What is the Unpardonable Sin? (Phil Johnson)

Matthew 12:31-32   |   Sunday, January 17, 2016   |   Code: 2016-01-17-PJ

This morning I want to deal with a passage that I think is

one of the most difficult and troubling passages in all the

recorded teachings of Jesus. It's the passage in Matthew 12

where our Lord speaks of the unpardonable sin. Every time

we do a Q&A, someone will ask about the unpardonable sin.

What is it?; how do you know if someone has committed it?

Is it something that can be done unintentionally? and other


In a Q&A session, there's never enough time to cover the

subject in depth, so beginning today, I want to take three

sessions to look at what Jesus meant when He spoke in

Matthew 12 about the one sin that "will not be forgiven, either

in this age or in the age to come" (v. 32).

Back in December of 2006 a group of spiritual scoundrels

calling themselves "The Rational Response Squad" began

ridiculous campaign on the Internet to encourage people to

commit the unpardonable sin intentionally. This was a group

of angry, postmodern atheist zealots who despised the very

idea of God and decided to deliberately thumb their noses at

the idea of any blasphemy so base and so intentional that it

can never be forgiven. So they announced what they called

Matthew 12:31-32 2

"The Blasphemy Challenge." You may have seen their

campaign, because it went viral at the time, and it was

covered pretty thoroughly by the national media in early

2007. The atheist group promised a free DVD full of atheist

propaganda to anyone who took the challenge. Here's an

excerpt from the website they posted:

The Rational Response Squad is giving away 1001 DVDs

. . .

There's only one catch: We want your soul.

It's simple. You record a short message damning yourself

to Hell, you upload it to YouTube, and then the Rational

Response Squad will send you a free . . . DVD. It's that



You may damn yourself to Hell however you would like,

but somewhere in your video you must say this phrase: "I

deny the Holy Spirit."

Why? Because, according to Mark 3:29 in the Holy Bible,

"Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never

be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." Jesus will

forgive you for just about anything, but he won't forgive

you for denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. Ever.

This is a one-way road you're taking here.

Hundreds of people responded to that challenge, and for

awhile, Youtube was teeming with videos where people were

denying the Holy Spirit. They even managed persuade a few

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 3

celebrities to participate. Penn Gillette and Christopher

Hitchens made videos. But most of the people who posted

videos in response to this challenge were young people not

even yet out of their teens. Some were articulate and

purposeful, some were just doing what they perceived to be

the latest "cool" thingCselling their souls to atheism and

sacrilege and then sealing the deal with an oath against God.

In the "Frequently Asked Questions" section of the

"Rational Response Team's" website, this question is raised:

"Is it true that you are targeting young people with this

campaign?" Their answer: "Yes. As young people are the

most vulnerable to religious indoctrination, we feel it is

important to reach them with the concept of challenging

the doctrine they are told to unquestioningly believe."

Apparently they think manmade atheistic dogma is

inherently superior to divine revelation.

Anyway, hundreds of these blasphemy videos are still

there on YouTube, and it is heartbreaking to watch them.

Some of them feature faces that seem to reflect a kind of

innocent gullibility; others show an overt and deliberate

contempt for Christ and His lordship. Some reveal little

understanding of the Bible and its claims; others freely

testify that they grew up in and around the church and

profess to understand exactly what they are doing. Some

seem merely naive; others appear to be overtly evil.

Matthew 12:31-32 4

I've never seen a more appallingly ignorant campaign

carried out in the name of reason and knowledge.

Have these people actually committed an unpardonable

offense by making a verbal profession of denial towards the

Holy Spirit? More to the point, what, exactly, is the sin Jesus

called unpardonable, and how does a person know if he or

she is guilty of it? That's a question that frequently comes up

in evangelism or in counseling situations. From time to time

I even hear from long-time church members, professing

Christians, who are fearful that they might have committed

an unpardonable sin.

