Young People Ask . . .
Have I Committed the Unforgivable Sin?
“I HAD never felt so downhearted. I no longer had any self-respect, and I thought that God would never forgive me.”—Marco.a
“I was very discouraged. Guilt overshadowed my heart. I thought that I had committed some unforgivable errors.”—Alberto.
“There is no man that does not sin,” says the Bible. (1 Kings 8:46) But sometimes a youth may feel that he has gone beyond making a simple mistake. Like Marco and Alberto, he may be oppressed by an unrelenting sense of guilt. He may feel that what he has done is so vile, so wicked, that God can never forgive him.
What if feelings like this afflict you? Take heart. Your situation is far from hopeless.
Why Our Conscience Pains Us
It’s only natural to feel bad when you’ve made a foolish mistake. We are all born with the faculty the Bible calls “conscience.” It is an inward sense of right and wrong, an internal alarm that usually sounds when we do something bad. (Romans 2:14, 15) Consider King David, for example. He committed adultery with another man’s wife. Later, he had her husband, Uriah, sent to a certain death. (2 Samuel 11:2-17) The effect on David?
“Day and night [God’s] hand was heavy upon me,” admitted David. Yes, he felt the weight of divine disapproval. David also said: “There is no peace in my bones on account of my sin. For my own errors have passed over my head; like a heavy load they are too heavy for me. . . . All day long I have walked about sad.” (Psalm 32:4; 38:3-6) David’s conscience continued to afflict him until he was moved to take positive action and repent of his error.
In a similar way, if you have been educated by Christian parents and you stray from the Bible’s standards, you will feel bad. This feeling of remorse is normal, healthy. It can induce a person to correct himself or seek help before a wrong becomes an ingrained habit. On the other hand, a person who persists in sin damages his conscience. In time it becomes insensitive, like seared skin. (1 Timothy 4:2) Moral corruption is sure to follow.—Galatians 6:7, 8.
Not surprisingly, then, the Bible speaks of “a sin that does incur death.” (1 John 5:16; compare Matthew 12:31.) Such a sin is not merely a weakness of the flesh. It is committed deliberately, obstinately, stubbornly. It is not so much the sin itself as it is the heart condition of the sinner that makes such a sin unforgivable.
The fact that you feel hurt and distressed over your misconduct, however, indicates that you have not committed an unforgivable sin. The Bible says that “sadness in a godly way makes for repentance to salvation.” (2 Corinthians 7:10) Indeed, note the exhortation given at James 4:8-10: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you indecisive ones. Give way to misery and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves in the eyes of Jehovah, and he will exalt you.”
True, the wrong may be a very serious one. Young Julie, for example, got involved in necking and petting with a boyfriend. “I felt very guilty at first,” she confesses, “but as time went on, I got used to it. It didn’t bother my conscience so much.” In time, unclean acts escalated to the point of sexual intercourse. “I felt miserable,” says Julie. “My conscience weakened to the point where it happened several times.”
Is such a situation hopeless? Not necessarily. What about Manasseh, one of the kings of Judah? He committed extremely serious sins, including spiritism and child sacrifice. Yet, God pardoned him on account of his sincere repentance. (2 Chronicles 33:10-13) What about King David? Having repented of his wicked acts, he found Jehovah to be a God who is “good and ready to forgive.”—Psalm 86:5.
Christians today have this assurance: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous so as to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) To whom should one make this confession? Primarily, to Jehovah God. “Before him pour out your heart.” (Psalm 32:5; 62:8) You may find it helpful to read David’s contrite confession in Psalm 51.
Additionally, the Bible urges Christians who have fallen into serious sin to speak with the congregation elders. (James 5:14, 15) Their earnest counsel and prayers can help you to reestablish your relationship with God and to regain a clean conscience. They can discern the difference between weakness and wickedness. They should also see to it that you get the help needed in order to avoid repeating your error. Julie, having taken this courageous step herself, recommends: “I tried ‘reproving myself’ and even thought it worked to an extent. But after a year I knew how wrong I was. You can’t clear up serious problems without help from the elders.”
Guilt Over Minor Sins
Sometimes, though, a youth “takes some false step before he is aware of it.” (Galatians 6:1) Or he or she allows a fleshly compulsion to take over. A youth in this situation may suffer deep feelings of guilt—perhaps more guilt than the wrong actually merits. Needless anguish results. Such profound guilt feelings can be the result of a healthy but overly sensitive conscience. (Romans 14:1, 2) Remember, when we sin “we have a helper with the Father, Jesus Christ, a righteous one.”—1 John 2:1, 2.
Consider, again, the case of young Marco, quoted in our introduction. This young Christian was convinced that he had committed an unforgivable sin. He used to say to himself: ‘I know Bible principles so well, yet I can’t stop sinning!’ His sin? The problem of masturbation. ‘How can God forgive me if I can’t break the habit?’ Marco would reason. Alberto, who similarly had bouts with self-abuse, said: “I felt the guilt deep down inside because I couldn’t free myself of the sin.”
Masturbation is an unclean habit. (2 Corinthians 7:1) However, the Bible does not class it with serious sins such as fornication. In fact, it does not mention it at all. Therefore, a lapse into masturbation would hardly be unforgivable. Viewing it as if it were beyond forgiveness could actually be dangerous; a youth might reason that there is little point in trying to overcome the problem. But Bible principles indicate that a Christian should put forth strenuous efforts to fight this habit.b (Colossians 3:5) Jehovah knows that “we all stumble many times.” (James 3:2) If a relapse occurs, a youth need not feel condemned.
The same is true of other missteps and errors. Jehovah does not require that we punish ourselves with excessive guilt. Rather, he is pleased when we take steps to correct the problem.—2 Corinthians 7:11; 1 John 3:19, 20.
Sources of Help and Comfort
Likely, though, you will need personal assistance in doing so. God-fearing parents can often do much to help and support their children. And the Christian congregation offers other means of support. Marco recalls: “The thing that really helped me was a conversation with an elder. I had to have courage to open up and tell him my most intimate thoughts. But he inspired confidence, so I asked his advice.” Alberto, too, sought advice from an elder. “I can’t forget his encouraging counsel,” says Alberto. “He told me that when he was young, he also had the same problem. I would never have believed it. I listened to him with great appreciation for his honesty.” With such help and support, Marco and Alberto overcame their problems. Both presently serve in positions of responsibility in their respective congregations.
Fervent prayer is another aid. Like David, you can pray for “a pure heart” and “a new spirit, a steadfast one.” (Psalm 51:10) Reading God’s Word is another source of comfort. For example, you may find it encouraging to learn that the apostle Paul also had internal conflicts. He admitted: “When I wish to do what is right, what is bad is present with me.” (Romans 7:21) Paul succeeded in keeping his wrong tendencies under control. So can you. You may find it particularly comforting to read the psalms, especially those dealing with God’s forgiveness, such as Psalms 25, 86, and Ps 103.
In any event, avoid withdrawing into yourself and letting yourself be dominated by pessimism. (Proverbs 18:1) Fully avail yourself of Jehovah’s mercy. Remember, he ‘forgives in a large way’ on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice. (Isaiah 55:7; Matthew 20:28) Do not minimize your errors, but do not conclude that God cannot forgive you either. Strengthen your faith and your determination to serve him. (Philippians 4:13) In time you will come to have peace of mind and the deep inner joy of knowing that you have been forgiven.—Compare Psalm 32:1.
a Some of the names have been changed.
b Helpful suggestions are given in chapters 25 and 26 of the book Questions Young People Ask: Answers That Work, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Talking things over with a qualified Christian can give you a new perspective on matters