What is the Unforgivable Sin?

This summer at my church, we are going through a sermon series called Summer Playlist where our folks submitted questions they have regarding biblical or cultural issues, and we’ll sort through them from Scripture.

The first question?  What is the Unforgivable Sin?  This issue is raised in Matthew 12:31-32:

Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.  And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

First, every other sin and blasphemy will be forgiven.  Did you see that?  Every other sin.  No matter what you’ve done to others, or yourself, you can receive forgiveness on one condition:  if you confess and turn from your sin and surrender to Christ and Christ alone, you can receive forgiveness.  First John 1:9 says, “If you confess you sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 

Let’s address the first one:  what is sin?  Sin is any violation or transgression of the law of God.   Romans 3:23 sums it up nicely:  “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  So, any shortcoming of God’s glory is sin.  When R.C. Sproul attended school in the Netherlands, he noted that Dutch society “was governed by a vast number of laws that defined every aspect of life.”  He recalled a frequent expression:  “You have overstepped the law.”  It’s a sin of commission:  doing something you’re not supposed to do; and omission: not doing something you’re supposed to do.  

What about blasphemy?  Blasphemy comes from Gk.  Blasphemia.  Blas means sluggish/slow, while pheme means reputation/fame.  It’s a slowness to call something good or to identify what is truly bad.  This perfectly describes what the Pharisees were doing—being slow to call something good.  If you read the context, a man was freed from demon possession by Jesus, but the Pharisees were sluggish to attribute the power to God (why?) because then they would have to admit that Jesus came from the Father.  And they weren’t about to do that in a million years.  

Forgiveness is not the same as, “Ah, don’t worry about it!”  Forgiveness means that that sin was paid for through a death—and the subsequent shedding of blood, without which there is no forgiveness of sin.  The Pharisees oversaw sacrifices of lambs and bulls and goats for the forgiveness and atonement of sins.  They knew that a death needed to happen to those animals for life to be possible for God’s imagebearers.  A high, high price was paid for our forgiveness.  In fact, soon after this encounter, the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, would go to the cross and shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. 

So why this sin?  Does not the blood of the Lamb and Christ’s forgiveness cover all sin?  Why does it not cover this sin?  Why is this particular sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit not covered?  Let’s take a look.

At first glance, it seems that the Holy Spirit is, yes, equal amongst the members of the Trinity, but he’s more equal than Jesus.  But first glances aren’t the best way to approach anything.  Deep study is what’s needed here. 

First, in this instance, this is referring to Jesus while he’s here on earth, for while on earth, Jesus looked like an ordinary Jewish man who worked in a carpenter shop with his adopted dad for most of his life.  Isaiah 53:2-3 gives an idea:

For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Philippians 2:7 said that, though he was holy God, came in the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  He was considered not just an ordinary human, but was treated like a common criminal.  

So, it would be forgiven them should they simply see Jesus as a common, ordinary man.  

Secondly, it’s about the Holy Spirit’s revelation of God’s power, most represented in Christ (John 16:12-15).  This is where it’s important to understand the Holy Spirit’s role more than we do.

12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

There will come a time when the Spirit of truth will come to (1) guide you into all truth, (2) speaking on the authority of the Father, (3) he will let you know what’s to come, (4) will glorify Christ and declare all that He is to you.

Let’s go back to the beginning: the Pharisees attributed Jesus’ miracle of freeing a demon-possessed man to the fact that empowering Jesus to free him was the power of Satan, not God—so they rejected and blasphemed the Spirit that brought the power of God.

So Jesus tells his disciples that one day, he would leave them, but the Spirit would come.  But if you reject the Spirit, slander the Spirit, it’s unforgivable because you are slandering and denying the one that guides you into all truth, speaks on the Father’s authority, and most importantly reveals and glorifies Christ as the way, the truth and the life and brings our awareness of our sin and an applying of our salvation that Jesus accomplished.  In other words, if you deny the Spirit’s word about Christ’s saving work for you, that is unforgivable. You are denying and rejecting the very Person who accomplished the very act that can forgive you and redeem you and atone for your sins in the first place.

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Can Anything Good Come from Sin? Yes!

