Mark 3:28-29 says, “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.” In the question box, someone asked to explain the meaning of these verses. It is a common question concerning sins that are said to “never have forgiveness.” This brings concern to our minds wanting to know if we have committed an unforgivable sin. We will spend some time looking at other passages that discuss the inability to receive forgiveness and then spend some time in a careful exegesis of this passage. There are many passages in the scriptures that speak about the inability or impossibility of receiving forgiveness of sins. We will notice how this can be possible in light of the fact that the Lord has spoken that He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” We will look at a few of these passages concerning the impossibility of forgiveness first, starting from the easier to the more difficult.
No Forgiveness Passages
In Hebrews 10:26 we read, “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.” Here the writer tells us that there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins. What is the situation in which this is true? The writer says that if we sin willfully. Other translations help us in our understanding of what it means to sin willfully. Other versions read, “willfully persist in sin” (NRSV), “go on sinning willfully” (NASU), “deliberately keep on sinning” (NIV), and “go on sinning deliberately” (ESV). There are two things to notice that the translators are trying to capture with these various renderings. First, the sin is deliberate. The sin committed is not a sin from weakness, from temptation, from stumbling, or any other such thing. This is a willful decision on the part of the person to intentionally violate the word of God. We have the knowledge of truth, however we decide that we would rather not heed the truth of our Lord. Therefore we are sinning deliberately or willfully. The second aspect to notice is that the sinning is continuous. The NRSV speaks of persisting in sin, while the NIV says that the person keeps on sinning. So again this is not a sin of occasional weakness or temptation. This is a person who says that he knows full well the will and law of God and continues to violate it with impunity.
The proof of our understanding is found in the following verse. Hebrews 10:28, “Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” We have a comparison placed in our hands. The comparison is between what happens when one rejected the law of Moses versus when on rejects the law of Christ under the new covenant. The word we must emphasize is rejection. The writer is speaking about rejecting God’s law. Whoever rejected the law of Moses was stoned. How much worse will it be for us who reject the law of Christ after receiving the knowledge of the truth? If rejecting the law of Moses received a stoning, what happens to us when we reject the law of Christ? The answer is “a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation with will devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27). Those who are in the process of rejecting God’s law cannot ever have forgiveness of sins.
In Hebrews 6:4-6 we read, “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.” To more clearly understand what is being said, let us take the description out of the middle of these verses. It is impossible…to renew them again to repentance. The New American Standard breaks the Greek sentence structure and translates verse 6, “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.” The Hebrew writer here is speaking about sins that are committed such that it is impossible to find repentance and receive forgiveness. What are the sins that the writer is describing? Notice the characteristics of the person: once enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come. The description is one of a well-seasoned Christian. To be enlightened was a common phrase to refer to baptism or generally to receiving salvation. This person has tasted the great gifts that God gives. He is a partaker of the spiritual blessings of God in the heavenly places. He has tasted the blessings of fellowship, of freedom from sin, and holiness in the sight of God. Further, this one has been given a renewed spirit by God and has received the gift of the Holy Spirit. The person has been growing in the fruit of the Spirit. Further, this person is a student of God’s word. He has tasted that the word is sweeter than honey and the honeycomb. Finally, the person understands the judgments of God that will take place in this life but also in the final judgment. With all of this knowledge and participation in spiritual things, if he or she choose to fall away, it is impossible, the writer says, for he or she to be renewed to repentance.
Why could this person not be renewed to repentance? Is it because God has written the person off and is no longer interested in saving them? No, not at all. The point the writer is making is that if we become so grounded in the word and decide to let it all go, what is going to be done for that person? The person knows salvation and knows the gifts of God but still chooses to turn his back on God. That person will never seek after the Lord again. Suppose I am 45 years old and have been preaching for over 20 years. I have partaken in all the things that are described by the writer of Hebrews. I have baptized people, I have studied deeply, I have a connection with God and so on. Suppose I decide to give it all up and quit. I am not going to repent because I already know the joys and blessings but I have turned my back on them. And this is not some sort of hypothetical situation. I know of some men in which this scenario is very true. The man was a preacher of reputation. He was deeply serving the Lord. But time went on and he gave up preaching, got a divorce and ran off with another man’s wife. Do you suppose that he is going to come to repentance? No, because he willfully cast God away. He has the knowledge of truth and knows what he ought to do, but he has chosen to cast it all aside. There will be no forgiveness.
1 John 5:16-17
The final passage I want to look at in regards to the impossibility of forgiveness is in 1 John 5. In 1 John 5:16-17 we read, “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.” John speaks about two kinds of sins: one that leads to death and one that does not lead to death. This passage has probably been subject to all sorts of false interpretations. One of the greatest is that there are mortal sins and venial sins. Some sins are basically not as bad as others. Some can be forgiven by confession, others require a purgatory to burn them off. Others have suggested that there are some sins which the grace of God covers and are therefore okay to commit, while there are other sins that are not okay to commit and they lead to death. I believe all of these teachings miss the mark.
We know that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). Therefore John cannot be saying that some sins are okay to commit and others are not. In light of the passages in Hebrews that we have just studied, what would be sins that lead to death? The obvious answer is sins that are not repented from. More specifically, sins that are done with a rebellious heart that knows the truth and will not repent. This person’s sins lead to death. However, what are the sins that will not lead to death? Sins that are done out of weakness, temptation, struggle, and so forth in which the person is sorrowful for sins and repentant do not lead to spiritual death. When we repent of our sins, the Lord is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Will God hold us accountable for repentant sins? No, so therefore these are sins that do not lead to death. Will God hold us accountable for unrepentant sins? Yes, and it will be these sins that do lead to death. A person, such as in our analogy, who has been rebellious to God and knows what he ought to do, should we pray that God forgive him of his sins? John says no (5:16). We cannot pray for the rebellious to be forgiven of sins because we know that it will not happen. God will not overlook the evil in that person’s heart. However, we should pray to God for those who have been ensnared by the wiles of the devil. We should pray for those who are struggling with sin but trying to serve the Lord. We should pray for those people’s forgiveness and strengthening from God.
