Unforgivable Sin




Mark 3:28-30

(28) "Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter,

(29) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"--

(30) for they were saying, "He has an unclean spirit" (ESV). Amen. The word of God. thanks be to God.


Gilligan's Island” was a TV show back in the sixties about the comic adventures of seven castaways as they attempted to survive and ultimately escape from the island where they were shipwrecked; however, there is a secret about this "comedy" that has only recently come to light. The island represents hell.

Think about it. Nobody on the island wants to be there, yet nobody can leave. Moreover, each of the characters represents one of the seven deadly sins:

Ginger represents LUST; she wears skimpy outfits and is obsessed with her looks. Mary Ann represents ENVY; she is jealous of Ginger's beauty. The Professor represents PRIDE; he is an annoying know-it-all. Mr. Howell represents GREED, of course, and Mrs. Howell represents SLOTH. She never lifts a finger to help on any of their escape plans. The Skipper represents two sins: GLUTTONY—I guess there is not explanation needed of that—and ANGER: he hits Gilligan on every show. That leaves Gilligan. Gilligan is the person who put them there. He prevents them from leaving by foiling all of their escape plots. Also, it is HIS island. Therefore, Gilligan is SATAN. After the series was colorized for syndication, he even wore red.

Of course, that is a joke, but the seven deadly sins are no joke. They are also called the seven cardinal sins or the seven capital vices. All sins are bad enough; these are supposedly the worst of sins. The problem is no one exactly agrees on what they are. Back in AD 590, Pope Gregory I listed the seven deadlies as extravagance, gluttony, greed, Despair, wrath, envy, and pride, but in later lists “despair” is dropped in favor of “laziness.” I have never heard a good explanation why this happened. Perhaps the church came to feel that laziness or sloth was the result of despair and they decided preach against the result rather than the cause—which does not make any sense at all.

You may know that despair is sometimes identified as the unpardonable sin. Now that is a concept blows our minds. There is an unforgivable sin or unpardonable sin. You will hear preached most every Sunday in every Christian church that God can and will pardon every sin, and the emphasis is on “EVERY.” Preachers will go to great lengths to tell you that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, but clearly, if you and I are reading the same language this morning, these verses from Mark say otherwise. There is a sin that makes salvation impossible, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

I read you Mark’s version earlier. You might be interested in Matthew’s version: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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 come” (Matthew 12:31-32 ESV).

On the same subject, Luke says: “Everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Luke 12:10 ESV).

Now I should tell you that most scholars consider Mark to be the earliest gospel and possibly Matthew and Luke have used Mark as a source, but however that may be all three of the Gospel passages are in a context in which Jesus' ministry is being criticized

In Mark, certain scribes were saying that Jesus was demon-possessed, that the reason Jesus was able to cast out demons was that Jesus was, in effect, a demon. Apparently, Jesus was outraged by this accusation, because he made quite an extensive reply: "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end” (23-26). In other words, Jesus said, it is brainless to say that a demon-possessed person would cast out demons. That is like saying a general would destroy his own army.

Then in v27, Jesus gives us a short parable. “No one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man. Then indeed he may plunder his house.” What does this mean? The “house” Jesus has just mentioned is the house of Satan. Satan is the “strong man.” In order to be able to enter Satan’s house and “plunder” Satan’s goods, you need to bind Satan. By implication, Jesus is the one who can bind Satan and therefore can cast out demons.

Then in v28, Jesus shifts gears and begins to talk about the forgiveness of sins. I guess the question is have the scribes sinned in suggesting that Jesus is demonic. Jesus says, “All sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” That is good news; That is what we want to hear; then he adds the exception: “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin."

Now you might say, wait a minute, as Christians, we say that God pardons any sins committed by any person, because of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross. Now you are saying that there is a sin or class of sins that is not forgivable. There is an eternal sin or class of sins, which prevents the perpetrator from being saved. Yes. That is what Jesus said, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

That raises a bone-chilling question. Have you or I committed this unforgivable sin, in which case, no matter what nice words we say about Jesus, we are forever and irretrievably condemned.

Now I know what you are going to ask. What is this unpardonable sin? It is not denying Christ. Peter denied Christ three times and was still restored to Christ. Paul persecuted the church, had Christians thrown into prison, participated in the murder of Stephen, and was still miraculously saved, so Paul did not commit the unpardonable sin.

However, most folks say that Judas Iscariot committed that sin. What did Judas do? He betrayed Jesus for 30 pieces of silver and he identified Jesus to the arresting temple police with a kiss.

There are two references to the death of Judas. The Gospel of Matthew says that, after Jesus' arrest by the Roman authorities (but before his execution), the guilt-ridden Judas returned the bribe to the priests and committed suicide by hanging himself. In contrast, Acts says that Judas used the bribe to buy a field, but fell down headfirst, and burst asunder out in the field, and all his bowels gushed out and he died. Acts does not say that Judas committed suicide.

