1. The Unpardonable Sin Identified
Have you ever wondered whether there are any sins so great that God could never forgive them? Is it possible for one to fall so deeply into certain practices and to commit deeds so evil and perverse that they are beyond the limit of God’s forgiving grace?
According to three of the gospel writers (see Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:28-29; Luke 12:10), Jesus mentioned a sin of such a nature. Mark tells us that the scribes said in reference to Christ: “He has Beelzebub,” and “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons” (Mark 3:22). Then the Lord declared:
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).
This passage of Scripture mentions a sin so awful that it would place the person who committed it beyond the reach of God’s forgiveness.
Now, this sin was not the kind of thing we usually think of when we consider the baser and sordid aspects of life (such as sexual perversion, murder, family desertion, drunkenness, drug addiction, and gambling). Rather, the Lord Jesus warned against the sin of ascribing the power of the Holy Spirit to Satan. This is evident from Mark 3:30. Following our Lord’s statement about the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, Mark added an explanatory note. He said Jesus gave that word of warning “because they [the Pharisees] said, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’” They had said He cast out demons by the prince of the demons. The Lord Jesus, however, had cast out demons by the Spirit of God. The unforgivable transgression, therefore, was ascribing our Savior’s power, manifested in His mighty work, to Satan rather than to God the Holy Spirit. It was a sin that was committed willfully against evidence that could not be contradicted.
Writing in The Pulpit Commentary, H. D. Spence said that the sin unforgivable was “that determined hatred of holiness, that awful love of self, which … induced the Pharisee leaders to ascribe [Christ’s] loving works to the spirit of evil and of darkness. The accusation was no chance one … the fruit of impulse or of passion. They who accused Him knew better. They had heard Him teach not once, but often; they had seen His works; and yet … in order to compass their own selfish ends [simply because they felt His life and teaching would interfere with them], they dared to ascribe to the devil what their own hearts told them came direct from God” (The Pulpit Commentary: The Gospel of Luke, p. 333).
In effect, the blasphemous enemies of Christ denied His deity. They made Him out to be satanic rather than divine. Insulting Him as a man was bad enough, but that was forgivable. Insulting the God in Him, however, brought forth our Lord’s strong rebuke. That was the condemning sin.
The question naturally arises: Can this offense be committed today? The answer is a resounding NO! It was a transgression peculiar to Jesus’ day. Only those who were in actual contact with Christ, who were privileged to hear with their own ears His words of wisdom, and who personally witnessed with their own eyes His mighty works performed in the power of the Holy Spirit, could be guilty of that particular sin. Although they were blessed with undeniable evidence, they willfully refused it and ascribed the works of the Lord Jesus to the power of Satan. They were guilty of the sin God would not forgive. Remember, then, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was unique to the time when our Lord was on earth. It is not – in fact, it CANNOT – be committed today.
In spite of what I’ve said, however, I can imagine someone saying, “But I think I have committed that sin. I’m so anxious and troubled that I worry about it night and day. How can I know that I’m not guilty of that great transgression?” Well, friend, the very fact that you are so concerned about it is in itself an indication that you are NOT guilty of it.
I read some time ago about a man who was afraid he had committed a sin so terrible that he had passed the point of forgiveness. So, according to the article, he went to his pastor. Opening his heart, he told him about his morbid fear that he had “crossed the line” and was guilty of sin for which there was no forgiveness. The pastor responded by asking, “And what sin did you commit?” The troubled soul quickly answered, “I opposed the work of God.” “So did Paul,” the pastor replied, “and he was saved.” “Oh, but I also denied Christ,” the man blurted out. “So did Peter,” said the minister, “and he became one of the greatest and most effective preachers of all time.” It was then that this man, tormented so long by empty fears and foolish doubts, saw the folly of his anxiety. He realized that the thing he dreaded did not even exist. And he also came to the conclusion that even if such a hopeless state were possible, the very fact that he was so disturbed about his spiritual condition was an indication that he was not guilty of an unpardonable sin.
The Bible gives us this blessed assurance:
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).
That’s a promise! If we confess our sins, God will certainly forgive us. Therefore, if you are burdened about your sin, sincerely confess it to the Lord. Then take that in itself as a token that you have not committed an unpardonable sin.