Can anything good come out of sin?  Can anything good come out of walking through the valley of the shadow of death?  Let me tell you something that has subtly crept into the church.  Are you ready?  We believe that church is just for us.  We look at things in the church through the wrong lenses–and we know how that goes, when you grab the wrong glasses.  So when something comes along, new or otherwise, we need to change our attitudes. But look at Psalm 51:13-15:

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
14 Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
15 O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise.

Take, oh, our sin.  We come along and praise God for forgiving us of our sin, then we stop.  “Forgiven!  Clean!  That’s all the matters!”  But look at what David said should God forgive him:  “Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.”  In other words, when God takes us through that valley of the shadow of death and our sin, He brings us out so we can teach others about the justice, holiness, righteousness, love, and deliverance of our mighty God!  How?

Singing aloud of your righteousness. Did you realize that singing songs of forgiveness is a teaching tool?  Granted, some songs say little, so the worship leadership needs to pick songs of salvific substance. Sing about the cross (1 Corinthians 2:2), the empty tomb (Philippians 2:8-11), the blood (Ephesians 1:7) and our sin (Psalm 51). Sing of His worth (Revelation 5:9-11). Thank him (Ephesians 5:18-19) and encourage in His Word through song (Colossians 3:15-16).  Sing it loud!

Speak aloud of His praise!  When God loosens the tongue, like Zechariah, we will sing praises to him (Luke 1:67-79). God intends for us to use our words to exalt him and to edify others around us in the gospel!  Paul urges the Colossians, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).  Salt is used as a preservative, to preserve the things of Christ and the gospel in a lost and dying world.  So may our speech in a world with a propensity to sin preserve the truth of the gospel, even if others do not wish to hear it.

Some lessons we only learn in the valley.  But God will be with us in Christ, to help others who travel in that valley as well.  Even God can bring good out of something so bad.

What a mighty God we serve!

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Do You Find Joy in God’s Justice Over Your Sin?

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
    and in sin did my mother conceive me.
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart (Psalm 51:3-6).

Knowledge of our sin, if God is at work, will bring guilt of our sin.  And I submit to you that having guilt over your sin is a gift.  Think about it: how many psychology books are out, how many talk shows are on the air, how many water cooler conversations take place that try to get you to get over your guilt?  Some find distractions to take their minds of unconfessed sin.  Many have taken to the bottle or to other substances to try to escape that guilt.  Some even go the route of suicide.

Rather than running from guilt, we need to own it for what it is.  David knew his sin—he couldn’t hide from it.  And even though Nathan brought it out to the light of day, that did not mean that God wasn’t bringing it out of the privacy of his heart and soul.  I think of Psalm 32, where David wrote: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4).  It’s the old adage, “Wherever you go, there you are.”  Another one is there, “Wherever you go, you can’t get away from you.”

Why?  You say, “My sin is a personal thing—it doesn’t affect anyone else.”  I direct you, then to verse 4: “Against you and you alone have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”   How does this happen?  David sinned against his country, his army, against Bathsheba, against Uriah—a lot of people.  But David didn’t just add God to the list, but said, “Against you and you only.”  How is this?

I’ve heard folks over and over talking about revival (I don’t know if they mean revival meetings or if they are talking about revivals as movements of God—and I would suggest that the latter is the only true definition of revival).  When talking on revival, Stephen Olford once said, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.”  We realize that anytime we sin against one of His imagebearers (another human), we’ve sinned against God.  This conscious awareness of God is also a conscious awareness of our sin and a conscious awareness of those around us whom he has created.

This comes to such a crucial point.  In the backhalf of verse 4, David finds himself rejoicing greatly that God was true to His Word.  God, you are just!  You are right!  I have sinned!  Thank you for staying consistent in your judgment and not letting my sin go by the wayside. 

So what is the manner?  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (51:5).  Is this an indictment of his mother?  No, this is an indictment on all of humanity.  In our day, the conscious awareness of God and the conscious awareness of sin are not married. Yet, Scripturally and for the majority of church history, theologians recognized that the more you are consciously aware of the holiness of God, the more consciously aware of your lack of holiness—that is, your sinfulness—before God.

