He sat across from me. His face drained of colour, his fingers fidgeting. Eventually, he shared that he was worried he had committed the unforgivable sin. With that admission, I knew there was hope for him and for us. Let me tell you why.
In his account of Jesus’ life, the gospel writer Mark recounts how Jesus confronts and overcomes the unclean spirits that afflict people. These deliverances demonstrate that Jesus is the Holy One of God, operating with divine authority to initiate God’s reign and rule on earth in new ways.
Many of the established religious leaders first question and then reject Jesus’ ministry. In their self-righteousness the accuse Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the prince of demons, that is Satan (Mark 3:22).
Jesus responds by first exposing the fallacy of their logic. Satan is not destroying his own ‘house’. No, the house of Satan is being plundered by one stronger than he, by Jesus ministering in the power of God by the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:23-27).
This is the immediate context in which Jesus speaks these words of warning:
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.” (Mark 3:28-29)
What is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit? It is critical to understand what is meant because Jesus says it cannot be forgiven; the guilt of that sin will remain to eternity. If the person sitting across from me were guilty of such a sin, then they would have reason to be stressed.
A great first approach when we bump into tough-to-understand passages is to take a good look at the immediate biblical context. The very next verse in Mark reads:
He said this because they were saying, “He has an impure spirit. (Mark 3:30)
Jesus gave this warning because his opponents kept on accusing him of being possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus’ opponents were not only rejecting Jesus and his divine authority, they were defaming Jesus’ miraculous ministry by attributing it to the work of a demon. Jesus’ opponents were slandering God by calling His Holy Spirit an unclean spirit.
This is not an accusation they were making out of ignorance. This was not a one-time transgression. It was a settled attitude in which remorse was not felt nor was repentance contemplated.
My friend was not in this camp! His sensitivity and concern over his behaviour was a clear indication that his mindset toward God was not the settled slander of those who opposed Jesus in Mark 3.
Let’s not miss the message of hope contained in Jesus’ warning:
Truly I tell you, people can be forgiven all their sins and every slander they utter…(Mark 3:28)
If we sincerely confess our sins, God is always faithful to forgive us and purify us (1 John 1:9).