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Will I be forgiven if I sin?

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Last week somebody asked me after the service: ‘Have I committed the unforgivable sin? A question which was concerning them not me. Had they committed the unforgivable sin? And it’s a legitimate, big question.

What Is the Unforgivable Sin? | Desiring God

If it is a concern and, if you have committed the unforgivable sin then, as far as the Bible is concerned, you’re lost, you’re going to hell and there’s no hope for you. No point in coming to church because that’s it, you’re finished.

But the whole point of the Gospel is that you should know that your sins are forgiven and that you have eternal life. That you have a hope for eternity in His presence in heaven.

So, I thought we’d address the subject.

Generally, if you are worried about it, it’s a sign you haven’t committed it. But we’re going to look at it and see what the Bible says about it.

The unpardonable sin passage actually comes out in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 12, and I read from verse 22 through to 32:

22 Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. 25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: 26 And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. 29 Or else how can one enter into a strong man’s house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. 30 He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. 31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.

Matthew 12.22-32

What is the sin against the Holy Spirit, the unforgivable sin? It’s a big question. I tell you it’s something serious and if you commit this sin, you can’t be forgiven in this age or in the age to come. Now there are two possibilities about how we understand this.

  • That it is a sin which can be committed by anyone at any time and therefore it’s relevant to us now or,
  • That it’s the sin committed by that generation related to the Pharisees accusing Jesus of doing miracles by the power of Beelzebub, in other words, by the power of demons.

You’ve got these two issues. Was it a general statement or was it something relating to that time?

Both of them are relevant and I am going to speak about the first one. Because of the time, I may not get on to the second one: ‘a sin committed by that generation’. But we’ll look at that in due time if I don’t get onto it today, we’ll examine it another time.

An unforgivable sin is a sin committed by anyone at any time, a sin against the Holy Spirit. This raises the whole question about what we understand by sin. Are there degrees of sin, are there some which are more serious than others?

Degrees of Sin – The Gospel Coalition

Roman Catholic teaching is that there are ‘mortal sins’ and ‘venial sins’. Venial sins, which are less serious, can be forgiven by confession, but mortal sins, which are more serious, threaten the soul with eternal damnation and you must do penance, which the priest will prescribe, to erase them.

I’m not saying that’s true but that’s what Roman Catholics teach.

I’ve been looking at some of the ways in which the early church functioned and one of the ideas they had was that if you sinned once after baptism, that was enough. One strike, two strikes and you were out. If you sinned twice seriously after being baptized as a Christian, that was it, you were finished as a Christian. Quite a severe teaching; a man called Tertullian taught that.

Biography of Tertullian, Father of Latin Theology learnreligions.com

It was also related in the early church to the times when the Christians were persecuted under Roman emperors. We know about persecutions under the Roman emperors. They didn’t happen all the time. Sometimes the Roman emperor was very severe against Christianity and sometimes he was more tolerant and lenient. It depended upon the emperor. There were two emperors in the third century who were very severe against Christianity: one was called Decius, and another was called Valerian. After them, there were more lenient times for Christians.

Roman Emperor Timeline – World History Encyclopedia

One of the issues in the early church was that if Christians during the time of persecution had denied the Lord and burned incense to Caesar, had they lost their salvation and therefore could not be restored again? When more tolerant times came and they wanted to come back to the church, could they be forgiven and restored? It was an issue of some controversy. Some people said ‘yes’, and some people said ‘no’, they’d blown it, they were finished, they had committed the unforgivable sin by bowing down to Caesar.

Incense for Caesar? – Politics and the Bible – wordpress.com

You can see some parallels with that in the passage in Apocalypse 13 about the worship of the beast and the image of the beast that can’t be forgiven. Therefore, they had this kind of issue at the time.

How do we find our way through this? What does the Bible teach?

First of all, It doesn’t say that there are ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’ sins. As far as the Bible is concerned, it doesn’t really distinguish sins. It says that ‘all have of sinned and come short of the glory of God’. It tells us that sin is transgression of God’s commandments whether it’s the Ten Commandments or the commandments which Jesus gives to us. It tells us that the Law is made by God to convict sinners and to make them turn to Him from their sins and live.

1 Timothy chapter 1 verses 9-11 says:

knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.

1 Timothy 1.9-11

You have a list of sins then, serious sins. In the Bible, you also have some lesser sins for example in Ephesians 4.31 it says,

31 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.

Ephesians 4.31

Generally, if you look at these passages together, you see that the Bible is telling you that ‘all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ (Romains 3.23)

We don’t murder our fathers and mothers hopefully, but we all do some things which mean we fall short of the glory of God. None is righteous (Romans 3.10) in his own righteousness.

Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary – StudyLight.org

The Bible makes it clear that if our sin is confessed and repented of with faith in the Gospel, it is forgiven, whether it’s a serious sin or a minor sin, and the person doing it should also turn from sin and live.

The Book of Ezekiel says in chapter 33 verse 11:

11 Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?’

Ezekiel 33.11

And you have similar thoughts in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians chapter 6 verse 9 says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6.9-11

Notice the phrase there and ‘such were some of you’. It doesn’t say and ‘such are some of you’. A person who is come to Christ should turn from sin and live according to His commandments.

This is something which a lot of the modern church is ‘glossing over’ now and ignoring.

There are some who say, ‘you love God, and you do what you like’ or, ‘you love God, and you love your neighbour, and you are kind, and you’re a nice person’, that’s all that matters.

When the Church Forgets its Duty – Christian Action League

Some people go to churches where the pastor has left his wife and gone after somebody else in the church and carries on as the pastor. How can that be?

