Matthew 12:31-32 – The Unforgivable Sin

(Click here for the short version of this study of the unforgivable sin.)

Want a More Detailed Explanation of the Unforgivable Sin?

Unforgivable Sin

I recently published a book book about it called, Why You Have Not Committed the Unforgivable Sin. Click on the book title to learn more or check out the links at the bottom of this article. The book expands greatly on the content of the post below. So if you find this post helpful, but want to learn more about the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, I recommend you get a copy of my book.

Now… on to the sermon I preached several years ago about the unforgivable sin.

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Most Christians have wondered at some point in their life if they have committed the unforgivable sin. I have personally talked with Christians who got a divorce, or got an abortion, or committed adultery, and thought they had committed the unforgivable sin. Others think that suicide is the unforgivable sin. If a person commits suicide, then they are going to hell. Then I have talked with some who believe that the unforgivable sin is rejecting God. If you are a Christian, and you go back to living like you aren’t a Christian, or if you curse Jesus, or deny that you ever knew Him, then this is the unforgivable sin.

All Christians can Commit All Sins

But did you know that there are people in the Bible who have committed one or all of these sins whom we all expect to see in heaven? Let me show you.

Take divorce first. Did you know that God is a divorced person, and we certainly all expect to see Him in heaven. We read in Jeremiah 3:8 that God divorced Israel.

What about abortion? They didn’t really have abortion back then the way we do now. But if you believe, as I do, that abortion is taking the life of another human being, then we can call abortion the murder of babies. Abortion is infanticide. We know from Ezekiel 16:21 that many of the Israelites did this as a form of idol worship. They offered their children to false idols as human sacrifices. While not all Israelites were saved, some of those who did this will probably still be in heaven.

Then there is adultery. David, the man after God’s own heart committed adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11:4), as did many of the other kings and rulers of Israel. Paul sometimes writes about adultery among church members who will make it to heaven, but will lose their inheritance and reward there. Suicide is talked about too. Samson (Jdg. 16:29-30) committed suicide, and we believe he will be in heaven. King Saul also committed suicide (1 Sam. 31:4-5); 1 Chr. 10:4-5), and he will be in heaven as well. The most famous example of someone who rejected and denied Christ is Peter. He even used profanity and curses in denying any connection to Jesus Christ. Yet we know that he was forgiven and will be in heaven.

In fact, there are a whole host of other sins mentioned in the Bible that true believers have committed yet will still be in heaven. The Bible talks about believers who commit idolatry (1 King 11:1-10). Others who believe only for a while (Luke 8:13) and then fall away. We read of some who do not continue in the Word of Christ (John 8:31), do not abide in Christ (John 15:1-8), become disqualified in the race of the Christian life (1 Cor. 9:24-27), resist God’s correction up to the point of physical death (1 Cor. 11:30-32).

Others stray from the faith (1 Tim. 1:5-6), shipwreck their faith (1 Tim. 1:18-20), fall away from the faith (1 Tim. 4:1-3), deny the faith (1 Tim. 5:8), cast off initial faith to follow Satan (1 Tim. 5:12-15), stray from the faith by loving money (1 Tim. 6:9-10), stray from the faith by teaching false doctrine (1 Tim. 6:20-21) and deny Christ and live faithless lives (2 Tim. 2:11-13). We have the examples of people in the Bible who murdered and committed adultery, and yet were said to be saved (Jacob’s sons). Other men, like Solomon, Amaziah and Uzziah will most likely be in heaven, but did not live very faithfully to God during their lives. Some of them committed adultery, had multiple wives, committed murder, and fell into idolatry.

Then there is the righteous man who commits unrighteousness and dies as a result of it in Ezekiel 18, and the man in 1 Corinthians 5 who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his mother in law. Lot who committed incest with his daughters. Ananais and Sapphira in Acts 5 and so many other examples in Scripture of genuine believers who fell away. The point of all of this is to show that the grace of God runs deeper and wider than most of us will ever know. The ocean of God’s grace never runs dry. The limits of God’s grace never are reached.

Is There A Sin God Does not Forgive?

And yet we come to a troubling passage in Matthew 12:31-32 which indicates that there is a sin which the grace of God does not extend to. This passage is often pointed to as proof that we can lose our salvation. The sin mentioned in this passage is often referred to as the unpardonable or unforgivable sin. It is said that if you commit this sin, then no matter what happens afterward, you will not make it to heaven. There may be some truth to some of this, but the only way to see is to look carefully at the text. Let’s begin with Matthew 12:31.

Matthew 12:31 Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.

