There’s a lot of confusion over the sin that Jesus says cannot be forgiven either in this world or in the world to come. Some people think that the unforgivable sin is murder because the Old Testament gives us such strong sanctions against murder and says that if a person has committed murder, even if he repents, he is still to be executed. Others believe that it’s adultery because adultery violates the union of two people. As gross as these sins may be, I don’t think they fit the description here because we see that King David, for example, who is guilty of both adultery and murder, is forgiven. I think Jesus is clear. He does identify it. He says that the sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. What does that mean?
First of all, let’s understand that blasphemy is a sin that can only be done with words. It’s a sin that you commit with your mouth or with your pen—it’s a verbal sin. It has to do with saying something against the Holy Spirit. You remember that the religious leaders—the clergy, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees—were the ones who were constantly being hostile toward Jesus and stirring up a conspiracy to do him in. They plotted to kill Jesus, and they were constantly attacking him and charging him with this and that. On one occasion they said that Jesus was casting out Satan by the power of Satan. It’s almost as if Jesus said, “Hold it right there, guys. I’ve been patient with you, I’ve been tolerant with you, I’ve been long-suffering, but you are coming perilously close now to making an accusation against me that’s going to wipe you out now and forever.” He said that any sin against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but if you blaspheme against the Holy Spirit (to ascribe the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan, or to equate them), you’ve had it.
Notice also that when Jesus is on the cross, he prays for those very men who have put him there: “Father, forgive them—” Why? “—for they know not what they have done.” And on the Day of Pentecost when Peter gave his ripsnorting sermon, he talks about those who killed Jesus, that they would not have done it had they known. After the Resurrection, the Holy Spirit raised Jesus up and declared him to be the Christ with power. If you read the book of Hebrews, you’ll see that the distinction between blaspheming Christ and blaspheming the Holy Spirit falls away. As for those who have committed “the sin unto death,” the Bible says that we are not required to pray for those people. We are to pray for people who are committing any other sin, but if we see a person committing the sin unto death, we are not required to pray for them. The Bible doesn’t say we are not allowed to pray for them, but we’re not required to, and I would think that would apply to this sin.
Taken from Now, That’s a Good Question! Copyright © 1996 by R.C. Sproul. Used by permission of Tyndale.