Have you committed a sin so serious that you can no longer be saved? Are you afraid that you will “get what you deserve” after you die? Is there an unforgivable sin? What does your Bible really say about forgiveness—and whether God still considers you eligible to receive it?
Earlier this year, when divorce courts reopened on March 1 in the Chinese province of Xian—after millions of residents had spent more than a month isolated with their families in “lockdown”—officials reported a record number of divorce appointments. One court officer explained that “many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts” (“Chinese city experiencing a divorce peak as a repercussion of COVID-19,” Global Times, March 7, 2020).
Even in ordinary times, many of us find it difficult to forgive one another. In times of stress, we may find it even harder to forgive those around us. As imperfect human beings, we know we need others to forgive us. And we may feel guilty, thinking that we don’t really deserve forgiveness, though we want it desperately—especially when we fail to forgive others.
As much as we want forgiveness in our human relationships, how much more do we desire forgiveness from God? Many of us have heard of the “unpardonable sin” and wonder whether we have done something so awful that even God will not forgive us. Jesus Christ’s somber warning is recorded in Scripture: “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).
Perhaps, in a moment of despair or depression, you have cursed God or doubted the reality and power of His Holy Spirit. Does this mean that you are cut off from God forever, with no opportunity for redemption? Has this thought produced even deeper des-pair, or have you even become angry at a God who would cut you off with no hope of salvation?
The good news is that if you have these worries—if you are really concerned and troubled by the fear that you may have committed the unpardonable sin—you haven’t actually committed it! As we will see in this article, only those who don’t worry about it—who have hardened their hearts—can commit that dreadful sin. If you repent, your sin is pardonable—and with God’s help, you can repent, if you set your heart to doing so!
Your Bible explains that there will be a future time of fiery judgment—a lake of fire for those who persist in sinning willfully and who insult the Spirit of grace. Scripture gives a warning to all who, as Christians, have been “partakers of the Holy Spirit” (Hebrews 6:4). Remember that God gives the Holy Spirit to those “who obey Him” (Acts 5:32). If obedient Christians willfully turn back to evil—if they adopt 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).
However, we should understand that God is not trying to trick people into sinning so He can find an excuse to destroy them. Nor can Satan force Christians to turn away from God against their will. The truth is that God wants us to be 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—they 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 that fear is not enough to stop them from persisting in their willfully wicked and evil ways. If your conscience is bothering you, you may need to repent and change your ways. Thankfully, if you act on your conscience, repent, and resist Satan, you can be free of fear and guilt. Luke tells us of a tax collector whose repentant attitude was acceptable to God (Luke 18:9–14), and points out that a self-righteous attitude is not acceptable.
So, can you truly repent after a lifetime of sin? Yes! No matter how seriously you have sinned, you can repent. However, in order to persist in your repentance, you will want God’s help—the help that only comes through the gift of His Holy Spirit. 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, you and I lack the superhuman strength required to exemplify God’s holy and righteous character in our own lives. How wonderful it is that God is willing to give us that gift, the most valuable gift besides the gift of His Son for the sins of the world. So, to receive that gift, what must we do? On the day of Pentecost, at the very beginning of the New Testament Church, the Apostle Peter gave the answer: “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 Timothy.
“Converted” Christians are those to whom God has given the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). Of course, even converted Christians will sin—but they do not practice sin as a way of life. They examine themselves regularly and are committed to repenting always. They need a repentant mindset, always looking forward to changing their behavior and attitude. God is patient, but we need to respond to His patience because our time is growing short. Always desire repentance. Always desire to change your life for good—even if, through weakness, you sometimes give in to temptation. Ask God for a spirit of repentance! God will grant you repentance (Acts 11:18). That means He will give you the ability to see your human nature—your sinful thoughts and behaviors—and to be so sorry for your sins that you strongly desire to change your life and receive His forgiveness. How awesome it is to know we can be forgiven and thoroughly cleansed by the blood of Christ (1 John 1:7–10).
Jesus said that all the sins of the repentant will be forgiven. The only unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What does that mean? How does one blaspheme the Holy Spirit?
To blaspheme is to speak irreverently of or to slander God or the sacred things of God. One gospel account gives us a powerful example of this: “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—specifically, they spoke evil of God’s miraculous work through the Holy Spirit, claiming it was the power of the devil. Jesus warned them powerfully of this particular form of blasphemy: “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).
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; unlike the ignorant, they have “knowledge of the truth.” They know the effect of Christ’s sacrifice, yet they purposefully profane it. Such people 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).
You cannot trample Christ underfoot if you have never truly heard of Him. You cannot speak evil of what you do not know. One of the most comforting and encouraging truths of the Bible is that most people throughout history—individuals many assume are lost forever—have in fact been blinded spiritually. Most of the billions of human beings who have lived and died never even heard the name of Jesus Christ, and even most of those who have heard His name have never truly heard what He preached—the true Gospel of the Kingdom of God. Without the truth of God, these people were certainly carnal and worldly. Some of them were even wicked. And they will certainly be judged, as the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah were judged. 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). This shows that even the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah will have their opportunity for salvation. So, too, will the billions who lived and died in ignorance of Christ’s message. For them, God is preparing the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11–15), where they will for the first time receive the truth and have their own opportunity to accept or reject it.
You may wonder, How and why would anyone make the awful choice to blaspheme the Holy Spirit and go into purposeful, intentional rebellion against God? Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, our predecessor in this Work, described how that deliberate choice may be made: “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”?, p. 34, 1972).
Rarely does anyone wake up one morning and decide, “Today, I’m going to turn myself completely against God.” Most often, it happens gradually, beginning with callous and continued neglect of our spiritual priorities. Such neglect 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). Yes, as Christians 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. We must be committed to staying spiritually active and alert!
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).
How important is this instruction? Remember what Jesus taught in His model prayer—often called the Lord’s Prayer: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12). Do you pray that way? Do you forgive others with the same eagerness with which you want God to grant you His forgiveness?
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 thousand-year rule on earth—will learn. Try it! Literally get down on your knees and pray for the welfare of someone you may even hate. You will be surprised at the relief from stress you will experience. Of course, some of us who are older may have health conditions that make it hard to pray on our knees, so do what you can, and know that God knows the attitude in your heart even if you are only figuratively “on your knees.”
When you pray, be confident that 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). When our time comes, we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (14:10). Trust God to punish the wicked, just as He says He will.
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).
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 and leaves us vulnerable to the bitterness that may eventually cause us to reject God.
When God gave His promises to the patriarch Abraham, it appeared on the surface that fulfillment of those promises was impossible. But 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, King James Version).
Abraham, against hope, believed in hope—or as the New King James Version states it, Abraham “contrary to hope, in hope believed.” However, 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. Jesus has promised to return to this earth and establish lasting, worldwide peace. The Bible is filled with God’s promises to you. You can have an assurance, an expectation, and a hope for the future. 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 4 of this magazine.
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. Yes, God wants to be near to you—not just to the people the world considers “important” or “special.” Think of the gospel account of the tax collector Jesus said went home justified rather than the Pharisee. He prayed, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” (Luke 18:13–14). If you recognize yourself as a humble sinner who sincerely desires forgiveness, you have not committed the unforgivable sin—yes, you are forgivable!
May God help you to seek Him wholeheartedly, because He is able to forgive 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!