Matthew 12: “The Unforgivable Sin”

Everything Except

I always love asking an absolute question and getting a sort of absolute answer. For example: To my son, “Did you clean your room?”

“I did, except my floor…”

“So you didn’t clean you room?”

“No! I did!”

It’s a funny conversation, but it’s so true! We hear it all the time! I did everything you asked, but… Well, then you didn’t do everything I asked.

This feeling above is the same feeling I got when I read Matthew 12:31-32 (NLT) 31 “So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven—except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come.

This is one of those passages that we typically just want to skip over because one, we don’t get it, and two, we don’t want to get it. What do you mean there’s a sin that God can’t forgive? What about the scriptural promise found in 1 John 1:9? If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from ALL unrighteousness (NIV).

But there’s nothing untrue about Matthew 12 and 1 John 1. Truthfully, the answer to Matthew 12 is found in 1 John 1. All we need to do is look at the first five words of verse 9, IF we confess our sins. 

Listen: The only sin God can’t forgive is the one that is unconfessed. In Matthew 12 Jesus is speaking to the evil in the heart of the Pharisees. He’s pointing out to them that their utter contempt for who he is will keep them from experiencing Heaven.

The Denied Dove

I was speaking with a wise sage in my church. He passed onto me a great analogy of the way it was taught to him. He said, “If we picture the Holy Spirit like a dove, the Pharisees were figuratively denying the dove the ability to land in their hand. In fact, they weren’t just denying the dove, they were toying with it, almost taunting the Holy Spirit.”

This is a helpful analogy to understand the heart of the Pharisees at this point.

The “unforgivable sin” isn’t about God’s inability to forgive sin, but the Pharisees inability to seek God’s forgiveness. 

This isn’t the first time we see God issuing a warning regarding the unforgivable sin. All of these things connect to the word of God found in Deuteronomy 29:18-20 (NLT) 18 I am making this covenant with you so that no one among you—no man, woman, clan, or tribe—will turn away from the Lord our God to worship these gods of other nations, and so that no root among you bears bitter and poisonous fruit.

19 “Those who hear the warnings of this curse should not congratulate themselves, thinking, ‘I am safe, even though I am following the desires of my own stubborn heart.’ This would lead to utter ruin! 20 The Lord will never pardon such people. Instead his anger and jealousy will burn against them. All the curses written in this book will come down on them, and the Lord will erase their names from under heaven.

Where do we go from here?

It’s not uncommon for a young Christian to live in fear that they have committed the “unforgivable sin.” It’s important again to understand the point in context: As the IVP New Testament Commentary reads, “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!”