The Unforgivable Sin (Mark Sermon 14)
May 01, 2022 | Andrew Davis
Warnings, Holiness, The Power of Sin
In this sermon on Mark 3:28-30, Pastor Davis explores Jesus' statement about the consequences of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Turn in your Bibles to Mark 3: 28-30. The timeless allegory of the Christian life, Pilgrim's Progress, depicts the journey of a man from being lost, living in the city of destruction, through faith in Jesus Christ, and then through many dangerous toils and snares, finally, to crossing the river of death to live forever in the celestial city — an allegory of the entire Christian life. The author, John Bunyan, wrote it to instruct Christians about many aspects of the Christian life. In the allegory, the main character, a man named Christian, early in his pilgrimage spends time in the home of a man named Interpreter. In that man's home, he sees many symbolic vignette scenes that teach him important lessons that he's going to need for his journey. Probably of all of the vignettes seen in Interpreter's house, the most sobering, even terrifying, that he was shown was a very dark room with a forlorn man locked in an iron cage. This man's in a desperate condition because he's convinced that he has sinned his way out of heaven and there is nothing he can do at this point to be saved. He has, in some way, committed the unpardonable sin. In the dialogue that happens, Christian asks him, "What are you?" The man says, "I was once a fair and flourishing Christian, both in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. I was convinced that I was going to the celestial city." Christian says to him, "That's good. What are you now?" The man answers, "I am now a man of despair. I am shut up in this iron cage. I cannot get out, oh, I cannot." Christian asked him, "How did you come into this condition?" The man answered, "I stopped being careful about watching over my soul. I gave free reign to my sin. I sinned against the light of the word and against the goodness of God. I have grieved the Holy Spirit, and He is gone. I have tempted the Devil, and he has come. I have provoked God to anger, and He has left me. I have so hardened my heart that I cannot turn."
Christian then asked him, "Is there no hope, but that you must be kept in this iron cage of despair?" The man answered, "No, none at all." Christian said, "Why? The son of the blessed is very merciful." But the man wailed, "I have crucified him to myself all over again. I have despised his person. I have despised his holiness. I have considered his blood an unholy thing. I have shown contempt to the Spirit of mercy, therefore I have shut myself out of all the promises of God and there now remains to me nothing but threatenings, dreadful threatenings, fearful threatenings of certain judgment and fiery anger, which will devour me as an enemy." Christian asked, "For what did you bring yourself into this condition?" The man answered, "For the desires, pleasures and gains of this world in the enjoyment of which I promised myself much delight, but now every one of them bites me like a burning worm." Christian asked, "But can you not even now turn to God?" The man cried out, "God no longer invites me to come to Him. His word gives me no encouragement to believe. God Himself is the one who's shut me in this cage, and no one in the world can let me out. Oh, eternity, eternity. How shall I grapple with the misery that I must meet with an eternity?"
This is one of the most sobering and terrifying portions of Pilgrim's Progress. It raises the question of the unpardonable sin. That is a topic that's raised for us in this text today that we're studying in Mark's Gospel, raised by a statement made to Jesus Christ to his enemies, a sin that can never be forgiven in this age or even out into eternity. Look at verse 29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He is guilty of an eternal sin." The question that's in front of us today is, first and foremost, is there an unforgivable sin? Now, in some measure, this is surprising to us considering the wideness of the mercy of God. Jesus himself in this very passage asserted the width of God's amazing mercy. Look at verse 28, "Truly I say to you all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them." It's an incredible statement. Jesus begins it with a solemn oath, sometimes translated, "I tell you the truth," or, "Truly I say to you." The Greek is “amen.” Jesus often used this word, frequently doubling it such as “amen, amen”, which is “truly, truly,” something like that. Though everything Jesus said is worthy of close attention, when Jesus says this kind of thing, we're to pay special attention to the thing that he's saying. Pay very close attention. He's asserting here in verse 28, the width and breadth and depth of God's commitment to forgive sinners. "Truly I say to you all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them." We know from other scriptures, Jesus came into the world to forgive sinners. In I Timothy 1:15, the Apostle Paul said, "Here's a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst." Many scriptures testify to the wideness of God's amazing grace and mercy. Psalm 103:10 says, "He does not treat us as our sin is deserved or repay us according to our iniquities." Two verses later in that same Psalm, it says, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." Beautifully in Micah 7:18-19 it says, "Who is a God like you who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us. You will tread our sins under foot and hurl all our in inequities into the depths of the sea."
