Did You Commit the Unforgivable Sin?
AT times the Watch Tower Society receives letters from dedicated Christians who are downcast, discouraged and filled with anxiety. They have an exaggerated sense of guilt and feelings of extreme unworthiness and of strong self-condemnation. Plagued with a guilty conscience, they wonder if there is any hope for them. In brief, they feel they have committed the unforgivable sin.
That there is such a thing as unforgivable sin the Scriptures clearly show. Said Jesus Christ on one occasion: “Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven.” In a similar vein one of his followers wrote: “It is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened” fully, “but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance, because they impale the Son of God afresh for themselves.” “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” Yes, as another Bible writer says, “there is a sin that does incur death,” and for this we are not to pray.—Matt. 12:31; Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26, 27; 1 John 5:16.
Of course, only God himself who is the Judge knows whether a certain Christian has committed the unforgivable sin or not. But more likely than not, the very fact that the Christian is so concerned and deeply disturbed about it is an indication that he has not committed the unforgivable sin, especially so if he is overwhelmed with grief and is repentant about his sin.
A brief consideration of Scriptural examples of unforgivable sins and sins that were forgiven should prove enlightening and comforting. From these it will become apparent that it is not so much a matter of what kind of sin it is as it is the motive or heart condition, the degree of negligence and willfulness involved that determines whether it is forgivable or not. These examples show that it is the one who willfully makes a practice of sin after he knows the truth whose sins are unforgivable. Helpful also should be a consideration of what one who has stumbled into sin can do to regain his spiritual equilibrium or balance and joy in Jehovah.
The sin of the Jewish clergy in Jesus’ day of opposing him was an unforgivable sin. They saw God’s holy spirit at work in Jesus as he was doing good, performing miracles to the blessing of man and the honor of God, yet for selfish reasons they maliciously attributed this power to Beelzebub, Satan the Devil. They thereby blasphemed God’s holy spirit, a sin that could not be forgiven, “not in the present system of things nor in that to come.”—Matt. 12:22-32.
The sin of Judas was likewise unforgivable, being a deliberately selfish one. In fact, his betrayal of his Master was only the culmination of a course of hypocrisy and dishonesty. He had been a thief, robbing the treasury that had been entrusted to his care. When he saw Mary anointing Jesus with very costly perfume, Judas complained, and Jesus silenced him. Then out of selfish spite, Judas went to the rulers and bargained to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. No wonder that Jesus said it would have been better had Judas never been born, and termed him “the son of destruction.” When Judas saw the consequences of his vile deed he felt remorse, but he was unable to revive himself to repentance because of his continued selfish course and the deliberate willfulness of his act.—Matt. 26:6-16; Mark 14:21; John 12:1-8; 17:12.
Such unforgivable sins stand in striking contrast to those that God did forgive. Thus the grievous sin of David was forgiven—though not without punishment, let it not be forgotten—because of his long years of faithful service, because his repentance was sincere and because of God’s covenant with him. For similar reasons Peter’s sin of denying his Master was forgiven. He had been honest in his service of his Master—not like Judas—and his sin was due to fleshly weakness and so repentance and forgiveness were also granted him.—2 Sam. 12:7-14; Ps. 51:1-19; Matt. 19:27; 26:69-75.
In view of the foregoing examples of sins that God forgave and those that he did not, the sincerely repentant Christian can come to God and plead with confidence for forgiveness, and that for a number of sound Scriptural reasons:
He can plead on the basis of inherited sin even as did David: “Look! . . . in sin my mother conceived me.” He can plead for forgiveness also on the basis of his past record of faithful service. Further, he can plead on the basis of God’s mercy: “You are a God of acts of forgiveness, gracious and merciful.” God’s name is another basis for pleading: “For your name’s sake, O Jehovah, you must even forgive my error, for it is considerable.” Closely related to the foregoing is another plea that David made: “Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God . . . that my tongue may joyfully tell about your righteousness.” And in particular is Jesus’ ransom sacrifice a basis for a Christian’s pleading with God for forgiveness: “By means of him we have the release by ransom through the blood of that one, yes, the forgiveness of our trespasses.”—Ps. 51:5; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 25:11; 51:14; Eph. 1:7.
If a Christian who has sinned feels unable to pray because his sin has made him spiritually sick, then what? “Let him call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.”—Jas. 5:14, 15.
Even if the sin is of such a serious nature as to require disfellowshiping, that does not mean that the sin is unforgivable. However, to secure God’s forgiveness one must comply with his rules by also confessing his sin to those in charge of his congregation and willingly submitting to being punished. That such sins are forgivable is apparent from the words of the apostle Paul regarding such an erring one: “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary now, you should kindly forgive and comfort him, that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad.”—2 Cor. 2:6-8.
Often a run-down physical condition, perhaps due to overconscientiousness, is at the bottom of the anxiety of having committed the unforgivable sin. So never let the Devil discourage you so that you give up trying to serve God and doing what is right because of imagining you have committed the unforgivable sin. The ways of Jehovah God are not only just but also wise and, above all, loving. Certainly if he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked he has none in the loss of a servant of his. So keep feeding on God’s Word, especially such comforting sections as Psalm 103, associate with your Christian brothers and share in God’s work to the extent of your ability and opportunities. Doing so, you will become strong in faith, hope and love and free from any fear of having committed the unforgivable sin.—1 Cor. 13:13.