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When I Pinned a Sandwich on our Office Bulletin Board

Soon, I’ll be launching a new blog called “Leading with Joy” (at least, that’s the working title now) that will provide some sharpening and accountability regarding leadership issues (preaching, productivity, leadership, dealing with people–with joy!) that God is working in me.

For instance, in our office, I put up a ‘sandwich’ that I found online that I found helpful.

3039412-inline-criticism-sandwich

I hope you’re encouraged that I didn’t pin an actual sandwich on the bulletin board.  But this sandwich is so very helpful in dealing with others. I have shared this with previous associates, not because I’ve seen it out there, but from experience.  I’m thankful this picture came out to validate that I wasn’t off my rocker.

If you have some constructive criticism, always, always, always surround it with positive remarks and strong points about what they are doing. Now, when I say, always, this is at first.  It will depend on the situation.  For instance, Paul started off 12 of his 13 letters in the NT with a measure of thankfulness at their faithfulness.  The one?  Galatians.  It depends on the situation, as well as if the situation keeps repeating itself and no improvement is seen. Then, you get more to the point.

But this sandwich is so critical in being socially aware in your relationships.  John Maxwell is right, “Leadership is influence.”  Leaders need to let those whom they lead to know they are valued.  Those with a low emotional intelligence do not value those who disagree with them and are harmful and hurtful to any organization. Those with a high emotional intelligence value those, even if they aren’t totally aligned. They are most helpful to an organization, for they find themselves in a position to bring about unity.  Another Maxwellism:  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

So this is a healthy sandwich in which to partake. What are some examples of how this has worked for you?

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We Are Called to Invest, Not Simply Rest: More on the Joyful Urgency of a Believer

In reading the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the Master entrusted His three servants with five talents, two talents, and one talent. Notice here that the owner distributes his property, in this case, a talent to each as he sees fit.  A talent is an incredible amount of money.  Many of your Bibles help in understanding this amount by using a footnote.  And what does it say?  In the ESV, it says, “A talent was a monetary unit worth about twenty years’ wages for a laborer.”  Twenty years? All at once?  That’s what the owner gave. This is a generous amount of money!  This shows that this owner had high expectations of his servants!

So, supposed you made the median income for one who lives in Denver, which is around $60,000.  Multiply that by 20 (for the years), and you’re looking at $1.2 million.  That’s the Denver equivalent of a talent!  Five talents?  Six million dollars.  Two talents?  That’s 2.4 million.  Then the one talent of 1.2 million.  This is high money.  Jesus is making it clear again to his disciples:  “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And the first two saw the urgency and the joy in serving and investing the Master’s resources.

We must realize what Christ has entrusted to His church.  Has he entrusted us with money?  Sure he has.  But he has also entrusted us with

  • His gospel (Romans 1:1),
  • with His grace, with the faith to believe (Ephesians 2:8-9),
  • with works to accomplish (Ephesians 2:10);
  • with the fruit of the Spirit in order to accomplish the work (Galatians 5:22-23),
  • with spiritual gifts to plug in to various areas to which He’s called us and equipped us (Romans 12:3-8),
  • and most of all, with Himself (Matthew 28:20).

Look at all He’s given to us!  How do we view which is of more value: (1) of what the parable literally says in God giving out 150 years’ worth of wages, or (2) all that God has entrusted to the church?  If you’re worldly minded, you think, “How can I spend the gospel, gifts, grace, faith?  Those won’t pay bills or fund my hobbies.”  But if you have your eyes set on Christ, it’s not even close!

But what’s clear from this parable is that He intends us to invest, not simply to rest.  Verses 16-18 tell us what each servant did.  The first two invested everything given to them!  That’s 140 years worth of wages—invested!  Traded!  Now, keep in mind, this was not a one-and-done investment.  This was an investment.   With urgency.  With joy!

To listen to the full sermon, Don’t Waste Your Worship, click here.

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The Joyous Urgency of the Believer

In reading through the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), we see the similarities of the one whom the man gave the five and two talents, respectively. Both immediately took what the owner gave them and began investing and trading, trading and investing until the owner returned.  There existed an urgency in obeying the master.

But also notice, each were commended by the master upon the return, when he said, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . .  Enter into the joy of your master.”  This joy existed at this stage because of the joy they had in serving their Master in the initial stages.

