In Matthew 12:22–31, after Jesus had just cast a demon out of a man, the Pharisees accuse him of using the power of Satan to do so. In response, Jesus first points out that this is not only illogical, for what kingdom divides against itself (v. 26), but that his signs, done in the power of God’s Spirit, actually reveal that God’s kingdom has entered into their reality and is standing before them (v. 28). But then Jesus gives the Pharisees a rebuke, saying,
Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.
So what exactly is blasphemy against the Spirit, what many call the unpardonable sin?
Simply put, the unpardonable sin is the rejection of God’s grace. Let’s consider again the context of Jesus’ words.
Jesus had just restored a man’s sight and hearing by ridding him of an evil spirit (v. 22). This act was certainly done for the wellbeing of that man, but it was also done for the well-being of the crowds, the disciples, and even the Pharisees. It is through this miracle that Jesus was once again providing a graphic sign of himself, as the redeemer of the world, who will ultimately rid all evil from his creation. And this sign was done in the power of the Holy Spirit, who is the one who reveals Christ to us for salvation. And while the crowds received the sign for what it was and were amazed (v.23), the Pharisees despised the grace that had been revealed to them, and aggressively tried to destroy it.
For the Pharisees, there was no misunderstanding, or ignorance, or confusion over what had been done. Their promised God stood in their midst, revealing himself to be gracious, loving, and good, and yet they called him evil. Jesus had liberated a demon-possessed man and restored his sight. And at this, the Pharisees shut their eyes and closed their ears, refusing to embrace Jesus as the Messiah. The Spirt had enlightened them to the truth of Christ, and yet they closed themselves up in darkness.
The unpardonable sin is not an accidental failing, nor a misguided moment of irreverence, nor is it even willfully committing a sin when you know you shouldn’t. For those who look to Christ for their only hope of salvation, all sins are forgiven.
The unpardonable sin isn’t even an ignorant hostility against the Church or a disdain for Christianity. For even as the Apostle Paul, former persecutor of Christ (Acts 9:4), says of himself, “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:13–14).
But for those who rebel against the Holy Spirit’s revealing, who have been shown the loving kindness of the Father through the death of his Son on their behalf and yet call evil what is good, poison what is medicine, and of hell what is of heaven, they will never be forgiven. It is not simply that they did not know the truth, but that they knew it and hated it. To blaspheme the Spirit is to reject the very grace that has been shown to you in Christ. And without Christ, there can be no forgiveness.
The weight of our sin is great, and the burden of our guilt grows as each day reveals newer vestiges of our failings. But it is for this reason that we must recall the gospel every day, so that we may rejoice with Paul, who said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim. 1:15).
This gospel is hard to believe because it sounds too simple. As creatures hardwired for right and wrong, we are well acquainted with failure and guilt. Grace does not make sense to us and a gospel of forgiveness always seems too good to be true. But while it may be the habit of our doubts to search the peripheral and perplexing pages of our Bibles, looking for anything that confirms the familiar condemnation we hold over ourselves, the truth of the gospel is this: If you look to Christ as the only way of salvation, there is no sin that God does not forgive. In Jesus, you have been forgiven of all your sins.
This is the message that Jesus has called his people to for the last 2,000 years, and it is the same message he calls you to today: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).
It is on the basis of Jesus’ death on the cross that all your sins are forgiven, and it is through your faith in his finished work that this powerful grace comes to you here and now (Eph. 2:8–9). This does not change, and this will never change. There is no weakness in Jesus’ sacrifice that would fail to cover any one of your sins (Heb. 10:12), and in Christ, there is no limitation to God’s grace that would cause him to withhold his pardon from you. If you believe in the gospel message that Christ died on your behalf, God’s mercy towards you knows no bounds.