No, the sin against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today. So, rather than emphasizing the sin that was unforgivable mentioned in Mark 3:29. I would rather focus upon these blessed words:
Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter (Mark 3:28).
The message we preach today is this: “ALL SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN THE SONS OF MEN.” This is true, of course, only if they have placed their trust in Christ, who paid for our sins through His death.
I don’t care who you are, how deeply you may have fallen into sin, what it is, who it involves, or where it was done, “ALL SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN THE SONS OF MEN.”
You may be bound by lust or chained by habits. Perhaps you are one of the so-called “nice” people who engage in the more polite sins of society. It makes no difference – “ALL SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN THE SONS OF MEN.”
I am thinking of that time when the scribes and Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to the Savior. They made this charge:
Teacher, this woman was caught in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say? (John 8:4-5).
In response to their hypocritical question, Jesus at first ignored His adversaries. Stooping down, He wrote on the ground as though He didn’t hear them. They kept after Him for an answer, however. until Jesus stood up (I like to imagine Him looking directly into their eyes) and threw out the challenge: “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). Saying that, He again wrote on the ground. As He did, the woman’s accusers, each convicted by his own conscience, began to depart until Jesus and the woman were left alone. Then the Savior asked her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” Now observe Jesus’ gracious response. To that shameful, guilty woman He declared, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). And today, those very same words could be spoken to all who admit their guilt and their need of redemption, and who trust the Lord Jesus for salvation. The Bible tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No matter what your condition, no matter the degree of your sinfulness, there is forgiveness for you. Yes, “ALL SINS WILL BE FORGIVEN THE SONS OF MEN.”
Commenting on this phrase, J. C. Ryle wrote:
[These words] fall lightly on the ears of many persons. They see no particular beauty in them. But, to the man who is alive to his own sinfulness, and deeply sensitive of his need of mercy, these words are sweet and precious. “All sins shall be forgiven.” The sins of youth and age – the sins of head and hand and tongue and imagination – the sins against all God’s commandments – the sins of persecutors, like Saul – the sins of idolaters, like Manasseh – the sins of open enemies of Christ, like the Jews who crucified Him – the sins of backsliders from Christ, like Peter – all, all may be forgiven. The blood of Christ can cleanse all away. The righteousness of Christ can cover all and hide all from God’s eyes. The doctrine here laid down is the crown and glory of the gospel. The very first thing it proposes to man is free pardon, full forgiveness, complete remission without money and without price (Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, p. 55).
In the final analysis, then, only one thing can keep you from God and from knowing His full pardon and forgiveness. It is continued unbelief! The Bible says:
For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God (John 3:17-18).
No, the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today. There is, however, an awful, inescapable judgment awaiting those who continue to refuse the forgiveness God offers through faith in His Son. Those who pass from this life into the next in a state of unbelief are guilty of the worst transgression of all. In fact, it is today the one and only unpardonable sin. Even though it is true, therefore, that all sins will be forgiven the sons of men” if they avail themselves of God’s saving and forgiving grace, it is also true that if they refuse it and die in their unbelief, their rejection of the Savior, finalized by death, will become for them the “unpardonable sin.”
The SIN question, you see, has been settled. Now you are faced with the SON question. The Bible tells us that God so loved the world of sinners that He provided a way for us to escape the just penalty for our transgressions. He sent His Son to live a perfect life and to die a sacrificial death for sinners. The Lord Jesus Christ is God. To be man’s substitute and die in his place, however, God had to become a man. So He took upon Himself human flesh. Christ is the God-man (see John 1:1, 14).
According to 2 Corinthians 5:21, God made Christ to be sin for us. Taking our sins upon Himself, He died for us. He endured the penalty we deserved. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Because the Lord Jesus died for our sins and arose from the dead (proof that His sacrifice was acceptable to God and that every sin was paid for), salvation, everlasting life, forgiveness of sin, peace with God, and an eternity in heaven are freely offered to all who believe on Christ.
There is, I repeat, only one “unpardonable sin.” It is the sinner’s continuing refusal of God’s gracious offer of salvation until death. After that, there is no turning back. There is no more hope of forgiveness.
I’m so thankful, therefore, that the door of salvation is still open for you. Yes, you, as you read these words today, still have opportunity to take the Lord Jesus as your Savior. For millions that privilege is forever gone. But it’s not too late for you! So, if the Holy Spirit is speaking to your heart, and if you are willing to acknowledge your sinful condition before God, in simple faith receive the Lord Jesus as your Savior. Trust Him, and Him alone, to save you. Ask Him to do so, and He will. The Bible says:
For whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Romans 10:13).