The amazing track record of God's forgiveness stands for all time. Abraham's lying is forgiven, Moses' murder is forgiven, David's lust and adultery and blood guilt, all forgiven. Jonah's rebellion, his defiance in running the opposite direction from the will of God for his life, forgiven. Even it seems King Manasseh, the most wicked king of Judah, who sacrificed his own son and the lineage of David to the God Moloch, burning him in the fire, forgiven. It's incredible what God will forgive. Augustine, forgiven for his years of fornication, forgiven. Luther forgiven for his blasphemy where he said to his father, "Confess your love, God. I hate him,”, forgiven. John Newton, forgiven for his slave trading and for his dissolute drunken life and his blasphemy. All manner of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven. Heaven's going to be filled with repentant adulterers and fornicators and homosexuals and liars and thieves and murderers. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.”
Is There an Unforgivable Sin?
We should all be staggered and amazed at the first part of Jesus' statement, that all manner of sins and blasphemies will be forgiven in men. We should not read that universally as though Jesus is speaking of universalism, that everyone will be forgiven. He’s not saying that, but what he's saying is there is no category of sin that cannot receive forgiveness. There is hope of forgiveness for all of those categories of sin. That's amazing, but once that you take that in, the amazement swings the other way. It seems very stunning, therefore, that there could be a sin that God would not forgive ever, but Jesus clearly asserts here there is such a sin, an unpardonable sin. Look at verse 29. "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He is guilty of an eternal sin." Matthew's parallel account expands it a little bit more. In Matthew 12:32, "Anyone who speaks a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come." I think no one in history has been as spoken against as Jesus Christ. I don't know how many times on planet earth in a single day his name is taken in vain. Somebody smashes their thumb with a hammer and out comes, "Jesus Christ," not as a prayer or worship, but just as a swear. It's a river of blasphemy gone toward Jesus Christ. Jesus said he's willing to forgive all that. It's incredible. But he said blasphemy against the Spirit is a sin that will never be forgiven even into eternity. In our text, Jesus says that person is guilty of an eternal sin.
Human beings frequently overstate the level of their commitment to never forgive, never forget, so filled with rage over something that's happened. But then they later... things happen, they change their minds, and they give up on such a pledge. But God's not like that. If he says a sin will never be forgiven into eternity, it won't. It's more permanent than if it were engraved with a steel stylus on a slab of granite. It's never going to be forgiven. God's not going to later change his mind. The verdict is final. The answer to the first question must be, as we read the text, yes, there is such a sin as an unforgivable sin.
What is the Unforgivable Sin?
Second question: What is that unforgivable sin? The answer from the text is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Verse 29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He is guilty of an eternal sin." What is that, then? Blasphemy is verbal sin, it's something you say. Jesus makes it plain. In this case, the issue is it's something that flows from a heart state, a heart conviction up out of the mouth. The mouth reflects the condition of the heart. Listen to the words in Matthew 12: 31-37. "So I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven, men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Holy Spirit will be for forgiven, but anyone who speaks a word against the son of man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come. Make a tree good and its fruit will be good. Make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you, who are evil, say anything good? For out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken, for by your words, you'll be acquitted, and by your words, you'll be condemned." It's the full account tied to the same matter, the same issue, the same incident.
"Blasphemy is verbal sin, it's something you say. Jesus makes it plain. In this case, the issue it's something that flows from a heart state, a heart conviction up out of the mouth. The mouth reflects the condition of the heart."
Jesus said it because of the words spoken about his ministry by the Scribes, the teachers of the law who had come down from Jerusalem to evaluate what was going on with Jesus. You remember they came down, they're evaluating. They heard about him, they wanted to see it with their own eyes and render an authoritative evaluation about Jesus. This was their verdict, Mark 3:22, "He is possessed Beelzebub. By the prince of demons, he is driving out demons." Beelzebub is Satan, and so by the power of Satan, He's driving out demons. Jesus responds, "I tell you the truth. All the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven then, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven. He is guilty of an eternal sin." Then the clear explanation that Mark gives us in verse 30. "He said this because they were saying he has an evil Spirit." That's the reason why he said it.
