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Is There an Unforgivable Sin?

Recently at Gateway Church in Austin, we continued a series called “Big Questions,” which is a continuation of our Q&A Sunday. Rick Shurtz shared at the McNeil campus. Our central Austin geography watched the Internet campus at Third Base on 6th St. Here are some of the thoughts he shared:

Have you ever been in a relationship that no matter what you do, the other person interprets it badly?

You say something kind; they think you have a hidden agenda. You do something nice; they think you’re just trying to look good to others. You ask forgiveness; they’re convinced you don’t really mean it. No matter what you do, they interpret everything you do badly.

With that in mind, consider this incident with the Pharisees. Jesus has just liberated a man who was blind and mute. He gave him his sight. He gave him the ability to speak. Something powerful has happened in this man’s life.

And what’s the response of the religious leaders?

They interpret it badly. They say it’s not the Spirit of God but an evil spirit. No matter what Jesus does, they refuse to honor it.

With that in mind, hear this teaching from Hebrews 6, which talks about a person who has tasted the Holy Spirit. This person has gotten a glimpse of God’s goodness. They’ve received a degree of enlightenment. But then they fall away.

So hear this very carefully: They have shared in the Holy Spirit and then have fallen away. If they reject God and fall away, it is impossible to restore them to repentance. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Hear that very, very carefully.

They’ve tasted the Holy Spirit, and then rejected the Holy Spirit. They tasted what is good, and then rejected what is good, effectively calling it evil, calling it something undesirable.

The result in that person’s life is that it is impossible for them to be restored to repentance.

And that choice of words is everything.

Why might that person NOT be forgiven? They won’t be forgiven not because the sin is unforgivable but because they have displayed a hardness of heart that will not repent; it will not turn from its ways.

Like the Pharisees, that kind of heart will interpret EVERYTHING badly.

When Jesus says that the Pharisees around him were blaspheming the Holy Spirit by stating that his work was a work of the enemy, and when he says that this blasphemy is unforgivable, he’s saying that it’s unforgivable because this is a hardness of heart that will not turn from its ways; it’s a hardness of heart that says, ‘No matter what you do, I’m going to interpret it badly. You do something kind, I’ll say it’s veiled selfishness. You do something miraculous; I’ll say it’s from the dark side.’

Which gives us an incredibly important clue to our depth of understanding when it comes to true and authentic grace as compared to plastic and cheap grace.

When we discover the problem with the unforgivable sin is a problem with repentance, we discover that grace, true grace, rich grace, authentic grace; it is coupled with true depth of repentance.

A loaded and abused word in our day. A word associated with a guy in a sandwich sign carrying a bullhorn telling everyone they must repent.

That’s unfortunate because it’s a good word simply meaning we turn our back on a way of life we no longer want. What happens when a person says, ‘No more. I don’t want this life any more. I don’t want to revel in this funk, in this filth anymore.’

‘I don’t want to extort money from my neighbor under the guise of collecting taxes for Caesar. I don’t want that anymore. I turn from that.’

That person receives good and abounding grace upon grace upon grace.

Theologian Wayne Grudem puts it like this, “The fact that the unpardonable sin involves such extreme hardness of heart and lack of repentance indicates that those who fear they have committed it, yet still have sorrow for sin in their heart and desire to seek after God, certainly do not fall in the category of those who are guilty of it.”

Another theologian, Luis Berkhoff, wrote, “…we may be reasonably sure that those who fear that they have committed [the unforgivable sin] and worry about this, and desire the prayers of others for them, have not committed it.”

True grace. Authentic grace. Depth of grace. Deep and powerful grace is the grace of God that steps into our lives when we look at and think to ourselves, ‘The moment is ruined. It’s done. It’s over. I didn’t want it to go this way, but it’s gone this way. God, I can’t do this anymore; I need you to step in and do something.’

With that kind of perspective, the master musician takes our lives, and with his stunning and masterful grace, he picks it up and spins it into something beautiful, something we could not have done on our own.

What does a life of grace look like? Is my life, is your life, the kind of life that can only be explained by grace.

When we listen, and when we turn, and when we experience his presence, there is absolutely nothing God won’t forgive, and pick up like a masterful musician making something good of it all.

To listen or watch this message or the others in this series, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.

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Dr. Eric Michael Bryant serves with Gateway Church in Austin as the team leader for Central and South Austin and as part of the teaching team. Eric previously served at Mosaic in Los Angeles and his books include Not Like Me: A Field Guide to a Influencing a Diverse World and A Fruitful Life: Becoming Who You Were Created To Be. Eric coaches church planters and campus pastors, teaches on Post Christian Ministry, and leads a cohort for a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary where he earned his Doctorate of Ministry in Entrepreneurial Leadership.