I’M WORKING on paraphrasing the Gospel of Mark for the Casual English Bible, and adding a leader’s guide with an atlas of maps. I hope to post it online in another couple of weeks.
Here’s one of the tough questions I have to try to answer.
Take a look. Offer advice. I’m all E-ears.
The forever sin
Pastors say one of the most common questions they get during counseling with people who know at least a little about the Bible is that they are afraid they are going to hell because they sinned against the Holy Spirit.
“There is no forgiveness for those who slander the Holy Spirit. That sin lasts forever” (Mark 3:29 Casual English Bible).
That shocking quote from Jesus also shows up in the Gospels of Matthew (12:31-32) and Luke (12:10).
It sounds as though we could be in big trouble if we give the Holy Spirit a good cussing out.
What’s a pastor to say?
The footnote to this verse in the Casual English Bible might be a good place to start:
“The word is more literally ‘blaspheme.’ It’s not clear what Jesus meant by this. Matthew reports that Jesus said this after some Pharisees accused him of casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matthew 12:22-27). Given that context, some scholars say the sin is crediting Satan with a miracle performed by the Holy Spirit. Others suggest it is simply a person’s persistent unwillingness to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, which describes the critics Jesus faced. For people who fear they have committed the unforgivable sin, Bible experts point them to 1 John 1:9, which says that if we confess our sins, God will forgive us. Period.”
The way the story flows in Matthew’s account is that Jesus had just healed a man who was triple-dipped in trouble. The man was demon possessed, blind, and unable to talk. Pharisees knew that healing this man was the kind of thing God would do, and not the kind of thing Satan would do. Yet they talked themselves out of believing that God did it. And they talked themselves into believing Satan did it.
They looked into the eyes of the Son of God who had just healed this man, and they called him the son of Satan. People who are that intent on not seeing God when he is standing right there in front of them will, in fact, not see him. God won’t forgive people who refuse to acknowledge him or their sins. That, perhaps, is the bad news Jesus delivered to the Pharisees.
But for people today who are worried that they’ve committed a sin that can never be forgiven, their worry is evidence that they haven’t committed it. That’s what many pastors tell the people they counsel. If we ask for forgiveness, God forgives us. It’s a message that shows up throughout the Bible.
“Turn away from sinful living. If you do that, God will forgive you and erase your sins” (Acts 3:19).