Over the years, I’ve gotten many questions about the unpardonable sin, and like most Christians, I have wrestled with this subject in my own studies. A question I recently was asked echoes the struggles and anxieties of many who wonder if they, too, could commit the unpardonable sin.
I fear I may have committed the unpardonable sin of Matthew 12 in thought. I try hard not to think blasphemous thoughts, but I can’t seem to fight them off. I just had the worst blasphemous thought, and I feel I have consciously sinned against the Holy Spirit. I feel like I’m going crazy trying to keep from thinking these thoughts, and I fear that I have gone to the point where I cannot be forgiven.
The answer to the question of the unpardonable sin.
You said that you were afraid that you had committed the unpardonable sin and that you can’t keep your mind from thinking blasphemous thoughts. That is true for any thought and you will drive yourself crazy if you are trying to keep your mind from thinking of anything. Put this to the test. Determine not to think about a banana. Don’t let yourself think about its color or smell. Especially don’t think about how it feels in your hand; its weight, texture, and for goodness sake, don’t think about the stem. Make every effort not to think about how it tastes in your mouth. Now raise the stakes. Tell yourself, “I can’t think about these things or I’ll go to hell.” Pick a day and do everything in your power not to think about the word ‘banana’ or the object, smell, or anything related to it. If you’re really daring, commit to not thinking about it for a month. When you go down the produce aisle in a grocery store, try not to look at it, and for your soul’s sake, don’t think about the banana—err, I mean what you aren’t looking at.
What if you truly believed your soul was dependent on never allowing the banana to enter your mind. It could have been the forbidden fruit, you never know. As you can imagine, you would drive yourself mad if you truly believed this would condemn your soul. The same is true about how most people approach the idea of the unpardonable sin. Just by focusing on not allowing it to enter your mind, makes your thoughts focus on the evil we think is lurking behind the door of our mind. Trying to keep any thought out of our mind is like trying to stop a leaky faucet with our hands. No matter how tight we squeeze, water is going to drip through.
You’re focus is on the wrong things. We don’t resist temptation by staring it down, but by turning our hearts to what is good. I’ll share the scriptures with you that cover this in a moment, but let me say first that you haven’t committed the unpardonable sin. If God was so easily offended that a thought popping in our heads could condemn us to hell, we’d all be doomed. Let’s examine blasphemy for a moment and look at the difference between the condemnation of the Pharisees and the mercy given to the Apostle Paul – who was also a Pharisee. Look at Matthew 12:31-32
31 ” Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
32 “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.
When Jesus uttered this warning, what was taking place? In verse 10, Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees raged against him for healing on the Sabbath, even though Jesus explained that he was the Lord of the Sabbath. Their response to the miracle was to plot to destroy Jesus. He withdrew, and as was often the case, the Pharisees followed to observe Jesus, looking for something by which they could accuse him. Verse 18 quotes a passage from Isaiah, indicating that it was self evident that Jesus was fulfilling the prophecy given about his ministry and life. In verse 22, the people brought a man who was demon possessed, and Jesus cast out the devil and healed the man. What did the Pharisees say? “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.”
The work of God was revealed directly to them in an unmistakable way. They heard the word of God through Jesus’ teaching, they saw the miracle of healing, they saw the affirmation of him through the Old Testament scriptures – which, by the way, was their primary field of study – and they saw Jesus’ power over Satan, revealed before their very eyes. Their response? “He has the power of Satan.” To make such a claim was to call the Holy Spirit of God the power of Satan. Did Satan heal the man’s hand? Did Satan give Jesus the words of truth? Did Satan write the book of Isaiah? Did Satan cast out the devil?
Consider more of these things. When Jesus fed the five-thousand, the people demanded a sign from God in order to believe. Several times the leaders demanded a sign from Christ, and what did he say? “No sign will be given – except, the sign of Jonah. Just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days, Jesus would be in the grave three days and would emerge.