Matthew 12 is the chapter where this issue is dealt with

most thoroughly. Turn there with me. The two key verses

that specifically mention the unpardonable sin are Matthew

12:31-32. This is Jesus speakingCand let's acknowledge at

the outset that these are urgent and frightening words of

solemn caution. Jesus says:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be

forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will

not be forgiven.

32 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


Let me start by saying once more with emphasis: it is right to

take Jesus' warning seriously. There's a fearful finality in

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 5

those words: "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." If you

don't come to a passage like that with the utmost sobriety

and a trembling heart, then I frankly wonder whether you

understand what it means to believe the Word of God. This

was a warning designed to provoke holy fearCthe terror of

the LordCwhich Scripture says repeatedly is "the beginning

of wisdom."

Now this morning (and for our next two sessions

together), I want to look at this passage and its immediate

context. We'll also observe the passages in Mark and Luke

that parallel this one so that you can see precisely what was

going on here. It's important to hear what Jesus was saying in

its historical contextCso this may be a little longer

introduction than you're accustomed to from me. And then

we'll outline three characteristics of the unpardonable sin

which reveal it's true nature.

I think this study will be a comfort to true believers, and I

hope it will provoke holy fear in any unbelievers who might

be listening. But either way, when we're done, I believe

you'll have a better grasp of what the unpardonable sin is and

why Jesus spoke of it at this particular point in His ministry.

In order to see the immediate context, we need to back up

a bit to the beginning of this chapter, Matthew 12. The

unifying theme that ties Matthew 12 together is the malice of

Matthew 12:31-32 6

the Pharisees against Christ. The chapter records a series of

acrimonious conflicts between Jesus and the Pharisees. The

Pharisees purposely provoked each of these conflicts.

Matthew describes how they followed Him around, looking

for opportunities to accuse Him.

In the first incident Matthew describes here (vv. 1-8), they

criticized the disciples for plucking grain to eat on the

Sabbath. Verse 2, they say: "Look, your disciples are doing

what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath." But they were dead

wrong. The Old Testament prohibited work on the

SabbathCdoing business to earn a profit or engaging in

pastimes that distracted from the spiritual significance of

entering into the Lord's Sabbath rest. There was no

restriction against plucking heads of grain to eat. But the

Pharisees, in their zeal to seem super-spiritual in the eyes of

other people, had amplified and added to the Old Testament

law, so that they forbade activity of any kindCincluding the

casual gleaning of grain for a simple snack as you walked

through a field. They took the Sabbath, which was designed

to be a day of rest and delight for people, and they made it

into a drudgery of quasi-spiritual tedium thatCfar from being

restful and delightful, was wearisome to people.

Notice: in verse 7 Jesus rebukes them for "condemn[ing]

the guiltless." Jesus was saying these Pharisees were an

abomination in the eyes of God, because Proverbs 17:15

says, "He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 7

righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD." Jesus

never pulls any punches or softens his criticism of the

Pharisees. He isn't bound by the postmodern rule that says

you have to negate every criticism with an even more

positive statement about whoever you are criticizing. He

doesn't commend them for their zeal or congratulate them for

their desire to obey the law better than anyone else. He is just

bluntly honest with them. He tells them they are guilty of

condemning the innocent, which makes them abominable in

the judgment of God.

Then Jesus leaves that place (v. 9): "He went on from there

and entered their synagogue." Inside the synagogue was a

man who needed healing, with a withered, useless, probably

paralyzed-and-shriveled hand. Now these Pharisees had

already dogged Jesus' steps enough to know that whenever

Jesus encountered disabled people like this, he always healed

them. Look at verse 15: "many followed him, and he healed

them all." So since these Pharisees were already worked up

about His contempt for their extrabiblical Sabbath traditions,

they decided to make this guy with the withered hand a

public test case. Verse 10: "And they asked him, "Is it lawful to

heal on the Sabbath?"Cso that they might accuse him."