2. The Sin Against the Holy Spirit
If someone should ask you to name the most awful sins of all, what answer would you give? Would you name murder, adultery, robbery? Or would you name some of the more common offenses, which, although not considered so heinous in themselves, wreak great havoc because of their tragic consequences? Gossip, for example? Or jealousy, that green-eyed monster?
So many reprehensible acts and sordid deeds are committed by mankind every day that you might have some difficulty singling out any particular sins as being the very worst. In my opinion, however, three sins could rightfully be labeled the greatest of all: (1) the sin against the Holy Spirit, (2) the sin unto death and (3) the sin of continuing unbelief. In our previous lesson, we saw that the unpardonable sin is the sin of rejecting Christ until death.
Now, because so many believers have been troubled by a misunderstanding about the sin against the Holy Spirit, I would like us to focus our study again on that blasphemous transgression. The Lord Jesus was speaking about this sin when He said:
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).
The offense mentioned by the Lord Jesus in this passage was certainly most grievous – a sin to be avoided at any cost. Go back and read Matthew 12:32. Exactly what was the sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit? We will answer that question in this lesson.
WHAT THE SIN WAS NOT
I would emphasize, first of all, that it was nothing like stealing, coveting, jealousy, or engaging in some gross sexual sin. To be sure, all of those things are wrong. In fact, anything that falls short of God’s standard of perfection is sin, and no sin is to be taken lightly. This dreadful transgression mentioned by the Lord Jesus in Matthew 12, however, was something that superseded by far any such evils.
Second, the sin against the Holy Spirit was not something that genuine followers of Christ could commit. They would not have been guilty of that awful, unforgivable transgression. A child of God today, of course, may grieve the Holy Spirit. He may quench the Spirit. He may sin by not being filled with [controlled by] the Spirit. But never could a believer in the Lord Jesus deliberately, knowingly blaspheme the Spirit of God.
Third, the sin against the Holy Spirit cannot possibly be the offense mentioned by the apostle in 1 John 5:16, the sin unto death. That verse pertains to those who have been born again. And the penalty of the sin to which it refers is not nearly so tragic as the consequence of the transgression mentioned in Matthew 12. The sin against the Holy Spirit, which was committed only by unbelievers, should therefore be sharply distinguished from the sin unto death.
WHAT IS THE SIN?
What then did the Lord Jesus mean when He spoke about unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? A variety of answers to that question has been given by respected theologians and Bible students. Some believe that the sin against the Holy Spirit is using His name in vain. Others claim that it means a repudiation of the miracles and works of the Lord Jesus while He was here on earth, along with a rejection of His offer of the kingdom, which was confirmed by the signs and wonders accompanying His ministry. Still others would tell us that the sin against the Holy Spirit is the continued rejection of Christ, apostasy in time of persecution, a denial of the deity of Christ, a denial of the deity of the Holy Spirit, or a continuing resistance to the influence of the Holy Spirit.
And then there is the dispensational view, which teaches that two offers of the kingdom were made to the nation of Israel: one before the cross, and one afterward. The first offer was made by John the Baptist, by the Lord Jesus, and by His disciples. Those who refused this offer, they say, were guilty of sinning against the Son of Man (the transgression Jesus said would be forgiven). This forgiveness, they claim, was granted on the cross when Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). After the cross, however, and following Pentecost, it is pointed out, another offer of the kingdom was made. Beginning at Jerusalem and going throughout all Judea, the apostles made a second offer through the Holy Spirit. But it was again rejected, which brought forth this pronouncement by Stephen: “You stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). This, those who hold this view claim, was the sin against the Holy Spirit. As a result of Israel’s official rejection of the kingdom offer, followed by the conversion of Saul, the gospel went for the first time to the Gentiles.
Now, none of these theories can possibly be the correct expression of what the Lord Jesus had in mind when He spoke about that awful transgression which will not be forgiven in this age, nor in the age to come.
THE CONTEXT EXAMINED
Again I ask, what was the sin against the Holy Spirit? The answer can be found by carefully considering the scriptural context in which it was mentioned. We must read our Lord’s words in their proper setting. And we must be mindful of the occasion that brought forth this solemn statement from the lips of the Savior. Here is the background:
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?” But 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. And if Satan casts 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” (Matthew 12:22-28).