There are a lot of churches today, including the Church of England which are really tolerating homosexuality and saying that you can practice homosexuality and still be a communicant member of the church, you can even be a vicar or officiate in the church.

You have this kind of tolerance. You’ve got to be loving, you’ve got to be kind, ‘all you need is love’, God loves you, don’t judge, don’t say that anything is wrong.

If you take that attitude, you’re denying something which the Bible says, and it’s one of the big problems which modern Christianity is coming up against because you end up with this very ‘lukewarm church’ which ties in with what Jesus said about the Laodicean Church which He is going to ‘spew out of his mouth’.

We don’t want to be that kind of church. Jesus said ‘if you love me, you’re going to keep my commandments’. We have quite a severe message which says that ‘if you believe in Jesus, then you don’t sin at all’.

There’s a passage in 1 John chapter 3 which says that. And that can also put people in a lot of condemnation.

One of the things you must learn when you’re reading the Bible is that you need to look at all the passages in their context; you must also weigh scripture against scripture.

One of the problems that people often have is they take a Bible verse here and Bible verse there and they build a doctrine upon it and, finally, it doesn’t add up with what other parts of the Bible say.

So, this passage in 1 John chapter 3 verse 1 says:

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3.1-9

That scripture might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable. It says here that ‘whoever is born of God does not sin’. How do we interpret that passage?

Renewing Hope

It begins by saying that when Jesus is revealed either at our death or at the point of being taken in what we call the rapture of the church, we should be like Him for we shall see Him as He is.

It means that in that coming day, we’re going to put off this mortal body, this body which is heading for death, which is contaminated by sin, and we will put on a new body which is not contaminated by sin, which is incorruptible, and which is immortal.

thegospelcoalition.org

And that’s the hope which we have by which John says we should purify ourselves in this hope that we’re going to see Jesus, we’re going to be changed to be like Him. And, if you believe the Gospel, that’s what’s going to happen to you.

There’s a day coming when you will see Jesus and you’ll be changed from this mortal body which is subject to sin, to sickness, to death, to mortality and which will be changed like unto His glorious body.

Now, if that’s going to happen, we should be purifying ourselves so we’re ready for that to happen. We should be turning from sin and be washed in the blood of Jesus, and be cleansed, purifying ourselves just as He is pure.

The passage goes on to say that in verse 6

Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

1 John 3.6

and verse 9

Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God.

1 John 3.9

So, now we have another issue. Can we attain to sinless perfection? Should be attain to sinless perfection where we cannot sin?

Has anybody here attained that state yet? A state where you cannot sin, and you don’t sin? Put your hand up. No, nobody has attained that.

What does it mean then? Perhaps that teaching which I talked about from Tertullian was related to this verse, that after you become a Christian, after you’ve been baptized, then you don’t sin anymore.

What the passage is saying here is that first of all, ‘His seed remains in you, and He cannot sin. The first thing you must think about is: what does he mean by His seed?

His seed is the Holy Spirit who’s planted in you.

If you become a Christian, you’re born again, you’re born of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit part in you cannot sin because the Holy Spirit cannot sin. That is, if you have One within you who cannot sin who is the Holy Spirit of God, if the Holy Spirit comes into you, then you as a person who is also born of the flesh, once the Holy Spirit comes into your life, you have a battle between the flesh and the Spirit: the flesh can still sin, but the Spirit can’t sin.

Seed Principle of the Holy Spirit – Believers Bible School

I believe that one thing being said here is that the Spirit part of you cannot sin, but the flesh can sin. Because we have become Christians, we should let the Spirit rule over us and not the flesh and allow the Spirit to rule so that we don’t sin.

Additionally, there is an idea within this scripture of habitual and continual sin, in other words, if you, before you became a Christian, were involved in sexual immorality, pornography, criminal behaviour, the occult, witchcraft, other religions, you should turn from those things, you should not continue in them.

If you have become a Christian, there should be a change in your life. You should come out of those things. Paul says elsewhere ‘come out from among them, touch not the unclean thing.’

Romans 6.1 – biblehub.com

If you’ve been living in an immoral sexual relationship without marriage, then, you should leave it or you should then get married and commit yourself to a one-man-one-woman tie ‘until death do us apart’, to be faithful to that person.

If you come from another religion that denies Christ, you should come out from it and be separate from it. Been involved in some practice which is clearly sinful in the eyes of God, you should come out from it and separate yourself from it.

GotQuestions.org

We can see that we live in the midst of a very corrupt and sinful world in which people are doing all kinds of things which are totally opposed to what the Gospel says, therefore, if we have become a Christian, those things should not be part of our lives anymore.

As it is said in the passage in Corinthians ‘of such you were‘, but not ‘you are’. This should be a change in your life.

No, this can’t mean that having become a Christian you’re never going to sin again because, if you raise scripture against scripture, you can see that in the New Testament.

Especially, Paul’s letters are full of lessons to churches which he planted which are themselves full of people who are born again Christians who are doing things which he didn’t approve of, which were sinful.

He was telling them to change their ways.

Jesus gave seven messages for seven churches to John which were relating to churches later in the Christian era, perhaps towards the end of the Christian era. Five of them contain rebukes of things that they were doing wrong, two of them didn’t have a rebuke. But the fact that they contained rebuke shows that there was a possibility that Christians would sin, and this is understood in the New Testament.

Seven Churches

Therefore, if you took this passage in 1 John on its own and said that this shows that, as a Christian, you shouldn’t sin, you could come to that conclusion. However, there is the danger that you take one scripture on its own and don’t hold it against other scriptures.

Interpreting texts in the context of the whole Bible

If instead, you hold this scripture against other scriptures in the letter of John, they tell you that there is a way in which, if you sin, you will be forgiven.