The central issue here are Jesus' miracles. The Scribes were asserting that Jesus was doing miracles, specifically, especially exorcisms, driving out demons by the power of Satan. Jesus had been doing a river of signs and wonders and amazing healings. The best summary I found is in Matthew's Gospel, in Matthew 4:24, where it says, "News about him has spread all over Syria and people brought to him all who are ill with various diseases, all who are ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon possessed, the epileptics and the paralytics. And he healed them, all of them." By far the most spectacular healings were of demon possessed people. The demons would often make a big scene when they would come out. They would scream, they would cause the human being to foam at the mouth or writhe on the ground. It was spectacular and evil. It's obvious, as you're watching, that something very powerful is happening, and people were forming opinions about Him as these miracles were happening, the healings, but especially the exorcisms.
After driving out a demon from a young man in the synagogue in Capernaum in Mark 1:27, "They're all so amazed, they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching?" And with authority, he even gives orders to evil Spirits and they obey him." They're evaluating who is this man? How does he have this power?
In the next chapter after the stilling of the storm [Mark 4:41], his disciples were terrified, and they were asking each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him." Mark 6, in his hometown with people who watched him growing up, "Where did this man get all these things? What's this wisdom that has been given to him that he even does miracles?" In Herod's court[Mark 6], King Herod heard about this, for Jesus name had become well known. Some were saying, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead, that's why miraculous powers are at work in him.” Jesus himself will ask his own disciples this key question: “What about you? Who do you say I am?” As I said, last week, this is the most significant question, the most significant issue that they will ever face, or any of us will ever face. It's clear that his ministry is designed to move people to the point where they can confess his deity, to confess He is the Son of God. On what basis will they do that? Jesus makes, therefore, many varied, overt claims to deity. Not one or two, many of them. For example, He claimed the power to forgive sins, the whole lifetime of sins by the paralyzed man. He didn't know him, had never met him, but said to him, "Take heart, son. Your sins are forgiven." Just like that. His enemies put their finger on it and said, "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus claimed to be Lord of the Sabbath which is something only God would ever say. Later, in John's Gospel, He would say, "Before Abraham was born, I am." Any Jewish person knew very well what Jesus was claiming there, there's no doubt about it. He's claiming to be God. He’s making this incredible claim. On what basis should I believe that? On basis of the miracles, that's the answer. That's scripture's answer; on the basis of the miracles we will testify to the deity of Christ to the salvation of our souls. With the paralyzed man, He said in Mark 2 , "You may know that the son of man has authority on earth to forgives sins." Then He said to the paralyzed man,’Get up, take your mat and go home.’ And the man got up and walked out in full view of them all.” Here's the logic: Because I do this miracle, you will know I have the authority to forgive sins. Miracle equals authority to forgive sin, the salvation for us.
Jesus also acknowledged that the signs and wonders were essential, they were necessary to our faith. Jesus said in John 4:48, "Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe." Again, in John 5, Jesus was accused of blasphemy because He called God, his own Father, making himself equal with God. In John 5, He gives many of his credentials. He goes through John the Baptist’s testimony, other things, and then He said this, [John 5:36], "I have testimony weightier than that of John, for the very work Father has given me to do, which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me." What is the work? Miracles and teachings. In other words, the miracles give us proof that Jesus is equal to God. To his own disciples, the night before He was crucified, He said the same thing. John 14:11, "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father's in me," [that we're one] "or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves." That's the clearest statement you're going to find. The miracles give us evidence to testify to the deity of Christ. Then, as we say almost every week, the culminating statement in John's Gospel, John 20:30-31, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs, which are not recorded in this book, but these are recorded that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing you may have life in his name." It's not just the words in general, it's the miracles. For our salvation, God ordained that Jesus would do all of these miracles, and the miracles are the basis of our faith in the deity of Christ to the salvation of our souls.
