Q: What is the unpardonable sin?

That expression sounds like a galactic oxymoron, because our God is unlimited in his love and compassion for us! The unpardonable sin is not that of committing adultery and then murdering your lover’s husband, as King David was relieved to find out. It isn’t the gassing of six million Jews or the bombing of Oklahoma City or the satanic terrorism plot of September 11, 2001. So what could be bigger than that?

Tragically, there is one sin that Jesus himself confessed heaven is unable to forgive. He warns us about it in Matthew 12:31, right after the Pharisees accused Jesus of working miracles through the power of Satan. What an evil insult in response to the unselfish, healing touch of the Messiah! Jesus bears it graciously and even offers forgiveness in verse 32. Here’s the entire passage, though:

Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man [meaning himself] will be forgiven – something Jesus nobly proved as soldiers were nailing him to the cross – but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

In Mark, where the same story is related, the naysayers were basically calling the Holy Spirit Lucifer! “Yes, Jesus drives out demons and works miracles – but he uses Beelzebub to do it.” So their words were robbing the Holy Spirit of his deserved glory and giving it to the Devil.

Now, despite the seriousness of this offense, why it is the one unforgivable sin? We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is God’s chosen agency to reach out to us for repentance. He calls out to us; he woos us; he gently draws us into fellowship with the Father. The Holy Spirit is God’s exclusive agency for our salvation! What happens, then, if we purposely reject him and send him packing?

The Message paraphrase gives us Matthew 12:31 this way: “There’s nothing done or said that can’t be forgiven. BUT if you deliberately persist in your slanders against God’s Spirit, you re repudiating the very One who forgives. If you reject the Son of Man out of some misunderstanding, the Holy Spirit can forgive you, but when you reject the Holy Spirit, you’re sawing off the branch on which you’re sitting, severing by your own perversity all connection with the One who forgives. Jack Blanco observes: “When you turn against the Holy Spirit’s work by calling it demonic, how can you be convicted of your sin and receive forgiveness?” It’s akin to being lost on a desert island, having just one cell phone . . . and angrily tossing it into the  waves.

A few years ago, some bitter ex-Christians made a point of looking into camcorders as part of a YouTube stunt, and purposely defying this warning: “Holy Spirit, I reject you.” How God deals with such desperate confusion is his business, but that is a chilling and deadly game. The Tyndale commentary gently observes: “Ultimately only God can know when an individual’s opposition to his work has reached the stage of irreversible rejection.”