The unforgiveable sin: Mark 3:22-29

22 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’

23 So Jesus called them over to him and began to speak to them in parables: ‘How can Satan drive out Satan? 24 If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. 25 If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. 26 And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. 27 In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house without first tying him up. Then he can plunder the strong man’s house. 28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

New International Version

14th March, 2024: Paphos, Cyprus

Jesus makes reference to the unforgiveable sin in verses 28-29. The longer reading is represented here because without it, we risk losing the context. (for a fuller discussion on verses 22-27, see my previous post, ‘Divided Kingdom’)

The Teachers of the Law, who had travelled all the way from Jerusalem to investigate what Jesus was up to, had no choice but to accept that Christ was performing miracles. They had no doubt thoroughly investigated, if not witnessed first hand, that he had been healing the sick and casting out demons. Their very presence alongside Jesus clearly affirms that his work had become widely known and was attracting lots of attention within the Jewish establishment.

His growing popularity was making the Jewish leadership feel very uncomfortable. It was probably in order to diminish the attraction of his ministry in the eyes of his supporters that the Teachers of the Law declared that Christ’s power came, not from the Holy Spirit, but from Satan. This comment undermines the integrity of Christ, the man, but it also rejects any suggestion that his power is from God. It is this accusation which leads to Christ’s comments about the unforgiveable sin.

The comments are in two parts. The first, in verse 28, contains wonderful news for me, for you, and for the world which we can easily miss.

28 Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter, 

Here is the reassurance that every sin can be forgiven. It doesn’t matter how heavy or serious your sin feels. From slanderous talk to the most grievous of sins, it can and will of all who repent. When we come to God we ask for forgiveness for the things we have done wrong, we believe that it by His grace that we are forgiven. In this context, the word grace means that forgiveness is free – there is no cost to you except owning up to your shortcomings before God.

If we are genuine in our repentance, we believe that God takes away our sin.  For a host of reasons, some of us find it difficult to accept that forgiveness. It’s as if having laid down that burden, instead of accepting forgiveness, we pick our guilt up again and carry it with us as we continue on our way. Scripture says that  when we are forgiven we should regard our sins, sometimes called transgressions, as completely gone. In God’s eyes, they no longer exist.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
    so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
    so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:11-12 (NIV)

I want to be clear. This doesn’t give you the licence to go out and commit sin. There have been people throughout Christian history who felt that it was acceptable to do as much sin as possible so that you can experience much more of His grace. The Apostle Paul points out that this is a dangerous fallacy.

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?

Romans 6:1-2 (NIV)

To keep on deliberately sinning would be perverse, and God isn’t impressed by that (Proverbs 11:20).

Verse 28 says whatever you’ve done, however bad it feels to you, you can find forgiveness in Christ. Then, of course, we come to verse 29.

29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin.’

Having said that every sin, however awful it might feel to us, can be forgiven by God, Jesus declares an exception. You will not be forgiven for blaspheming the Holy Spirit. This act is, uniquely, an eternal sin. This sounds alarming – but in context, his meaning is quite clear.

These appointed representatives of the greatest theological teachers in the land of Israel have been sent to undermine Christ’s ministry. They have witnessed supernatural powerr at work in bring They have recognised that there is supernatural power at work in healing  and deliverance, and they are determined that Christ will not be seen as acting in the power of the Holy Spirit. For their own purposes, and in order to undermine the ministry of Jesus, they have witness the work of the Holy Spirit, but attribute it to Satan. They have done more than undermine and blaspheme Jesus – he makes clear that this will be forgiven – but they have gone further and blasphemed the Spirit.

So here we have the best of news. Any sin, says Jesus, can be forgiven -But we also have a dire warning. There is a red line. Do not cross it. There is a warning here, for the teachers of the Law and for us –  do not blaspheme the Holy Spirit. To do so is an unforgivable, eternal sin.

Richard Jackson, West Sussex: LifePictureUK

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