We learn in Matthew 12:31 that every sin will be forgiven, except one – the blasphemy against the Spirit. Let’s look first at this concept that every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men. We know what sin is. It is when we do something contrary to God’s character or will. When God tells us what He wants us to do, and we don’t do it, we sin. James puts it this way, “Anyone who knows the good he ought to do, and doesn’t do it, sins.” Blasphemy is similar. The most basic definition of blasphemy is to speak evil or injuriously about God. So blasphemy is a sin of the tongue. A sin that uses words and thoughts rather than actions. So right away, all of this sins listed above that involve actions are not what Jesus is talking about. In fact, the only sin mentioned above that involves actions and thoughts is the sin of denying Christ and speaking against Him. So blasphemy against Christ is to speak evil or injuriously about Him. But jump ahead to Matthew 12:32. Look what Jesus says there. He says that speaking against the Son of Man will be forgiven.

So all of the possible sins we began with are now seen to be forgivable. Divorce, adultery, abortion, suicide all fall under the category of “every sin” and these will be forgiven. Blasphemies will also be forgiven, even those spoken against Jesus Christ. Only the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

Notice in Matthew 12:31 that when Jesus talks about forgiveness, he talks about it in a future tense. The fact that this is in the future tense tells us something very important about the state of these people Jesus has in mind. They are currently unforgiven. They have not yet been forgiven. If Jesus were talking about you or I, he would have said, “Every sin and blasphemy has been forgiven.” But Jesus doesn’t say this. He says, “will be forgiven” which means the people he has in mind are not yet forgiven. They are unsaved.

What is Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit?

This is comforting because it tells us that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be something that only unsaved people can commit. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, then you have already received the total forgiveness of your sins in Christ, and this verse isn’t even talking about you. It is only talking about those for whom forgiveness is still a future possibility. Jesus says that if, before their sins are forgiven, they commit a certain sin called the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, that sin will not ever be forgiven them. So what is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Matthew 12:32 helps us answer this question.

Matthew 12:32 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 sin that will not ever be forgiven is not speaking against Jesus Christ, but speaking against the Holy Spirit. What is that?

There are at least four different theories on what this sin is.

1. The Unforgivable Sin is Israel’s Rejection of the Messiah

The first theory is that this sin is Israel’s national rejection of the Messiah. This theory has a lot going for it, because right in the previous context, the Pharisees claim that Jesus is performing miracles by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24). In the context following Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus calls that generation an “evil generation” which deserved condemnation for rejecting the Messiah (Matthew 12:39-42). These Jews are rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, and so maybe that is what this sin is. If so, then that means that nobody can commit the sin except for the Jewish people living at the time of Christ. According to this theory, since we are not Jewish and we are not living at the time of Christ, we cannot commit this sin. This theory, by the way, is the one I was taught in Bible school. It is also held by such people as Warren Wiersbe and John MacArthur.

Though this theory has a lot going for it, I don’t hold to it because it seems this warning applies to “anyone,” not just Jewish people at the time of Christ. Furthermore, although the context does help us understand the unforgivable sin, it has to be something beyond rejection of the Messiah and speaking against the Messiah, because Jesus says that these things will be forgiven men, but not speaking against the Holy Spirit. So the unforgivable sin is not Israel’s national rejection of the Messiah.

2. The Unforgivable Sin is accusing Christ of being in League with Satan

The second theory, is that it is accusing Christ of Satanic allegiance. A twist on this theory is that the unforgivable sin is committed when people attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. One man writes: “When we write off supernatural healings, prophetic utterances, the gift of tongues, etc. as coming from the devil, we are denying the power of the Holy Spirit. We are being disrespectful to the Holy Spirit. We are committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit!”

Of course, in some charismatic circles, their behavior goes way beyond healing and prophecy and speaking in tongues. Sometimes it gets into Holy Laughter, barking like dogs and braying like donkeys, getting slain in the Spirit, rolling in the isles and having your tooth fillings changed to gold. Certain Christian leaders have said that these are counterfeit miracles from the devil. In response, certain charismatic leaders have said that such statements are blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and is therefore the unforgivable sin.

Years ago, when the holy laughter phenomenon began to spread out from Toronto into other churches around the world, there were many who were saying that this experience was not of the Holy Spirit, but was of Satan. Those who were involved in the Toronto Blessing phenomenon claimed that such statements were blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. They claimed that if God was doing something through the Holy Spirit, and other people said that these things were from the devil, then that is the unforgivable sin. They get this idea because in context, Jesus is performing miracles and casting out demons, and the Pharisees say that He does this by Beelzebub. Jesus then accuses them of having coming close to committing the unforgivable sin, if having not already committed it.

