Click to Show/Hide Menu
Small  Medium  Large 

View PDF Version    View Print Version

Frank W. Nelte

July 2013

THE UNPARDONABLE SIN

I have repeatedly been surprised by people in the Church of God who do not really understand certain facts about the unpardonable sin. Specifically, I have repeatedly met people who believe that those who are unconverted cannot commit the unpardonable sin. That is simply not true! For over three decades I have tried to rectify this misunderstanding in sermons and Bible Studies and in personal discussions, though I don’t think that I have thus far ever written an article specifically about this subject.

A few days ago I was once again contacted by someone who very emphatically believes that it is impossible for unconverted people to commit the unpardonable sin, and who in that way tried to find fault with an article I had written. So this present article is devoted to making this matter of the unpardonable sin clear, hopefully for good!

 

MR. ARMSTRONG’S WRITING ABOUT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN

A few months before I went to Ambassador College in 1967, Mr. Armstrong wrote an article for the April 1967 PLAIN TRUTH Magazine, which he entitled "WHAT DO YOU MEAN ... THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?". This article was later published as a booklet with only very minor changes. That was the only time Mr. Armstrong ever wrote in some detail about this subject of the unpardonable sin, though he did also mention the unpardonable sin briefly in passing in other booklets, letters and articles. In that 1967 article Mr. Armstrong explained the subject correctly, and I have understood it correctly ever since the late 1960's.

However, while it is a good and helpful article, the title is in fact somewhat misleading! The reason that the title is misleading is because explaining the unpardonable sin was not Mr. Armstrong’s main purpose in writing the article; explaining the unpardonable sin was really only incidental to what Mr. Armstrong actually had in mind. Anyway, I have now gone over the booklet version of that article again, which article starts on page 9 of the April 1967 Plain Truth. You can easily find that article on the internet. You can also easily find the booklet version.

Here is some background to Mr. Armstrong’s article / booklet.

Back in 1967 a fairly well-known religious leader in a non-Church of God denomination had been murdered for allegedly committing adultery. This had prompted somebody in the Church to ask Mr. Armstrong if that man had committed the unpardonable sin by engaging in adultery? Mr. Armstrong was also aware that some members of God’s Church were at times worried that they might have committed the unpardonable sin when they succumbed to some or other temptation and sinned. And, as I will later show, there was also a person close to Mr. Armstrong who had left the Church, and for whom Mr. Armstrong was quite concerned.

Mr. Armstrong then wrote this article, later published in booklet form.

Now while Mr. Armstrong did discuss the unpardonable sin and explain this subject correctly, it wasn’t really Mr. Armstrong’s purpose to give a detailed explanation of the unpardonable sin, what it consists of and who might possibly become guilty of committing it. Mr. Armstrong’s first and foremost intention with that article was to explain that adultery and similar sins are not the unpardonable sin! Mr. Armstrong’s primary intention was to reassure people that the sins they had committed, and about which sins they now felt guilty, were certainly not the unpardonable sin.

And so the article has the following sub-titled sections:

- Many Worry

- Many Deceived

- Believers Seek to Kill Jesus

- Just what is a "Christian"?

- Millions Deceived into false salvation

- Must bear "Fruit"

- The two opposite attitudes

- Just what is repentance?

- Given a new nature

- War between two natures

- Did Paul sin?

- What was this OTHER law?

- Paul did EVIL??!!

- The Happy Solution

- Many wrest Paul’s writings

- The False Teachings

- "Salvation" " past or future?

- The Crux of the truth

- A spiritual baby

- It takes STRIVING!

- The special help you need

- Do real Christians ever sin?

- Yes, even ministers CAN sin!

- Now understand

- Difference between an act and an attitude

- The final conclusion

- Willful sinning

- TWO ways into unpardonable sin

- Not the world’s way

- Important!

- How about NON-Christians?

- Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

- Sinning WILLFULLY

- Personal counsel

There are 34 sub-sections to that article / booklet. Only the last 8 or so of these 34 sub-sections are actually devoted to the subject of the unpardonable sin. Everything before those last few sections actually has nothing at all to do with the unpardonable sin. A look at those titles should make that clear. The concluding sub-section offers readers a personal visit from an ordained minister, which again shows that Mr. Armstrong used this article to explain true Christianity, with the hope that it would motivate some people to request personal visits. He wasn’t offering personal visits to explain the unpardonable sin to people; he was offering visits to people who he hoped would ask for baptism. Can you see that focus?

The first three-quarters of this article reveals Mr. Armstrong’s intentions in writing the article, which intentions were to reassure Christians who had sinned that they had NOT committed the unpardonable sin. In fact, because this article is so focused on explaining true Christianity, rather than merely discussing the unpardonable sin, I would routinely ask people who were counseling for baptism back in the 70's and 80's to read this article before my next visit, as a part of their preparation for baptism.

Mr. Armstrong’s focus was on people who might feel insecure in their relationship with God because of some or other sins they had committed in their past. The article was written at a time when many members of the Church felt somewhat intimidated by the "powerfully corrective sermons" every week, and many people in the Church felt somewhat insecure. So one reason why Mr. Armstrong wrote this article was to help people correctly understand their relationship with God, and to reassure them.

Because the murdered man had not in any way been a part of God’s Church, therefore Mr. Armstrong also took this article as an opportunity to explain what it is that makes a person a true Christian. If you make the effort to read that article again you’ll find that at least three quarters of the article doesn’t actually deal with the unpardonable sin at all. And if you are someone who is contemplating baptism, then that is a good article for you to read before you proceed any further regarding baptism.

