Thursday, December 14, 2006

The unforgivable sin-2


“1) What would you say to a professing Christian who feared they had committed this sin?”

One thing he should do is simply compare himself to the test-cases.

Is what he has done analogous to what the Pharisees did (Mt 12:22-32; Mk 3:22-30)?

Obviously not. The Pharisees who committed this sin (and not all Pharisees were guilty of the sin in question) never believed in Jesus. They never accepted his claims. And they accused him of sorcery to deflect the miraculous attestation.

Is this analogous to the situation of a professing believer who fears that he has committed the unforgivable sin? Not in the least.

To begin with, he doesn’t reject the claims of Christ. Even if, at some point in his life he did, he is now a professing Christian. Unless he were a believer, he wouldn’t harbor this anxiety in the first place. He wouldn’t take the sin seriously.

Did the Pharisees who committed this sin fret over the unforgivable sin? Not at all. They felt entirely justified in their repudiation of Christ.

So, if you compare the two, all you end up with is a point-blank contrast.

What about Lk 12:8-12? There are obviously instances in which professing believers deny their faith under duress.

Taken in isolation, they would seem to be guilty of the unforgivable sin.

But in the very same gospel we have a paradigm-case of a believer who denied his Lord on Good Friday (Lk 22).

Was Peter damned? No. He underwent spiritual restoration.

So Lk 12:8-10, considered in the light of Peter’s experience, has something more permanent in mind than a temporary loss of nerve.

Rather, it’s dealing with people play it safe from start to finish. They never make a public commitment to Christ because they’re afraid of persecution, from being socially ostracized to martyred for the faith.

“2) What would you say to someone who feared that because they had said some disparaging comments about what they thought were strange charismatic occurrences?”

There are several issues here:

i) It depends in part, on the prior question of where you come down on the issue of the spiritual gifts. If you don’t think that Pentecostal writers have made a convincing case for apostles, prophets, healers, &c. in the life of the contemporary church, then the relation to the unforgivable sin is moot.

If, by definition, you don’t believe in Pentecostalism, then you don’t believe such individuals are filled or empowered by the Holy Spirit, in which case there is no Holy Spirit within them to blaspheme. Or even if there is, what they are doing has no connection to the indwelling of the Spirit. It’s something they do in spite of the Spirit, and not because of it.

ii) It’s also a mistake to limit yourself to just two alternatives, as if the only way to evaluate a charismatic claim is to either say so-and-so is anointed by the Holy Spirit or else he’s possessed by the devil. There are other options, viz.,

a) S0-and-so may simply be a standard-issue charlatan. It’s all showmanship. You don’t have to be possessed to be a flim-flam man.

b) So-and-so may be sincere, but self-deluded.

c) Another possibility, if Kurt Koch is correct, is that some men and women inherited a form of mediumistic magic. They may have genuine powers, and those powers may have an occultic origin, but the individual is innocent of their origin. And the individual is not possessed, although his paranormal abilities are something of a family curse.

iii) As you know, the Bible has a lot to say about false prophets, both in the OT and NT.

Now, if a false prophet could silence criticism by playing the card of the unforgivable sin, then he would be immune to criticism.

But that would be a form of spiritual extortion. It would be impossible under such circumstances to ever heed the Scriptural warnings and forewarnings about false prophets in our own experience. We could not obey those admonitions.

So the verses about the unforgivable sin were never meant to immunize a spiritual claimant from honest scrutiny.


“What about the scripture that says, ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ If we confess the sin against the Holy Spirit, will God forgive us?”

i) Yes, that’s a good Scripture, and it’s one of the things we need to take into account in arriving at a balanced position.

ii) However, the question assumes that the Christian who appeals to this verse of Scripture was guilty of blaspheming the Spirit in the first place.

My impression is that most folks who are haunted by the fear of having committed this sin have simply misinterpreted the relevant verses. They have misidentified themselves as falling under the scope of the verses in question.

The problem is with their self-classification. They never did what the verses are talking about.

“I've had unforgivable-sin phobia for 5 years now. It's very hard to live with.”

