In this sermon, as part of his series on Travels with Jesus, Pastor Neil explains what the unforgivable sin is and why it is unpardonable. Here are some excerpts:
In a theological context, blasphemy refers to slanderous, derogatory, contemptuous, or abusive speech directed toward God. It is “an expression of defiant hostility toward God” (William Lane, Mark, New International Commentary on the New Testament). Another way to say it, according to Chuck Swindoll, is “defiant irreverence” (Swindoll, Swindoll’s Living Insights: Mark, 100). To “misuse the name of the Lord your God,” to “take the name of the Lord your God in vain,” as is prohibited by #3 in the list of the Ten Commandments God gave His people, sometimes rises to the level of blasphemy. Perhaps “sinks” is more accurate and appropriate than “rises.”
Jesus has something specific in mind here. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this sin for which there is no forgiveness, does not refer to some kind of momentary spiritual lapse. It does not involve the uttering of a few thoughtless words or expletives. (Which is not to say that expletives are acceptable for followers of Jesus, or that careless words are no big deal. They are! Words are powerful and have consequences for good or ill.) But blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not defined by a momentary spiritual lapse or an angry outburst or the use of words or expressions that are unbecoming of followers of Jesus.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit involves a willful, defiant, hardened rejection of the truth of the gospel and of the person and work of the Lord Jesus. The primary mission of the Holy Spirit, as we say in the EPC Essentials of Our Faith, is “to glorify Christ and to apply the saving work of Christ to our hearts.” To commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to willfully and knowingly shut your eyes to the truth of the gospel; to deliberately reject the witness of the Holy Spirit regarding Jesus; and to stubbornly attribute the works of Jesus, including His healings and other acts of mercy, all of which were done in the power of the Holy Spirit, to Satan. That is the essence of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
If you believe what God is doing in the world today is really the work of Satan; if you see miracles of grace and believe Satan is behind them; that God is not good and that Jesus, far from being the world’s Savior, is responsible for everything that is wrong with the world, or in the world; then you are in danger of committing this sin for which there is no forgiveness. I am confident – beyond a reasonable doubt – that none of you fits this description. But only you and God know for sure.
Jesus is talking about a heart condition for which there is no cure. He is talking about a heart so hardened by unbelief and opposition to the gospel that it is beyond repair, beyond hope of repentance, beyond hope of a change of heart. The reason such a person is beyond hope, the reason they are guilty of a sin that will never be forgiven, is because they will never turn to God in true repentance. They will never acknowledge their need of Jesus. They will never turn from their self-chosen way, from their opposition and hostility to Jesus. If they did, they would find grace and forgiveness at the foot of the cross. But if they have crossed this line, if they are so hardened against the gospel and the saving power of Jesus that they will never turn to Him, they will never be forgiven. Never. That is why this is an unforgivable sin.
Charles Swindoll says this about it: “If this blasphemy is ever acknowledged as sin, it can be forgiven (Mark 3:28). Sin becomes unpardonable when the guilty one rejects the path that leads to pardon, continues in rebellion, and refuses to bow in submission before God. Therefore, a person receiving the penalty of the ‘unpardonable sin’ has condemned himself” (or herself). “This sin is a chronically rebellious and continuing attitude, not a single act” (Swindoll, 100-101).
Another preacher/scholar, Daniel Akin, points out that “This unpardonable sin is characterized by consistently rejecting the obvious and logical conclusion that [the works of Jesus] are done by the Spirit of God. It is a persistent rejection of and declaration against what the Spirit of God is doing in and through Jesus.” With hardened hearts, he says, the Pharisees “look(ed) at the supremely good One” – Jesus – “and call(ed) Him the supremely evil one” (Daniel Akin, Christ-Centered Exposition: Exalting Jesus in Mark, 77).
Pastor Neil has a lot to say about this topic. Please click on the link below to hear the sermon in its entirety.