Sin of the scribes
Now we can come back to Mark 3 since we have a better understand of what the Lord means when He tells us that there cannot be forgiveness of sins. The reason is that the person has rebellious rejected God and His word and has no desire to change. What did the scribes do in Mark 3:22-30? Jesus is going around performing good works and many miracles. Specifically, Jesus is casting out the unclean spirits that are tormenting the people. It did not matter who you were or who you claimed to be, there is no denial that to cast out an unclean spirit from a suffering person is a good work. Further, Jesus is also performing many other miracles of healings and cleansings. When the scribes saw all the good works that Jesus was doing they ascribed this power to Beelzebub. They said that Jesus did these things by the power of the ruler of demons, by Satan himself. Who could have the audacity to say such words? Who could ever attribute any good deeds to belong to the power of Satan? Satan is not the prince of goodness and righteousness! These scribes were flat out rejecting the work that Jesus was doing. It was not from God but from the ruler of demons. This is Mark’s very answer in verse 30. “Because they said He did these things with an unclean spirit and not the Spirit of God,” they were condemned. Would these scribes accept Jesus as the Son and that His work was through the power of the Spirit? No, they continually tested Jesus and would be part of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Parallel account- Matthew 12:31-37
Matthew records this incident as well in Matthew 12. He notes some words of Jesus that are different from Mark’s account. Notice the words of Jesus in verse 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.” Some have taken this to mean that it is okay to blaspheme Jesus but not the Holy Spirit. Will anyone want to dare to try to blaspheme the Son of Man and think they still have the grace of God? This clearly is not the answer. Carefully consider what is being stated by Christ. There would still be an opportunity for those who rejected Jesus to repent. This is the very sermon that Peter gave in Acts 2. Peter condemned the people of rejecting Jesus and convicted them of their need for repentance. But if the people blasphemed the Holy Spirit, there was would not be forgiveness. Why? Because it is through the Holy Spirit that all have their last chance to repent. It is through the Holy Spirit that the apostles spoke and the words they said were the words of salvation. To reject the words of the apostles is to reject the Holy Spirit and have no hope of forgiveness. Though they turned their heart against Christ, if they continued with this evil heart and reject the words of the apostles through the Holy Spirit, then they would stand condemned.
This understanding is further assured by the rest of what Jesus says in verse 32. To speak against the Holy Spirit in this age or the age to come will not receive forgiveness. What ages are under reference? The same ages that are used throughout the scriptures, like in Matthew 24. The age of the old covenant and the age of the new covenant. The age of Moses and the age of the Messiah. We saw this point made back in Hebrews 10:28, “anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” To blaspheme the Holy Spirit under the old covenant by rejecting its law led to death and no forgiveness. Jesus says that the same is true in the new age that He was ushering. If you reject the words of God in the new covenant, there is no sacrifice for sins but a fearful expectation of judgment (Hebrews 10:27).
The seriousness of the sin
These ought to be frightening words to read. When we ever read about the impossibility of forgiveness and repentance, we ought to open our eyes really wide. Jesus intentionally taught this way to make an important point with us. The sin is very serious. We also need to see that this is not a oops, I committed a sin against the Holy Spirit and now I cannot be forgiven. There is not a sin that you will commit out of weakness or temptation that cannot be forgiven when the heart is pierced and turned to the Lord. What Jesus did give is a grave warning to watch over our hearts. A heart that turns away from the Lord will not find forgiveness. There is no expectation of salvation by leaving behind the things you and I know in Christ and living another way. There will not be forgiveness in the day of judgment if we have chosen to shake our fist at God, chosen to live our own lives our own ways, and chosen to ignore what we know we ought to do. Forgiveness will not be found if we pick up God’s word, read it, and say I do not think this is important. Nor read and say that it does not mean what it says. We dare not reject this word nor ignore its application to our lives because it is the words of the Holy Spirit and it is the only way to salvation.
Warnings for us
How foolish we are if we ignore the scriptures. How sad it is for us that we are in the process of rejecting the Holy Spirit when we choose not to read God’s word. What are we saying to God except that I do not care what this has to say. I am too busy, I have other things to do, and your word is not important. Such an attitude is so dangerous and places us precariously where our hearts can be seared against God.
Do not reject the word of God in heart. We must always keep our hearts open and our minds ready to receive the word of the Lord. As David said, the word of God should be our meditation all day long. Our hearts should desire to hear the word. Our hearts should want to be thinking about God’s principles. An open heart that hears and seeks the will of God. We also cannot reject the word of God in application. While we may say that our hearts are open, we show that our hearts are closed if we are not acting upon our faith. When we choose to avoid meeting times to hear the word of God, we show what is more important and what we are willing to reject. When we miss Bible classes we show what is more important. When we get here when we can and do not have a priority to be here from start to finish because we dare not miss a word from the Holy Spirit, we show what is important. When the Bible collects dust and we have no interest in reading, studying, or making application, then we must beware of the dangerous road we are on. Sleep is not more important. Time to relax and watch tv is not more important. Laziness is not more important. Chores around the home is not more important. Work is not more important. Children and parents are not more important. When our hearts grow cold to God and His word, we will not want to seek Him. We will not long for forgiveness and salvation and we will not care. The slipping process is very gradual. Let us be diligent to take heed to things of God.