Now Mr. Armstrong invariably explained things to Plain Truth readers in exactly the same way that he explained those things to members of the Church. So he wrote this article just as if he was writing for only church members to read it. You need to understand this focus in Mr. Armstrong’s article. View it as an instruction for members of God’s Church from Mr. Armstrong.

 

A LOOK AT THE ARTICLE

It is a long article which only refers to the unpardonable sin very briefly throughout most of the article, before devoting the last part of the article to the unpardonable sin. While Mr. Armstrong did explain this subject correctly, he unfortunately did NOT explain it clearly! It is unfortunately rather easy to read some wrong conclusions into that article, basically because Mr. Armstrong wasn’t really focused exclusively on the subject of the unpardonable sin, dealing with every aspect of it and then concluding the article. Instead Mr. Armstrong used that article as one more opportunity to explain true Christianity. Shortly I will show you WHY Mr. Armstrong took this perspective.

So let me show you WHAT Mr. Armstrong said in the article and WHY people easily tend to read some wrong conclusions into what he said.

Let’s skip the whole first part of this article. In the section "WILLFUL Sinning" Mr. Armstrong spoke about Church members! The focus is on people who have come into God’s Church then later willfully and knowingly going back into the world. These people, wrote Mr. Armstrong, were "in grave danger of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit". Mr. Armstrong at length stated that this was not a mere stumbling while on the way; it involved a willful setting of the mind. His intention was to point out that this did not apply to most of the sins of most people. He was trying to reassure his readers that they had not committed the unpardonable sin.

(COMMENT: In all of the quotations from Mr. Armstrong’s booklet in the remainder of this present article the bolded text is always my own emphasis. Every other form of emphasis in those quotations is Mr. Armstrong’s own emphasis.)

In the next section entitled "TWO Ways into Unpardonable Sin" Mr. Armstrong wrote "There are at least TWO ways in which a Spirit-begotten Christian may LOSE the gift of God's Holy Spirit". So note carefully Mr. Armstrong’s focus in this section!

He was NOT talking about two ways that PEOPLE IN GENERAL could end up committing the unpardonable sin! HE WAS TALKING EXCLUSIVELY ABOUT CHURCH MEMBERS IN THIS SECTION! Did you notice that? Mr. Armstrong was providing an explanation for members of God’s Church, even though this was published in the Plain Truth Magazine.

This section of his article has nothing at all to do with people outside of God’s Church! This section does NOT say "there are just two ways in which people can commit the unpardonable sin". This section ONLY says that for true converted Christians there are two ways to commit this sin: either by deliberate choice or by continued neglect.

BUT THIS IS NOT TALKING ABOUT PEOPLE IN THE WORLD! We must never lose sight of the focus for any specific statement.

Next, notice also that Mr. Armstrong did NOT say "ONLY two ways". He said "AT LEAST two ways". In so doing Mr. Armstrong very clearly left the door open for there to perhaps be other ways as well, by which a true Christian might lose the Holy Spirit. He was not trying to restrict this to there being only two possible ways; he made allowance for the possibility that perhaps there are also some other ways in which Church members might commit this category of sin.

The next two sections of the article are titled "Not the World’s Way" and "Important!" Both those sections focus exclusively on Church members. They are not addressed to people who are outside of God’s Church. And neither do those two sections say very much about the unpardonable sin.

That brings us to the section titled "How About NON-Christians?". The opening sentence in this section reads: "So far, we have treated only with the case of converted Christians, who have actually received the precious GIFT of God's Holy Spirit."

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? NOTHING Mr. Armstrong has said up to this point almost at the very end of the article has any relevance regarding whether or not non-Christians are capable of committing the unpardonable sin. Mr. Armstrong’s own words make quite clear that NOTHING before this point was intended to apply to non-Christians (i.e. as far as the unpardonable sin is concerned). So now let’s see what he said.

Before addressing the question he has posed, Mr. Armstrong first digresses into explaining that many people who come into the Church and then leave again were in fact never converted. Here he was simply restating what the Apostle John explained in 1 John 2:19 ... that those who went out from us hadn’t really been a part of "us". And Mr. Armstrong’s point was that IN SUCH CASES of people having experienced "a false conversion" THEIR GOING OUT OF THE CHURCH did NOT constitute the unpardonable sin.

BUT NOTE!

For such people, who had come into the Church without ever really repenting and who then subsequently left again, something that applies to a very large number of people over the past 50 years, Mr. Armstrong does NOT infer any specific acts of rebellion or willful sinning against God. Keep in mind also that Mr. Armstrong wrote these specific statements about somebody who had been fairly close to Mr. Armstrong and who had then left the Church. That’s clear from the way he wrote this section. Go ahead and check this out for yourself.

With his statements here Mr. Armstrong had a very specific person in mind, and Mr. Armstrong was also trying to reassure himself that this person had not committed the unpardonable sin by leaving the Church ... that is why Mr. Armstrong took great pains to say that this person had never really been converted, even though other people initially thought the person had been repentant. Mr. Armstrong placed a huge importance on this specific point, that this person had not been converted.

Mr. Armstrong didn’t show that much concern for claiming that OTHER people who had left might also not have been converted. That’s clear because at no point did Mr. Armstrong phrase this point in a general way that would have applied to other people as well. Mr. Armstrong was very concerned for one specific person, and that perspective is clear from the way he wrote this.

Note! It is this emphasis on that particular person not having been converted that I believe misled many people to assume that therefore NO UNCONVERTED PERSON could possibly commit the unpardonable sin. But that is not what Mr. Armstrong actually said.

Next, Mr. Armstrong’s appeal to ...

"Then it came to mind, they didn't remember ever hearing him (a very specific individual!) expressing any disgust with his own self."