Several steps:

i) The first thing you need to do is to achieve intellectual clarity. To think correctly about what the Bible actually teaches on this subject. I hope what I’ve said thus far facilitates that process.

ii) You should then embrace a passage like the one you quoted (1 Jn 1:9). Claim that promise. Personalize that promise. That verse has your name on it. Sign your name under that promise.

iii) Ignore your feelings. Make your head lead your heart. Start with head-knowledge. A correct knowledge of what the Bible teaches. Don’t let the heart lead the head. Not when you’re suffering from spiritual depression or emotional oppression.

You need to wean yourself of your phobia. It doesn’t necessarily happen overnight. Rather, you wean yourself of this phobia by doing several things:

a) Starve it. Neglect it. Ignore it. Consciously put it out of your mind.

b) Replace it in your thoughts with the promises of Scripture (1 Jn 9). Memorize Bible verses that stress the believer’s assurance of salvation.

c) Memorize hymns that stress the believer’s assurance of salvation. Sing them to yourself.

d) Read edifying Christian literature. Poetry. Stuff by John Piper. Christian biographies.

e) Spend time with upbeat Christian friends.

f) You may need to change churches. Maybe you’re in the wrong church. Even if it’s doctrinally sound, you may feel beaten down all the time.

g) Tell the devil to go to hell! :-)

iv) Spiritual depression can also have natural aggravating factors. Some people have a melancholic disposition. Some people have suffered personal loss. Some people are depressed by a dreary climate. There are also differences in national character.

Make allowance for natural factors. Don’t attribute everything to personal failings. No one gets through life without his share of discouragements. Don’t spiritualize everything, as if every regret or setback or foreboding is a black mark against your faith and sanctification. Life in a fallen world is a bruising experience. Look ahead.


  1. As a sufferer of OCD, I can say that the unpardonable sin was a fear of mine for years.

    People who fear this need to ask themselves the following question: If you told God you loved Him but didn't mean it, would He count it toward you? Likewise, if you had a blasphemous thought against the Holy Spirit, but didn't mean it (like the Pharisees did), why would He count it against you?

    I used to go over why I thought I hadn't commited this sin for hours a day. I was able to get over it when I refused to give in to that compulsion. Hard to do, but it worked.

    I believe Steve is right that people who fear they have commited it don't have a good grasp on what the sin entails to begin.

  2. d) Read edifying Christian literature. Poetry. Stuff by John Piper. Christian biographies.

    e) Spend time with upbeat Christian friends.

    In this regard, I found the story of John Newton encouraging William Cowper in his melancholy and despair quite helpful.

    John Piper has given sermons on both men: Newton and Cowper. These sermons are also freely available to download and listen to (MP3). Look under "Men of Whom the World Was Not Worthy." In my opinion, Piper's preaching itself is often a balm to the soul.

    Finally, Prof. Michael Haykin has an edifying sermon on Cowper as well. As an added bonus, at the end of it, Haykin takes a few of Cowper's hymns -- including "There is a fountain filled with blood" and "God moves in a mysterious way" -- and expounds on what Cowper meant. A rich, nourishing, and edifying experience.

  3. :::YAWN!!!:::

    oh dear! oh dear! Am I saved? Did I commit the unforgivable? oh dear!

  4. "“1) What would you say to a professing Christian who feared they had committed this sin?”

    As John Frame says in his Intro to Systematic Theology book (Salvation Belongs To The Lord), if you're worried that you've committed the unforgivable sin, you can be assured that you probably haven't.

  5. What Steve and Paul DON'T know, is that we laugh at them behind their back!

    (Come back Touchstone, we BADLY need your help!)

  6. The 'we' anonymous refers to being himself and the voices in his head, no doubt.

    Besides which, I suspect that what anonymous deosn't know could fill several British Libraries.

    On the matter in hand, may I suggest a piece of wisdom once imparted to me by a minister: If a person fears they've committed the unforgiveable sin, they haven't. Those who have committed said sin are so hardened that it is impossible for them to repent.