In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus warns the Pharisees about crossing a line that cannot be uncrossed, an act of blasphemy that is commonly called "the unpardonable sin." David Grabbe explores the Bible's references to this often-misunderstood subject, showing that, while rare, one could fall into it through bitterness or neglect.
David Grabbe, reminding us that God's thoughts are infinitely higher than our thoughts, focuses on the danger of committing the unpardonable sin, attributing God's Holy Power to Beelzebub or Satan the devil. The Pharisees in Matthew 12 were sternly warned that attributing God's power to something profane, when one was aware he was doing it, is unpardonable. To commit the unpardonable sin, one has to become enlightened or called. If he willfully commit sin, sustaining opposition to God's Law, committing his heart against God in bitterness or resentment, he is courting mortal peril. Some individuals have sorely grieved God's Holy Spirit through neglect, weakness of the flesh, or some other circuitous detour without quenching God's Spirit. There is a point of no return in which rejection of God is so complete that repentance is impossible. In God's scattering of the Church, we are unable to know where and how God is working with individuals throughout the greater church of God. We dare not presumptuously and pompously try to speak for God in determining who is a tare and who is not. Injuriously speaking (judging the state of other peoples' conversion) is a fast track to committing the unpardonable sin. God's thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His plans are way beyond our scrutiny.
In the gospel accounts, the Pharisees receive the lion's share of Christ's correction for their blatant hypocrisy, and they have become a byword for that sin. Martin Collins explores the extent of this sin, which can reach to the point of the unpardonable sin, and suggests how we can overcome it.
David C. Grabbe: Under the Old Covenant, the Day of Atonement was the only day during the year when the high priest entered into the Holy of Holies. On that day, he sprinkled the blood of a sin offering ...
In nominal Christianity, God's saving grace is placed at the center of the message of the gospel and is often emphasized to the point of overshadowing many of Christ's other teachings. Agreeing that grace is vital to a Christian's walk with God, John Ritenbaugh defines the term, showing that God gives grace from start to finish in a person's relationship with Him. It cannot be limited merely to justification and His forgiveness of our sins.
Martin Collins, observing how a child fixates on a wound, continually worrying a bandage or a scab, suggests that sometimes Christians do the same thing with past sins or spiritual deficits, making themselves unhappy. Our spiritual trek indeed is a demanding flight of faith. All of us have been tormented by some past wrong, held in the grip of self-condemnation, subject to Satan's perpetual accusations. We cannot experience the joy of salvation while we are obsessing on past sins. While repenting of sins frees us from the grip of both lesser and greater sins, we will feel proportionately greater penalties for some sins than for others. The sin leading to death (the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit) occurs when one actively defies God or when one, through apathy or lethargy, refuses to repent. When we are tempted to sin, we need to consider the consequences on our relationship with God. Every sin that has been committed has been committed by someone else at some other time; Christ has given Himself as a sacrifice for all of them. We can rejoice in God's extraordinary forgiveness and mercy.
Richard Ritenbaugh focuses on Christ's teachings on the Holy Spirit, expanding into its more complex spiritual parameters. Jesus instructs about the function of the Holy Spirit to carry out God's work, including inspiring one to speak the words of God as a witness and to cast out demons and resist the power of Satan. To deliberately attribute these powers to the Devil (to call good evil), willfully denying God's power to save, constitutes blasphemy against God's Spirit—the unpardonable sin. The Spirit sets apart, inspires the preaching of the gospel, provides healing, frees from bondage, and opens the eyes to truth. It plays a major role in enabling one to become born again, motivating, inspiring, and transforming us from lowly, sinful humans to righteous children of God. Our sole means of worship must be in spirit and truth—living in the Spirit—manifesting concrete acts of service and obedience and deploying rivers of living water.
Richard Ritenbaugh, responding to a Trinitarian's objection to the word "it" when referring to God's Spirit, systematically analyzes bogus, Neo-Platonic, philosophical underpinnings of the Trinity doctrine, including the equivocal misapplication of the etymology of hypostasis. Fundamentalist Trinitarians have continual difficulty comprehending the Bible writer's abundant use of personification, metaphor, and anthropomorphic figures of speech when describing God's Holy Spirit. Paul's reference to "grieving the Holy Spirit" can only apply to those converted individuals who have access to (or who are being sealed with) God's Holy Spirit, those who are incrementally putting on the new man. Just as our human spirit can be grieved (or metaphorically deflated by bad news), God is grieved by our disobedience or willful sinful behavior—sullying, suppressing, or stifling the Spirit that identifies us as His.