... was a clear case of Mr. Armstrong grasping at straws to reassure himself that the person could not have been converted. Mr. Armstrong WANTED to believe that this person wasn’t heading for the lake of fire. So he wrote these things to reassure himself. He talked himself into believing that the person could not possibly have been converted, and THEREFORE the person’s departure from the Church was supposedly not quite as serious as if the person had been converted.

Isn’t that exactly the same thing that many of you have done in the past ... talked yourself into believing that the people close to you who have left were never converted (which is very likely true!) FOR THE EXPLICIT PURPOSE OF ASCRIBING DIMINISHED RESPONSIBILITY TO SUCH PEOPLE? The reasoning frequently is: IF ONLY we can say that they weren’t converted, THEN that will somehow leave the door open for such people to still come up in the second resurrection.

My concern here is not whether such people will come up in the second resurrection or not, because that is exclusively God’s decision. My concern is our own attempts at trying to find ways to ascribe diminished responsibility to people who are or who had been close to us. That is simply not the right thing for us to do!!

In the article Mr. Armstrong took great pains to claim, indirectly in a roundabout way, that what he had explained under "Willful Sinning" couldn’t possibly apply to the specific person he had in mind. Mr. Armstrong was looking for a way of ascribing diminished responsibility to that particular person. We need to understand this perspective when we read Mr. Armstrong’s article.

So here is what we need to understand when we look at Mr. Armstrong’s article!

While Mr. Armstrong used the incident of some individual who had been murdered for adultery as an excuse to write on this subject of the unpardonable sin, Mr. Armstrong’s real motivation for this article was to find a way to claim that the person close to Mr. Armstrong who had left the Church could not have committed the unpardonable sin because, after all, that person hadn’t really been converted. So instead of having the primary goal to clearly explain everything about the unpardonable sin, Mr. Armstrong really had the goal of reassuring himself that one particular person close to him had not committed the unpardonable sin.

This real motivation for this article is very well hidden by only being obtusely addressed at almost the end of this long article. It is immaterial who that person was. What is important is that this explains the approach Mr. Armstrong took in discussing the unpardonable sin. And Mr. Armstrong’s own feelings regarding one specific person were also responsible for the lack of clarity with which he discussed this subject.

So note!

Mr. Armstrong explained things correctly, but without elaborating on those things that really needed elaborating. Let’s now notice how he concluded this particular section.

"Those deceived with the popular FALSE "salvation" of this world's "Christianity" are not necessarily yet CONDEMNED!"

Notice the words "not necessarily" in that statement! Do you understand what this is saying? This wording shows that Mr. Armstrong understood that such people COULD perhaps be "condemned", BUT NOT NECESSARILY!

This wording shows that Mr. Armstrong was not making any absolute claims for people in this situation, not at all! He was simply referring to the fact that it is highly unlikely that the overwhelming majority of people in this situation are already condemned. But that is not the same as making an absolute statement that would apply to everybody in this type of situation. Can you see that?

The next section briefly explains WHY Mr. Armstrong left the door open to the possibility that some people in this situation could have committed the unpardonable sin. So now we come to that section titled "Blaspheming the Holy Spirit".

It is in this section that Mr. Armstrong now discusses Jesus Christ’s reference to the unpardonable sin, which is recorded in Matthew 12.

So note very carefully:

Everything Mr. Armstrong has said about the unpardonable sin up to this point in the article is based on the things Paul wrote about the unpardonable sin in the Book of Hebrews. Thus far Mr. Armstrong has not said a single word of commentary or explanation about anything that JESUS CHRIST Himself said about the unpardonable sin. It is only now, almost at the end of his article, that Mr. Armstrong looks for the first time at the words of Jesus Christ.

So now Mr. Armstrong speaks about the totally unconverted and hypocritical Pharisees, to whom he freely compared those who during Mr. Armstrong’s time were spreading lies about God’s true Church. Do you know what this comparison which Mr. Armstrong made actually means? Have you ever thought about that?

In plain language: by comparing those who were spreading deliberate lies about God’s Church during Mr. Armstrong’s time to the unrepentant and hypocritical Pharisees, Mr. Armstrong was in effect saying that Jesus Christ’s warning that applied to the Pharisees therefore also applies to those unconverted people today who spread deliberate lies about God’s Church in this age! That’s what Mr. Armstrong’s comparison infers. Did you realize that? If you place two groups of people in the same basic category, then the warnings that apply to one group automatically also apply to the other group.

This is a very serious but correct comparison Mr. Armstrong made!

Anyway, to get back to the article:

NOW MR. ARMSTRONG IS SPEAKING ABOUT UNCONVERTED PEOPLE IN THE WORLD, WHO HAVE NEVER BEEN A PART OF GOD’S CHURCH!

Here is what Mr. Armstrong wrote in this section. Are you ready?

"So, this unforgivable sin is one committed deliberately, knowing they are wrong, after thinking it over, and doing it intentionally, willfully. Jesus said they (i.e. the Pharisees) were IN DANGER OF damnation in gehenna fire, the final, second death! And this sin was committed by unconverted men!"

Did you catch Mr. Armstrong’s statement that "this sin was committed BY UNCONVERTED MEN"? This is Mr. Armstrong’s only reference in the entire article to "unconverted men" committing the unpardonable sin. At no point did Mr. Armstrong elaborate on this statement. He didn’t elaborate on this because this was not his focus; it was not his concern with this particular subject. However, this statement most assuredly needed to be elaborated on! It needed to be explained! But he didn’t do that.

SO WHY HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH NEVER UNDERSTOOD THAT "UNCONVERTED MEN" CAN ALSO COMMIT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN?

I mean, here it is in plain language in Mr. Armstrong’s own article / booklet. He said it! But let’s face it. Even many ministers have missed that statement, because they taught their congregations that unconverted people in the world cannot possibly commit the unpardonable sin. And so many church people came away with the incorrect understanding that the unpardonable sin is supposedly something that unconverted people can never be guilty of.