In a parable, Jesus told about a man who died and was tormented in the flames of judgment. The man begged to go back and warn his brothers of this horrible place. He was told, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” This of course is the reference to the Old Testament scriptures. The man knew that like himself, they were ignoring the word of God, so he pleaded by saying that they would believe if someone returned from the grave to warn them. But he was told, “If they won’t believe Moses and the prophets (the word of God), they will not believe – even if someone were to rise from the dead.
Jesus proved this to be true twice. Lazarus was dead four days, and he came and raised him from the dead. How did the Pharisees react? They plotted to put Lazarus to death, for many believed on Jesus because of his resurrection. All their efforts to stop Christ were fruitless and they lamented that all their efforts to silence him accomplished nothing (John 12:19).
When Jesus was crucified, the Pharisees got the Roman governor to place a squadron of soldiers to guard the tomb so the disciples couldn’t steal the body and claim Jesus had risen. Jesus did rise, and the Roman soldiers witnessed it. A squad of terrorized soldiers ran to the Pharisees and reported that they witnessed Jesus emerge from the tomb. What was their response? They came up with an alternate story and paid the soldiers to hide the truth and spread their lie.
So you see, this was much more than a blasphemous thought popping into their heads. They fought against God, told others that it was Satan’s work, plotted to destroy the evidence of God’s work, and lied to persuade others to disbelieve God. All of this stemmed from one thing – they resisted the Spirit of God working in their hearts. You see, we all were blasphemers before we were redeemed, but God didn’t judge us for it.
The Apostle Paul blasphemed the work of God and called it evil. In Acts, Paul gives his testimony and says how he obtained orders from the priests and hunted down Christians from city to city, captured them and brought them back to be put to death. Not only did he cast his vote against them, but he also testifies of two practices that we think of as despicable. He says that he hailed people in their houses. In other words, he found out who was a Christian by giving them a Christian salutation. If they answered back, he knew they were believers and he would arrest them. It would be something like walking into a house and saying, “Blessings in the name of Jesus Christ.” He was pretending to be a Christian, knowing that if they blessed back in the name of Jesus, they were followers of this evil cult of Christ.
The second despicable practice was that Paul said, “I compelled them to blaspheme.” In other words, he used threats and punishment to force people to speak against Christ. Scourging was a common practice, so he may have had them beaten until they spoke evil against the way of faith in Christ.
So why didn’t God judge Paul as he did the Pharisees? He also blasphemed, called the work of God evil, and set out to kill anyone who followed Jesus in order to destroy the faith. In action, there is no difference between the Apostle Paul and the Pharisees whom Jesus proclaimed, “You cannot be forgiven in this life, or the life to come.” I say, no difference in action while in the act of blasphemy, but there was a huge difference when seeing the work of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain first by looking at two passages. Look first at Romans 1:18-19
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
Now read 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12
10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.
11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie,
12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
I underlined the key points I wanted you to notice. The wrath of God was revealed against the ungodly AFTER he made himself known to them and showed the truth to them. Those who refused to receive the love of the truth were given over to the strong delusion so that they will believe a lie. Why? It was for this reason – they rejected the truth that they might be saved.
Paul thought the work of God was evil and was something to be stamped out. He was wrong. He was corrupt, sinful, and a wicked man who blasphemed and forced others to blaspheme. Yet he found mercy. The Pharisees were evil men who thought the work of God was evil, they blasphemed and encouraged people to blaspheme – even issuing ordinances that if anyone testifies to Christ, they would be permanently kicked out of the Synagogue and excluded from the Jewish culture that everyone depended upon.