The two central, essential miracles that you must believe to be saved are the incarnation and the resurrection. They're essential to our salvation. The incarnation, that Jesus was God in human body, and that the resurrection, that He was raised physically from the dead, are essential. Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Here's the key to this whole issue today. All of the miracles connected with Jesus are done by the power of the Holy Spirit, all of them. There are no exceptions. Some of you may be surprised. I hadn't really worked this through, but do you think there was a single miracle Jesus ever did apart from the will and command of his Father? Never. Then, was there any miracle Jesus ever did with his Father and left the Holy Spirit out? What do you think? No. It actually isn't that hard to get there, but the Bible teaches it. For example, the incarnation. It was the Holy Spirit and his unique power on Mary's body that enabled the incarnation to happen. Remember how she said, "How can this be? I'm a virgin." The angel answered in Luke 1:35, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will overshadow you, so the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God." The Holy Spirit is directly bringing about the incarnation. Then at the end, the resurrection also ascribed openly to the power of the Holy Spirit. In Romans 1:4, it speaks about Jesus, “Who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, the humanity of Jesus but was raised through the Spirit of Holiness and was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” You're not used to the phrase, Spirit of Holiness, more common name Holy Spirit. Through the Holy Spirit, Jesus was declared with power, proclaiming to the world to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead, the greatest miracle of Jesus' life. Both of them, both the beginning and the end, miracles worked by the power of the Holy Spirit, but all the other miracles in between also worked by the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter testified to Cornelius in Acts 10:38, “How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power and how He went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the Devil because God was with Him.” Jesus is going around setting people free from the Devil by the power of the Holy Spirit, healing them, exorcizing demons by the power of the Spirit, rescuing them from Satan's dark clutches. Specifically, relevant to this issue, Jesus claimed overtly to be driving out demons by the power of the Spirit of God. He said in Mark 12:27, "If I drive out demons by Beelzebub by whom to your sons drive them out?" Very interesting question. How was that whole exorcism going before I came? "So then they will be your judges," [Matthew 12:28], "but if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you." It's clear evidence of the advancing kingdom of God, the work of the Holy Spirit.
Now, here's the thing. The scribes looked at all this evidence, they looked right at it with their own eyes. They watched it happening, and what was their conclusion? It is by Satan's power that He is driving out demons. It could not have been further from the truth. The blasphemy against the Spirit, then, is to look at all the evidence that the Spirit has given for the deity of Christ, his signs and wonders, and then willfully and maliciously choosing to ascribe that power to Satan, that's the blasphemy against the Spirit. Jesus said it would be a sin that would never be forgiven, not in this age or the age of come. Now you may say, "Why not? Why not? Why wouldn't it be forgiven?" Because there was something else that God was going to do to prove the identity of His son. It's as though God, through the Holy Spirit, is turning over cards, revealing cards, and He reveals the whole set and steps back and says, "All right, here it is. What do you think? What's your conclusion?" At the end of Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, "Now all has been heard. Here's the conclusion of the matter." This is the full set of the evidence God's going to give. What's your conclusion?
The author of Hebrews says in Hebrews 10, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we've receive the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Could someone in space and time have committed this sin and then still live many years on earth without any hope of forgiveness, no chance of forgiveness whatsoever? The answer is yes, it seems so. I'm not saying they knew that that was their condition, but I'm saying it is possible to commit that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and then live awhile after that, completely apart from the grace of God and any hope of forgiveness of sins. Jesus said in Matthew 12:32, "Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come." The dreadful and terrifying conclusion is that there were people who did commit the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and who then walked in unforgiveness for the rest of their lives. Why? It's because God would not work in them, because He's not going to send the Holy Spirit to save them.
Essential to our salvation is repentance, repentance of our sins, and that repentance cannot be in any single person ever except by the working of the Holy Spirit of God.
Essential to our salvation is repentance, repentance of our sins, and that repentance cannot be in any single person ever except by the working of the Holy Spirit of God. "The time has come," [Mark 1:15], "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel." That's done by the power of the Holy Spirit, not by your free will. Your free will was a slave. It was the Holy Spirit that set you free, if you're a Christian, so God will not work that. It says in Acts 11:18, "So then, God has granted, even to the Gentiles, repentance unto life." Do you see that? God grants repentance, God grants faith. These are gifts of God. And He works them by the Spirit, specifically repentance. It says in John 16:8, "When the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” That's the Holy Spirit's unique and beautiful work. But if the person is ascribing all of Jesus' miracles to Satan, there is no further work the Spirit will do. They're willfully rejecting all the work of the Spirit point toward Christ as the Son of God.
How Should We Live in Light of the Concept of the Unforgivable Sin?