As I said at the beginning of this article, Mr. Armstrong explained this subject correctly, but he did not explain it clearly. He should have elaborated on this last statement. So now let’s try to make this matter crystal clear.

 

TWO SECTIONS OF SCRIPTURE

The truth regarding unconverted people being quite capable of committing the unpardonable sin is not based on this statement by Mr. Armstrong. It is true because that is what the Bible teaches very unequivocally! And Mr. Armstrong agreed with that.

Here are the facts:

There are basically two places in the Bible where the unpardonable sin is discussed.

1) The Epistle to the Hebrews

2) The Gospels (recorded in parallel accounts)

Now in the Book of Hebrews the Apostle Paul discussed the unpardonable sin (in several places in this one book) from a very specific point of view. Paul was concerned for the Jews in the Church who were in the process of "leaving their first love" (like Revelation 2:4), and who were thus in danger of committing the unpardonable sin. So Paul made no attempt to objectively explain the facts about the unpardonable sin. No, Paul addressed the unpardonable sin from the very subjective perspective of members of God’s Church.

Paul did NOT discuss how just anybody might be in danger of committing this sin. Paul ONLY discussed how a converted member of God’s Church could commit the unpardonable sin. Paul wasn’t concerned about explaining how someone out in the world might commit this sin. His total concern was for people in the Church. Paul wrote this letter to the people who had been in God’s Church the longest at that point in time, the Jews in the Church.

To summarize this point: the passages about the unpardonable sin in the Book of Hebrews focus exclusively on the Church. When Paul wrote these verses, he was not in any way thinking of people outside of the Church!

In the gospels (recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke), on the other hand, Jesus Christ was NOT dealing with Church members! Jesus Christ was throughout His ministry dealing with unconverted people! His ministry was to the unconverted! So when Jesus Christ spoke about the unpardonable sin, then He did so from the perspective of how unconverted people might commit this sin!

So before we look at some of those verses, we need to understand these two points:

1) Jesus Christ explained how UNCONVERTED people might commit the unpardonable sin. His whole ministry was directed at the unconverted. But at no stage during His ministry did Jesus Christ ever focus specifically on how a converted person might possibly commit the unpardonable sin; Jesus Christ wasn’t dealing with converted people. However, in practice the things Jesus Christ said about unconverted people can certainly also apply to people who leave the Church of God. Christ’s statements are focused on the unconverted, but they are not restricted to unconverted people.

2) The Apostle Paul wrote to CONVERTED Church members. And Paul made no attempt to explain how an unconverted person might commit the unpardonable sin. Paul did his best to explain two ways that a converted person might commit this sin: either by neglect or willfully.

So we need to understand that the statements in the Book of Hebrews and the statements recorded in the gospels are directed at two completely different audiences. Mr. Armstrong understood this, as evidenced by the statement that I have quoted. But he didn’t thoroughly explain this matter.

Let’s briefly look at these two points.

PAUL WRITING TO THE JEWISH CHURCH MEMBERS

Hebrews 2:3 = how shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation ...

Hebrews 3:8 = don’t harden your heart ...

Hebrews 6:4-6 = it is impossible to be renewed if they fall away ...

Hebrews 10:26 = if we sin willfully there remains no more sacrifice ...

Hebrews 12:15 = so guard against ever developing a root of bitterness ...

At no stage in this discussion in the Book of Hebrews do the unconverted people in the world ever enter the picture. This is not an objective expounding of the subject of the unpardonable sin. This is a very subjective and emotionally highly charged appeal by the Apostle Paul to the Jews in the Church to guard against committing the unpardonable sin. So in these verses in the Book of Hebrews the Apostle Paul explained ONLY THOSE THINGS that were in fact applicable to the people to whom he wrote this letter.

Paul was not at all concerned in this letter about whether or not unconverted people might also in certain circumstances be in danger of committing the unpardonable sin. Why should he possibly have written anything at all regarding the dangers some unconverted people might face? Why? The unconverted people in the world weren’t going to get this letter; the letter was going to Church members.

 

JESUS CHRIST SPEAKING TO UNCONVERTED PHARISEES

The occasion in question here is recorded in Matthew 12:22-32 and in Mark 3:22-30 and in Luke 11:14-20.

Jesus Christ was not directing His comments here to converted Church members. Jesus Christ said these things to unconverted people, to people who were plotting to kill Him. As Mr. Armstrong said in the article:

"To these scribes and Pharisees -- and to the crowds -- Jesus replied: ‘Verily I say unto you, all sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme: BUT he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but IS IN DANGER OF eternal damnation’ (Mark 3:28-29)."

Not only did Jesus Christ direct these comments to the unconverted scribes and Pharisees, but He also directed these comments to the crowds that followed Him! That is Mr. Armstrong’s point here! I’m simply quoting Mr. Armstrong’s article.

So HOW were the unconverted people who are addressed here in danger of committing the unpardonable sin? For them this was not a case of "neglecting" something because they were not yet in the Church. Neither was it a case of them sinning willfully after having previously turned their backs on the world’s sinful ways, because these people had never yet stopped sinning; they had never yet come out of the world.

So the two ways in which Paul explained Church members could perhaps commit the unpardonable sin (i.e. neglect or sinning willfully) did not apply to this group of people. So how were these unconverted people in danger of committing the unpardonable sin?

