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The unforgivable / eternal / unpardonable sin

Panic caused by beliefs about that sin.

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Panic caused by fear of having committed the unforgivable sin:

The unforgivable sin apparently causes a great deal of distress among Christians who interpret the Bible literally and take it seriously. The three passages in the Gospels that discuss this type of sin seem to imply that once it is committed, the individual is permanently lost. It is often not possible for an individual to be absolutely certain that they have never blasphemed the Holy Spirit at any time in the past. James Akin comments:

"Today virtually every Christian counseling manual contains a chapter on the sin to help counselors deal with patients who are terrified that they have already or might sometime commit this sin." 1

Rev. Ken Collins writes:

Of all the hard sayings of Jesus, this one has caused the most serious pastoral problems. Even before I was a pastor, I can’t tell you how many times some guilt-ridden person came to me in tears, begging for an explanation of this verse. Far too many for my taste! There are people who are predisposed to feeling guilty, either because of their personality type or because they have been pressed down by adversity, so as soon as they come across this passage, they are convinced that they have somehow blasphemed against the Holy Spirit. ... Sometimes they feel so guilty that they come not to have the burden lifted, but only to have it identified! They are convinced they are far beyond the pale of salvation. They are so convinced of their unworthiness that they do not seek to be saved, they only seek to understand why they cannot be saved. 2

David C. Pack of The Restored Church of God writes:

"As a longtime pastor who has worked with many thousands, I have counseled scores of people who were racked with fear, anxiety and concern that they were guilty of this sin. It was often very painful to watch confusion, misunderstanding and guilt unnecessarily grip people who still sincerely wanted to serve God, after believing they had committed this unforgivable sin. In many cases, they were absolutely certain that they were guilty of it. Invariably, after counseling with them, it was clear that they were not. But convincing them of this was sometimes not easy." 3

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Release from the fear:

Hank Hanegraaff of the Bible Answer Man program writes that one of the most frequent questions he is asked is "How can I know for sure that I have not committed the unforgivable sin?" He always answers in the same way:

" 'If you are truly concerned, you have not committed the unforgivable sin.' Rather than demonstrating concern, those who actually commit the unpardonable sin are cavalier about Christ and Christianity. In other words, they have no interest in His forgiveness." 4

Some might not consider this an adequate answer. Presumably, a person could commit the unpardonable sin in a moment of desperation or panic, when they were not behaving or thinking normally. They might be "cavalier about Christ and Christianity," but only briefly. However, when they return to normal later, they would regret and confess their sin, and develop a major "interest in His forgiveness." But a literal interpretation of the unforgivable sin passages would seem to indicate that they cannot regain what they have permanently lost.

Patrick H. Reardon of Touchstone Journal writes:

"The whole business of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is that it is, by definition, the sin of which men do not repent. It is total and inveterate blindness of heart, in which men can no longer discern the difference between light and darkness. They have loved the darkness rather than the light, and they have refused to come to the light, lest their sins be revealed. Such appears to be the sin of which the Lord’s enemies are guilty in these texts where we find them plotting His death."

"For a pastoral perspective it may be said that those Christians who fear they may have committed 'the unforgivable sin' should be take courage from the thought that their very fear is strong evidence that they have not done so. Those who are approaching the unforgivable sin are those who no longer even think about repentance and feel no need for it. Those who have reached this state are no longer concerned about such things. A pastor dealing with a person anxious in this matter should bear in mind that those who seek his counsel in such anxiety certainly have not committed the unforgivable sin. Those guilty of such a sin do not seek counsel from a pastor." 5

David C. Pack continues:

"I have often had to explain that the very act of being concerned is its own proof that one has not gone far enough to be guilty of this sin. Still, many continued to agonize that they had been condemned by God—with no hope of being restored to the Christian path. It often took long hours—much counsel and explanation—to reassure them that they had not committed the unpardonable sin! I was not always able to convince them. Some still gave up seeking and obeying God because they had lost hope!" 3

All three sources seem to overlook what must be the most common situation: that a person is saved, later momentarily commits the "unforgivable sin" and then later returns to their normal state.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. James Akin, "The Unforgivable Sin," Eternal Word Television Network, at: http://www.ewtn.com/
  2. Ken Collins, "The Unforgivable Sin," at: http://www.kencollins.com/
  3. David C. Pack, "Just what is 'The Unpardonable Sin'?', The Restored church of God, at: http://www.thercg.org/
  4. Hank Hanegraaff, "The Unforgivable Sin," Christian Research Institute, at: http://www.equip.org/
  5. Patrick H. Reardon, "Daily Reflections," 2005-FEB-07, at: http://www.touchstonemag.com/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2013 Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Posted: 2006-OCT-24
Latest update: 2013-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson

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