The Lord Jesus had just performed a mighty miracle by casting out a demon from a man who was both sightless and speechless. As a result, this person’s eyesight and his speech were wonderfully restored. This demonstration of supernatural power in Christ had such an effect upon those who witnessed it that they recognized that He might indeed be the Messiah. The gospel writer tells us that “…all the multitudes were amazed and said, ‘Could this be the Son of David?’” According to Matthew 12:24, “…when the Pharisees heard it they said, ‘This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.’” Matthew then recorded our Savior’s defense, concluding with His solemn warning:
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men (Matthew 12:31).
The reason Jesus stopped at this point to comment on the seriousness of the Pharisees’ false accusation was that they had struck at the very core of His uniqueness … at the heart of His identity and authenticity … at the foundation of His integrity. This could not go unchallenged! His works were not of the devil. They were performed in the power of the Spirit of God. The Pharisees were not simply insulting a MAN – they were deliberately insulting GOD, and that was unforgivable! A. C. Gaebelein wrote:
…these Pharisees had sinned against [the) Holy Spirit by accusing Christ that He drove out the demons by satanic power. They had blasphemed the Spirit, and spoken injuriously about Him, in saying that Beelzebub, the prince of demons, was present with Christ and not the Holy Spirit. This they did maliciously. And this, and nothing else, is the sin of which our Lord here speaks. The sin is to charge the Lord with doing His miracles through satanic power and not through the Holy Spirit (The Gospel of Matthew, p. 251).
So the sin against the Holy Spirit was attributing the power manifested in the mighty works of the Lord Jesus to the devil rather than to God the Holy Spirit.
This question then arises: Why would blasphemy against the Holy Spirit be a more serious charge than blasphemy against the Son of Man? Jesus said:
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… (Matthew 12:32).
Again I would ask: Why is it worse to speak against the Holy Spirit than against the Son of Man? Would not blasphemy against either one amount to a sin against God? Is one member of the Godhead to be afforded more honor than another? Why is this distinction made between sinning against the Son of Man and sinning against the Holy Spirit?
A. Lukyn Williams answered those questions in this manner:
In inquiring, therefore, for an explanation of our Lord’s sayings, we must not begin at the Trinitarian standpoint, and see in the words a contrast between ‘blasphemy’ against one person of the trinity and ‘blasphemy’ against another. The contrast is between ‘blasphemy’ against Christ as Son of Man – Christ in His earthly work and under earthly conditions, the Christ whom they saw and whom they did not understand – and ‘blasphemy’ against God … working upon earth. ‘Blasphemy’ against the former might be due to ignorance and prejudice, but ‘blasphemy’ against the latter was to speak against God’s work recognized as such, against God manifesting Himself to their consciences (The Pulpit Commentary, Matthew, p. 490).
In other words, the answer to the question, Why was it worse to speak a word against the Holy Spirit than against the Son of Man, is this: For the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to reflect upon Him negatively as a man out of ignorance was bad enough. But to speak against better knowledge, and to say brazenly that the miracles of Jesus were the product of Satan, when they were in reality worked by the power of the Holy Spirit, was inexcusable. It was to speak against unmistakable evidences. You see, although it is possible that some people misunderstood Him and made false charges against Him as the Son of Man, when with full knowledge they ascribed His works that were performed in the power of the Holy Spirit to Satan, they were deliberately slandering God. That is where the Lord Jesus drew the line and gave His solemn warning. The sin against the Holy Spirit, then, was that of knowingly, against undeniable evidence, and with jealous and envious motivation, ascribing the power behind the mighty works of the Lord Jesus to Satan rather than to God the Holy Spirit.
CAN IT BE COMMITTED TODAY?
I’d like to say just a word or two about a question that is often raised whenever this subject is discussed. Is it possible to commit the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit today?
The answer is this: ABSOLUTELY NOT! The sin against the Holy Spirit could only be committed while Christ was here upon earth. It could only occur while men could personally witness His miraculous works and mighty power and then deliberately, knowing better, label the Holy Spirit’s work through Christ as being satanic, rather than giving the credit to God. (Some Bible teachers believe that the sin against the Holy Spirit was a national sin, committed by the Pharisees as representatives of their nation.) Remember, then, that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit cannot be committed today. It could only occur during the public ministry of Christ. As Charles Ryrie expressed it, “The special circumstances involved in this blasphemy cannot be duplicated today” (The Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, p. 27).
