What is the only unforgiveable sin? Back in ancient history, when I was a teen and in my very early twenties, some friends and I used to debate this. Mass-murder? Mass-murder of the innocent? Multiple rapes and murder? Multiple rapes and murder of children? Suicide? The obvious answer eluded us, but only because we were thinking about sin the way most people think about it, that sin is something we do.
Some years later, some other Biblical passages – the kind avoided in most sermons and Sunday School – began to make sense; like when Jesus said to have anger in the heart makes one guilty already. Lust in the eye is still the sin of lust whether we actually do anything or not. And I thought for some time, who can live up to this standard? I understood Paul then, that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Who is guilty? All of us are guilty.
Every human on the planet has imagined murder, rape, theft, in that we have all been jealous, envious, hate-filled and angry at one time or another. We have all fantasized of love and lust. Thoughts of suicide are no stranger in an amazing number of lives. The Scripture tells us the imagination of the heart is continually wicked. Okay, I get it, but then I also get this:
For God so loved the world… The good news of the gospel is in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. As far as the East is from the West; so far have our sins been taken from us. We are washed clean in the blood of the lamb of God, and I thought, great! So then I imagined that there was no “unforgiveable” sin. The work of Christ could not have been only partially effective. God can’t have missed a sin by accident. Either our sins are all forgiven or the whole idea collapses.
I was happy with that thinking for a long time.
Of course, as I got older I began to come across more and more people who claimed Jesus but who made me wonder if they even knew who Jesus was. These included many good, church-going people. Clearly they were not interested in listening to Jesus or following his will and his ways. Apart from an hour of church, many of these people were invested in living their sins, and could not be more invested if they just skipped that Sunday hour altogether. Even the few who showed their supposed faith by good works, like feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and reaching out to all the needy in this world, showed in their off time that they were still mired in sin. It reminded me of what Jesus said about the Pharisees, that they strove for outward perfection but inwardly were full of dead men’s bones. How could this be?
Then also I ran into plenty of people who scoffed at the whole idea of Jesus. Curiously, many of these still believed they were headed for Heaven. The thinking was, if God is really loving and merciful, God will accept me (or as often, God will accept “them”) on my own terms (or on “their” terms. (How politically correct)). And I thought, no. God is not under any compulsion to accept any sin into Heaven or any person mired in sin. He might say, go get rid of the sin first, and then come back. It is not that God is not full of love and mercy, but those qualities are his terms to express to us in the way and manner he has chosen. God showed us how much he loves us all when he willingly died the most excruciating, painful death for the forgiveness of our sins. He showed his mercy by allowing this grace of forgiveness to come upon us – upon all who believe.
Then I understood. There is an unforgiveable sin. It is not believing in Jesus, and I mean full acceptance, not just the claim and outward appearance. It is acceptance that goes down deep, through the mind and heart to the very roots of the soul; because that is where sin is, so that is where Jesus must be. It is acceptance that Jesus is the Lord of life. Period. Or as one gentleman put it: “You may claim Jesus as your savior, but if Jesus is not your Lord in everything and every way, then he is not your savior.”
This makes it hard for me. I understand the ones who reject Jesus and want nothing whatsoever to do with God. I have to let them go. There is nothing I can do for them except pray. But for the millions upon millions of claimants who haven’t got a clue…
So many claim Jesus but spend their whole lives keeping him at arm’s length. They want to live in whatever the Hell way they feel like living. They won’t let Jesus touch their mind or heart or soul. They might do some good (outward) works if they feel inspired (or as often as not, guilty); but they really don’t want Jesus to get that close. And I believe we do these people a disservice when we tell them how much God loves them and wants to be with them. People are happy to have a ticket to Heaven as long as it doesn’t cost them anything or require them to change their lifestyle or chosen path in any way.
I used to think such people were truly innocent, the result of bad teaching or an incomplete or incompetent theology. Now I believe on the part of many it is willful ignorance, and I fear such people are condemned already because they have not really (deep down) believed in the name of God’s one and only son.