Jesus reveals the inhumanity of their rigid traditions by

pointing out that every one of them would pull a farm animal

out of a pit if it fell in on the Sabbath. Even their

traditionCrigid as it wasCpermitted that. So why not to good

Matthew 12:31-32 8

for hurting people, too, on the Sabbath? And when they had

no answer for that, He healed the guy right there. Verse 13:

"He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And the man

stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other." He

fearlessly made a public display of both His compassion for

the afflicted, and His contempt for the Pharisees' manmade

tradition. I love how Jesus didn't mollycoddle the Pharisees

or show them any false deference. He took every opportunity

to deflate their religious arrogance with simple applications

of the truth that exposed their error for everyone to see.

But notice the very next verse, because it is perhaps the

key verse in Matthew 12: (verse 14) "The Pharisees went out

and conspired against him, how to destroy him."

They decided not merely to ignore Him; reject him;

campaign against Him; or even simply discredit HimCbut

they were determined to "destroy him."

Notice: They have come to this point in the face of

insurmountable evidence that proved He was the promised

Messiah. They were expert students of the law, and they

knew full well that Jesus perfectly fit the Old Testament

description of the Deliverer who was to come and be both the

Messiah of Israel and Redeemer of the world. More than that,

Jesus had given them sufficient proof to establish His deity.

They hated Him anyway. In their assessment He had

come at the wrong time, under the wrong circumstances, and

now He was a threat to them rather than the kind of Deliverer

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 9

they wantedCsomeone who would increase their status. He

declared His opposition to them at every opportunity, calling

them (v. 34) "You brood of vipers!" evil men, (v. 39) "an evil

and adulterous generation," and telling them they were

condemned. They didn't like Him at all, mainly because He

rejected them as false teachers and thus undermined their

status in the eyes of people whose admiration they sought.

That was the one thing they were unwilling to relinquish,

even to the Messiah, the anointed One sent by God.

And so (v. 14), "the Pharisees went out and conspired

against him, how to destroy him." John 11 describes the

discussion that took place in that council, or another one just

like it. Put a marker here in Matthew 12 and turn to John 11

for just a moment. You need to see this, because it is a

window into the hearts of these Pharisees, revealing more

precisely what they were thinking. John 11:47:

47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the

Council and said, "What are we to do? For this man

performs many signs.

48 If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in

him, and the Romans will come and take away both our

place and our nation."

See: they didn't dispute the reality of the miracles He

performed. How could they? They had seen too many of His

signs and wonders up close to write it all off as fakery or

foolishness. He healed anyone and everyone, no matter how

Matthew 12:31-32 10

severe the affliction. He cast out every demon, no matter how

persistent. The Pharisees were not concerned because they

thought He was the wrong person claiming to be Messiah.

Precisely the opposite: He had the proper credentials, and if

not opposed, they said, "everyone will believe in him"Cand

that would jeopardize the little spiritual power-base these

Pharisees had built for themselves. They had a controlling

influence in the Sanhedrin, and that body was more or less

recognized by imperial decree under the Roman system as

the authoritative governors of the religious life of Israel. It

was a spiritual fiefdom which hung by a precarious thread

anyway, because of the political uncertainties created by

inevitable power struggles between Rome and the Herods

and the Pharisees' laws and traditions. But as long as they

could hold onto that little power base, they could feed their

egos and fill their purses through the exercise of their earthly

clout. Jesus was a significant threat to that status, and He

reminded them of that every time He opposed them publicly

like this.

In other words, they knew full well that He had a

legitimate claim as the Messiah of Israel, and perhaps they

were even beginning to understand that He was indeed God

incarnate (because that was the claim He himself made in

John 8). They had no cause for questioning His truthfulness;

they had no rational argument to suggest that He was false in

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 11

any way; and they had every reason to submit to His

Lordship. But they were determined to destroy Him anyway.