John Ritenbaugh analyzes the five-point warning message given to the scattered Hebrews by Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews does not identify a single flagrant violation of law, but instead delivers a general castigation for incremental, continuous, disrespectful, and forgetful neglect—a failure to esteem what should have been thought precious, their calling and salvation, while esteeming inferior things like wealth or status. Hebrews expounds four other warnings, all designed to wake the church member up and motivate him toward greater devotion to God. Similarly, the modern church of God stands in danger of allowing salvation to slip away from pure neglect. By these warnings, we should know how to turn our lives around so we do not fall short and lose salvation.
It seems that some sins should be worse than others in God's eyes. Is this so? Martin Collins explains that, though all sin merits the death penalty, some sins carry greater consequences and penalties.
John Ritenbaugh cautions that we must be careful lest we be deceived into thinking that justice delayed while continuing in a sin means acceptance of that sin by God. Justice delayed does not equate to justice denied. We will absolutely reap what we sow. We desperately need to guard against naiveté, immaturity, ignorance, carelessness, and negligence in handling God's word. Spiritually, fear is the first line of defense, keeping us from profaning God's name, tarnishing the image of the Lord, and defending us from pain and/or death. If we hold something precious, we will guard and protect it with our life. Unlike the perverted concept of grace taught by many Protestant denominations, real grace promotes the right kind of fear and respect for God,serving as the essence and power behind an obedient life. The fear of God (following the principle of reciprocity) is the key to God's blessings.
Richard Ritenbaugh reiterates that the Kingdom of God or of Heaven has past (Hebrews 11:13), present (Hebrews 12:22), and future (Hebrews 12:28) aspects. The Kingdom parables primarily provide instruction for the present aspect, a time when struggle and suffering are part of the mix (Matthew 11:12). The first parables of Matthew 13 reveal Satan's battle plan to: (1) attack in the early stages of development, (2) infiltrate with secret agents, (3) cause the church to grow large and worldly, exceeding God's prescribed limits, and (4) corrupt by false doctrine, destroying the relationships between the brethren. These parables describe the last quarter century in the church of God.
John Ritenbaugh teaches that God's grace gives us focus on what the Law's true purpose is — namely the basic guide as to what good works are — rules for the journey of life. God's Law outlines a way of life, defining sin, actually categorizing a descending level of gravity or seriousness (from sins which lead to death and those which do not; I John 5:16). Righteousness consists of applying the Law's letter and/or intent. Sin constitutes a failure of applying or living up to the standards of what God defines as proper or right. The conclusion of this sermon begins an exposition of four principles determining whether the law is binding.
John Ritenbaugh affirms that Jesus Christ's sinlessness was not the result of being a programmed automaton, but instead as a result of volition or choice—actively struggling against carnal pulls and temptations, enabling Him to fully empathize and have compassion on those tempted in like manner. He experienced exactly the same kind of temptations and suffering we experience, qualifying Him for the role of High Priest, bridge-builder between man and God, the same role for which members of God's called-out Family are also qualifying. Like our Elder Brother, we must learn righteous judgment by continually exercising our spiritual muscle, practicing making choices, distinguishing right from wrong, but building godly character and spiritual maturity through the enabling power of God's Holy Spirit.
John Ritenbaugh characterizes chapter 12 as the "rise of the opposition," outlining the rising suspicions on the part of the Jews, the prejudiced blindness and the active investigation, countermanded by Jesus response, making claims to His authority, His courageous defiance, and His bold attack. In the first several verses, it is clear the disciples were not stealing corn (Deuteronomy 23:25) nor were they breaking the Sabbath as David had not broken the Sabbath when he ate the showbread on the Sabbath when he was fleeing from Saul, nor do the heavy priestly duties (normally work forbidden by lay members) violate the Sabbath. Human need takes precedence over human custom. Jesus didn't break the Sabbath, but he did break extra-legal fanatical human custom applied to the Sabbath apart from God's Law- those foolish prohibitions proscribing healing and alleviating human misery. Interestingly, Jesus did these miracles in a courageous, but nevertheless a discreet manner, asking his clients not to publicize these events, but nevertheless, as a humble servant [not yet a conquering hero- nor certainly a brawling instigator of incendiary riots], demonstrating humane application of the Sabbath law to the Jews and the Gentiles, having universal application. His motives were misconstrued by the opposition, accusing Him of using demonic powers. Christ warns us that following His way of life will bring persecution. Our spiritual gifts and skills (discerning skills to distinguish good from evil) we must continually use so they don't degenerate. When we cannot make this distinction any longer, we have, in essence committed the unpardonable sin- candidates for the Lake of Fire. The well-spring of good (as well as evil) stems from the heart, producing the fruit of good (or evil) works and good (or evil) words. [NB: This series of Bible Studies from 1981-82 is incomplete.]
Can a Christian commit a sin, and still be a Christian? Or would this be "the unpardonable sin"? Or would it prove he never was a Christian? Thousands worry, because they do not understand what IS the sin that shall never be forgiven.
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