Can all sins be forgiven (Acts 13:39; Titus 2:14; 1 John 1:9) or not (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10)?
Let’s first look at the relevant passages:
and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men.
but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation.
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.
There is an important aspect of this alleged contradiction that needs to be discussed to clarify this “problem.” First, let’s focus on the last three verses above that discuss blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
These passages reveal that there is one sin that is still unforgivable. If God repeats this three times in His Word, then it is important! Is this referring to using the Holy Spirit’s name in vain? No, though I wouldn’t recommend that either (Exodus 20:7)! What is “blaspheming against the Holy Spirit” then? Is it something more than words? What follows is one way to explain the apparent contradiction. There are also other ways of explaining how these passages fit together by focusing on the specific acts of blasphemy performed by the Pharisees in the instances recorded in the Gospels.
When one receives Christ, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. If one doesn’t receive Christ, then they do not receive the Holy Spirit, which is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. This aligns perfectly with Jesus being the only way and the only name by which one can be saved (John 14:6; c.f. Acts 4:12).
If one dies without receiving Christ’s forgiveness, then they die without the Holy Spirit.
This sin cannot be forgiven, unlike the other sins. If one dies without receiving Christ’s forgiveness, then they die without the Holy Spirit. Hence, they die without God and without salvation. Often people want to blame God for this, but from a big picture, God is merely giving people what they ask for. If they want life without God, God grants them their bidding in the same way the free gift of eternal life is given through Jesus Christ for those in Him.
But for those not saved, the punishment for the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit must be served. And how long is this? Consider that God is infinite. The punishment from an infinite God is an infinite punishment. This is why we needed a perfect, infinite sacrifice to cover our sin and its repercussions. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator God (John 1; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1), who is infinite, could take that punishment. But if one rejects Christ and does not receive Him as their Savior, then they, whether they realize it or not, will still be punished for sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Sadly, many do not realize that the punishment for even one sin is death (Genesis 2:17), which results in an eternal, infinite punishment. And Jesus said:
And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
Now, with this in mind, let’s evaluate the other passages and see if this is really in contradiction.
First, a question: Who is being spoken to in Acts 13:39; Titus 2:14; 1 John 1:9?
If one pays careful attention, the alleged discrepancy disappears. So, who is being spoken to? It is believers in Christ.
This is evidenced by the phrases “everyone who believes,” “us,” and “we” respectively. With “us” and “we,” Paul and John include themselves with their fellow believers.
Believers in Christ have been forgiven all sins and their punishment paid by Christ because of their repentance and belief in Christ. And, hence, they received the gift of the Holy Spirit and would not be in a position of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
Thus, these verses are not in contradiction, as the people being spoken of in Acts 13:39; Titus 2:14; 1 John 1:9 are those who have been forgiven and are no longer capable of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. And those being spoken of in Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 are non-believers upon their deaths—when they no longer have the opportunity to receive Christ and receive forgiveness and to turn from their blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
In laymen’s terms, these two sets of verses are speaking about two different sets of people: believers and non-believers. Believers are forgiven all sins, but non-believers will have to deal with at least one big sin—that has eternal consequences.
A special note to readers: please continually pray for those who have not received Christ.