If you have strayed from God in the past, you may wonder whether you can really return to Him in the future. Have you sinned so greatly that all hope is lost for you? The Bible's clear warning can help you see for yourself!
One of the most agonizing worries is the fear of being cut off from God. Even more distressing is the thought that one may be cut off forever, with no chance of redemption. Some fear that they have committed the "unpardonable sin." Do you feel guilty, worried that your sins are keeping you away from God?
If you want deliverance from your guilty feelings—if you want to repent and you want relief for your feelings of despondency—there is help available. God is not out to trick people into sinning so He can find an excuse to destroy them. On the contrary, God wants us to be a part of His family and to share in His loving way of life. He wants us to learn from our mistakes, repent and change our lives.
Does your conscience bother you? Scripture explains that those who have actually committed the unpardonable sin have seared their consciences—and are totally consumed with rebellion against God. They are not worried about committing the ultimate transgression. They may be fearful of their ultimate punishment, but they are not equivocating over their unswerving dedication to wickedness and evil.
Just what is the unpardonable sin? Put simply, it is a sin that will not be forgiven. God is willing to forgive our sins if we repent of them, if we are sorry for them and if we are determined to change. But when one sears his conscience to never repent, he cannot be forgiven. Jesus states the problem clearly. "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" (Mark 3:28–29).
Jesus said that all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, if they repent of those sins. Yet the one unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? And how does one blaspheme against the Holy Spirit?
Blasphemy, according to Webster's Dictionary, is "to speak impiously or irreverently of (God or sacred things)" or "to speak evil of, slander; abuse." A parallel Gospel account gives us a powerful example. "Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He [Jesus] healed him, so that the blind and mute man both spoke and saw. And all the multitudes were amazed and said, 'Could this be the Son of David?'" (Matthew 12:22–23).
The crowds recognized that the prophesied Messiah, the Son of David, would be able to accomplish this miracle, but the Pharisees falsely asserted that Jesus used the power of Satan. "Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, 'This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons'" (Matthew 12:24).
These accusers blasphemed—they spoke evil of God's miraculous work through the Holy Spirit. Jesus warned them powerfully: "Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. 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" (Matthew 12:31–32).
We all need to heed that warning. Notice the Apostle Paul's warning to Christians, that "if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26).
Willful sin is a fully conscious and determined act and attitude to not ever repent of sin. The willful sinner is intractable. He or she has a conscience seared to do evil. This kind of sinner will never even entertain the thought of repenting and desiring to return to God's way of life (cf. 1 Timothy 4:2). The incorrigibly wicked are not blinded like the rest of the world; they have "knowledge of the truth." They know the effect of Christ's sacrifice, yet they profane it. Such ones face "a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses' law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?" (Hebrews 10:27–29).
Yes, there will be a fiery judgment—a lake of fire for those who persist in sinning willfully and who insult the Spirit of grace. Scripture also gives a warning to all who, as Christians, have been "partakers of the Holy Spirit." Remember that God gives the Holy Spirit to those "who obey Him" (Acts 5:32). If Christians willfully turn back to evil—if they fall away and turn to a hardened and permanent attitude of disobedience—Scripture teaches that it is impossible to "renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:6).
Truly converted Christians are those to whom God has given the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). Even converted Christians will sin—but they are committed to repenting always. They need a repentant attitude of mind, always looking forward to changing their behavior and attitude, even if they feel too weak to do so just yet. God is patient, but we need to respond to that patience because the time is growing short. Always desire repentance. Always desire to change your life for good even if, through weakness, you give in to temptation. Ask God for a spirit of repentance!
We have seen that the unpardonable sin is a sin that will not be forgiven because the sinner willfully blasphemes the Holy Spirit, and hardens his heart to never repent. Such a sinner sears his conscience to do evil, and will end up in the lake of fire, as we read in Revelation 21:8. How can we avoid having this belligerent and hardened mindset?
We all have the opportunity to choose life and love, rather than death and disobedience. But how can anyone deliberately and permanently decide to go the wrong way into rebellion? Here is what Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong wrote concerning that deliberate choice: "This may come from wrong reasoning; from wrong desire thought out to a final fixed, permanent decision as to his way of life; or, from allowing resentment in his heart toward either God or some person who may have wronged him. To allow resentment to embitter him, until he comes to change his whole life course, turning from God" (What Do You Mean, 'The Unpardonable Sin'?, 1972, p. 34).
Hurt feelings often lead to resentment, and resentment turns to hate and bitterness. Are you resentful and hateful toward someone? We must always be on guard against such feelings. Remember: "Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (1 John 3:15). If you have those feelings, you need to overcome them by choosing to fear God and choosing to understand the seriousness of hate and resentment.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave another antidote to feelings of hate and desires for revenge. "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:43–45).
