Apostasy: To fall away (He 6:4-6; He 10:26-30). To know and accept (intellectually) the doctrines of Christianity, but to renounce and abandon them later on for a different belief system—whether it’s a variation (distortion) of Christianity (Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc.) or a completely different religion (Islam, Buddism, Hinduism, etc.). What apostasy is not is losing one’s salvation, due to the fact that we cannot lose our salvation. We are forever secure in Christ (We Are Secure in Christ).
Unpardonable Sin: To blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, to speak against the Holy Spirit. Some Bible teachers expand this to include Hebrews 6:4-6. I believe they do this in order to avoid having two unpardonable sins, but I think there’s too much speculation or assumption involved with that. I think there’s a better answer, which I discuss in this study.
(Matthew 12:43-45) – 43 “When an unclean spirit goes out of a person, it passes through waterless places looking for rest but does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the home I left.’ When it returns, it finds the house empty, swept clean, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they go in and live there, so the last state of that person is worse than the first. It will be that way for this evil generation as well!” (NET)
In this passage Jesus is talking about Israel, particularly Israel of His day, referring to it as “this evil generation.” Israel used to be idol worshipers. At the time of Christ, they were not idol worshipers—at least not in the extreme when God destroyed both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms (via Assyria and Babylon) because of it. Having cleansed the land of idolatry, their house was “empty, swept clean, and put in order.”
However, they remained “empty.” They didn’t fill the vacuum with the truth. They were just as religious, but they had a false understanding of truth, and in particular, a false understanding about Jesus and the way of salvation—as revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures and through Jesus Himself. While they may have removed the idols from their land (generally), they were still without God, which only comes through faith in His Son. They didn’t understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of their prophecies. They didn’t understand that Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism. Since they rejected Jesus as their Messiah as a nation and as a religion, God again destroyed them (“this evil generation”) via the Roman armies in AD 70—their last state becoming worse than their first. To this very day they are still without God, because they remain hardened toward Jesus, their Messiah whom they should have recognized when He revealed Himself to them during His three year ministry among them. Jesus said this about them at the time:
(Matt 23:37-38) – 37 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that kills the prophets, and stones them that are sent unto her! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! 38 Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.
To this day Israel remains “desolate,” and always will be as a nation and as a religion. This is God’s judgment upon that nation—their last state becoming worse than their first.
There’s an important and sobering application I want to talk about for the remainder of this section. Israel had the OT Scriptures. The Jews grew up hearing the truth of the Scriptures, but they were blind to their meaning as it applied to Jesus of Nazareth. They had a false understanding about Him, even though He taught them daily, and performed mighty miracles among them. Rather than accepting the truth about who Jesus revealed Himself to be, they rejected it and formed their own opinion about who He was. This was true of Israel in general, but particularly as it related to the religious leaders who knew the Scriptures better than anyone. But knowing and understanding are not the same thing.
Likewise, there are people today who grow up living under the teachings of the Christian faith (in the home and in the church). They embrace those teachings intellectually, but it never reaches their heart where salvation occurs. Somewhere along the way they drift away from the orthodox teachings of Christianity, and they begin to develop their own ideas about it. They develop false forms of it according to their own understanding (Gal 1:6-9; 2 Cor 11:4). Examples of such deviation from historical Christianity would be Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Armstrongism and Christian Science. Whatever form their deviation from the truth looks like, “the last state of that person is worse than the first.”
