Last week somebody asked me after the service: ‘Have I committed the unforgivable sin? A question which was concerning them not me. Had they committed the unforgivable sin? And it’s a legitimate, big question.
If it is a concern and, if you have committed the unforgivable sin then, as far as the Bible is concerned, you’re lost, you’re going to hell and there’s no hope for you. No point in coming to church because that’s it, you’re finished.
But the whole point of the Gospel is that you should know that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life. That you have a hope for eternity in His presence in heaven.
So, I thought we’d address the subject.
Generally, if you are worried about it, it’s a sign you haven’t committed it. But we’re going to look at it and see what the Bible says about it.
The unpardonable sin passage actually comes out in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 12, and I read from verse 22 through to 32:
What is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin? It’s a big question. I tell you it’s something serious and if you commit this sin, you can’t be forgiven in this age or in the age to come. Now there are two possibilities about how we understand this.
- That it is a sin which can be committed by anyone at any time and therefore it’s relevant to us now or,
- That it’s the sin committed by that generation related to the Pharisees accusing Jesus of doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub, in other words, by the power of demons.
Both of them are relevant and I am going to speak about the first one. Because of the time, I may not get on to the second one: ‘a sin committed by that generation’. But we’ll look at that in due time if I don’t get onto it today, we’ll examine it another time.
An unforgivable sin is a sin committed by anyone at any time, a sin against the Holy Spirit. This raises the whole question about what we understand by sin. Are there degrees of sin, are there some which are more serious than others?
Roman Catholic teaching is that there are ‘mortal sins’ and ‘venial sins’. Venial sins, which are less serious, can be forgiven by confession, but mortal sins, which are more serious, threaten the soul with eternal damnation and you must do penance, which the priest will prescribe, to erase them.
I’m not saying that’s true but that’s what Roman Catholics teach.
I’ve been looking at some of the ways in which the early church functioned and one of the ideas they had was that if you sinned once after baptism, that was enough. One strike, two strikes and you were out. If you sinned twice seriously after being baptized as a Christian, that was it, you were finished as a Christian. Quite a severe teaching; a man called Tertullian taught that.
It was also related in the early church to the times when the Christians were persecuted under Roman emperors. We know about persecutions under the Roman emperors. They didn’t happen all the time. Sometimes the Roman emperor was very severe against Christianity and sometimes he was more tolerant and lenient. It depended upon the emperor. There were two emperors in the third century who were very severe against Christianity: one was called Decius, and another was called Valerian. After them, there were more lenient times for Christians.
One of the issues in the early church was that if Christians during the time of persecution had denied the Lord and burned incense to Caesar, had they lost their salvation and therefore could not be restored again? When more tolerant times came and they wanted to come back to the church, could they be forgiven and restored? It was an issue of some controversy. Some people said ‘yes’, and some people said ‘no’, they’d blown it, they were finished, they had committed the unforgivable sin by bowing down to Caesar.
You can see some parallels with that in the passage in Revelation 13 about the worship of the beast and the image of the beast that can’t be forgiven. Therefore, they had this kind of issue at the time.
1 Timothy chapter 1 verses 9-11 says:
You have a list of sins then, serious sins. In the Bible, you also have some lesser sins for example in Ephesians 4.31 it says,
Generally, if you look at these passages together, you see that the Bible is telling you that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Romans 3.23)
We don’t murder our fathers and mothers hopefully, but we all do some things which mean we fall short of the glory of God. None is righteous (Romans 3.10) in his own righteousness.
The Bible makes it clear that if our sin is confessed and repented of with faith in the Gospel, it is forgiven, whether it’s a serious sin or a minor sin, and the person doing it should also turn from sin and live.
The Book of Ezekiel says in chapter 33 verse 11:
And you have similar thoughts in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 9 says,
Notice the phrase there and ‘such were some of you’. It doesn’t say and ‘such are some of you’. A person who is come to Christ should turn from sin and live according to His commandments.
This is something which a lot of the modern church is ‘glossing over’ now and ignoring.
There are some who say, ‘you love God, and you do what you like’ or, ‘you love God, and you love your neighbour, and you are kind, and you’re a nice person’, that’s all that matters.
Some people go to churches where the pastor has left his wife and gone after somebody else in the church and carries on as the pastor. How can that be?
There are a lot of churches today, including the Church of England which are really tolerating homosexuality and saying that you can practice homosexuality and still be a communicant member of the church, you can even be a vicar or officiate in the church.
You have this kind of tolerance. You’ve got to be loving, you’ve got to be kind, ‘all you need is love’, God loves you, don’t judge, don’t say that anything is wrong.