The situation in Matthew 12 was as follows: Jesus Christ had cast out a demon. He did this by the power of God. The perverse Pharisees then accused Jesus Christ of casting out demons by Satan’s power. THE PHARISEES KNEW THIS WAS NOT TRUE! They in effect knowingly attributed something that was done by the power of God to Satan. And in response to this Jesus Christ said:

"Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men." (Matthew 12:31)

All kinds of sins and of blasphemies can be forgiven! It is not blasphemies per se that are the problem here. It is really a very specific kind of blasphemy that is the real problem here. As the next verse says:

"And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come." (Matthew 12:32)

It is not that people speak "against the Holy Spirit", as if the Holy Spirit was an individual. What this expression means is this: the Holy Spirit is THE POWER that flows out of both God the Father and Jesus Christ (see Revelation 22:1). So "speaking against the Holy Spirit" simply means: ATTRIBUTING ACTIONS PERFORMED BY THE VERY POWER OF GOD TO SATAN!

And it is not talking about making some statement ignorantly. It is talking about ascribing works done by the power of God to Satan, knowing better!

When the Pharisees accused Jesus Christ of casting out demons by the power of Satan, they knew better. They actually knew they were insulting the very power of God, which Jesus Christ utilized to heal sick and infirm people. And Jesus Christ in response warned these Pharisees that they were very, very close to committing the unpardonable sin, the sin that will not be forgiven in this age nor in the age to come.

Matthew 12 proves irrefutably that unconverted people are capable of committing the unpardonable sin. And Mr. Armstrong himself pointed this out in his article. But unconverted people have to go a step further than converted people in order to become guilty of the unpardonable sin. So note these three steps.

Step one in committing the unpardonable sin is neglect. This step applies almost exclusively to converted people. (Below I will discuss an exception to this rule.)

Step two in committing the unpardonable sin is sinning willfully. This also applies almost exclusively to converted people.

Step three in committing the unpardonable sin is deliberately, knowingly insulting God by ascribing the very power of God to Satan. Potentially this applies to anybody and everybody, the converted and the unconverted alike!

Steps one and two were explained by Paul in Hebrews. Step three was explained by Jesus Christ in Matthew 12. And these two sections of Scripture are directed at different audiences.

So much for Mr. Armstrong’s article. In order to come to a clearer understanding of this subject let’s now ask a question that should have been asked and answered in the article, but unfortunately wasn’t really addressed.

 

WHY ARE SOME SINS UNPARDONABLE?

This is really the most important question on this topic of the unpardonable sin. There is a reason for everything God does. So exactly what is it about these sins that makes them unpardonable? HOW are these sins different from other sins? WHY are they unpardonable?

Let’s consider all three of the possibilities we have mentioned.

1) NEGLECT: Once we have positively responded to God opening our minds to understanding some of His truth, THEN WE BECOME ACCOUNTABLE FOR THAT TRUTH! God is not playing games with anyone. Once we have come to really understand that there is a God who created us and who has set in motion a plan to make immortal life in His presence a real possibility for us, THEN we are required by God to put forth the necessary effort to show that we really WANT to have a part in that future eternity that God is offering to us.

IF in that situation we are not even motivated enough to seek continuous contact with God, by regular prayer and Bible Study, etc., THEN God isn’t interested in having us in His immortal Family. God has no intention to give eternal life to "casual Christians"! Neglect is something that indicates to God that OTHER THINGS are actually more important to us right now, that there are other things that we really "love more", the principle of Matthew 10:37. Neglect indicates to God a real lack of commitment on our part. Narrow is the way which leads to eternal life, and only a few people really find it (see Matthew 7:14).

2) SINNING WILLFULLY: This is not talking about giving in to some or other temptation on impulse. This is not talking about King David being tempted to commit adultery, or anyone else giving in to some or other temptation. This refers to people very deliberately setting their minds to follow a path contrary to God’s laws, regardless of consequences.

Now both the Apostle Paul and Mr. Armstrong applied this point only to church members, to people who have at some point had God’s Spirit. However, you need to understand something, and that is this:

BEFORE GOD WE ARE ALWAYS RESPONSIBLE FOR THE THINGS WE KNOW AND UNDERSTAND!

God is not playing games with me or with you or with anyone else! It is always THE HUMAN MIND that God is testing! And the criterion is NOT whether or not a person has at some point had the Holy Spirit! The Apostle Paul was writing to people who had God’s Spirit, and Mr. Armstrong took that same approach in his article. Mr. Armstrong’s motivation was to be able to interpret the facts in favor of clemency for those who didn’t have God’s Spirit.

So let me explain something that has never been explained before in this context of the unpardonable sin:

In this context of sinning willfully, the criterion for the unpardonable sin is NOT whether or not the person involved has ever had God’s Holy Spirit. The real criterion in this specific situation is THE KNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTANDING THAT THE PERSON HAD!

The importance of the knowledge people have transcends the importance of whether or not they had God’s Spirit! (i.e. in the context of the unpardonable sin)

It is always a case of: what do people do with the things they have? As Jesus Christ put it, "to whom much is given, of him shall much be required" (see Luke 12:48). What did they do with the knowledge they had, never mind whether or not they had God’s Spirit? I don’t mean something they understood vaguely in a roundabout way, or something they fleetingly heard in some sermon. I mean clear, unambiguous knowledge and understanding that they had acquired.

In the past we have sometimes had some unbaptized people attend Church who had a lot more understanding than some of the baptized members of the Church. And those people were surely accountable for the understanding they had. Similarly, we now have quite a number of people who have grown up in the Church, and who now have a reasonably good understanding of many things; but they have never desired to be baptized.

Now someone like that who is not baptized is just as accountable for the knowledge he or she has, as is some other person who also grew up in the Church and then was baptized. The difference in accountability before God between two such hypothetical people is NOT that one is baptized and the other one is not baptized. The difference in accountability before God between two such people depends on their level of understanding; he who understands more is more accountable, and he who understands less is less accountable. Now for someone with a reasonably good understanding as a result of growing up in the Church not being baptized is obviously a problem before God, because it should be abundantly clear to anyone "with a reasonably good understanding" that baptism is commanded by God.

