Q: I’m having some trouble understanding what it says in Matthew 12:31-37, when Jesus talks about the “unforgivable sin.” I have a hard time understanding why God would choose to claim something as unforgivable. And I want to make sure that I haven’t committed it. I don’t understand this passage and it has worried me for years. I randomly get worried that I might have said something that is unforgivable. I have read a commentary passage on the passage, and listened to speakers who basically say that if you worry about committing an unforgiveable sin, it means that you’re forgivable because God has placed in you a desire to repent. I don’t get why worrying would mean you haven’t done this. I just need to know what this means. Thanks.
You have an excellent question, sis, and I’ll do my best to answer it for you. With a phrase like “unforgivable sin,” I can see why you’d be worried, but hopefully I can put your mind at ease for good.
To recap, let’s look at the context of Matthew 12:31, starting at verse 22.
Then a demon-possessed man, who was blind and couldn’t speak, was brought to Jesus. He healed the man so that he could both speak and see. The crowd was amazed and asked, “Could it be that Jesus is the Son of David, the Messiah?” But when the Pharisees heard about the miracle, they said, “No wonder He can cast out demons. He gets His power from Satan, the prince of demons.”
Jesus knew their thoughts and replied, “Any kingdom divided by civil war is doomed. A town or family splintered by feuding will fall apart. And if Satan is casting out Satan, he is divided and fighting against himself. His own kingdom will not survive. And if I am empowered by Satan, what about your own exorcists? They cast out demons, too, so they will condemn you for what you have said. But if I am casting out demons by the Spirit of God, then the Kingdom of God has arrived among you. For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man like Satan and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger-someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house. Anyone who isn’t with Me opposes Me, and anyone who isn’t working with Me is actually working against Me.
“So I tell you, every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven-except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which will never be forgiven. Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man can be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, either in this world or in the world to come. A tree is identified by its fruit. If a tree is good, its fruit will be good. If a tree is bad, its fruit will be bad. You brood of snakes! How could evil men like you speak what is good and right? For whatever is in your heart determines what you say. A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. And I tell you this, you must give an account on judgment day for every idle word you speak. The words you say will either acquit you or condemn you.”
-Matthew 12:22-37 ( New Living Translation)
Let’s recap the situation, shall we? Jesus healed a demon possessed man by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees, who had seen Jesus do many signs and wonders already, refused to believe Jesus was the Son of God, so they attributed His supernatural abilities to Satan. Jesus was sick of their blatant unbelief, and with good reason. One theologian, John MacArthur, puts it this way: “The sin He was confronting was the Pharisees’ deliberate rejection of that which they knew to be of God. They could not deny the reality of what the Holy Spirit had done through Him, so they attributed to Satan a work that they knew was of God” ( The MacArthur Study Bible, notes on Matthew 12:31, page 1414).
Jesus was always on the Pharisees for their ugly hearts. They did all the right things on the outside, but inside they were like tombs of rotting corpses (see Matthew 23:27). Matthew 12 is just another instance of Jesus pointing out to the religious leaders that they had their priorities all wrong. He told them again that what was in their hearts was most important-our hearts determine what we say. In this case, Jesus exposed that their hearts were full of unbelief. They wouldn’t believe that He was the Son of God, so they accused Him of being one of Satan’s henchmen. That unbelief is what was “unforgiveable.” We shouldn’t be surprised by this, really. When you look at the whole of Scripture, God never promises to forgive those who don’t believe He is the Son of God.
Too many Christians get hung up on the phrase “unforgiveable sin,” and we miss the whole point of what Jesus was saying. In a nutshell, Jesus was condemning that group of hypocritical men for attributing what they knew was of God to Satan. So, based on the context of Matthew 12:31, I think the emphasis for you and me should be placed on the first half of that verse:
I tell you that any sinful thing you do or say can be forgiven. Even if you speak against the Son of Man [Jesus Himself], you can be forgiven.”
-Matthew 12:31 (Contemporary English Version)
I agree with the other teachers you have heard who implied that if you have a repentant, humble heart, you are on solid ground. We can’t ignore the many, many verses God has given to remind us that when we believe that Jesus is the Christ and repent from our sins, God promises to forgive. Here are just a few verses to chew on (all from the Contemporary English Version):
If we truly love God, our sins will be forgiven. (Proverbs 16:6)
…Remind them that when wicked people stop sinning, their past sins will be completely forgiven, and they won’t be punished. (Ezekiel 33:12)
Every one of the prophets has said that all who have faith in Jesus will have their sins forgiven in his name. (Acts 10:43 )
Real love isn’t our love for God, but his love for us. God sent his Son to be the sacrifice by which our sins are forgiven. (1 John 4:10)
Christ sacrificed his life’s blood to set us free, which means that our sins are now forgiven. Christ did this because God was so kind to us. (Ephesians 1:7)
If we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away. (1 John 1:9)
I could go on and on with verses like these, but I think you get the point!
Here’s some food for thought: Because God paid such a crazy high price to forgive every sin that we have committed (His only Son), I wonder if it insults Him when we doubt His forgiveness, or when we continually beat ourselves up over what He has graciously removed from us. (No, that’s not meant to make you feel more guilty! I’m just thinkin’ that He really means business when He says you’re forgiven.)