But I don’t think this is the best interpretation of the passage. Scripture is very clear that not everything that appears spiritual is from the Holy Spirit. Satan can and does counterfeit the works of God. So we are supposed to test the spirits and see if they are from God. If we are convinced a certain activity is not from God, but is a counterfeit deception from the devil, it is our obligation to denounce it. And we shouldn’t have to worry that we might be committing the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit by denouncing something that is actually from God.

There are even such ecstatic experiences cropping up in Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness churches, among Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, as well as in pagan, animistic cults. Are these from the Holy Spirit? It is hard to say. We cannot say the experiences of people in these other groups are from the devil, just in case God really is working among people in these other religions. But then, can we say these experiences are from the Holy Spirit? We cannot say that either, for we just don’t know.

The point is that this second theory becomes impossible to practically live out, because there would be no way to tell with certainty what is from the Holy Spirit and what is not. So this second theory has very weak evidence in context, and especially in light of the rest of the Bible.

3. The Unforgivable Sin is a Failure to Believe in Jesus

The third interpretation is one that I held for a few years, and it is the idea that the unforgivable sin is simply a failure to believe in Jesus for eternal life. Someone who does not believe the gospel will of course not be forgiven in their unbelief. If they continue in their unbelief until death, then they will never be forgiven. This is the view of Charles Stanley and many others. As I said, I held to this view for several years, and it has a lot going for it. The reason I eventually rejected this view is that the warning here by Christ seems more serious than this. Jesus indicates that this sin cannot be forgiven, whereas unbelief can be. And if this sin is unbelief, why not just call it unbelief?

4. The Unforgivable Sin is Consistent and Willful Rejection of the Spirit’s Testimony about Jesus

The fourth view is the one that makes the most sense. It is kind of a mixture of all three previous views. It keeps the strengths of these other views, and avoids their weaknesses. The fourth view is that the unforgivable sin is a willful and slanderous rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony about Christ. One reason I eventually came to this conclusion is through a deeper understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit among unbelievers. The Holy Spirit is at work in the world convicting them of sin, of their need for righteousness, and the coming judgment (John 16:7-11). He also helps draw and woo people to Jesus Christ.

If a person is being convinced by the Holy Spirit that Jesus is the Messiah and should be trusted for eternal life, and that person lashes out verbally at the Holy Spirit by saying something about how Jesus is of the devil, or the accuses the Holy Spirit of being Satanic, this is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This is different than simple resistance of the Holy Spirit. When non-Christians resist the Holy Spirit, they are trying not to hear what the Holy Spirit is telling them. They try to drown out His still small voice with constant music and recreation and entertainment and sex and alcohol and drugs. They listen to people who tell them they are “pretty good” people. It appears that every non-Christian is in a state of resistance to the Holy Spirit.

What Happens When Someone Commits the Unforgivable Sin?

But from this condition of resisting the Spirit, one of three things will happen. First, the person may stop resisting, and submit to what the Holy Spirit is saying, and so, having understood that they are a sinner and in need of salvation because judgment is coming, they will believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. They are now and forevermore a Christian.

Second, the non-Christian may continue to resist throughout his or her life, and will die in a state of resistance and go to eternal punishment. They never believed, and so do not receive the benefits of salvation.

Thirdly, a person may get tired of always resisting, and may lash out in anger and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit for what He is trying to tell them. This person knowingly and maliciously rejects and slanders the Holy Spirit for His efforts to bring them to salvation. This is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The result is that the Holy Spirit stops trying to convict them. They have once and for all chosen their path of rebellion. The Holy Spirit will no longer convict them of their sin, of the offer of salvation, or of impending judgment. Such people have demanded to be left alone, and their request will be honored.

You see how this is a combination of the three first theories. The first theory was that the Jewish people had rejected the Messiah. People in our day who commit this sin also reject the Messiah, but it is more than that. The second theory is that this sin is when people attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil. This happens when people say that the conviction of sin and the convincing of a need for Jesus Christ is of the devil, but again, the sin is more than that. The third theory was that this sin is nothing more than unbelief. And it is unbelief, but willful, hardened, blasphemous, and verbal rejection of Jesus Christ and especially the work that the Holy Spirit is trying to do in that person’s life.

When an unbeliever lashes out in this way, this reveals a heart hardened beyond hope of forgiveness. They will never be forgiven because there is nothing left for the Holy Spirit to appeal to. The Holy Spirit stops attempting to draw, convict and convince such people. And without the Holy Spirit’s work in this way, no person will ever be saved.