Now why do I say that in judging people the level of knowledge people have transcends whether or not they are baptized?

First of all we have the principle of James 4:17, which says that "to him that KNOWS to do good, and does it not, TO HIM it is sin". James 4:17 is not limited to converted members of God’s Church; James 4:17 is a principle that God applies to all people, because how people respond to the understanding they have shows God something about the character of those people.

Secondly, it is quite clear that THIS IS THE PRINCIPLE (James 4:17) which Jesus Christ was applying to the Pharisees. They were guilty of insulting God when they accused Jesus Christ of using the power of Satan to cast out demons, because THEY KNEW BETTER! The fact that those Pharisees were totally unrepentant and obviously didn’t have God’s Spirit didn’t enter the equation one way or the other.

The knowledge they had about all the miracles Jesus Christ had performed made them accountable. Even Nicodemus had said "WE KNOW THAT YOU ARE A TEACHER COME FROM GOD BECAUSE NO MAN CAN DO THESE MIRACLES ..." (John 3:2). The evidence that Jesus Christ was at the very least a very powerful servant of God was simply irrefutable.

It is very simplistic for us to say: since certain people were not baptized (or had never repented even if they were baptized), THEREFORE they are less accountable before God. Yes, baptism most certainly brings a considerable responsibility before God with it! Therefore we really need to count the cost. However, that is where this analogy stops!

When we want to buy a car which costs $20,000 and we only have $10,000, then after we have "counted the cost" WE CAN WALK AWAY FROM THAT $20,000 CAR! But we can’t do that with God’s truth ... WE CANNOT WALK AWAY FROM IT AND SAY "THE PRICE IS MORE THAN I CAN AFFORD".

The only people who can "walk away from it" are those who never get as far as realizing that there is a cost attached. The only ones who can walk away are those who are the seeds that fell by the way side (Matthew 13:19). But anyone who gets as far as understanding that there is a real cost is at the very least "on stony ground" or "amongst thorns" (Matthew 13:5-7). Hopefully such a person is "on good ground" (Matthew 13:8).

We need to understand that none of these last three categories can walk away from what is on offer; all of them have already proceeded too far down that road to be able to then turn back. For them it is a case of already having put their hands to the plow, and therefore it is too late to withdraw their hands. As Jesus Christ said:

No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)

People who were the seeds on stony ground or amongst thorns ARE ACCOUNTABLE for whatever knowledge and understanding they had before leaving the Church. And to whom much is given, of him shall much be required. Every human being is always accountable for everything we do. Jesus Christ really meant it when He said:

"But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment." (Matthew 12:36)

What does that sound like to you ... like some people get a free pass because they weren’t converted? As already stated, Jesus Christ said these things to the unconverted masses.

Yes, there will be a second resurrection for the overwhelming majority of people who have lived after the flood. But we have been very quick to assign our own loved ones who have left God’s Church to that second resurrection. We’ve done that because that is at least somewhat comforting. We’ve done that because the alternative is very scary to contemplate (i.e. the lake of fire).

Do we still believe that it is only the truth that really sets us free (John 8:32)?

So let me state something very plainly by means of a hypothetical analogy.

Suppose we have two people who both grow up in the Church of God. Both are very responsive individuals, and from conversations it is clear that both have a fairly good grasp of God’s truth. Both clearly understand that it is God’s intention to build a Family of immortal spirit beings. They understand that this plan involves the first resurrection for 144,000 people to spirit life, the much later second resurrection for most others who have lived and died, and then later still the third resurrection for the incorrigible wicked who will be blotted out in the lake of fire. They understand that God wants us human beings to repent and to live our lives in full submission to His laws.

When these two hypothetical individuals come into their early 20's one of them is baptized while the other one is not baptized, though the unbaptized person continues to attend services and maintain a regular contact with the Church in other areas as well. For all practical purposes the unbaptized individual lives his life just like any other member of the Church. Then a few years later both of them leave the Church for some unspecified reason. And neither one ever returns to the Church.

Now some people would want to claim that the one who had been baptized was in danger of the unpardonable sin, while the unbaptized individual would still be heading for the second resurrection.

BUT THAT IS NOT CORRECT!

The truth is that both are in the identical serious danger of committing the unpardonable sin. The key is not that one of them was baptized while the other one was not baptized. The key is that both had an equally good understanding of God’s truth and God’s plan, so both are accountable to God for the understanding they had.

It is not a case of the baptized one being unlucky that he was baptized, or the unbaptized one being lucky that he never asked for baptism. Before God both are equally accountable for the understanding they had. That is why I say that once people have come to a certain level of understanding, THEN they no longer have the option to walk away after deciding that the cost is too high.

GOD IS NOT PLAYING GAMES THAT HINGE ON CERTAIN TECHNICALITIES!

Frankly, for any adult who has a good understanding of God’s plan and purposes to deliberately avoid baptism is a case of "neglecting so great salvation" (Hebrews 2:3), and such a person "shall not escape"! It is wrong before God for someone with a good understanding to deliberately refuse to seek baptism. It is wrong before God because it is a clear refusal to submit to a clear command. Anyone with a reasonably good understanding knows the answer to "men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37).

While the process may certainly take more time for some people than for others, there is no excuse for any adult with a good understanding to deliberately not seek baptism. Such individuals have come to see that great treasure hidden in a field, but they make no effort to acquire the field (see Matthew 13:44). That’s bad!