There is a sin, however, that can rightfully be called “the unpardonable sin.” It’s a continuing rejection of Christ until death, which makes it impossible to be saved. You still have the opportunity though, to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Why not do it today? That today is the one unpardonable sin.
3. The Sin Unto Death
In our previous lessons we saw that it is utterly impossible for a person who truly knows the Lord as his Savior to be guilty of an unpardonable sin. The only transgression today that extends beyond the boundary of God’s forgiveness is a rejection of Christ on the part of the unsaved until they “cross the line”; that is, until they die. Then death itself seals their eternal destiny. This sin is committed only by those who continue to refuse God’s gracious offer of redemption. Therefore, that person who has been born again, who has placed his trust in Christ, could never be guilty of such a transgression. How foolish it is for those who know the Lord to worry, to be anxious, and to lose the joy of their salvation because of an empty fear that they’re guilty of some unpardonable sin! So remember, the only unforgivable sin today is that of an ongoing rejection of Christ until death prevents the unbeliever from having any further opportunities to receive Christ.
There is, however, one sin that should be of special concern to believers. It is mentioned in 1 John 5 as follows:
Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death (1 John 5:14-17).
What is the deadly transgression the apostle is talking about in this passage?
In response to that question, I would say first that it is not the sin against the Holy Spirit to which the Lord Jesus referred (see Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:28-30; Luke 12:10). That unforgivable sin involved only unbelievers. Furthermore, it was a transgression peculiar to Jesus’ day. The sin unto death, however, can be committed today, and it relates to Christians. It’s a sin of the saints. John had believers in mind when he wrote: “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death. …” It is clearly evident that the apostle was writing to Christians about their brothers and sisters in Christ. The sin unto death, unlike the sin against the Holy Spirit, occurs today and relates to believers. It is a sin the Christian must be careful to avoid.
Second, the sin unto death, although it does not involve spiritual condemnation, does result in physical affliction; in fact, it may lead to the premature homegoing of the guilty party. A. C. Gaebelein, commenting on 1 John 5:16, says this:
The brother [in this passage] is a believer. On account of sinning he is chastised. God permits sickness to come upon him, and the sinning, not having been unto death (physical death only), he is raised up. However, a believer may go on willfully sinning and remain there dishonoring Christ. He is to be taken away out of the land of the living, cut off by death. No request could be made for such a one. The question of death is not eternal condemnation but only physical death (The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 1, pp. 251, 252).
Third, the sin unto death; rather than being limited to one specific kind of transgression, may occur in various forms. For example, this “death penalty” might be called for because of a sin so degraded, so perverse, and so heinous that it demands the most severe punishment. Then too, the sin unto death might be of a public nature, bringing extreme reproach upon the cause of Christ. It therefore must be dealt with in a way that openly and clearly demonstrates the Lord’s displeasure and the fact that He will not tolerate that kind of behavior. In addition to being a single transgression so great that it demands severe chastening, this sin might also be the consequence of a deliberate and continuing wicked practice that the child of God knows is displeasing. It could be God’s way of judging those who repeatedly and against better light engage in actions that are contrary to His righteous standards.
The same sin, I might add, does not necessarily bring the same judgment to every believer who commits it. The Lord (and we can be thankful for this) sees into our hearts. We are told in 1 Samuel 16 that “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). He knows our backgrounds. He knows our strengths. He takes into consideration our heredity and the weaknesses and tendencies we have inherited. He knows all about our personal spiritual struggles, and He deals with us accordingly. For certain individuals, therefore, some sins might bring the most severe judgment from the Lord – yes, even death itself. However, those identical practices in the lives of others, even though sorely displeasing to the Lord, may not call for the same divine punishment or severity. I would also point out that the Lord’s judgment of His children is never vindictive. Instead, it is always for their own good. It is given, as Paul wrote, “that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
A good example of a sin unto death can be found in the experience of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11). Having sold a piece of property, they retained a portion of the selling price for themselves. They did this, apparently indicating that they were giving the entire amount to the church. Peter confronted Ananias, asking, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). According to Acts 5:5, “Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last.” Within three hours, his wife Sapphira was also stricken dead. They had committed a sin unto death. Acts 5:11 goes on to tell us that “great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.”