The ONLY distinction between those who receive mercy, and those who receive judgment is the response to the truth of God when it is revealed to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. It is not our response to the word, but our response to the revelation of the word. There is a difference. The Bible says that the natural man – those viewing the world through human nature or the flesh – cannot receive or understand the things of God – for they are spiritually discerned. The word of God is foolishness to the flesh, and we are all born into the flesh. Hearing truth does not turn the light bulb on in our hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that opens our eyes to see the truth and then calls our hearts to respond. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17). You can hear the word of God without faith, but you cannot have faith without hearing the word of God. God calls us through the word, and he opens our understanding in his own time. That is why someone will hear the word their whole lives, and then suddenly understand the gospel and are born into the Spirit.
From the outside, you and I cannot determine what God is doing in someone’s heart. Just because someone doesn’t respond, does not mean they are resisting the Holy Spirit. Rejecting the truth is not what brings us under judgment. We all reject the truth in our flesh. BUT, when the Holy Spirit pulls back the veil of our flesh, reveals the truth to us, and makes God manifest to our heart and understanding, the moment of decision has come. The decision is not whether we will choose God. We cannot choose God. God chooses us and calls us to Christ. The ONLY decision is whether we will resist the Spirit of grace that is being given to us. Go back to the passages above. Those judged SUPPRESS the truth. It is taking the truth that has been revealed to our hearts, refusing it, and trying to push it away from our hearts. It is for this reason we are given over to our vile passions and turned over to the lie that we have already chosen.
So the problem is not blasphemy in thought, but blasphemy by resisting the Holy Spirit and turning against the truth that is being revealed. Then, and only then, have we committed the unpardonable sin. We cannot be forgiven in the life to come because we remain in our sins. We have chosen to live for the flesh and have pleasure in unrighteousness, and there is no redemption for those who die without receiving the love of the truth. For God has revealed it in them. Inside the heart of man, God manifests himself, calls us to lay down our lives, and offers a new life in Christ, born after the Spirit. But those condemned in the above passage, like the Pharisees, despise a God who calls them to let go of their lives in this world, and have suppressed the truth revealed in them, and cling to the flesh. They love a life grounded in sin and count the sacrifice of Christ as a worthless thing. (Hebrews 10:29)
Now a little bit on thoughts.
You said that you were afraid because of evil thoughts. I’m going to take a few moments to look at this from a Christian perspective. Look at the Bible’s command to the church in Colossians 3:8
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
This is written to the believers in the church. Put off these things: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, and filthy language. Interesting, the Christian is told to put blasphemy out of their lives. Shouldn’t Christians already be free of blasphemy? We should. But we also should be free from anger, wrath, malice and speaking things that shame God. None of these things condemn our souls, but they do war against our souls and prevent us from growing closer to the Lord.
These things are of the flesh. When we come to Christ, the Bible tells us that we are born into the Spirit. A new, eternal nature is given to us that was not present until we were regenerated by the Holy Spirit into a new creation. It is at that point we receive the promise, “Now all things are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). We now have a new nature that is born after the Spirit and our old sinful nature was crucified with Christ. Look at Romans 6:6-7
6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
While it is true that we have a new nature, given to us from God, we still live in a body of flesh that craves sin and wars against our minds. Look at Romans 7:22-25
22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man.
23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.
24 O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
25 I thank God — through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.
If we walk in the Spirit, we serve God with our minds, but if we walk according to the flesh, we cannot help but to serve sin. The inward man is the new creation. Our sinful nature was crucified with Christ, but outwardly we battle with the flesh. The flesh wars against our minds, trying to bring us back into captivity to sin. Romans 6:16 tells us that even though we have been set free from sin, we can still submit to sin and allow it to rule over us.
16 Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?
Jesus said something similar in John 8:34. The fact of being human is that we fall. We take our eyes off the Spirit and are distracted by the flesh. When we sin, it quickly takes over our minds and brings us back into captivity. Then we must confess our sins, forsake them, and stand upon the promise of 1 John 1:7-10 – the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness. When we repent and walk in the light – obedience to Christ through his word, we are cleansed and free from the sin that wars against our minds.