Third point: How should we live in light of this teaching, in light of the concept of the unforgivable sin? Can anyone commit this sin today? Answer: I don't really know. There are different commentators who say different things. "Pastor, you're not ever supposed to say, "I don't really know," especially not an important question like this one." It may be that this sin was unique to that moment, to literally seeing with your own eyes the physical miracles being done, seeing many of them, a river of miracles, and then concluding that Jesus was doing all of that by the power of Satan. However, we do read in the book of Hebrews about the apostates there, in Hebrews 6:4-6. He says, "It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back against your repentance because, to their loss, they're crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." When I preach through the book of Hebrews, I had to ponder this very important teaching very carefully. Many people are deeply troubled by it, Hebrews 6. I struggled especially with the words, “it is impossible”. Taking all the words out and just simplifying, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. It's impossible to bring them to repentance. I struggle with that, especially in light of a statement Jesus makes in another place in Mark's gospel, Mark 10:27, talking about the salvation of the rich. “It's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.” And they say, "Well, who then could be saved?" And Jesus said, "With man, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible." When you get with God, all things are possible, connected to salvation, but then the author of Hebrews is saying it's impossible to bring the... I found that troubling. How do you put that together? But it does make sense, however, if God himself is telling you He will not work in those people, then we know it's impossible. With man, it's impossible. With God's working, all things are possible. But suppose God says, "Yes, but I'm not working in these cases. I'm not going to work." What do you think? Then they're not going to be saved.
The Hebrew people of that era had also physically seen signs and wonders in the apostolic age. In Hebrews 2,3, and 4, it says, "This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit, distributed according to his will." The apostles, after Jesus was sent to heaven, did similar miracles to Jesus. These people, this Hebrew congregation, had seen those apostolic miracles and were in that, therefore, possibility of the same condition concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Perhaps blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is limited to the era of Christ and the apostles when the miracles are flowing by the power of the Holy Spirit. But later in the book of Hebrews, it says, Hebrews 10:26-29, "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we've received a knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins remains but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who is treated as an unholy thing, the blood of the covenant that sanctify him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace." Did you hear that? Insulted the Spirit of grace.
It seems, at least, that the Holy Spirit wants to give us readers of the book of Hebrews a sense of lasting warning that's essential to our salvation. We need to drink in that warning in a healthy way and take it seriously. Sin is dangerous, dear brothers and sisters. It is deadly dangerous. We never know how much we can play with it in our daily lives and reach a breaking point where the Spirit will not convict us and bring us back.
John Piper, in talking about this issue of blasphemy against the Spirit basically said the bottom line is run from sin with fear and trembling. The fact that there is an unforgivable sin, that there comes a point in life, in a life of sin after which the Holy Spirit will no longer grant repentance, that fact should drive us from sin with fear and trembling. None of us knows when our toying with sin will pass over into irrevocable hardness of heart. Very few people feel how serious sin really is. Very few people are on the same wavelength with Jesus when He said in Mark 9:43, "If your hand caused you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go to hell to the unquenchable fire." Piper says, “Many professing Christians today have such a sentimental view of God's justice that they never feel terror and horror at the thought of being utterly forsaken by God because of their persistence in sin. They have the naive notion that God's patience has no end and that they can always return from any length and depth of sin, forgetting that there is a point of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that He withdraws forever with his convicting power, leaving them never able to repent and be forgiven. They are like the buzzard who spots a carcass on a piece of ice floating in the river. He lands and begins to eat. He knows it is dangerous because the falls are just ahead, but he looks at his own wings and says to himself, ‘I can fly to safety in an instant,’ and he goes on eating just before the ice goes over the falls, he spreads his wings to fly, but his claws have been frozen into the ice and there is now no escape, neither in this age nor the age to come. The Spirit of holiness has forsaken the arrogant sinner forever.”
The bottom line for me as a pastor today on this topic is, as has been said many times before, to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable. What does that mean? As I said in my pastoral prayer, some of you have some needs and other of you have diametrically opposed needs. How one sermon can meet both needs is a mystery that's beyond my ability to comprehend. I have had probably five or six conversations with troubled souls on blasphemy against the Spirit in my ministry. People come to pastors on this question frequently, and they're worried, "Have I committed this unforgivable sin?" I would say my instincts are almost nobody... I can't imagine a person being deeply concerned that they've committed that sin, that they actually have committed that sin. I don't see the scribes of Jerusalem deeply concerned about Jesus' words. Do you?
Now we come to just the issue of how do I attain a healthy assurance of my own salvation? That's the question, isn't it? It's not so much the arcane question of theology of blasphemy of the Spirit, the question is the health of our own souls, “Will I be there in heaven forever, feasting with Jesus or not? Or will I hear those terrifying words, ‘When I say to him, "Lord, Lord," and He says, "Depart from me. I never knew you,” and I get the biggest shock of my life.” That's the question that's in front, not so much this question about blasphemy against the Spirit, but the question is how do I arrive or attain to a healthy assurance of my own salvation?