Mark 3:6 (describing this same event) even says "The

Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the

Herodians against him, how to destroy him." Now, the

Herodians were bitter political and spiritual rivals to the

Pharisees. They were Jews who had sold out their spiritual

heritage as pure Israelites to become political supporters of

Herod, the pagan ruler whose dynasty over Israel had been

established as a matter of political expediency by the Roman

emperor. The Herodians were a worldly political party, not a

religious group like the Pharisees. In fact, all faithful Jews

despised Herod's rule because his principles and his personal

character opposed everything the Word of God stands for.

(Remember that John the Baptist lost his head for pointing

out Herod's sin.) I suppose a kind of parallel situation today

would be if leading members of the evangelical intelligentsia

made a pact with a group of Episcopalians in the gay-rights

lobby to silence the preaching of the gospel in return for

some kind of political clout. This was an overtly wicked

thing to do, and in all likelihood, they did it as secretly as

possible. Back to Matthew 12.

Jesus nevertheless knew about this council they had

convened, because (v. 25) He "[knew] their thoughts." So He

withdrew (v. 15)Cnot because He feared them, but because

He still had ministry to do. He was not finished doing these

Matthew 12:31-32 12

amazing, miraculous works of healing and compassion that

were designed to confirm His Messianic credentials. Look at

the end of v. 15:

Many followed him, and he healed them all

16 and ordered them not to make him known.

17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet


18 "Behold, my servant whom I have chosen, my beloved

with whom my soul is well pleased. I will put my Spirit

upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles.

19 He will not quarrel or cry aloud, nor will anyone hear

his voice in the streets;

20 a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick

he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory;

21 and in his name the Gentiles will hope."

Matthew's point, again, is that Jesus perfectly fit everything

the Old Testament ever had to say about the Messiah. And

everyone knew it. The Pharisees, who had studied the Old

Testament more closely than anyone else, certainly knew


But here the conflict reaches the boiling point, and the

Pharisees actually pass the point of no return in their

opposition to Christ. Verse 22:

Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute

was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man

spoke and saw.

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 13

23 And all the people were amazed, and said, "Can this be

the Son of David?"

24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, "It is only

by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts

out demons."

This same incident is recorded by Mark 3:22 and Luke

11:14-15. It was one of Jesus' most important healings,

because the man who was healed was about as severely

afflicted by the misery of sin as it is possible for one person

to be without actually suffering in hell. He was

demon-possessed; he was blind; and he was mute. So he

suffered from demonic bondage as well as severe problems

that required physical healing. This was an extremely sad


But Jesus healed himCinstantly, miraculously, and

publicly. No one could question this miracle. The demon was

gone, and (v. 22) "the man [both] spoke and saw." Matthew

says there were multitudes of witnesses, "And all the people

were amazed, and said, 'Can this be the Son of David?'" It was

dawning on all Israel who this amazing Man might be. And

that further exasperated the Pharisees. They became more

determined than ever to destroy HimCeven if it cost them

their own souls.

That's when they answered with the ultimate blasphemy

(v. 24): "It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this

man casts out demons." They had used this ploy at least once

Matthew 12:31-32 14

before, in Matthew 9:34, where "the Pharisees said, 'He casts

out demons by the prince of demons.'" That time, Jesus seems

to have ignored them, because the very next verse (Matthew

9:35) says, "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and

villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the

gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every

affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for

them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep

without a shepherd." And that's when he told the disciples to

pray for laborers for the harvest.

This time, however, (Matthew 12) he confronts the

Pharisees head on. First, He points out the absurdity of their

accusation. How can Satan cast out Satan, and why would

he? Verse 26: "if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against

himself. How then will his kingdom stand?" And in verse 27,

He asks, "If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your

sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges."

That was another public jab that humiliated them. There

were some exorcists among the Pharisees. Acts 19:13 speaks

of "itinerant Jewish exorcists," like the seven sons of Sceva

who professed to be able to cast out demons (and probably

had elaborate ceremonies, mostly based on sheer

superstition, just as we see in the exorcists of the Roman

Catholic church today). Mark 9:38-40 even describes some

exorcists who were not among the immediate followers of

Christ but who saw His power, believed in Him, and began

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 15

casting out demons in His name. Jesus told His disciples not

to forbid them.