The problem with the servant who buried the one talent with which he was entrusted was because neither joy nor urgency in the Master existed. He exhibited the ‘wicked and slothful’ nature long before the verdict was handed down by the owner. “But I thought God was a God of grace,” you may say.  We should never used the grace of God as leverage for disobedience . Let’s flesh this out.

But what about this: is there a parallel—is Christ ‘hard’?  This depends on how you look at this.  God is a God of high expectations.  And what He expects is obedience.  He expects His servants to follow through on His commands.  The apostle Paul prayed in his letter to the Colossians that God would open a door to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.  Christ makes commands—these He entrusts to us.  Just like the word ‘rest,’ the word ‘grace’ is misunderstood. We sometimes believe that since God is gracious, he’ll overlook disobedience.  After all, everyone makes mistakes.

Don’t use God’s grace—don’t use the death of Christ on the cross that provided forgiveness of sin—as an excuse for laziness.  This piggy-backs on what Scott preached last week:  theology matters:  he expects us to know His work and way!  God being ‘hard’ does not mean he is unfair or unreasonable.

Has the joy of the Master left you?  Is there unconfessed sin that is hindering fellowship with you?  Are we a people where theology matters, so that we know our Master well?  Do we have a fear of the future?  All of these things, if not dealt with well, could expose our wicked or our wise motives that could serve as a trajectory to our destiny in hell or in heaven.

May God grant us a joyous urgency.

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It’s There, Whether We See It or Not

Many of you know about my new passion for soccer, both in the states and globally.  It’s of endless fascination to me.  But what’s interesting to me is that five years ago, this game was not even on my radar. This is the most popular sport on the planet, and I didn’t notice nor did I care. I found myself quite content with what I grew up with:  basketball, baseball, and football–like an American!

We are surrounded here in Denver and in our country and in our world by thick, dark lostness. People all around us and even in our churches are enslaved by various and heinous sins that sink them further away from God and His gracious deliverance every second.  This is the most prevalent issue plaguing the condition of humanity–and we either do not notice or do not care.  For many, as long as they make a good living, slide into the American dream, and have plenty of recreational time is a good life.

But even though we do not notice, it’s still there.

And now that this situation is on our radar, what will we do. We cannot claim ignorance any more. We are without excuse.

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Preaching That Makes One Weep

I’m working through a book entitled Chaplain of the Confederacy: Basil Manly and Baptist Life in the Old South , a biography of Baptist stalwart Basil Manly, Sr (1798-1868).  While the title may be off-putting for some (Chaplain of the Confederacy), I’ve only made it to his life in the 1820s as he just begins his pastoral ministry.  He was a preacher of the gospel par excellence, whom God seemed to use to stir the emotions of his hearers, leading to a revival in the town of Edgefield, SC, where he first served in the pastorate.  This stirring is not a bad thing.  I was talking to a friend about various aspects of preaching and worship services, and he noted how so much of what has been done in churches bordered on manipulation rather than a reliance on the Spirit’s movement in hearts from the preached Word. 

The pendulum swings back and forth between preaching to the heart (formerly known as the affections) and preaching to the head.  Yet, which should the pendulum swing?  Clearly, one generation often seeks to compensate for the perceived shortcomings of the previous one—much like the previous generation seeks to compensate for the one before it.  The goal is to preach to both the head with the truth and the heart with the love of Christ/hatred of sin (see Ephesians 4:15). 

Jonathan Edwards gives some helpful insight:

A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble broken-hearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires. Their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble broken-hearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behaviour.

A preaching of the Word of God that seeks a transformation will preach to both head and heart.  It will strengthen the mind and soften the heart to the things of Jesus.  This type of preaching will help us pursue a union with Christ as Christ has pursued a union with us through the cross and resurrection and the sending of the Spirit. 

May God give preachers a message and the Spirit to strengthen minds and soften hearts to be sensitive to the truth. 

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The Athenian Balance of Evangelism

The apostle Paul preaching in the Areopagus in Athens, Greece (Acts 17:16-34)”God is pushing us as His people outside the walls of our building.” Have you heard preachers say that?  I bet if you were to go back to the sermon recording of most of your pastors (myself included), say this.  But let’s be clear–we spend the majority of our time outside the walls of this building.  It’s not that God’s pushing us out, He’s pulling us forward to make a difference in the place we spend the most time.

