the same thing, that apparently doesn’t worry anybody much. Personally, I find it much scarier, if you think in terms of actions that prevent forgiveness.
What passage? It comes right afterthe model prayer that Jesus gave us in Matthew 6:7-12. After teaching us to pray for forgiveness “as we also forgive” those who sinned against us, He followed the modeled prayer with only one bit of teaching. He said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (verses 14 & 15)
Did He, in fact, teach about an unforgivable or unpardonable sin in this passage? You might like the terminology unforgiven or unpardoned better, but the point is the same. Though He didn’t throw in the “in this age or the age to come” line, He gave the same consequence here that He gave for that of blaspheming the Holy Spirit: He said “will not be forgiven” in the HS teaching and “will not forgive” in the forgiveness teaching. You might want to argue verb tenses, but the message is the same. God will not forgive a person who blasphemes the Holy Spirit and He will not forgive a person who does not forgive those who sinned against her.
If I were explaining the Holy Spirit teaching, I would point out to you that I do not believe that you can commit that sin today as they did back then. I also believe that the reason that they would not be forgiven is because they knew what they were doing was wrong and stubbornly stuck to it anyway. Similarly, those who refuse to forgive those who hurt them are people who typically know it is wrong to live with a spirit of unforgiveness, and that if they cling to it, that unforgiveness gives birth to anger, rage, and bitterness. Real bitterness. Potentially life-long bitterness.
According to the scripture, as long as they hold that hardhearted resentment and unforgiving spirit toward any human, God will not bestow the blessing of forgiveness on them. Why? The better question would be, “Why would He forgive someone who refuses to forgive?” If we cannot show mercy and grace to another, we certainly have no right do demand mercy and grace from Him. Besides, we wouldn’t have an appreication for, or any level of understanding of, what being forgiven means if we have not forgiven those who sin against us. How can we comprehend something that we have never experienced?
1. To experience forgiveness, one must practice forgiveness. That gives us a glimpse into the heart of God who can forgive in spite of all the pain we cause Him.
2. To experience forgiveness, one must accept forgiveness. The only way to believe we have received it is to have experienced giving it to someone who hurt us deeply. Only then in our deepest hearts can we truly believe that we can be forgiven for what we have done. As long as we cannot or do not forgive, we hold deep within us the belief that neither can anyone forgive us. If we see it as impossible for us to do, we see it as impossible for anyone to do. Even God.
If you fear you may have committed the unpardonable sin, here’s the best suggestion you’ll hear: Forgive others so that you can KNOW that God forgives you. With that knowledge, the emotions will eventually follow. Not only will you lose your resentment or bitterness toward others, you will receive in your own heart the peace of knowing that no matter what you have done, you ARE forgiven.
And all others who have learned to forgive will understand and rejoice in your freedom and fullness. And all others who do not forgive, will be angered and resent that you have freedom and fullness.
Do not live under their curse.
(For more, see previous blogs about forgiveness and reconciliation.)