So exorcism was not an uncommon practice in that era.

But no one ever dominated the demons the way Jesus did.

That's why people marveled at His power. Matthew 9:33:

"When the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And

the crowds marveled, saying, 'Never was anything like this seen

in Israel.'"

The Pharisees' exorcists no doubt had a pretty dismal

record of failure when it came to helping people in bondage

to demons. So Jesus was needling the Pharisees when He

said (Matthew 12:27), "if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by

whom do your sons cast them out?" I'll put my record of

success up against your record of failure, and let's permit

your own exorcists to judge which of us has the power of the

Holy Spirit.

Verse 28: "But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out

demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." If

you're wrong, you're in serious trouble. How serious? Well

(v. 29) no one can consistently cast out demons unless He is

more powerful than themCpowerful enough to bind Satan.

And who can do that but God alone?

There's the strong hint of Jesus' deity in verse 29. He is

not giving us instructions for demonic warfare or talking

about binding Satan with magical incantations, the way a lot

of people in the charismatic community today suppose. He

Matthew 12:31-32 16

was pointing to His power over demons as proof that He was

absolutely sovereign over them. Satan may be the strong one,

but Jesus was stronger still. And that magnified the

seriousness of the sin the Pharisees had just committed.

Now that's the end of my introduction. That brings us to

our text for the day. Notice a few things here: First, it's clear

that the sin Jesus was speaking about is the very sin these

Pharisees had just committed. He is formally announcing

that they had passed the point of no return with Him. Their

rejection of Him was final, and their doom was sealed.

Second, He is warning others against pursuing that same

path of deliberate rejection.

Third, the fact that three gospels record this warning for

us indicates that it's important, and it is as applicable to you

and me is it was to everyone in the crowd that day. Some

people teach that the unpardonable sin is one that could only

be committed in the physical presence of Jesus, and therefore

no one today needs to be concerned about it. I'm not so sure

about that. It's impossible to support that view from the text


On the other hand, both the tone and the context make

clear that Jesus was not warning us about a sin that's easy to

commit accidentally or in ignorance. He was describing a sin

that is uncommon and unlike any other.

And fourth: Some of the specific questions people the

unpardonable sin are not answered for us here or anywhere

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 17

else in Scripture. Some things in the Bible are deliberately

left in the realm of mystery. And regarding the unpardonable

sin, Jesus gives no more explanation than we have right here

(and in the cross references) about the nature of the

unpardonable sin. It's not a lot, but it is enough to put us on

guard and keep us watchful.

And what I want to do in the rest of our time this morning

is outline what the passage does tell us about the

unpardonable sin. I think you'll be surprised at how much is

made clear for us. I also think it will both comfort you

(especially if you are someone plagued with the fear that you

might have unwittingly committed this sin); and give you a

healthy, holy fear (especially if you are the type who thinks

this warning is nothing you should be concerned about).

Here are three vital characteristics of the unpardonable sin

that we can glean from the text:

Matthew 12:31-32 18


What is the Unpardonable Sin? 19

Now, pay careful attention to the text here. Despite the

solemnity of the warning Jesus is about to issue, and with the

gravity of this particular offense in full view, He nevertheless

opens this statement with a vast promise of forgiveness:

"every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people." That part is

sweeping, comprehensive, and unqualified. "Every sin and

blasphemy"Cincluding all the sins that seem most scandalous

to our human senses: murder, fornication, and even

perversions such as homosexuality and al the evils that

currently plague our society. All of those things are

forgivable on the condition that the sinner repents and seeks

forgiveness. God's pardon can always be obtained by the

genuine confession of a repentant heart. "He is faithful and

just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all

unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Jesus stresses that truth.

Notice: even blasphemyCa sin committed directly against

the Person of God and the holiness of His NameC"Every sin

and blasphemy will be forgiven." That's the starting point, and

it is a clear message of reassurance to the

publican-and-sinner types who followed Jesus. God's

mercies are inexhaustible. Lamentations 3:22-23: "His

mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning."