The flesh will constantly rise up and war against us, so we must always be on guard, and repent when we fall. God is not waiting to beat us when we fall, but he leads us back toward repentance with the purpose of reconciliation and fellowship with him. Chastisement is still a loving correction. It is harsher because sometimes we need a bit more prodding. Consequences to our sins is also a deterrent for future sins. The purpose is not to punish, but to correct, so that we are led in the right way and can experience the joy of God to its fullness. It is better to suffer pain in this life than to miss the promises in the life to come.
Since the flesh is warring against our minds, thoughts are going to arise. The truth is that we have spent a lifetime of training our minds to think from the perspective of the flesh. So, thoughts are going to naturally gravitate toward the flesh unless we take the steps necessary to retrain our way of thinking. Why do we brood over the things that hurt us, and cling to thoughts that bring sorrow? It is the flesh. When our minds are on the flesh, we walk in the flesh. When our minds are on the Spirit, we walk in the Spirit. Galatians 5:
16 I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
We cannot overcome the flesh by warring against the flesh. We overcome by walking in the Spirit. That is why forcing yourself not to think about blasphemy doesn’t work. You are making an effort in the flesh to overcome something in the flesh. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We overcome our thoughts by setting our minds on the things above. All of this is grounded in the word of God. Let’s look at how the Bible teaches us to train our minds. First look at 2 Corinthians 10:4-6
4 For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds,
5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,
6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.
Our weapons are not carnal. Carnal means, of the flesh. It is God who gives us might and pulls down strongholds. We have the power to cast down everything that exalts itself against God and to take our own thoughts captive. Whether it’s blasphemy, thoughts of anger, lust, greed, vengeance, bitterness, or any other thought that exalts itself, we have the God given power to cast it down and put it into its place. We all struggle with different thoughts at different times. When an offending thought pops in our head, it is not a sin. It is our flesh that has sin in its members and wars against our minds in an attempt to bring us back into its dominance.
We are commanded to guard our hearts for out of it come the issues of life. Our minds guard our hearts. Jesus said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adultery, fornication, thefts, false witnesses, and blasphemies.” It is not a sin until it proceeds from the heart. Jesus said, “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” (Matthew 12:35) Notice, the heart doesn’t produce these things. They are thoughts that we have stored their as treasures.
When I dwell on evil thoughts, I am treasuring those things in my heart. If I entertain thoughts of lust, I am treasuring something in my heart that will emerge in my life as sin. The same is true for hatred, greed, covetousness, blasphemy, and any other sin. When those thoughts enter our minds, it begins as an involuntary idea. Involuntary thoughts are not sin, and we will not be held accountable for it. It’s not until we welcome the thought and surrender our minds to it that it becomes sin. If we are born again and belong to Christ, we have the power through the word of God and the Holy Spirit to cast down those thoughts and take them captive. We take those thoughts and cast them out of our minds. However, casting down an imagination is not the end of our responsibility. Look now at Philippians 4:6-8
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.
We set our hearts and minds on spiritual things, and then dwell on what is right. We are training ourselves to think and meditate on praiseworthy things of God. Our live must be grounded in prayer (communing with God), supplication (praying for needs of ourselves and others), and thanksgiving. All prayer and all things in the Christian life are surrounded by thanksgiving. If I’m not thankful in all things, I am blinded by the flesh for all things work together for my good and His purpose. God’s purpose is always good in my life. If I do these things, I have the absolute promise that God himself will guard my heart and mind through Christ. If my mind is in turmoil, I haven’t followed this principle. Will trouble come? Yes. And at times I will feel anxious. However, when I am grounded in the faith, I will not be moved by these things and they will not rule my mind.
When I am grounded in prayer, I then follow up by setting my mind on the good things that are pure and of good report. These principles will work. They are difficult to live by, but success is by the hand of God when we submit ourselves to obedience. Most people get frustrated by circumstances, quickly abandon the word, and cease from striving toward the righteousness of God. Soon they find that the flesh is again driving their minds and lives. Then they wonder why God isn’t giving them peace. The truth is that God does give peace, but He does not promise to bless and give peace to those who are unwilling to obey his word.