To a carnal mind, that approach sounds naive and foolish. But following those instructions to pray for our enemies can keep us from the poison of bitterness. Yes, this is a revolutionary way of life. It is the antithesis of today's selfish, covetous, me-first philosophy. But it is the way of life taught by the Son of God, and the way of life everyone in the Millennium—Christ's future 1,000-year rule on earth—will learn. Try it! Actually get down on your knees—and pray for the welfare of someone you may even hate. You will be surprised at the relief of stress you will experience. Our attitude and approach toward others is extremely important.
God, in His judgment, will avenge injustice. As the Apostle Paul wrote: "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19). We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (14:10). Trust God to punish the wicked, just as He says.
Notice one more key to overcoming bitterness. "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled" (Hebrews 12:14–15).
Here is another warning to avoid bitterness. Notice the prescription: "Pursue peace with all people, and holiness." Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matthew 5:9). He said: "Do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44). Will you take His challenge? Will you humble yourself before God and pray for your enemies? This will go a long way toward overcoming any root of bitterness you may have.
One can also lose the Holy Spirit, and go down the pathway toward the unpardonable sin, by continued neglect. Do you neglect prayer, Bible study and fellowship with converted Christians?
This world has such a pull on our interests that we can be distracted from our spiritual priorities. What is your personal goal in life? Jesus said: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:33). That should be our goal in life, according to our Savior! Neglecting our spiritual priorities leads to spiritual weakness, but God's Spirit is the Spirit of power and of love and of a sound mind. The Apostle Paul wrote: "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6–7).
Without that spiritual power, we will be unable to change our lives. But God is willing to give us that gift, the most valuable gift beyond the gift of His Son for the sins of the world. What must we do? On the day of Pentecost, at the very beginning of the New Testament Church, the Apostle Peter said: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38). Christians do receive that gift, but it is a gift that must be treasured, and even "stirred up," as the Apostle Paul exhorted.
Continued neglect of our spiritual priorities will lead to a "care-less" attitude—an attitude that can lead to a hardened heart and the unpardonable sin. "Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away" (Hebrews 2:1). Otherwise, "how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" (v. 3). Christians must make the commitment never to allow bitter or resentful attitudes to poison their hearts and minds. And we must make the commitment to seek the Lord while He may be found. Keep up heartfelt prayer and Bible study. Choose to stay awake spiritually. Be committed to staying spiritually active and alert!
One of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the Bible is that billions of people—individuals whom some Christians have condemned or considered lost forever—were actually blinded spiritually. They were carnal, they were even wicked, but they never heard or understood the true Gospel. Yes, they will certainly be judged, as the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged when God poured out fire and brimstone upon them. But did these blinded people commit the unpardonable sin? Jesus spoke about those cities which should have repented at His disciples' preaching: "Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!" (Matthew 10:15). Even the people of Sodom and Gomorrah will have their opportunity for salvation!
God gave His promises to the patriarch Abraham, but on the surface it appeared that fulfillment of the promises was impossible. Notice what the Bible says about Abraham's attitude. "Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, 'So shall thy seed be'" (Romans 4:18, KJV).
Abraham "against hope, believed in hope" or as the New King James Version states it, Abraham "contrary to hope, in hope believed." I can identify with that. Before I became a Christian, I felt the same way. Your Bible is filled with God's promises to you. You can have an assurance, an expectation, and a hope for the future. There is not only hope, but promise—the promise of a new world, the Kingdom of God on earth and the millennial rule of Jesus Christ. I learned of Jesus' promise to return to this earth—and that He would establish lasting world peace. Paul went on to say: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ" (Ephesians 2:13).
If you feel cut off from God, you can be reconciled. You can have hope. You can be brought near by the blood of Christ. If you want ministerial counsel, please call or write to the Regional Office nearest you, listed on page 30 of this magazine. There is hope for you—and for billions of people on this earth. God wants all of mankind to respond to His love. He "desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Timothy 2:4). You, too, can come to that knowledge of truth.
If you are committed to changing your life—if you are truly sorry for your sins and truly repent—you will be forgiven. A vital key to avoiding the unpardonable sin is always maintaining a repentant attitude. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9).
We need to confess our sins to our God and Savior. Remember the tax collector whom Jesus said went home justified rather than the Pharisee? He prayed: "God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Luke 18:13). May God help you to seek Him wholeheartedly, because He is able to forgive you your sins, and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. If we maintain this repentant attitude, we can know that we have not committed, and will not commit, the unpardonable sin!