Have you Committed the Unforgivable Sin?

So, how do you know if you, or a friend, or relative, have committed the unforgivable sin? If you have believed in Jesus Christ for eternal life, then you are saved, and it is no longer possible for you to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

Since you have believed in Jesus for eternal life, the Holy Spirit has stopped working upon you as He does with non-Christians, and is now indwelling within you to mold you, shape you and form you into Christlikeness. Due to this, a Christian can quench and grieve the Holy Spirit, but cannot blaspheme the Spirit in the way Christ talks about here. So if you are a believer, don’t worry about committing the unforgivable sin. The chance to commit it is forever in your past.

If, however, you are not a Christian, and are worrying about whether you have committed this sin, be encouraged. Nobody who commits the blasphemy against the Spirit wonders if they have. They don’t care about such things anymore. The unbeliever who commits this sin has become so morally and spiritually blind that their heart is hardened to the point that they no longer care about spiritual things and will never believe in Jesus.

But nevertheless, some people are afraid they have. To them, I would simply say, “Worrying about it pretty much proves that you haven’t. So in order to make sure you never will be able to, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. Whatever sin you may have committed, you are still being convicted by it, which is good. God’s grace will cover over that sin, and all other sins if you will just believe in Jesus for eternal life.”

During World War II, a United States battleship, aircraft carrier, and several other smaller boats were patrolling the waters of the Northern Atlantic in search of German U-boats. One evening, several pilots took off from the carrier and were told to be back by a certain hour. But the leader of the squadron of four planes purposefully stayed out longer, feeling with just a little more time, he could find the enemy and secure an impressive hit. As the sun set, a German armada entered the area. The American fleet was in trouble for now they were outgunned, outmanned, and outnumbered. Unbeknownst to the pilots, radio silence was ordered between the ships in the water and the aircraft still in flight. At this point, as their fuel was getting dangerously low, the pilots radioed to the American ships, but there was no reply. Again and again the plots cried, “Turn on the lights! Turn on the landing lights!” But the lights didn’t go on, for do have done so would have jeopardized the lives of thousands of men. Thus, the story is recorded how the men on that aircraft stood by in horror as they watched four American planes crash into the icy waters of the Atlantic.

It’s not a story with a good ending. But neither is committing the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. God wants all men to be saved, and through the Holy Spirit draws all men to Jesus Christ. The light shines in their lives and grace woos them to Jesus. But there may come a time when the Lord, the Commander in Chief, will order radio silence because of blatant rejection of His Holy Spirit. In Jeremiah 7:16, God says to Jeremiah, “Don’t pray any longer for these people.” They had repeatedly rejected God’s offer, and so eventually God stopped making the offer. A person doesn’t have forever to make a decision about Jesus Christ. There is a point in time where the lights may go off, and the radio may be silenced, and where all the person can do is fly in circles until they run out of gas and crash.

The difference between this illustration and those who commit the unforgivable sin, is that people who do blaspheme the Holy Spirit have so hardened their hearts that they do not realize the condition they are in, nor do they care. They are not crying out to God for light or help or salvation. They just live their lives without a thought for God or a care in the world for spiritual matters. The Holy Spirit has ceased to work on their hearts and they are completely given over to the darkness of their hearts and the spiritual blindness of their eyes.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a serious sin that only unbelievers can commit, and even then, only when they have resisted the Holy Spirit for many years and have come to the point that they so completely reject what He is trying to do in their life, that they openly and verbally denounce Him and Jesus Christ and the feelings of sin and guilt in their own lives as the work of Satan in their lives.

I am not sure if we can ever know if a person has committed the unforgivable sin or not in their lives, but one thing we can know – if we have believed in Jesus for eternal life, we have already responded positively to the Holy Spirit’s work in our life, and so the opportunity to commit the unforgivable sin is past.

The unforgivable sin is not a sin a Christian can commit.

At the same time, if an unbeliever fears they have committed this sin, chances are they have not, because someone who has committed it would have such a hard heart that such thoughts would not even enter their mind. Bob Wilkin writes: “If you’re afraid you’ve committed the unpardonable sin, stop worrying. Jesus is not a liar! If you believe in Him for eternal life, then you’ve got it. It’s that simple. He guarantees it.” (See also the article by Charlie Bing.)

Learn More About the Unforgivable Sin

If you have questions about whether or not you have committed the unforgivable sin, here is a whole series of posts I have done on this topic. Feel free to read them all! Please note that most of these posts were drawn from my book, Why You Have Not Committed the Unforgivable Sin, which you can purchase from Amazon for less than $6.

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