What about the “Difficult” Passages on Blaspheming the Holy Spirit and Apostasy?

Three passages in the Bible have troubled people, making them wonder if God will ever forgive them. They are Mark 3:29, Hebrews 10:26, and Hebrews 6:4-6. As I read the Bible for the first time, I encountered these “difficult” passages. Passages that seemed to say if you committed certain sins, God would never forgive you, even if you repented and believed in Jesus. And I thought I had committed those sins. I thought I was damned to Hell forever. There was the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:

Mark 3:29:
but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”—

The condemnation of those who sin willfully:

Hebrews 10:26:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

And the warning against falling away:

Hebrews 6:4-6:
4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

I had said blasphemous things to the Holy Spirit, I had sinned willfully, and I had fallen away from the Christian faith. I thought I was damned three times over. But as I studied the Bible more, I came across 1 Corinthians 2:14, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” And I realized that I needed to interpret the “difficult” passages in light of the rest of Scripture. As Jesus said in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” So what else did God have to say about salvation and forgiveness? These three verses were important for me:

John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

1 John 1:7:
But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Romans 3:22:
even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference;

As I considered these verses, clearly stating that God forgives every sin when a person repents and believes in Jesus, I came to a spiritual discernment of the “difficult” passages. My discernment wasn’t based on any one proof text, but on reading the Bible as a whole, as Jesus instructed in Matthew 4:4. As I thought about everything God said, I came to know him, and to know that he forgives everyone who believes in Jesus.

My discernment of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, is that Jesus is speaking in a riddle, or saying. My understanding of the riddle, is that if a person rejects the Holy Spirit’s testimony permanently, (which is what Jesus means by “blasphemes against the Holy Spirit,” referring not to a one time event but to a permanent behavior), they have no forgiveness, because nothing more powerful than the Holy Spirit’s testimony, (John 15:26), will convict them that Jesus is the Christ. Thus they will die refusing to believe in Jesus, and be “subject to eternal condemnation.”

My discernment of the condemnation of those who sin willfully, is that this verse refers to the person only while they are in the condition of sinning willfully. Sinning willfully in this verse refers not to a deliberate act of sin, but to a lifestyle of willfully sinning. And if a person repents for that lifestyle, and tries to live a Christian life, God forgives all their sins, past, present, and future.

My discernment of the warning against falling away, is that it refers to the same thing as the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, but it is done by someone who was formerly a believer in Jesus. The person permanently rejects the Holy Spirit’s testimony that Jesus is the Christ, after having believed in Jesus for a time. And again, since they reject the Holy Spirit’s testimony permanently, they have no forgiveness, because nothing more powerful than the Holy Spirit’s testimony will convict them that Jesus is the Christ. Thus it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, they will die refusing to believe in Jesus.

But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). So people would do well to remember what little children are taught in Sunday school, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In addition to my spiritual discernment, I’d like to offer some notes from Christian commentaries on these subjects. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says concerning the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit on page 604, in reference to Mark 3:28:

…The extraordinary scope of the claim that all sins (including murder, unchastity, and apostasy) can be forgiven should not be overlooked by excessive concentration on the exception made in the following verse.

And on page 654, the same commentary says concerning Matthew 12:31:

…This difficult saying has been transmitted in both Marcan and Q forms. Matthew attempts to combine them here. Characteristic of the Q form is the two-step structure: sin against the Son of Man, forgivable; sin against the holy Spirit, unforgivable. Historically, this sin has been understood in various ways: presuming to attain salvation without faith and love, despair of salvation, obstinacy in sin or error, final impenitence, apostasy. Exegetically, the likeliest view is “persistence in consummate and obdurate opposition to the influence of the Spirit”…

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Revised Edition says concerning Mark 3:29, on page 748:

The words of v. 29 – “will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” – have caused great anxiety and pain in the history of the church. Many have wondered whether they have committed the “unpardonable sin.” Surely what Jesus is speaking of here is not an isolated act but a settled condition of the soul – the ultimate and deliberate rejection of the work of the Spirit in an individual’s life. And if the person involved cannot be forgiven, it is not so much that God refuses to forgive as that the sinner refuses God’s forgiveness.

Dr. John Piper also addresses the issue of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, in his article Beyond Forgiveness: Blasphemy Against the Spirit.

Dr. John Piper also addresses the issue of sinning willfully, in his article Woe to Those Who Trample the Son of God.

Dr. John Piper also addresses the issue of apostasy, in his article When Is Saving Repentance Impossible?

Dr. John Piper also addresses the issue of being disqualified, in his article Olympic Spirituality, parts one and two.

Dr. John MacArthur addresses the issue of examining yourself, in his article Examine Yourself.

Dr. John Piper also addressed the issue of denying Christ, in his article He Cannot Deny Himself.

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