What is the Unforgivable Sin?

I can remember so many times I have been hurt by others and others have been hurt by me. This is, unfortunately, part of what it means to be human. One of the great gifts of our humanity one with another is to forgive each other. I often say when officiating weddings that two of the most important phrases we can keep at the ready in relationships are: “I am sorry,” and “I forgive you.”

But have you ever been hurt so badly you weren’t sure you could forgive someone? Or have you hurt someone so badly you weren’t sure they could forgive you?

What about God? Can we wrong God so badly that He will not forgive us?

“Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins…” (Psalm 103:2-3a)

Psalm 103 tells us to praise God and remember all His benefits, including that He forgives all our sins. But is there anything we can say or do that cannot be forgiven? Much to our surprise, Jesus In the midst of a conversation with the Pharisees accusing him of casting out demons by the power of Satan says:

“I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31)

Return with me to the tension that started this whole story. Jesus heals a demon-possessed man and the people are astonished, wondering if Jesus could be the Son of David, the promised Messiah. The Pharisees, when they hear this from the people, begin to offer a counterclaim that Jesus works His deliverance not by God’s power but by Beelzebul or Satan’s power. They are ascribing God’s good work through Jesus to evil.

Jesus, however, makes it clear that He delivers by the power of God’s Spirit (12:28) and that His missional activity will divide humanity, leaving some who are with Him and some who are against Him (12:30).

This is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus is describing. He is not just speaking about grieving the Holy Spirit or faltering in our walk with the Holy Spirit. The only unforgivable sin, here, is to starkly stand against Jesus, identifying His God-given work instead as devil-driven work, and choosing to move away from Him.

I have, from time to time, had people ask me what the unforgivable sin is and whether they have committed it. They have asked me whether God can forgive them of a certain word, activity, thought, or event in which they have taken part. The heart of such a person is in great tension and feels the weight of sin. That, in my mind, testifies that they are not hardened toward God, but open to God.

As Craig Keener writes about this section of Scripture: 

“the context of blaspheming against the Spirit here refers specifically to the sin of the Pharisees, who are on the verge of becoming incapable of repentance. The sign of their hardness of heart is their determination to reject any proof for Jesus’ divine mission, to the extent that they even attribute God’s attestation of Jesus to the devil…We therefore must reiterate the point in this context: the sin is unforgivable only because it reflects a heart too hard to repent. Those who desire to repent, troubled by the fear that they may have committed this sin, plainly have not committed it!”[1]

May we stay soft-hearted toward Jesus and open to the work of the Holy Spirit revealed in Him.


[1] Craig S. Keener, Matthew, IVPNTC (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1997), 232.

The Weekend Wanderer: 15 May 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to help me think more deeply.


Prayer-Button-Background-2-1024x536“Giving Greater Honor to the “Minority” in Your Midst” – Here is Raymond Chang in excerpt from Ministers of Reconciliation: Preaching on Race and the Gospel: “As a second-generation Korean American, I straddle the line between the East and the West. In my upbringing, I was told to be “American” (a euphemism for white) in public and “Korean” at home and at our first-generation Korean church. I hold within me the values of Western individualism and Eastern collectivism. Within me resides both the American spirit of independence and the Korean spirit of filial piety. For better or worse, these forces shape how I live in this world God created. Our understanding of honor is heavily influenced by our culture. As a Korean American, I view honor through both a Western and an Eastern lens. My Western sensibilities tell me that honor primarily goes to the one who earns it. It is given to the ones who deserve it through their merits. My Eastern sensibilities, however, tell me that honor primarily goes to those who came before me, regardless of their merits. This is because relationships weigh more than achievement (though achievement brings honor to the relationship). In my opinion, there is gold and dross in both of these views. It is appropriate to give honor to those who have achieved and accomplished much—especially if it came at a great sacrifice and led to much fruitfulness.”


Screen Shot 2021-05-13 at 11.11.07 AM“The Fading of Forgiveness” – Tim Keller in Comment: “After the 2014 deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City, a new movement for racial justice emerged, especially embodied by a new loose network called Black Lives Matter. ‘This ain’t your grandfather’s civil rights movement,’ said rapper Tef Poe. This one, he said, would be much angrier. At an October protest in Ferguson, street activists heckled and turned their backs on the president of the NAACP. Unlike the older civil rights protesters, journalists on the ground in Ferguson reported that the activists were ‘hurling insults and curses’ at police. After relatives of the nine African Americans killed in Charleston, South Carolina, publicly said to the shooter, Dylann Roof, ‘I forgive you,’ a Washington Post opinion piece by Stacey Patton responded with the headline ‘Black America Should Stop Forgiving White Racists.’…Barbara Reynolds, a septuagenarian who had marched in the civil rights protests of the 1960s, wrote a counterpoint essay in the same newspaper. She said that the original movements led by Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela were marked by ‘the ethics of love, forgiveness and reconciliation,’ and they triumphed because of ‘the power of the spiritual approach.'”


