The concept of an unpardonable sin has been a source of difficulty for many because it seems to go against the Bible’s teaching concerning grace. It also seems to be contrary to the purpose of why Christ came, to save sinners. Yet in Matthew 12 Jesus speaks of a sin that is unpardonable. Through the years I have heard many assert a great many things surrounding this passage which has left me often times frustrated, discouraged and even doubting salvation.
For instance, I have heard many charismatic’s sight this verse when people challenge their practice of Spiritual Gifts, saying they are in danger of the unpardonable sin. I’ve heard many non-charismatic’s sight this verse at the charismatic’s claiming their practice of Spiritual Gifts (tongues in particular) are of the devil. The argument seems to go both ways depending on which side your standing on. On the other side of the coin I have heard many preachers claim that the unpardonable sin is dying in your sin having never excepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Others have said that once you reject Jesus, the one source of forgiveness, there is now no forgiveness. Both of these latter points are strong and compelling arguments however is this what Jesus meant when he sighted it.
Dr. Alan Cairns, Professor of Systematic Theology at Whitefield College of the Bible has in my opinion delivered the clearest exegesis on the subject I have ever heard. I will quote the context below and then follow with his explanation.
“Then one was brought to Him who was demon-possessed, blind and mute; and He 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?’ Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.” But Jesus knew their thoughts, and said to them: “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house. He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatter abroad. 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.” – Matt. 12:22-32
“The Lord Jesus in Matthew 12 speaks of a sin that is unpardonable. It’s amazing to me that when people read that passage they always focus on that one little thing, the one sin that is unpardonable. I have very rarely ever seen people emphasis the context and yet the context is glorious. Why do we not emphasis the magnificence of God’s mercy and just focus on this one thing? It’s because I suppose of so many false theories that people, especially preachers tell others it looks like they have committed the unpardonable sin. Actually the Lord Jesus was very careful in defining this. In the context he was referring it to the Pharisees and the sin that they had committed. These particular Pharisees. They knew according to Nicodemus, they knew that God was with Christ. Nicodemus said, “We know you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him” John 3:2. And yet the Pharisees in Matthew chapter 12 deliberately attributed what they knew to be the work of the Holy Spirit, they attributed it to the Devil. And they did it for their own rotten prodigious and their own particular political or sectarian advantage. Now that’s a terrible thing, they knew this to be the work of the Holy Spirit and they attributed it to the Devil. And Jesus said, you do that, that’s blasphemy that will never be forgiven in this life or the next. Now when you stop to think of it, if what the Holy Ghost does is relegated to be a work of the Devil, what is there for you? The only word that can bring light to you is the word of the of Holy Ghost. The only work that can benefit you is the work of the Holy Ghost. If you have already handed it all over to the devil, there is nothing left. Jesus said, that’s the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Some people have gone so far as to say and they may well be right in this, that that was a sin which could be committed only with regard to the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ because these men had seen the Son of God through whom the Spirit of God had moved with such power. They had seen that, nobody else now a days can see that, so some people will limit that blasphemy, that particular sin to the days of Christ on earth. Be they right or wrong on that, certainly it is defined as a deliberate attribution to the devil of what they knew to be the work of the Holy Spirit, that is the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost.” See Video here
I concur with the observation of Dr. Alan Cairns. Clearly, the Pharisees slandered the Holy Spirit by knowledgeably attributing His work to the Devil, and by doing so, committed the unpardonable sin. To attribute the work of the Holy Spirit to the power of Satan in the face of undenialable evidence is unpardonable. Scripture teaches that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (Matt. 18:16). Jesus told the Pharisees in John 8:17-18 “It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.” How did the Father bear witness of Him? By the Holy Spirit! Now here in Matthew 12 you have the two persons of the Godhead healing one who was demon possessed, blind and mute and the Pharisees attributed it to the work of the Devil. Their sin was not an act of impulse or ignorance, but the willful, continued rejection of the truth concerning Jesus. They had ample evidence of the truth from both the works and words of Jesus Christ, which left them without excuse and they deliberately insulted the Holy Spirit and by doing so they forfeited the Holy Spirit’s ministry in their lives and could not be forgiven.
Now here is a fundamental problem, Jesus said to His disciples in John 15:22-24 concerning the world that if he had not spoken to them, they would have no sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. If he had not done among them the works which no one else did, they would have no sin, but now they have seen and also hated both Jesus and His Father. It is clear, the works Jesus did, no one in history has or can duplicate. Yet today, many have stepped forward claiming the same anointing, authority, and ability as that of Jesus Christ. So here is the question, if a person attributes their works, or what they claim to be the works of God to the devil, does that place them at risk of committing the unpardonable sin? My answer would be no, for Jesus Himself was the spotless, sinless Son of God who could in no way do anything outside the Will of the Holy Spirit, man (flesh) on the other hand is not sinless. That does not mean that God cannot accomplish the miraculous through human means, undoubtedly he has and does, however, the miracles Jesus did validated Him as the Son of God while any miracle done through and by men validates the message of the Gospel. Any miracle done today, if it does not testify to the finished work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, is not a work of God. In Matthew 12: 22 the miracle was performed by the Spirit of God as an indication of the presence of the kingdom of God. This is what caused the multitudes in verse 23 to be amazed and look to Jesus as the Son of David, the title “Son of David” was a popular messianic term. The term itself is a public acknowledgment that Jesus is the Messiah. This is seen in Matthew 21:9 where the multitudes cried out “Hosanna (Save Now) to the Son of David! It was a plea from an oppressed people to their Savior for deliverance. In our context, the Pharisees rejected both Jesus as Messiah and the Work of the Holy Spirit through Him because of their prodigious and their own particular political or sectarian advantage. And today, most of what we are witnessing in the Charismatic church is an abuse of Spiritual Gifts which gives them their political and sectarian advantage. I have never seen one operate in the Gifts with the sole purpose to glorify Christ and present the oppressed with the salvation message. They are always used to build a ministry around a man. So I can say with all certainty, it is not the work of the Holy Spirit, it is the workings of the devil.