Therefore, I think we have to go to the theology of salvation and understand some key factors here, which I've said again and again, salvation comes to us in stages. The first stage is justification, forgiveness of all sins past, present, and future by simple faith in Jesus Christ. You must never let up on that conviction. Forgiveness of sins comes by coming to the cross with faith and trusting in Jesus, not by any good works you can do.
But then secondly, salvation, true justification always then produces sanctification, a journey of holiness in which you and the Holy Spirit work together on your actual thinking patterns and behavior patterns. An assurance happens in there. How can I know I'm justified by faith? What's going on with your sanctification? That's how the Bible does it. What's happening in your life? Assurance is salvation and starts with simple faith in Christ, like the thief on the cross. Can you, by faith, know you deserve to die? You are a sinner. If it weren't for Jesus, you would die, and you look over to Jesus with the eyes of faith and say, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom. I'm trusting in you.” You will be forgiven. If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." But that's only part of the answer.
Secondly is fruit. What's the fruit of your life? What's happening in your life? The Bible presents negative fruit and positive fruit. Negatively, are you putting sin to death by the power of the Holy Spirit? We all battle sin, but this is what I think Paul means when he says at the end of his life, with some relief, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I've kept the faith." It's a marathon race of fighting. What do you think you're fighting? You're fighting sin by the power of the Spirit. Romans 8:13, 14 says, "If you, by the Spirit, put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live." You have to fight sin by the power of the Spirit. You have to mortify sin. Wherever their sin in your life, wherever it is, you've got to be assaulting it, killing it by the Spirit. That's negative. Positively, do you see Christlike attributes growing in your life? What the theologians call the graces of Christ positively growing in your life, such as the fruit of the Spirit. Do you see love, Christlike love growing in your life? Joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, self control. Do you see these virtues, positive virtues, developing in you. Negatively killing sin by the Spirit, positively Christian graces growing in you.
Then, lifestyle actions. Evangelism, prayer, Christian giving, attendance at worship, the various commands of the Christian life. You're just obedient by the Spirit to the Christian life. That's how you'll have assurance. If those things aren't happening in your life, I can't give you assurance and be a good pastor. I would say you need to see these things in your life. That's where you get assurance.
Finally, is there a role of a healthy fear of sin in the Christian life? I think so. Right before I came up here, I looked up just to be sure it's not in my outline, but II Corinthians 7:1 tells us to perfect holiness in the fear of God. Friends, that's in the New Testament. Please don't tell me perfect love drives out fear and there is no fear, and then the Holy Spirit... If you have any fear, something's wrong with you. I don't know how you can say that and then have these other verses. There is most certainly a healthy fear of sin. Conversely, it is very unhealthy to say, "I have no fear of what sin can do in my life." Well, what would you do if a brother or sister ever said that to you? "Oh, that's so good. I wish I could get to that place in my life." No, that's not what you would ever say. It's like, "I fear for you." I feel, to some degree, we're all brought back, in some healthy way, to Mount Sinai with the fire and the earthquake and this terror. God says to the Israelites, "Do not be afraid. God has come to you to test you so that the fear of God will keep you from sinning." How can that not be a covenant work, a new covenant work by the Spirit? He works a healthy fear of sin in us so that we won't sin. That's part of the Christian life. In Hebrews 3: 7-8 the Holy Spirit says this, "If today you hear his voice, don't harden your hearts." He then says a few verses later in Hebrews 3, "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God, but encourage one another daily, as long as it is called today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness." It is important for us to be vigilant on our souls, that we not be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. If any of you have heard the gospel time and time again, and still have not yet repented and trusted in Christ, let me ask you a question. How many more chances do you think the Holy Spirit is going to give you? You've heard the gospel today. I'm pleading with you, do not presume on a future day. Repent now while there's time.
Close with me in prayer. Father, thank you for the word of God that gives a sweet hope and joy, but also necessary warnings and fear. And I pray, oh Lord, that this scripture today would do its proper work in us. Help us, oh Lord, too, to know the danger of sin and to flee to Christ through the Spirit day after day, trusting in him. We thank you for the sweet work of the Spirit in our lives and we pray that you would strengthen us for the fighting marathon we have to run until, finally, you rescue us from this sin-filled world. In Jesus' name, Amen.