Then too, in 1 Corinthians 11, the apostle Paul referred to certain Christians who, because of their sinful behavior, were plagued with physical ailments. Some even had died! Here’s what Paul wrote:
But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason, many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world (1 Corinthians 11:28-32).
Because of sin, a number of people in the church at Corinth were “weak and sick.” Many of them had died. Premature physical death was a consequence of their evil behavior. “For this reason,” the apostle wrote, “many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep.” They had been guilty of a sin unto death.
And, in chapter 5 of Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, we read about a person who may have committed a sin unto death. The apostle said:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles – that a man has his father’s wife! And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you. For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged, as though I were present, concerning him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
The apostle made reference here to a man in the Corinthian church who was living in immorality. Even those who were not Christians frowned upon this kind of sin and avoided it. Paul had written:
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles – that a man has his father’s wife! (1 Corinthians 5:1).
That man’s sin was so reprehensible that it was abhorred in non-Christian circles. It was “not even named among the Gentiles.” Because of the evil nature of the relationship between that man and “his father’s wife,” Paul indicated he should be delivered to Satan “for the destruction of the flesh.” Please notice, however, that the man would not be lost. Even though he was delivered to Satan, it was “for the destruction of the flesh,” which very likely involved an affliction of the body, perhaps death itself. You see, the purpose beyond such a drastic measure was that the man’s “spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” That wicked person may well have been guilty of a sin unto death. He had committed an offense so gross that the Lord, for His own glory and for the ultimate good of the transgressor, exercised His chastening hand through physical affliction – very possibly the execution of the death penalty.
There are some, I should point out, who see the sin unto death in a dispensational light. They tell us that even though the Lord abhors sin just as much as He ever did, He does not deal with it as dramatically and openly now as in the early church. If every 20th [and 21st] century “Ananias and Sapphira” were judged like that couple in the first century, our church membership rolls would have many more names missing. Or, if all believers today who are guilty of eating and drinking unworthily at the Lord’s table were “weak and sick” (as were many in the church at Corinth), our pastors would be overworked making hospital calls. Even so, that in no way minimizes the awfulness of sin and God’s abhorrence of it. The author of Hebrews tells us:
The Lord will judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31).
I would remind you, however, that not all sickness, physical weakness, and death are the result of God’s special judgment upon sin. The Lord may allow His children to suffer for other reasons. If you have confessed your sins to the Lord and yet you are suffering in the will of God, rest in the confidence that He knows what is best for you. Learn to say, “…not MY will, but YOURS, be done” (Luke 22:42).
But if you are out of fellowship with the Lord and living in sin, if you’re doing things that are not only in violation of His will for you but which bring shame to His name and a reproach upon the cause of Christ, I urge you to confess your sins to Him. Determine with God’s help to obey His Word. Yes, do it now.
It could well be that the Lord has allowed you to live for this very moment, and to read these very words. If you will in true repentance acknowledge and forsake that sin of yours, however serious it may be, He will forgive you and cleanse you “from all unrighteousness.” When a person receives the Lord Jesus Christ as His Savior, he is given life everlasting. And according to Romans 8:1, there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.” But it’s also true that even though a believer is delivered from condemnation, he may feel the chastening hand of God upon him when he walks in his own sinful way and disregards God’s will for his life. So, come back to the Lord. Thank Him for His longsuffering, His grace, and His mercy. Confess your sin. Renounce it. Turn from it. … Determine with His help (Ephesians 5:18) to live for Him. Spend time every day in the Word and in prayer. Get back in fellowship with a Bible-believing church. And claim this wonderful promise:
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).
If you do, you will be able to say with the psalmist:
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and You forgave the iniquity of my sin (Psalm 32:5).
In conclusion, let me say a word to you if you have never trusted Christ for salvation. Although this lesson has been directed to believers, I remind you that a sin of even greater consequence should concern you. It’s the sin of continuing to reject the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. It’s the worst sin of all. In fact, for those who die in unbelief having never received the Lord Jesus, it’s an unforgivable sin. We may therefore rightly call it “the unpardonable sin.” It’s the one offense God will never forgive.