To get back to our subject of wanting to assign all our loved ones who have left the Church to the second resurrection:

Let’s not give in to the temptation to interpret the Bible in the way that fits in the most with our own personal desires. Let’s seek to understand the Bible OBJECTIVELY, without our own wishes clouding our understanding.

When people attend the Church of God for an extended period of time, whether or not they ever repent and receive God’s Spirit, they typically learn a lot of things, though there are also certainly exceptions to this. They come to understand certain requirements that God has for us human beings, whether they agree with those requirements or not. And they become accountable for the things they have come to understand.

Let me try to state this very plainly:

In Revelation 3:16 Jesus Christ says to a group of people who have NEVER had God’s Spirit "I will spew you out of My mouth". Their "vessels" had never contained any "oil" (see Matthew 25:1-4). Having or not having God’s Spirit will not be the criterion! The real criterion will be that they will have been lukewarm with the understanding that they had! And the reason Jesus Christ will "spew people out of His mouth" is because they will have committed sins that will not be forgiven.

"Willful sinning" implies a level of understanding, independent of whether or not the person had previously proceeded all the way to repentance and baptism. Understanding always brings with it accountability for that understanding.

So sinning through continued neglect leads to the unpardonable sin because it amounts to despising the incredible opportunity for immortal life that God has offered us. If we don’t appreciate the value of what God is offering us, then God doesn’t want us in His Family.

And sinning willfully by setting our minds to disregard God’s laws and wishes is the unpardonable sin because it is a rejection of God’s power and authority over our lives. God will not have individuals in His Family who reject His authority over their lives.

So let’s now come to the third category.

 

WHY DOES GOD HOLD UNCONVERTED PEOPLE ACCOUNTABLE?

So let’s come to the Pharisees, who were certainly not repentant. WHY will all manner of sin and blasphemy be forgiven, but speaking against the Holy Spirit will NEVER be forgiven (Matthew 12:31-32). WHY?

Exactly what is it that makes this particular sin so serious?

What makes this particular sin so serious is KNOWLEDGE! It is UNDERSTANDING that makes it so serious! This is totally independent of whether or not the individuals involved had ever had God’s Spirit. It’s got nothing to do with whether they had previously repented or not.

IT HAS TO DO WITH INTEGRITY!!

A lack of repentance or never having had God’s Spirit is never a justification for a lack of integrity! Integrity of character is independent of conversion.

Note that I said that "it has to do with integrity". I did not say, and I certainly don’t mean, that unrepentant people are required to have integrity of character in every area of life, because that is not the case.

But in one specific area God requires even unrepentant people to have at least a minimum level of integrity. And that area is when they are faced with irrefutable evidence of the power of God.

In plain language:

When people are faced with irrefutable evidence of the power of God (e.g. Jesus Christ healing a man who had been blind and dumb, Matthew 12:22;healing a man who had been born blind, John 9:1-7; etc.) IT IS NOT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN if they refuse to accept this evidence of God’s power. Even if they don’t accept such evidence, they have still not committed the unpardonable sin.

However, if in addition to not accepting this irrefutable evidence they then INSULT GOD BY ATTRIBUTING THIS POWER TO SATAN, THEN THEY HAVE GONE TOO FAR!

Nobody who deliberately and knowingly insults God will ever be in God’s Family. God will not have people in His Family who deliberately insult Him!

Understand the principle Paul explained about converted Christians deliberately going back into the world.

He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:28-29)

As I have tried to explain, Paul was addressing his comments exclusively to converted Christians, doing everything he could do to prevent those people from committing the unpardonable sin. Unconverted people in the world didn’t enter Paul’s thinking.

However, THE PRINCIPLE of these two verses applies equally to unconverted people in the world! You need to understand this!

Now there are obviously differences. Unconverted, worldly people are not treading under foot "the sacrifice of Jesus Christ", because they have never yet met the requirements that God requires of them BEFORE that sacrifice can apply to them. That is, they have never yet come to repentance.

So the principle here is NOT of treading something under foot. Here the principle is one of DESPISING THE POWER OF GOD, by contemptuously ascribing that power to Satan! It is the attitude of despising and of contempt that is common to both situations. Both cases reveal the same lack of respect for God and for what God has done for us human beings. It is Jesus Christ’s statement in Matthew 12:31-32 that makes clear that knowingly and deliberately trying to discredit the working of God’s power is JUST AS SERIOUS as Paul’s explanation regarding a converted Christian going back on his commitment to God, and going back into the world.

We need to understand that Matthew 12:31-32 and Hebrews 10:28-29 talk about EXACTLY THE SAME PENALTY for two different groups of people. The one thing that both groups have in common is an attitude of contempt for the things of God. The unconverted in Matthew 12:31-32 reveal their wrong attitude more offensively than the previously repentant individuals in Hebrews 10. But both have essentially the same wrong attitude towards God. And so both groups face the same penalty, which is annihilation in the lake of fire.

Nobody ever insults God and gets away with it. Actively insulting God is simply going too far! So that is something God will not forgive. Here we are not talking about someone impulsively cursing God’s name, which, while it incurs a guilt which will be punished (Exodus 20:7), is something that can be forgiven upon real repentance. This impulsive type of sin very regrettably happens millions of times every single day around the world. No, here we are talking about people who knowingly and deliberately say and do things that are extremely offensive to God; we are talking about people who know that their actions are going to be punished, but they just don’t care. They simply don’t care what God expects from us.

Let’s now look at two unconverted individuals who will end up in the lake of fire, even though they have never at any time had God’s Spirit.

 

THE BEAST AND THE FALSE PROPHET

Let’s look at the story of these two individuals who are identified in the Book of Revelation.