Micah 7:18-19: "Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and

passing over transgression . . . ? He does not retain his anger

forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have

compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will

Matthew 12:31-32 20

cast all our sins into the depths of the sea." As we are

reminded in 2 Corinthians 1:3, our God is "the Father of

mercies and God of all comfort."

Think of the gross sins we know were forgiven in

Scripture: David committed adultery and fomented a

conspiracy to murder a man who was both a friend and

faithful warrior under his command, and yet God forgave

him. Saul of Tarsus persecuted the church and approved the

murder of Christians, and yet he found not only forgiveness

but honor and influence as one of the leading voices in the

early church. In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul said, "Formerly I was a

blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received

mercy." Peter denied the Lord with an oath after boasting that

he would never do such a thing. Christ implicitly promised

Peter forgiveness before he even committed the sin.

And wasn't the worst act of sin that was ever committed

the murder of Jesus on the cross? But Jesus expressly prayed

for His killers' forgiveness. It was one of his final sayings

before He died (Luke 23:34): "Father, forgive them, for they

know not what they do."

All kinds of sin are forgivable, no matter how dark or

ugly. That is Jesus' starting point in this statement, so what

we have first of all is a vast promise of abundant pardon to

anyone and everyone who will repent and lay hold of God's

mercy. It's a powerful echo of Isaiah 55:1-7: "Come, everyone

who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money,

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 21

come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and

without price. . . . "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call

upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and

the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD,

that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will

abundantly pardon."

All the common sins of humanityCincluding the most

abominable, repulsive, and even unmentionable evils that

have ever been perpetratedC"All manner of sin and blasphemy

shall be forgiven unto men."

Except for one particular, unique, very specific sin. We

know from the language Jesus used that He was describing

an extraordinary sin, not an ordinary one. What was it? Verse

31: "the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven."

Notice the definite article: "the blasphemy against the Holy

Spirit"Cnot just any form of disobedience or sin or speaking

against the Spirit of God, but a particular kind of

blasphemyCan unusually egregious form of blasphemy. And

the context makes clear that it was the exact sort of

blasphemy the Pharisees had just committedCattributing

Jesus' power to Satan when they knew He was working in

the power of the Spirit. If there were really any doubt about

this, Mark 3:29-30 settles it for us. Mark records that Jesus

said this: "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never

has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin." Then Mark

adds this comment in verse 30: "[Because] they were saying,

Matthew 12:31-32 22

'He has an unclean spirit.'" So that was the specific blasphemy

He was warning against: By knowingly attributing Christ's

power to Satan, in effect they were calling the Holy Spirit a

devil. They looked at Jesus' messianic credentials and

pronounced them the credentials of a demon-possessed

person. It was the consummate blasphemy. When they

blasphemed the Father by "making void the word of God by

[their] tradition," Jesus could rebuke and instruct them, as he

did in Mark 7:13. When they blasphemed Jesus by saying in

John 9:16, "This man is not from God," the Holy Spirit could

convict them of the truth about Him. But when with their

eyes wide open, knowingly lied about the Holy Spirit,

insisting that it was not He but Satan who empowered

JesusCespecially while deliberately trying to dissuade other

people from believing in HimCthat was the kind of

blasphemy for which there is no remedy or forgiveness, ever.

Now, I've already hinted strongly at the second

characteristic of the unpardonable sin, and it's this:


Remember what the Pharisees were doing and what

Scripture tells us about their motives, and you'll see that their

sin was calculated, intentional, and premeditated in the most

evil and voluntary sense possible. They committed this sin

with their eyes wide open.

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 23

Why was their attempt to dissuade people from following

Christ unpardonable? Because when Saul of Tarsus, also a

Pharisee, likewise tried to dissuade people from following

Jesus, and even punctuated his evildoing with an act of

murder in the martyrdom of Stephen, Saul still found

forgiveness. The apostle Paul himself tells us why. First

Timothy 1:12-13 again. Paul writes: "I thank him who has

given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me

faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a

blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received

mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief."