So, believing everything the Bible says about Christ – that He died on the cross to pay for your sins – accept Him by faith as your Savior.
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2).
4. The Great White Throne Judgment
Would an announcement that you were going to meet God tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock make you happy? Or would it fill your heart with fear? Would the anticipation of such an event be a joyous one? Or would it be so terrifying that you would rather die right here and now if it meant you could avoid a confrontation with the Almighty? Now, whether or not you want to be brought into the presence of God, you are going to be anyway! Not necessarily tomorrow morning at 10 o’clock, but it is certain that you will face Him someday.
This is true for those who know God as their Heavenly Father and for those who have turned their backs on Him. But for those who enter His presence with sin in their lives, it will not be a pleasant experience! This is especially the case for those who are guilty of the one sin that is unforgivable, a persistent and continuous rejection of God’s gracious offer of salvation. The unpardonable sin is the spurning of God’s love, the rejecting of the Savior’s sacrifice for us on Calvary, and the refusing of the invitation to receive the gift of salvation until, confirmed at death, the unbeliever goes into eternity hopelessly lost. Never again will he be offered the forgiveness of sin; instead, he will stand before God for judgment at the great white throne.
In this lesson I would like to consider with you what the Bible says about the future meeting that sinners who are guilty of the greatest sin of all – the sin of rejecting Christ – will have with God. That meeting is described in Revelation 20. Envisioning that day which is certain to come, the apostle wrote:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).
What is the reason for this resurrection of literally millions of people at the end of time? Evidently, its purpose is to guarantee that the punishment will be fair; that is, so it will be in keeping with the life they lived.
Writing with prophetic eye, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, John indicated that the degree of punishment meted [measured] out to unbelievers will be consistent with their works.
And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
God is perfectly just and fair. Each unsaved person will be, judged according to the extent of his wickedness, the motive behind his deeds, and on the basis of spiritual light he has received and rejected. The punishment meted [measured] out in that day will be different for that poor, benighted [ignorant] heathen who never heard the gospel than for those who were privileged to hear it again and again, who knew the way of salvation, and who were often invited to come to Christ but deliberately refused to do so.
I would like you to notice too that according to Revelation 20:12, in addition to the books of works, the unsaved standing before the throne of God will be confronted with the Book of Life. The Bible says, “And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life” (Revelation 20:12).
The name of every person who is saved, I take it, is inscribed in that volume. Not only will the record of the unbeliever’s works condemn him in that day of judgment, therefore, but the absence of his name from the Book of Life will confirm the fact that he never received the salvation God so mercifully offers to every sinner. You see, the names of all who have received the Lord Jesus can be found in that book. But the names of all Christ-rejecters will be missing. We are told that “anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
I wonder, friend, if you died right now, or if Jesus should come today, would your name be found in that book? Have you ever received the Lord Jesus as your Savior? It is indeed a solemn thought that the place of our eternal destiny is determined by what we do with Christ in this present life. The Lord Jesus issued a grave warning when He said, “…if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). To die unforgiven, to have your name missing from the Book of Life, will certainly place you in that number who stand before God at the judgment of the great white throne. The only sure way to avoid it is to receive Christ now. Yes, this could be the day you make a decision that will mean the difference between eternal life or eternal condemnation.
Did you ever try to imagine just how long eternity will be? I can well remember how, as a boy, after hearing my father preach in church about an eternal heaven and an eternal hell, I would try to calculate in terms of years the enormous length of eternity. I would start out by thinking that it will certainly last at least a hundred years … a thousand years … a million years … a billion years … a trillion years! Whether or not I reached the quadrillion mark in my numbering, I am not sure. I do know, however, that I came to that point where I had to stop thinking about the length of eternity, simply because the very thought of anything lasting so long and having no end seemed as though it would drive me to distraction. Eternity is an infinite concept – one that the finite, human mind cannot possibly comprehend.
Some people have attempted to portray its length. For example, someone tried to describe eternity in this way. If a small bird were to fly just once a year to the great Rock of Gibraltar and sharpen its beak on it, by the time that mountain of stone had been completely worn away, that would be eternity. It was also suggested that if a bird were to fly back and forth to the moon, each trip carrying a single grain of sand from the earth, that by the time that small creature had made enough journeys to deposit the last particle of this planet on the moon, eternity would have been consummated. But would that be eternity? Of course not! Eternity never ends. What a dreadful thought for those who are spiritually lost! I am therefore thankful that the door of salvation is still open. And the Lord by His Spirit even now offers you forgiveness of sin, life everlasting, and freedom from condemnation if you, in faith believing, will receive His Son, the Lord Jesus.