However that may be, you may know that there was a tradition in the Middle Ages that suicide is this unforgivable sin. We talked about this some in the Wednesday bible study a few weeks ago. I do not think so. There are several suicides recorded in the Bible, and the biblical writers do not specifically state that such deaths are acts of sin. For example, Samson committed suicide by destroying the building that he was in. In fact, Samson prayed to God for strength to commit suicide and God granted him strength, and Samson is listed in Hebrews 11, as a hero of the faith.

Further, after the Philistines defeated his army, Saul, the first king of Israel, committed suicide, and he is not condemned for his suicide.

As I said earlier, there was a tradition in the Middle Ages that suicide is an act of murder, self-murder to be exact, and thus is in direct opposition to God's will. Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval theologian, classified suicide as a sin that cannot be forgiven. Because of this, the medieval Church refused to conduct funerals for people who took their own lives and refused to bury them in consecrated ground, that is in the church cemetery.

However, since the 19th century, suicide has been seen more as a symptom than a sin. People who take their own lives are viewed as suffering from emotional or mental illness. Clearly, this is true. Those who commit suicide are not truly healthy at the time. They literally are not in their "right minds." Realizing this, realizing that people who commit suicide are not really themselves at the time helps to put this act in perspective.

They perceive their lives as negative and become more and more depressed so that they are in such darkness that they cannot see any way out. There is a multitude of causes of such bleak depression:

The death of a loved one, a divorce, separation, or breakup of a relationship—which is a kind of death, a serious loss, such as a loss of a job, house, or money—which is again a kind of death. A serious illness or accident, Chronic physical pain. Being victimized (domestic violence, rape, assault). Feeling "trapped" in a situation perceived as negative. It does not matter whether the situation is actually negative. Some folks think their situation is so bad, that things can never get better. They feel helpless. They perceive themselves as total failures. They think nobody cares.

That is the kind of mental state that can lead to suicide. Therefore, most suicides are either distraught or depressed, and neither of those conditions are necessarily sinful. By depressed, I do not mean “blue,” or “down in the dumps.” I mean suffering from depression, which is a vicious disease that, like diabetes, patiently waits for its opportunity to prove fatal.

So, it does not make sense to regard the condition of being distraught as a matter of conscious choice or a sin. That is like an ER doctor describing a trauma victim's body as choosing to go into shock, and saying to the poor victim, you are a sinner because you went into shock.

That is nonsense, you say; of course, it is and it is equally nonsense to say to a depressed person, your depression is a sin. Again, that is like saying to a cancer victim, your cancer is your sin. We are not going to do that obviously. Instead, we are going to help them all we can. Even so, we should strive to help a depressed person all we can.

The solution to depression is action, to do something, particularly to do something for others, to get involved in something, particularly to get involved in some larger cause than ourselves.

When it comes to writing, Emily Dickinson is considered to be a poet of despair, and it is true that Dickinson eloquently describes despair. She was fascinated with illness, dying, and death. Her poems allude to crucifixion, drowning, hanging, suffocation, freezing, and premature burial.

However, Emily Dickinson did not despair. She wrote, and she kept on writing even when no one seemed particularly interested in publishing her poems. She wrote 1800 poems, very few of which were published in her lifetime. You cannot despair and write 1,800 poems. You cannot despair and write one poem. The act of writing is a rejection of despair. Emily Dickinson made a choice to act, rather than to give up and do nothing. Had she given in to depression and despair, she would never have written a line and we would not consider her today an outstanding American poet. And that would have been a sin. That would have been the real sin for Emily Dickinson.

The prime example of despair is not Emily Dickinson but J. Alfred Prufrock. T. S. Eliot wrote a poem called “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock.” Prufrock is a pathetic man who cannot make decisions for fear that he may be wrong. Prufrock continually worries that he will make a fool of himself and that people will ridicule him for his clothes, his bald spot, or whatever. Consequently, he never actually does anything. That has got to be the unpardonable sin, the sin of total negativity.

Despair looks for excuses not to act and always finds them. Hope always chooses to act, even if the odds seem insurmountable and the resources inadequate. Even if all we have is five smooth stones like young David, we should use whatever we have, and never quit.

In Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, the major crisis of the book comes when Huck thinks he has committed the unpardonable sin. The novel is set in the pre-Civil War South, and the worst sin of the time; the worst sin that Huck knows about is freeing a Black person from slavery. Jim is Huck’s companion throughout the book. Jim is a runaway slave who is finally caught again, but no one knows who Jim “belongs to.” Huck’s plain duty, as he sees it, is to write to Jim owner and tell her where Jim is being held. But we read in the book,

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to Hell" -- and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. ... And for a starter I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.” (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain, The Modern Library, New York, p500-501)

Huck thought he had committed the unpardonable sin, and therefore he might as well commit every other sin also, but Huck was wrong. His decision to steal Jim from slavery is, in fact, his salvation.

He took action, he helped someone. So the next time you are feeling down and depressed. Do not worry about whether you have committed the unpardonable sin. Go out and help someone.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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