And remember Jesus' prayer from the cross: "Father,

forgive them, for they know not what they do." Now, obviously,

on the level of sentient knowledge, the people who put Jesus

to death did know they were killing an innocent man.

According to Luke 23:47, one of the centurions at the cross

even said, "Certainly this man was innocent!" But unlike these

Pharisees in Matthew 12, they were not guilty of turning

away from the settled, Spirit-wrought conviction that He was

indeed their rightful Lord. So there was still something in

their evil deed that was done out of ignorance and

unbeliefCas opposed to pure, undiluted, intentional,

premeditated blasphemy against the Holy Spirit like these

Pharisees had done.

As a matter of fact, if you check the cross-reference in

Mark 3:21, you'll see that "when his family heard [about Jesus'

Matthew 12:31-32 24

public ministry], they went out to seize him, for they were saying,

'He is out of his mind.'" Then it's the very next verse that tells

us, "The scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying,

'He is possessed by Beelzebul,' and "by the prince of demons he

casts out the demons."" So Jesus' own family accused Him of

being crazy in the very same context where these Pharisees

accused Him of being demon-possessed. Why was the sin of

the Pharisees unpardonable, when Jesus' own family

(including James and Jude, authors of the epistles that bear

their names) were forgiven and even became leaders in the


First of all, it was the deliberate, willful knowledge of

what they were doing that made the sin of the Pharisees in

Matthew 12 unforgivable. Their eyes had been enlightened.

They had witnessed, and investigated, and perhaps even been

beneficiaries of Jesus' miracles, and yet they spurned Him

with full knowledge of who He was.

This, I think, is where Jesus' warning about the

unpardonable sin intersects with the warning passages in

Hebrews. If you read Hebrews carefully, you will see that it

is dotted with warning passages throughout. These usually

come as interruptions in the flow of the text, and each time

there's a warning, it is stronger and more shrill. They are

warnings against falling away from Christ, and some

Christians find them theologically troubling. I don't.

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 25

Are these warnings that a true believer might lose his

salvation? Of course not. Scripture is full of promises that

God Himself will keep us from falling. He guarantees that

we will persevere to the end. He saves us to the uttermost. So

I hope you know the Hebrews warning passages are not

suggesting that someone might have salvation for a time and

then lose it.

But Hebrews was written to Jewish people who had

shown an interest in following Christ but had fallen short of

embracing Him with a whole heart. They were being tempted

by their own religious tradition and tantalized by the error of

the Judaizers. In their confusion, some of them were

retreating from Christ and going back to Old Testament

Judaism. So the epistle was written to encourage such people

to go on with Christ and enter into his restCthe Sabbath rest

of genuine saving faith. In other words, the warnings were

written to people who were not true Christians at all, but

people who had been enlightened so that they had seen the

truth. They associated with the church and followed the

gospel with interest and understanding, but not with real

faith. They knew the truth. They had been awakened by the

Holy Spirit, and in that sense were partakers with Him, too.

Their eyes, like the Pharisees in Matthew 12, were wide

open. But they were halting and faltering about publicly

identifying with Christ, because that involved a step away

from their religious comfort zone. It might mean persecution

Matthew 12:31-32 26

and isolation. So they held back, and some even turned away.

(Just like some people who are nominal Christians today do.)

And those warnings caution them of the dangers of turning

away after seeing the truth. Listen, for example, to Hebrews

6:4-6: "It is impossible, in the case of those who have once

been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have

shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the

word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have

fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are

crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and

holding him up to contempt." The stress is on the deliberate

nature of this sin. Listen to Hebrews 10:26-27: "If we go on

sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth,

there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful

expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the


That, I believe, is the very same unpardonable sin Jesus

was talking about. It is willful. It is a deliberate, calculated,

and final turning away by someone with full knowledge of

what he or she is doing. It is a calculated, intentional act of

blasphemy, not merely a sin of ignorant unbelief.