If you have never done so before, why not right now accept Him by faith as your Savior? Using your own words pray something like this from the depths of your heart:
“Lord Jesus, I admit I’m a sinner. I believe the Bible when it says, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ and, ‘For the wages of sin is death.’ I also accept everything the Bible says about You, Lord Jesus. I know You are truly God and truly man. You lived the perfect life I could not live, and You died the death I should have died. I acknowledge that You shed Your blood on the cross for my sins. I believe that You arose from the dead, proving that the debt of my sin has been paid in full. I now receive You as my Savior. I’m trusting You, and You alone, for my salvation. Lord, save me. I do believe.”
If you did that, believe and claim the wonderful promise found in Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” And then, be sure to find a good, Bible-believing, Bible-teaching, gospel-preaching church where you’ll be taught God’s Word and find fellowship with other believers.
As we have seen, God keeps books. Before we conclude this series on The Unpardonable Sin, therefore, I would like to think with you about how this affects the Christian. Does it make any difference how a Christian lives? Since the Christian is saved by grace apart from any human effort, of what value are his good works? Can a believer live as he pleases? Can the Christian go on his way to glory with the same confidence and prospect of blessing as the child of God who deeply loves the Lord, obeys His Word, and serves Him faithfully?
The answers to these questions can be found in such passages as Matthew 16:27, Romans 14:8-12, 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, and 2 Corinthians 5:9-11. In 2 Corinthians 5, for example, the apostle Paul wrote:
Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Yes, God keeps books! And a day of reckoning is coming when the things we have done in the body will be examined at the judgment seat of Christ. That which was done in the flesh, with a wrong motive and for selfish reasons rather than for the glory of God and the good of others, will be “burned” (1 Corinthians 3:15). However, the good works described by Paul as “gold, silver, precious stones” – things that endure the test – will surely bring a reward (1 Corinthians 3:12-14).
To help avoid confusion and misunderstanding about the judgment seat of Christ, I would like to emphasize a few basic facts relating to it.
First, the judgment seat of Christ is only for those who are saved. The unsaved will appear before God at the great white throne judgment – an event that will occur at least a thousand years after the examination of believers.
Second, the judgment seat of Christ will take place in heaven during that time between the translation of the church and the second coming of Christ to this earth with the saints. It is while God’s wrath is being poured out upon the wicked on earth that His children are being judged and rewarded in heaven.
Third, the judgment seat of Christ has nothing to do with the salvation of those who stand before it. That was settled once and for all when they placed their trust in Christ.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
After salvation, however, works have everything to do with our future reward.
Fourth, the judgment seat of Christ does not involve any physical punishment for the Christian. It is true, of course, that any of our works that cannot stand the fire of God’s testing will be burned. Yes, the “wood, hay, straw” will be destroyed. But the Christian himself will experience no bodily suffering. First Corinthians 3:15 indicates that “he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Fifth, the judgment seat of Christ will provide another demonstration of grace. We are saved by God’s grace. We are kept by His grace. In fact, everything we have is because of God’s grace. And now, out of appreciation for all that He has done for us, we should want to serve Him – not to receive a reward but as a reasonable response to His mercies. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). Yet to those who serve the Lord faithfully, to those to whom He has no obligation, God in His grace is going to grant a reward for faithful service, and it will be given at the judgment seat of Christ. The Word of God teaches us to “judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts; and then each one’s praise will come from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
The Christian pathway may at times seem difficult, the trials unbearable, and the work frustrating. There are occasions when we feel inclined just to drift along with the crowd, or even give up trying. But, when such a temptation arises, the answer must always be, “No, no, a thousand times NO!” Far better to walk alone now, to press on that lonely upward trail of service, and to hear the Savior’s “Well done,” than to be part of that number who will someday stand ashamed before the Savior and “suffer loss.” Yes, God does keep books.
Richard W. DeHaan, Radio Bible Class, Discovery Series, 1984.
Scripture quotations are from the NKJV. ©1979, 1980, 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.
Edited by Campus Christians