Identifying the Unpardonable Sin

One of the most important incentives for your spiritual growth and fellowship with God is the assurance of salvation (1 John 5:13). If you are not confident that your name is written in the Book of Life, how can you be secure in depending on Christ moment by moment here and now?

However, one of the issues that has often been a source of confusion and insecurity is that of “the unpardonable sin.” What did Jesus mean by that frightening, solemn warning in Matthew 12:31,32? “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.”

The author of Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan, journalized his struggle to gain assurance. This topic had troubled him also: “I had one question that my soul did much desire to be resolved about; and that was, Whether it be possible for any soul that hath indeed sinned the unpardonable sin, yet after that to receive though but the least true spiritual comfort from God through Christ? The which, after I had much considered, I found the answer was, No, they could not, … Because they are denied a share in the promise of life; they shall never be forgiven, ‘neither in this world, neither in that which is to come’ (Matt. 12.32).”[1]

Let’s examine this passage in context to clarify the original warning and consider implications for us today. What is the unpardonable sin?

The Miracle with a Message

Matthew 12:22 records this undeniable miracle of the Lord Jesus: “Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw.” The usual practice for an exorcism was to elicit from the demon possessed person the name of the indwelling demon. However, how could this formula be used when the afflicted person was mute? The promised Messiah was expected to have this kind of unique power and authority. No wonder the witnesses of this deliverance “were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?'” (Matt. 12:23).

This conclusion was inescapable to the honest, receptive child of Abraham. But how could the Pharisees retain their legalistic traditions and prominence when Jesus was authenticating His ministry in this powerful way? They came up with this desperate rationalization: “…they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons'” (Matt. 12:24).

Notice that the miracle was undeniable, but its message was rejected. Their declaration of stubborn unbelief collapsed under the weight of its inherent contradictions: 1) Satan casting out his own demons would defeat his own cause by dividing his evil kingdom; 2) Jewish exorcists claimed a success rate in exorcisms, yet they were not accused of operating by Satanic power; 3) Christ’s miracle of casting a demon out of a mute, blind man was a convincing evidence that the Kingdom of God had visited them–in the person of the King (Matt. 12:25-28).

This is the context of Christ’s ominous verdict that the hardened hearts of the religious leaders were beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness. Why? Because the Holy Spirit was the source of Christ’s miracles (Cf. Luke 4:18; John 3:34) and He empowered these signs to confirm the faith of the receptive. The Holy Spirit is the One who draws sinners to the Savior: “… no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3). Yet they cursed Jesus by claiming that these miracles were Satanic; this unbelief rejected the implications of Christ’s authority over the kingdom of darkness.[2]

To blaspheme (blatantly disrespect) the Holy Spirit is to reject the only One who can enable a sinner to repent, believe, and be pardoned.[3]

The Warning for Today

Some propose that this warning about the unpardonable sin doesn’t apply after Christ’s earthly ministry. After all, Christ is not physically present, doing such miracles as He did in the Gospels. Therefore, the exact circumstances of the unpardonable sin would not be duplicated in this age.

However, the Holy Spirit continues to testify of the person and work of Christ today. In John 16:6-11 Jesus prophesied, “I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

The miracles of Christ still speak loudly and clearly from the pages of sacred Scripture. Their purpose is clearly stated: “but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31).

So what is the fate of those who reject the convicting work of the Holy Spirit as He testifies through creation, conscience, and Christ? (Rom. 1:16-20;2:14-16;5:8). Today, as in the first century, those who die disbelieving the witness of God’s Spirit through the gospel commit the unpardonable sin.

There will only be two outcomes on the Day of Judgment; to stand in one’s own unrighteousness and be condemned, or to stand in Christ’s righteousness, having been pardoned. This pardon is only by grace through repentance and faith. “He who believes in Him [Christ] is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18; Cf. Matt.25:31-46, Phil. 3:7-9).

An Implicit Consolation

To those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior, Christ’s warning has an implicit consolation. All other sins are pardonable! Think of it, no sins are too wicked to be washed away by the precious blood of Christ! (1 Pet. 1:18-20).

Everyone who has heeded the witness of the Holy Spirit’s testimony in the gospel has full forgiveness and the basis for unshakable assurance: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Col. 2:13,14).

As the man who was delivered from the demon received his voice and vision, let us who believe the witness of the Spirit of God behold His wonders and declare His praise.


[1] John Bunyan (1628-1688), Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, par. 220, 221.

[2] ” … Once arrived at the conclusion, that the miracles which Christ did were due to the power of Satan, and that He was the representative of the Evil One, their [the leading Pharisees and Sadducees] course was rationally and morally chosen. To regard every fresh manifestation of Christ’s Power as only a fuller development of the power of Satan, and to oppose it with increasing determination and hostility, even to the Cross: such was henceforth the natural progress of this history. On the other hand, such a course once fully settled upon, there would, and could, be no further reasoning with, or against it …” – Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. [Following the text at footnote 2766. Edersheim (1825-1889) was a Jewish believer, preacher, scholar, and author. These two sources are available at]

[3] Only God knows when a heart is closed beyond reach. Such would seem to have been the case with Saul of Tarsus, but the risen Christ apprehended him and made Paul an unparalleled vessel of His grace (Acts 9; Gal. 1:13-17). So let’s never give up praying for the lost.

Grace Notes: February 3, 2005. Copyright 2005 by John Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article for non-commercial use. Scripture quotations (unless indicated otherwise) are from The Holy Bible, New King James Version © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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