By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: Matthew 12.31,32 states that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven. Hebrews 6.4-6 speaks of those who cannot be renewed. Hebrews 10. 26 speaks of no sacrifice remaining to cover sins.
If all these sins bring the same condemnation as any other sin (eternal damnation) and those sins can be forgiven upon the same condition as any other sin (repentance),- what, if any, real distinction is the Bible trying to make concerning them?
Reply: Sin is sin in the sight of God and there is no sin which is lesser or greater in his sight. Nowhere in the Scriptures is it even implied that one specific sin will condemn the soul, while another specific sin will not. Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 Jn. 3:4) and spiritual death is the penalty for that violation (Ezek. 18:20; Rom. 6:23). God, then, does not make a distinction between sins. First, we need to consider the three passages in the question.
Jesus said in Matthew 12:31,32: “Therefore I say unto you, Every sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him; but whosoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in that which is to come.” there is a great deal of misunderstanding as to what Jesus is teaching in these verses. Some readily conclude that the “sin against the Holy Spirit” is the unpardonable sin; that is, it is possible for one to commit a sin for which he can never obtain pardon. The Bible, however, nowhere teaches that there is an unpardonable sin. To the contrary, it is evident that God will forgive a person of any sin if he will repent of it. God grants full pardon for any sin when one complies with his conditions – that he genuinely repents, and then ceases the practice of it. (See Isa. 55:6,7; Heb. 9:17; etc.)
Some attempt to harmonize 1 John 5:16 with Matthew 12:31,32 by concluding that both passages are teaching that there is an unpardonable sin. The truth is, that neither passage is teaching such. In 1 John 5:16 where the “sin unto death” is mentioned, the writer is referring to any sin which a brother will not confess (1 Jn. 1:9). It is understood, of course, that repentance precedes the confession. If a brother will not repent and confess his sin, he is impenitent; and in such a state, prayer for him will not avail (Jas. 5:16). In Matthew 12:31,32 Jesus is teaching that the “blasphemy” or “si against the Holy Spirit” is the rejection of God’s final revelation to man. There were the prophets in the Old Testament, followed by John the Baptist. Then came Jesus, and finally the written revelation of the Holy Spirit. To resist the message of the Holy Spirit is to reject the final message of God’s will to man, this revealed in the sacred writings of the New Testament. This is a denial of deity (the disbelief of the virgin birth of our Lord, his miracles, his death, burial, resurrection and ascension into heaven). It would be the willful denial of all this, in spite of the preponderance of divine testimony. The fact remains, however, that salvation is obtainable by the one who commits this sin if he will repent of it and thereby surrender his will to God. There is no salvation to one who blasphemes or sins against the Holy Spirit. It is only when he repents that he can procure forgiveness.
The author of Hebrews 6:4-6 wrote: “For as touching those who are once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then fell away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” As is true of the first passage under consideration (Matt. 12:31,32), Hebrews 6:4-6 is not teaching that the ones guilty of falling away after experiencing the things mentioned can never be saved unconditionally. The phrase, “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance” is very often glided over without careful observation. The phrase does not say that these persons can never be saved, regardless of whether they try to be or not; rather, it says that it is impossible to “renew” them again to repentance. The “impossible” in this verse refers to those who are making the effort to restore the fallen. It does not refer to the ones who need to be restored. In such a state, those described in this passage have rejected Christ and the atoning power of his precious blood. They have rejected that which would save them. Thus, it is impossible to bring them back while they continue in their rejection. They had experienced the great spiritual blessings named – nothing could be told them that they did not know. As long as they are in this condition, they themselves will not repent. But since people who have fallen away have repented, it is obvious that it is not impossible for them to do so. The fact remains, therefore, that when they cease their rejections and repent they can come back and the Lord will accept them. If they do not repent, it is impossible for them to be restored.
The final passage (Hcb. 10:26) is teaching the same thing in principle as the former two. It reads: “For if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more a sacrifice for sins.” Just as a willful rejection of the Holy Spirit’s message (Matt. 12:31,32) and a rejection of God’s provisions (Heb. 6:4-6) makes it impossible for one to be saved unless he is willing to repent, the same is true in this passage. As the message of the Holy Spirit is the final divine message to mankind, the blood of Christ is the final sacrifice. Those who reject it reject their only and final hope. The Hebrew letter was written to prevent apostasy. In this passage is a warning against a complete falling away from Christ. The Greek construction, “sin willfully,” is with a present active participle denoting a condition. Therefore, in this condition, the idea being to deliberately keep on sinning after having received the knowledge of the truth, there is no sacrifice for sin that remains. The only thing that does, however, is “a certain fearful expectation of judgment” (vs. 27). The only way to obtain pardon of this willful sin is to repent of it.
There is no distinction between the sins of the aforementioned passages (Matt. 12:31,32; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26) and other sins mentioned in the Bible; but they do distinctly warn of the danger of willful sin. They deal with an attitude the stubbornness of the human will. This is what makes repentance so difficult in such a case. So, while sin is sin and one stands condemned for any sin until he repents of it, the passages under consideration distinguish themselves by emphasizing the danger of and issuing a warning against this kind of sin – willful rejection of the truth. It is not impossible for one to repent of any sin, but until one changes his attitude of willful rebellion to the will of God, he will not repent. All of us must repent of every sin of which we are knowledgeable, ask forgiveness, trust in God’s grace and mercy for those of which we are not knowledgeable and change our attitude to humility if we have willfully sinned, and then repent. All of us need to observe these solemn warnings from God’s Holy word.
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 5, pp. 133-134
March 3, 1988