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On your Mark

The unpardonable sin

“In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” He said this because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mark 3:27-30, NIV)

I was perpetually frightened as a young person that I had committed the unpardonable sin. I wish I had understood then what the sin actually was.

Jesus clearly defines blasphemy against the Spirit. It’s denying the Holy Spirit’s testimony to Jesus’ own identity. The teachers of the Law attributed Jesus’ activity to an evil spirit rather than to the Holy Spirit. If continued in, this was the unpardonable sin — for how can a person enter heaven if they deny Jesus is Lord? And, who is it that convinces us that Jesus is God’s Son and our Savior? The Holy Spirit (John 16:7-12)!

At this point in Jesus’ ministry, He does not say that the teachers of the Law had already crossed that line — His statement is more a warning than a verdict.

In the ultimate sense, the only sin that keeps people out of heaven is a denial of the true nature of Jesus. It’s the Holy Spirit who tells us through God’s Word and through His witness that Jesus is Lord. The Holy Spirit recognizes no other Savior (Acts 4:12).

Therefore, the central issue related to Jesus is neither His mighty works nor His insightful words. The issue is His identity. The Spirit says, “Son of God, Savior, Messiah.”

The good news of this teaching of Jesus is that all other sins may be forgiven. Furthermore, Jesus has the power to forgive sins because through His Galilean ministry He already is demonstrating mastery over the devil — Jesus has entered the devil’s territory, tied him up, and is now carrying off the devil’s possessions (us!).

Look at the sins embodied in breaking the Ten Commandments: Having other gods, worshipping idols, using the Lord’s name in vain, breaking the Sabbath, dishonoring parents, murder, adultery, stealing, bearing false witness and coveting. All these sins (and far more) are forgivable. Amazing!

Jesus underlines the authority in His offer of blanket amnesty by saying, “I tell you the truth …” Jesus knows what His opponents did not know. He knows the Father and therefore knows the grace of the Father. He knows it is God’s desire to not hold people’s sins against them.

In this text Jesus says nothing about our need to ask for forgiveness. That aspect is covered elsewhere (1 John 1:9). Here, the context for Jesus’ statement lies in the charge made against Him by the teachers of the Law, namely, that His mighty acts are done through the agency of the devil. Jesus clearly regards that accusation as the one thing God cannot forgive; thus, to underscore the seriousness of that sin He sets it apart from all other sins. But, all other sins are forgivable — and that means we can be beneficiaries of God’s grace!

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, I may not be able to escape the stain and memory of my sins, but You have forgiven me. It’s a grace so amazing I am at a loss to understand it. But I rest on Your Word — even my sins are forgiven!

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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