If you take that attitude, you’re denying something which the Bible says, and it’s one of the big problems which modern Christianity is coming up against because you end up with this very ‘lukewarm church’ which ties in with what Jesus said about the Laodicean Church which He is going to ‘spew out of his mouth’.
We don’t want to be that kind of church. Jesus said ‘if you love me, you’re going to keep my commandments’. We have quite a severe message which says that ‘if you believe in Jesus, then you don’t sin at all’.
There’s a passage in 1 John chapter 3 which says that. And that can also put people in a lot of condemnation.
So, this passage in 1 John chapter 3 verse 1 says:
That scripture might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. It says here that ‘whoever is born of God does not sin’. How do we interpret that passage?
It begins by saying that when Jesus is revealed either at our death or at the point of being taken in what we call the rapture of the church, we should be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.
It means that in that coming day, we’re going to put off this mortal body, this body which is heading for death, which is contaminated by sin, and we will put on a new body which is not contaminated by sin, which is incorruptible, and which is immortal.
And that’s the hope which we have by which John says we should purify ourselves in this hope that we’re going to see Jesus, we’re going to be changed to be like Him. And, if you believe the Gospel, that’s what’s going to happen to you.
There’s a day coming when you will see Jesus and you’ll be changed from this mortal body which is subject to sin, to sickness, to death, to mortality and which will be changed like unto His glorious body.
Now, if that’s going to happen, we should be purifying ourselves so we’re ready for that to happen. We should be turning from sin and be washed in the blood of Jesus, and be cleansed, purifying ourselves just as He is pure.
The passage goes on to say that in verse 6
and verse 9
So, now we have another issue. Can we attain to sinless perfection? Should be attain to sinless perfection where we cannot sin?
Has anybody here attained that state yet? A state where you cannot sin, and you don’t sin? Put your hand up. No, nobody has attained that.
What does it mean then? Perhaps that teaching which I talked about from Tertullian was related to this verse, that after you become a Christian, after you’ve been baptized, then you don’t sin anymore.
What the passage is saying here is that first of all, ‘His seed remains in you, and He cannot sin. The first thing you must think about is: what does he mean by His seed?
His seed is the Holy Spirit who’s planted in you.
If you become a Christian, you’re born again, you’re born of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit part in you cannot sin because the Holy Spirit cannot sin. That is, if you have One within you who cannot sin who is the Holy Spirit of God, if the Holy Spirit comes into you, then you as a person who is also born of the flesh, once the Holy Spirit comes into your life, you have a battle between the flesh and the Spirit: the flesh can still sin, but the Spirit can’t sin.
I believe that one thing being said here is that the Spirit part of you cannot sin, but the flesh can sin. Because we have become Christians, we should let the Spirit rule over us and not the flesh and allow the Spirit to rule so that we don’t sin.
Additionally, there is an idea within this scripture of habitual and continual sin, in other words, if you, before you became a Christian, were involved in sexual immorality, pornography, criminal behaviour, the occult, witchcraft, other religions, you should turn from those things, you should not continue in them.
If you have become a Christian, there should be a change in your life. You should come out of those things. Paul says elsewhere ‘come out from among them, touch not the unclean thing.’
If you’ve been living in an immoral sexual relationship without marriage, then, you should leave it or you should then get married and commit yourself to a one-man-one-woman tie ‘until death do us apart’, to be faithful to that person.
If you come from another religion that denies Christ, you should come out from it and be separate from it. Been involved in some practice which is clearly sinful in the eyes of God, you should come out from it and separate yourself from it.
We can see that we live in the midst of a very corrupt and sinful world in which people are doing all kinds of things which are totally opposed to what the Gospel says, therefore, if we have become a Christian, those things should not be part of our lives anymore.
As it is said in the passage in Corinthians ‘of such you were‘, but not ‘you are’. This should be a change in your life.
He was telling them to change their ways.
Jesus gave seven messages for seven churches to John which were relating to churches later in the Christian era, perhaps towards the end of the Christian era. Five of them contain rebukes of things that they were doing wrong, two of them didn’t have a rebuke. But the fact that they contained rebuke shows that there was a possibility that Christians would sin, and this is understood in the New Testament.
Therefore, if you took this passage in 1 John on its own and said that this shows that, as a Christian, you shouldn’t sin, you could come to that conclusion. However, there is the danger that you take one scripture on its own and don’t hold it against other scriptures.
If instead, you hold this scripture against other scriptures in the letter of John, they tell you that there is a way in which, if you sin, you will be forgiven.