All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Matthew 12:31-32)
I’ve known people to lose sleep over this passage because they worried they might commit that one sin which God could never forgive.
Others simply choose to forget its existence. At the very least, we assume–without knowing–we never will commit the unforgivable sin.
Fact: There is an unforgivable sin. But it may not be what you think.
Cannot versus will not
There are things God cannot do. He is limited by what he has declared to be right and just (Deut. 32:4). For instance, God cannot allow a sinner into heaven unless that sinner has been justified by the blood of Christ and born again by the Spirit (Rom. 5:9, John 3:3).
However, there’s an important distinction to be made between what God cannot do and what he will not do.
It is impossible for God to tell a lie (Heb. 6:18). But that’s not to say he cannot withhold the truth according to his own will and pleasure (Matt. 13:11). God cannot cease to exist (Rev. 1:8). But he does withdraw his presence from us when he chooses (Ps. 51:11).
God will not forgive
We tend to think of the unforgivable sin as an act which God cannot forgive. But let’s not forget that the passage says all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven. God can forgive it, but will not.
God could have left all of mankind in our fallen state of sin, but he chose to show mercy. He could have shown mercy to all of mankind, but he chose to limit his mercy (Rom. 9:10-18).
God’s hands are not tied to where he cannot forgive the “unforgivable” sin. Rather, he has chosen not to forgive in some cases.
The unforgivable sin in context
The confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders was escalating. Strong language was previously used against them, but Jesus held nothing back in Matthew 12:31-37.
Jesus implied the Pharisees had committed the unforgivable sin, but what exactly had they done?
Earlier in story, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out devils using the power of the devil. It was a ludicrous notion (Matt. 12:25-26). However, he also said that speaking evil of Christ was forgivable (Matt. 12:32). Peter proved that when he cursed the Lord (Matt. 26:74).
Jesus said speaking evil of only the Holy Ghost was unforgivable (Matt. 12:31). How did the Pharisees do that exactly?
Blasphemers by nature
Human nature is an enemy against God (Rom. 8:7). We all begin dead in our sin until the Spirit of God brings us to life (Eph. 2:1). Only then can we be receptive to and believe the things of God (1 Cor. 2:14).
The new birth is one link in what has been called God’s “golden chain”. When God chooses to show a people mercy, he predestinates them, calls them, justifies them, and glorifies them (Rom. 8:30). One link cannot exist without the others.
We are blasphemers against the Spirit by nature. Remember, almost any sin goes deeper than what the human eye can witness (Matt. 5:28).
Who are you?
We might live in fear of committing the unforgivable sin because we think of it as something we merely do. It is more about who we are.
Jesus’ commentary on the Pharisees was not just a condemnation of something they had done or said. Rather, he was plainly stating who they were–men without God’s mercy, still in a dead state of sin. Their evil works reflected that (Matt. 12:33).
Fact: A born again child of God cannot commit the unforgivable sin.
If God has chosen to show you mercy, you will be born of his Spirit, justified by Christ, and you will be with him in heaven one day (Eph. 1:3-6). If he has chosen to forgive, all sins will be forgiven.