Generations ago, when new settlers built towns, they built them in a way that resembled a square.  They would have a square that is an open public space that’s used for gatherings of various sorts.  This square is surrounded by small shops, with a fountain in the middle.

It’s with this in mind that I approach this sermon with this particular shape.  The first point is that of Christ, the second of us and our relationship to Christ.  The third point dealt with our connection to Christ and the church.  But there’s more.  Much more.  It’s the intended command of Christ for us to connect with our community and our culture—that’s the fourth point that makes this square—the public square.

Local churches develop cultures in how they interact with the culture.  Reinhold Niebuhr wrote  a book a few decades ago called Christ and Culture.  In this book, he outlines ways that the church views Christ’s influence and interaction with the non-believing culture.

So many conversations about how Christians are to interact with the culture.  Should we turn into a fortress to keep ourselves and the culture completely separate, and nary the twain shall meet?  Should we engage the culture in such a way that we look almost exactly like it (assimilation)?  What should we do?  What’s the balance?

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has made our choice as to how we will interact in the public square of people and ideas.  We must certainly identify where we are in this so we know how to move forward.  The best way to do this is to shine the light on where we are, look at ourselves in the mirror and see reality, then move forward to God’s aim for us.

Before hitting these three, please take time to read Acts 17:16-34 (that’s ok–I’ll wait!).  Paul displays three needed mindsets in evangelism.

Provocation (Acts 17:16-17):  His spirit was provoked by the idols in Athens.  This word used for ‘provoked’ is the same word form used when Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over whether to take John Mark on the second missionary journey (Acts 15:39).  Does the idolatry of our nation and other nations provoke our spirits, that they are trusting in a substitute for the real, living God?

Compassion (Acts 17:18-23):  He acknowledged their spirituality.  Paul did not blast the people of Athens.  He did not say, “You rotten, blasphemous idolaters–you’re going to hell!”  Although this is true for all of us outside of Christ, that doesn’t mean you come in with both barrels locked and loaded.  You take Ephesians 4:15 out of the garage and take it on the highway: “… speaking the truth in love.”  You interact with aspects of the culture in order to connect them to the truth of that which transcends every culture.  Do we truly have a compassion for people, or are we ready to fire away because we’re right and their sinners?  Do we realize that, as Christians, God’s grace in rescuing us from the law cleanses us from sin?  

Conviction (Acts 17:24-31):  He still addressed their need for an exclusive gospel of our crucified and resurrected Christ. God was patient with our ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.  Why?  A day of reckoning is approaching.  No, that may not sound politically correct, but it is biblically and historically correct–that is, Paul tells the people what will happen in history.  Does our compassion for people give us a reason to pull back on our convictions in order to please people?  Our compassion for people should propel us to share the truth with people in a winsome way that’s firm in the faith.

May God increase each of these in us!

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Is God More Present in Certain Places Than in Others?

Back when I was a youth pastor in Kentucky, Billy Graham came to Louisville. So, a few folks from our church piled in the van and went to see him. the number of our youth went as well, and to my surprise they thoroughly enjoyed the evening. after Graham preached, he offered the invitation, and many got out of their seats and made their way to the bottom floor. I’ll never forget what one of my youth said.  he said that he would go up front anyway, even though he was a Christian, just in case God hears him better here than he did at church.

While we all laughed at what he said, it does make us wonder if there are places where God seems more present than others. I would say Yes and No to that question. We know from Psalm 139 that God is everywhere and that He hears us no matter where we are, He sees us no matter where we are He knows our thoughts even before we think. There is nowhere that we can escape from Him and His watchful eye. But is there a place where He is more present even as He is all present? It is here that I would say yes, simply for the reason of clarity. Being in God’s creation makes it very clear, at least to most, that there is a Creator and a Designer of all that we see. In this sense we get an understanding that there is an Infinite Being that is omnipresent. But among God’s people, that is among His church, a clarity arrives because this Infinite Being, we now understand is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So yes, God is omnipresent.

But no, God is most present when the clarity and conviction of His Word is preached so we know Who He is and What He has accomplished!

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