And its deliberate nature is one of the main factors that

makes it unpardonable. Such a sin closes and hardens the

heart with absolute, irreversible finality. Having knowingly

spurned the Holy Spirit's convicting ministry (which is the

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 27

only thing that might ever have converted them) these people

are left without any possibility of salvation.

But there's more. Here's a third, and final, characteristic of

the unpardonable sin from Matthew 12:


It is frightening to watch those YouTube videos from

people who answered the Blasphemy Challenge when you

realize that what you are seeing is a premeditated attempt to

commit the very blasphemy Jesus rebuked these Pharisees

for and the writer of Hebrews cautioned his readers against.

Many of those people on the videos could indeed be

deliberately damning their own souls without any possible

remedy or restoration. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands

of the living God" (Hebrews 10:31). It is an even more

frightening thing to subject yourself to His judgment out of

arrogant, willful, deliberate unbelief.

Still, I don't think a person necessarily commits the

unpardonable sin merely by professing to deny the Holy

Spirit and mouthing those words. My hope is that some of

those people on those videos, like the apostle Paul, are guilty

only of ignorant unbelief, and that there is still hope for


And the determining factor one way or the other is the

state of their hearts, which only God can see clearly. Look at

verses 33-37:

Matthew 12:31-32 28

Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the

tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit.

34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when

you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the

mouth speaks.

35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth

good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings

forth evil.

36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give

account for every careless word they speak,

37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your

words you will be condemned.

Jesus' point is that our words are important because they

express what's in our hearts. In fact, the real problemCthe

source of our wickednessCis not merely in the words we say,

but in the wicked heart that is the incubator of the words.

Words are vitalC"by your words you will be justified, and by

your words you will be condemned"Cbut the reason words are

vital is because they are the undeniable evidence of what's

really in the heart. And the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

is first of all a heart-sin before it ever gives birth to spoken

blasphemy. And that is another good reason to guard our


Now, I think the reason Jesus puts so much stress on the

expression of blasphemy and the speaking of words here is

that in addition to the willful, premeditated evil behind this

What is the Unpardonable Sin? 29

act, the one factor that makes it the most heinous,

indefensible, divinely-intolerable evil of all is that it involves

a purposeful attempt to undermine the faith of others. If these

Pharisees had kept their unbelief to themselves, who knows?

there might have been some potential in the infinite grace of

God for them to be converted and find true forgiveness. But

they deliberately attacked and tried to destroy the faith of

people who were still under the Holy Spirit's conviction and

had not yet come to full faith. They gave voice to the evil

that was in their hearts, and God withdrew His grace forever

from these men. Jesus in effect pronounced them


Now, there's a lot more left to say about the unpardonable

sin, and we will get there in the next few weeks, but let me

wrap up this morning by giving some words of

encouragement to those who struggle with fears that they

might be guilty of an unpardonable sin:

Remember, this sin is a very specific and extraordinary

one. It's not the sin of careless, thoughtless blasphemy. It's

not any sin like fornication, murder, or even suicide. It is a

deliberate, purposeful blasphemy that closes the heart, sears

the conscience, and intentionally, knowingly turns away

from the Holy Spirit henceforth and forever. That means if

you're truly concerned enough that you might have

committed it so that you pray to God for forgiveness, you

Matthew 12:31-32 30

haven't committed it at all. You can still turn to God for

forgiveness and find Him eager to forgive and abundantly


And let me make this invitation: If you're someone who

struggles with this fear and you cannot find peace in that

struggle, come see me, or Don, or any of the GraceLife

leadershipCespecially our Bible study leaders. It would be

our privilege to pray with you and help you seek forgiveness

and salvation, and to plumb with you the depths of this vast

promise that Jesus gave: "Every sin and blasphemy will be

forgiven people." And we will give thanks with you "unto the

LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endureth forever."