The individual identified as "the beast" will be the supreme commander of the armies that will fight against Jesus Christ at His second coming. He will be in overall charge of those rebellious human armies, directing their actions against the returning Jesus Christ at the time of the first resurrection. The individual identified as "the false prophet" will be the most powerful religious leader on Earth at that time. He will endorse the position of "the beast" as God’s supposed chosen leader to fight against the supposed invasion from outer space (i.e. against Jesus Christ and those who will be with Christ).

Revelation 16 describes the seven last plagues that will be poured out upon this Earth in the presence of Jesus Christ and those in the first resurrection. The beast and the false prophet feature prominently in plague number six. Notice:

And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (Revelation 16:13-14)

This verse shows that the rebellious armies that fight against the returning Jesus Christ will be stirred up and gathered by three particularly evil demons. Besides these three demons, this verse identifies three other individuals: "the dragon" is a name for Satan, "the beast" is the political / military human leader of those that oppose Jesus Christ, and "the false prophet" is the human spiritual leader who provides the religious support for this military leader.

A little later the Book of Revelation shows all three of these individuals, one a spirit being and the other two human beings, being thrown into the exact same lake of fire, though at different times. The beast and the false prophet are thrown into that localized lake of fire in Revelation 19:20, and Satan is thrown into that same lake of fire 1000 years later in Revelation 20:10.

Getting back to Revelation 16:13-14, the three demons "coming out of the mouth" of these three individuals means the following:

The beast and the false prophet will both be demon-possessed. So the beast’s demon and the false prophet’s demon will be joined by a third demon sent directly by Satan himself, to gather this huge army to fight against Jesus Christ. Outwardly that event will look like the beast and the false prophet are extremely charismatic and inspirational leaders, at whose instigation a worldwide army will gather in the Middle East. It will be those three demons that will provide the charisma and the inspiration. The job of those three demons is to make sure humanity worldwide will be receptive to the beast’s agenda, and will gather to fight against Jesus Christ.

Without going into too many details, it is quite clear that these two unconverted and thoroughly demon-possessed human beings will know quite clearly that "the god" they are serving is Satan, and that the God they will fight against will be the returning Jesus Christ ... because the two witnesses will have been telling them and the whole world for over three years that this will happen, that Jesus Christ will return in power. These two will know with absolute certainty that they are fighting against God.

So let’s come to Revelation 19:20.

And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. (Revelation 19:20)

That will be their final death. They will instantly cease to exist! That lake of fire will permanently blot our their existence, and they will not come up in the third resurrection, which is for everyone else whose existence will be permanently blotted out by fire at that point in time. For them the first death and the second death will one and the same event. That’s why God has them thrown into a lake of fire!

So note the parallel:

Jesus Christ was the first one resurrected into the Family of God, pioneering the way in which those in the first resurrection will 2000 years later join the Family of God. And the beast and the false prophet have their existence permanently blotted out in a lake of fire at Christ’s second coming, likewise pioneering the way in which all the others who knowingly reject God’s ways will have their existence permanently blotted out about 1100 years later. Can you see how God has provided "a forerunner" for both of these events that represent the ultimate fate for all human beings?

At any rate, here are two individuals who have never had God’s Spirit and who have never been a part of God’s Church; and both of them will commit the unpardonable sin. And therefore God destroys both of them in a lake of fire.

Revelation 19:20 is one more clear proof that the unpardonable sin is not restricted to people who at some point had God’s Spirit. Their actions in knowingly fighting against God are simply not pardonable.

 

IN CONCLUSION

We have examined the only article Mr. Armstrong ever wrote on the subject of the unpardonable sin. We saw that most of that article is a discussion of what true Christianity is all about. We also noted Mr. Armstrong’s great concern in wanting to believe that the one individual who had left the Church had never really been converted, with the assumption that therefore that individual could not possibly have committed the unpardonable sin.

I mentioned that while Mr. Armstrong explained the unpardonable sin correctly, he did not explain it clearly. His own perspective on this issue was influenced by wanting to see a person close to him still have the opportunity to come up in the second resurrection.

However, Mr. Armstrong overlooked the fact that the main criterion before God for establishing responsibility and accountability is not whether someone is baptized or not, but how much knowledge and understanding a person has. When an unrepentant person understands just as much as a repentant person, then that unrepentant person is also just as accountable before God as is the repentant person. The principle here is: to him that knows to do good and does it not ... .

We need to clearly understand that the two places which discuss the unpardonable sin are directed at two different audiences.

1) In the Book of Hebrews the unpardonable sin is discussed by the Apostle Paul from the perspective of how Christians may be in danger of committing this sin. Paul explained two ways in which true Christians may become guilty of this sin: by neglect and by sinning willfully.

2) In the gospel accounts the unpardonable sin is discussed by Jesus Christ from the perspective of how unconverted people in the world may be in danger of committing this sin. Jesus Christ explained one way that anybody, converted or unconverted, may become guilty of this sin: by knowingly insulting God by attributing the indisputable power of God to Satan.

All three of these points were mentioned by Mr. Armstrong. Specifically, we took note of Mr. Armstrong’s statement that "this sin was committed by unconverted men". That is why I said that Mr. Armstrong explained this subject correctly.

It was unfortunate that after Mr. Armstrong had mentioned "unconverted men" in this one sentence he never explained this further. After that one sentence he dropped this aspect (how unrepentant men may commit the unpardonable sin). And thus many church people never got this, even though they read this booklet.

We also need to understand that not only will the unrepentant beast and false prophet commit the unpardonable sin, but there will also be some unrepentant Laodiceans who will be guilty of this sin, and whom Jesus Christ will therefore spit out of His mouth.

We need to recognize that Satan would want to tempt any and all of us to commit this sin, because if we do so, then he will have destroyed us. So let’s be sure that we resist the devil and draw near to God (James 4:7-8).

Frank W Nelte