Bobby Braswell, Associational Missions Strategist
Middle Baptist Association, Sylvania
God does not forgive those who reject Jesus and never seek His forgiveness.
Anyone who has read Bunyan’s “The Pilgrim’s Progress” might be startled to encounter at the House of the Interpreter the man in the Iron Cage. He says of himself, “I was once a fair and flourishing professor [believer], both in mine own eyes, and also in the eyes of others I once was, as I thought, fair for the Celestial City, and had then even joy at the thoughts that I should get there. [But] I am now a man of despair, and am shut up in this Iron Cage. I cannot get out; O, now I cannot. I laid the reins upon the neck of my lusts. I sinned against the light of the Word and the goodness of God. I have grieved the Spirit, and He is gone. I tempted the devil, and he is come to me. I have provoked God to anger, and he has left me. I have so hardened my heart that I cannot repent.”
If this describes an accurate possibility for an errant believer, it is a troubling prospect (Ken Puls’s insights here are very helpful.). It conjures up these questions: Is there any sin that cannot be forgiven? If so, what is the character of it? Why would its affect be irreversible? Is there the possibility that an authentically regenerate person might lose their grip on salvation and be hopelessly lost?
This week’s Lifeway curriculum adds: “A key attribute of God is His great love, a love that is seen in His forgiveness. It seems unthinkable, then, that we could do something that God wouldn’t forgive. Yet Jesus said plainly, ‘Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven’ (Matt. 12:31). As we look at the context in which Jesus said this, we see the burden rests on us. God does desire to forgive!”
Study the Bible
A careful examination of Scripture might really help ease the anxiety that could arise is a person’s heart due to the concern that they have committed the unpardonable sin.
Matt. 12:22-23: The work of Christ points to the power of God. When Jesus was on earth, His experiences were what a person would expect when God came near. He was “manifested that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). He disrupted malignant spiritual powers. It was a precursor to His full dominion that is to come when Satan will be completely overthrown (Rev. 20:1-10).
Matt. 12:24-29: The work of Christ points to the presence of God’s Spirit. The work of God was ascribed to Beelzebul (the OT god of Ekron , 2 Kings 1:2-3, but used here as a synonym for Satan). Notice that there was no denying the remarkable deliverance that Jesus accomplished, but because of their hardened unwillingness to acknowledge Jesus for who He was, the Pharisees attributed His work to the Adversary. They thus rejected Jesus’ person and mission.
It is illogical and inconsistent to attribute Christ’s work to Satan. Why would Satan undermine his own dominion? It’s interesting the intellectual leaps that people will often make rather than give place to the truth that Jesus is Lord. Philosophical naturalism which vehemently opposes God as Creator is an obvious example of this in our day. Theological liberalism that overreaches to explain away miracles follows this pattern as well.
Matt. 12:30-32: Willful and persistent unbelief leaves no room for repentance, and forgiveness is absent when repentance is absent. The unpardonable sin is persisting in a hardened, unbelieving state.
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the willful and permanent rejection of Jesus.
Jesus claimed to cast out demons “by the Spirit of God” (v. 28). By disputing this and attributing His exorcisms to Satan’s power instead, Jesus’ opponents were guilty of blasphemy against the Spirit in whose power Jesus worked the miracles. Their attempt to dismiss Jesus’ supernatural power would not be forgiven because it expressed a resolute, permanent rejection of Jesus (CSB Study Bible).
Concerning verses 31-32, R.T. France shows that there is a difference between failing to recognize the Light at first (which was true of some later believers, Acts 3:17) and wholesale, determined rejection of the Light (Tyndale “New Testament Commentaries: Matthew,” 210-211).
Live It Out
It is always critical to keep the idea in the forefront of our preparation that we are hoping to help learners live out Biblical truth. James 3:1 challenges us to place great seriousness on the task of teaching the Bible. A Sunday school class should be a microcosm of the church’s overall ministry function, encompassing in miniature its caring, relational commitments and shepherding. Asking open-ended questions throughout the lesson and waiting for interaction will pay off when the teacher is able to see cues about the lives of disciples and understand their needs and capabilities.
Lessons derived from “Bible Studies for Life,” of LifeWay Christian Resources.