Things I am asked: What is the unforgivable sin?

Today’s question: What is the unforgivable sin mentioned in the Bible?

The short answer is: If you are worried you might dishonour God and commit the unforgivable sin, you won’t.

Before we explore this issue, let’s first lean back into a truth that we can be very sure of. It is this: God is the final definition of justice and love. God’s love means that he is for us, not against us. The Bible makes it quite clear that it is God’s will that we be saved, not condemned (1 Timothy 2:4).

Let’s look at the passage that refers to the ‘unforgivable sin’:

And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12: 31-32; also reported in Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10).

In this passage, Jesus draws a distinction between blaspheming the Holy Spirit (unforgivable) and blaspheming the Son of Man, i.e. Jesus (forgivable). But how can this be so when one member of the trinity perfectly represents the other? In other words, if you denigrate Jesus, surely you must be denigrating the Holy Spirit. On one occasion, the Holy Spirit is even referred to as “the Spirit of Jesus” (Philippians 1:19; see also 2 Corinthians 3:17).

The answer to this conundrum is found in Jesus’ use of the phrase “the Son of Man” (with the definite article, ‘the’). This was a term that only Jesus used, and he used it to refer to himself. The phrase occurs over 80 times in the gospels and also in Acts and Revelation. This prompts the question: Why didn’t Jesus use the unambiguous term, “Son of God” instead? After all, that’s who he was.

The phrase “the Son of Man” was not so much a title Jesus gave himself, but a humble (almost understatement) of who he was. The phrase could equate to “son of Adam” or “human being”, or even “mortal man”. By using the term “the Son of Man”, Jesus was highlighting his humanity rather than his divinity (Philippians 2:6-8). (Remember Jesus was 100% God and 100% human). Jesus referring to his humanity in this way was in keeping with his wish to keep his full identity secret from most people during his ministry.

But with Jesus, there was often a subtlety and significance to him using a phrase that ran deeper. It is possible that Jesus was also making a connection between himself and the “son of man” mentioned in Daniel 7:13-14 (which is a fairly unambiguous reference to the Messiah).

If we bring this understanding back to the passage in which Jesus talks about the unforgivable sin, we can say this: Jesus is saying, in effect: “If you denigrate me, whom you perceive to be a mere man, that’s within your right. But if you denigrate the Holy Spirit, you are not denigrating a man, but God – and the consequences of that are dire.”

This warning follows Jesus healing a demon-possessed man. Quite obviously, this was a triumph of God over evil. It would take perversity to believe otherwise. But the religious Pharisees chose to be perverse and said that Jesus’ authority to drive out demons came from Satan. Their comments prompted Jesus to issue this warning: Don’t call an act of God an act of Satan.

Let’s continue to explore whether you can ‘shipwreck’ your faith, as the apostle Paul suggests in 1 Timothy 1:19?

You can. Whilst Jesus will never let you go (John 10:28), you can let go of Jesus. If you have allowed Jesus to rescue you from eternal death… and then you willfully choose to reject him – you are in great danger. That very probably is the “sin that leads to death” that the apostle John refers to in John 5:16.

Further insight into the “sin that leads to death” can be obtained from Hebrews 6:4-6.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Note what is being said here. If a person has been enlightened as to the truth about Jesus; has experienced his gift of salvation; has known the indwelling power of God’s Spirit, and has tasted the truth and goodness of God’s word – and then willfully rejected God… then God will honour their wish to have nothing to do with him – eternally.

But what does this mean for you? All of us do and think things that are not godly from time to time. Are we doomed?

No. Even the apostle Paul wrestled with disobedience (Romans 7:15-24). Faithful Christians are in a process of continually being transformed into Christ’s likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18), but they know that perfection won’t occur until they are in God’s kingdom. In the meantime, they treasure the promise that God will never turn his back on anyone’s authentic repentance (1 John 1:9)… and that is a beautiful truth we can all hang on to.

Dr Nick Hawkes is a scientist, pastor, apologist, writer and broadcaster. He also describes himself as an absent-minded, slightly obsessive man who is pathetically weak due to cancer and chemo, who has experienced, and needs to experience, the grace of God each day.

Nick has written a book Soar above the Storm in which he draws on his experience of cancer to encourage anyone walking through a storm in life to find rest and hope in God. It offers a 40-day retreat to be refreshed and strengthened and find deep peace in God. Order it at Koorong.

He blogs and records podcasts at

Nick told his life story to Eternity