051921teresa“As the world reopens post-pandemic, how will we find our way in it?” – Stephanie Paulsell in The Christian Century: “This is a small trepidation in the scheme of things. There’s so much to look forward to in a post-pandemic world: hugs, unmasked faces, gathering in churches and classrooms again. But our worries about how to reenter the world of classrooms and offices are reminders that the post-pandemic world also looms up as a challenge. As the world reopens, how will we find our way in it? We have an opportunity to do more than go back to the way things were—a chance, even a responsibility, to do better. How can we rise to it? As I was thinking about what my own pathways back into the world might be, I picked up The Interior Castle, Teresa of Ávila’s exploration of the pathways of the human journey toward God. It might seem counterintuitive to read an account of an inward journey to think about a journey back out into the world, but Teresa seems always to be looking in both directions at once. The whole point of the journey inward, she writes, is to make ourselves fit for service to our neighbor; the whole point is to love more.”


Warren - women ordination“I Got Ordained So I Can Talk About Jesus. Not the Female Pastor Debate.” – Tish Harrison Warren in Christianity Today: “Rick Warren’s Saddleback church recently made headlines by ordaining three female leaders. I was grateful to see these women recognized and lent both the public authority and institutional accountability that comes from ordination. But when I read the news, I also thought with a heavy sigh, “Oh, here we go again.” I knew the debate about women’s roles in the church would dominate conversation all week, and I could already predict the rutted arguments I’d hear recited over and over. Here’s an open secret: You know who hates talking about women’s ordination? Female pastors. Not all of us, of course. Some women have a special unction to debate this topic, and honestly, more power to them. But the reality is that few of us become pastors in order to talk about women’s ordination. We get ordained because the gospel has captured our imaginations. We get ordained to witness to the beauty and truth of Jesus. We get ordained to serve the church in the ministry of Word and sacrament.”


897197“What We’ve Lost in Rejecting the Sabbath” – Sohrab Ahmari in The Wall Street Journal: “In 2019, North Dakota lawmakers abolished their state’s Sunday-trading ban. Going back to the 19th century, business owners had faced jail time and a fine for keeping their doors open Sunday mornings. It was America’s last statewide blue law, and it went the way of the rotary telephone and the airplane smoking section. The bill’s main GOP sponsor in the state legislature claimed that a majority ‘wants to make decisions for themselves.’ Ending the ban, officials argued, would boost shopping and, with it, revenues. Who but a few scolds could complain? The share of Americans who don’t identify with any religion continues to grow, and even many believers reject the concept of the Sabbath as a divinely ordained day of rest. Instead, we are encouraged to pursue lives of constant action and purpose, and we do.”


ECPAChristianBookAward“Christian Book Award Winners 2021”The Evangelical Christian Publishers Association announced the 2021 Christian Book Award winners by categories, including audio books, Bibles, Bible reference works, Bible study, biography & memoir, children, christian living, devotion & gift, faith & culture, ministry resources, and more. LaTasha Morrison’s Be The Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation was named the book of the year, as well as winning top marks in the “Faith & Culture” topic area.


Music: Asgeir, “Living Water,” from Bury the Moon

Arriving One: the final destination of the church

This past weekend we concluded our series, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church,” at Eastbrook Church. To bring this great exploration of unity to a close, I traced the movement from the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9 to the heavenly vision in Revelation 7:9-10. In one sense this is a contrast between humanity divided and humanity united.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can follow along with the entire series here and the devotional that accompanies the series here. You could always join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Humanity Divided (Genesis 11:1-9)

  • Human assertion against God
  • God’s confusion upon humanity

Humanity United (Revelation 7:9-10)

  • The gathering of the saints in the new heaven and the new earth
    • The contrast with Babel’s division centered on humanity
    • Here true unity is centered on God
  • The Great Multitude Before God
    • Unified before God: standing together, adorned similarly, crying out as one
    • Identifiable difference: every nation, tribe, people, and language

Moving Toward a Unified Arrival (Colossians 3:1-17)

  • Our focus on Christ and things above (3:1-4)
  • Take off the old self (3:5-11)
  • Put on the new self (3:12-17)

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into Revelation 7:9-10 in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Revelation 7:9-10 or Colossians 3:12-14
  • Read Genesis 11:1-9 – the story of the Tower of Babel – and consider what was going on here. What do you think was at work within the hearts of humanity in this story? How does this story echo the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3?
  • If you want to dive deeper into Revelation 7:9-10, consider listening to or watching another preaching series from Eastbrook called “Becoming 7.”
  • Continue with our season of prayer and fasting. Find more info here.

A Prayer to Love and Forgive One’s Enemy

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.  Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

Lord, take my heart in Your hands and shape it to love those who do not love me and even work against me.

Help me not to return wrong with wrong, but to respond to wrong with care, love, prayer, and mercy.

Help me to know what it looks like to turn the other cheek while not enabling ongoing wrong or making it seem like wrong is right.

Give me boldness and discernment to walk as Your child even when my circumstances lead me to forget who I am and cause me to stumble in frustration, grief, and hurt.

What can I do but call to You? You are my God—my Father—and I am Your child—Your disciple.

Lead me in Your way of love and forgiveness that, even in wrong, people may see You in me.

A Prayer inspired by the prophet Micah

Almighty God,
You see the ruin
that we as human beings
so often bring upon ourselves,
individually and corporately.

We acknowledge that we have looked
to human strength instead of your strength
and to human leaders in place of your kingly rule.
We long for someone to set things right
and all our worry and efforts
seem sometimes to only make things worse.

Have mercy on us, O God,
that we might receive
Your severe mercy of correction,
and find the grace of restoration
through Jesus Christ,
the Promised Messiah foretold in Micah
and the only One who can truly save.

All this we pray, through Jesus Christ,
to whom, with You and the Holy Spirit
be honor and glory, now and forever.
Amen.