Let me conclude by giving an example from my own life. Many years ago I was severely wronged and deeply hurt by someone. I allowed my hurt to grow into bitterness and my unforgiveness came out in my own life. I said the words, “I forgive,” many times. But from my heart I didn’t truly forgive. I relived my anger repeatedly. I did not realize it at the time, but that anger was coming out in my own life and affecting those around me. Sin was so blinding that I could not even see my own behavior. Have you ever met someone who was their own worst enemy, but blamed everyone else? In their minds, they feel singled out and attacked, and unable to see that people are responding to their behavior? That is bitterness in action. It always defiles the one who possesses it, and blinds them to their own actions. The Bible warns that one root of bitterness can spring up and defile many. A bitter spirit affects everyone around it.
God began to deal with me, and showed me how that I cannot have His blessings and bitterness. Jesus said that our heavenly Father will not forgive us if we don’t forgive others from the heart. Unforgiveness is a breech in our relationship with God. We cannot mature until we forgive. If we relive the pain, we have not forgiven. The problem is that we don’t naturally know how to forgive, but the passage above tells us. We take every thought captive and cast down every thought that is not obedient to Christ. Obedience requires us to follow the command to forgive.
I decided to forgive. I prayed for the ability and had to work through years of painful feelings. I forgave. Know what happened? Those thoughts returned, warring against my mind. Rarely did a day go by when I hadn’t felt bitterness in my heart, so casting it out was a challenge. Its roots grew deep. Like an aggressive weed, cutting out the plant didn’t solve the problem. It just kept growing back. When I saw the thoughts again, I cast it out. Sometimes I would unconsciously begin to dwell on these thoughts, but then I would realize it and had to make a decision. Did I want to cling to them and relish in the pain, relive my pity, or cast it out again? I have to be honest and say that a part of me enjoyed reliving the memories and pitying myself, so it was hard to cast out the thoughts that were so engrained in my way of thinking. With reluctance, I cast it out again. But it came back like a stalker. I cast it out again, and again, and again. I tried to focus on the praiseworthy things, but soon found my mind drifting back on the destructive thoughts warring against my mind.
The battle was long, but in time, the thoughts came to visit less and less. I had programmed my mind to think negatively, and now I was trying to use scripture to reprogram ever path in my brain. I was retraining myself from destructive patterns to godly thinking. God gives us the power to do this very thing – but we have to obey His word. Many times a day I had to cast out my angry thoughts and say to myself, “I have forgiven. These thoughts are no longer mine.”
Regardless of what thoughts you struggle with, they are not yours until you take ownership of them. The longer you own these thoughts, the harder it is to evict them. If we trust God’s word, we will obey out of faith. Faith says that though I can’t see immediate results, I know the word is true. Faith always comes before the promises of God. We endure by faith, knowing that in the end we will see the promises with our own eyes.
Life is hard enough as it is, so don’t carry unnecessary burdens. If an offensive thought enters your mind, don’t wrack yourself with guilt. It isn’t a thought you own. Just cast it out and say, “It is not mine.” If it sneaks in again, cast it down again. When you are retraining your way of thinking, results will come slow, but you will find that the thoughts that once haunted you will be forgotten. Like me, you will one day look up and realize, I haven’t thought about that in years. One day I was reflecting on this very thing after discussing this topic with someone and I realized that I didn’t even feel the slightest bit of bitterness against the one who wronged me.
The Bible promises, “You will keep him in perfect peace, Whose mind is stayed on You, Because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3. The Bible promises a sound mind to the believer. This is how that promise is fulfilled. This doesn’t mean that we cannot focus on our work at hand or something that demands our attention. It means that when our thoughts are free, we turn them toward the Lord. We cannot let our minds rest upon our God if it is tangled up in the flesh. Renew yourself daily in the word, and be a doer and not a hearer only.