They may remain religious, but not according to the truth. Perhaps they even begin to separate themselves from the world more than before (like Israel removing their idols from their land). Their lives are reformed outwardly, but not inwardly according to the truth. They may have cleaned up their lives (as Israel did by removing their idols) and seeking God more, but not according to the historical teachings they grew up learning. Outward cleansing and outward reform is a deceiver—both to the individual and to others who observe their lives and believe they’re true Christians. However, the fruit of salvation is primarily what a person believes, not the way a person lives their life (Matt 7:15-20; Matt 13:24-30; Matt 23:27-28). They leave the true teachings of the Christian faith, and embrace a false form of it (Gal 1:6-9; 2 Cor 11:4). Thus, “the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Such people are described in Hebrews 6:
(Hebrews 6:4-6) – 4 For it is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 tasted the good word of God and the miracles of the coming age, 6 and then have committed apostasy, to renew them again to repentance, since they are crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt. (NET)
(Also Hebrews 10:26-30)
I believe this passage refers specifically to the Jews who sat under the preaching of the gospel of Christ in that day, who claimed to embrace Him and Christianity, but then reverted back to the Law of Judaism. However, there is certainly an application today, for we can find the same sort of situation in our day. As with the Jews, once a person rejects the truth for a false form of it (after claiming to embrace it), or for a completely different religion, it’s very difficult to return to the truth—in fact, it’s “impossible…..to renew then again to repentance,” as this passage indicates. Once a person rejects the common and foundational beliefs of Christianity for a different belief system — after learning it and claiming to believe it (intellectually – He 6:4) — there’s nowhere else to go for the truth. Just as one truth leads to another, so does one false teaching lead to another. Like begets like. Truth begins with a right understanding of the nature of God (Trinity) and of the nature of salvation. But once a person makes a final decision in their heart (having considered carefully over time) to reject that foundational understanding, after once accepting it (intellectually), one’s belief system becomes more and more confused and distorted, and further and further away from the truth and of Jesus Himself.
Cleaning up one’s life and seeking God outside of the truth gets them nowhere, except further away from God. At least in the first state people still have the opportunity to learn and grow in the truth. But to reject and replace the truth for the false, leads to more and more false understanding. To reject the doctrines of the Christian faith for doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1) is an unworkable place to return from—because “the last state of that person is worse than the first.” Again, the Bible indicates that such a thing is “impossible” for “those who have once been enlightened, tasted the heavenly gift, become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” This refers to those who have sat under the teachings of the Christian faith, especially over a long period of time, perhaps growing up learning it. Once a person says in their heart “I’m done with this,” I don’t believe there’s any going back from that, having once known the way of truth.
This may have been the type of person that the Apostle John refers to in 1 John:
(1 John 2:19) – 19 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. (NET)
This is the person who claims to be a Christian, who appears to be a true Christian, who even participates in the ministry of their church. They may have all the outward appearances of being a true believer in the true Christ (although if you know them well and look closely, you will likely see something that is not quite right about them or the way they believe). But then somewhere down the road, they eventually leave. They eventually come to realize they no longer believe as they once did, that they no longer believe the things the others in their assembly do. They come to a crossroads where they must be true to themselves, to their own beliefs, and they leave the faith and their church.
While this particular understanding of Hebrews 6:4-6 is debatable, from my point of view, it makes sense, because when people claim to have accepted Christ (and His teachings) and then to depart from Him, would be like “crucifying the Son of God for themselves all over again and holding him up to contempt.” In other words, it’s like taking your stand with those who nailed Jesus to the cross, subjecting Him to open shame before the public—implying that you did not believe He was who He said He was after all, that you decided He was an imposter after all, publicly shaming Him as such, as the Jewish leaders did in His day.
Some Christians don’t agree with this particular understanding of this passage. They believe that such people can still return to the truth and get saved. However, I believe that idea is far too contrary to the specific statements made in this passage. I think the natural and obvious understanding should be accepted. I believe it makes best sense to understand it to mean that once a person has sat under the teachings of the Christian faith (over a long period of time, which would be required to learn enough) and claimed to accept Christ, but then to reject Him afterwards, would be like telling the world that you did not find Him credible and real afterall, and that you have decided to take your place among those who nailed Him to the cross as an imposter. I believe the author of Hebrews is telling us that once a person has told the world that they found Jesus to be a false Savior (after claiming to accept Him as true Savior) – subjecting Him to public and undeserved shame – they cannot return from that in order to be saved.
For sure God is sovereign and can intervene (and must) in such a person’s life to save them, but this passage indicates that God will not do so in such a case. Once a person has learned and accepted (intellectually) the truth about Jesus (according to the teachings of historical Christianity), only to eventually regard Him as uncredible, it means they’ve made their choice, as a final decision of their heart. Once a person closes the door of light they experienced, and have opened the door of darkness, I don’t believe there’s any going back from there. They’ve made their choice between the two spheres, between the two kingdoms. Darkness just becomes darker and darker, and the light grows dimmer and dimmer.
I think Judas Iscariot is someone whom this passage describes well. He sat under the teachings of Jesus, and the other eleven disciples apparently believed he was among them who believed. But even after being exposed to the light of Christ like no one else ever (along with the eleven), he ultimately rejected Christ and what He taught, siding with the religious leaders who also rejected Him and who called for His death. Even after three years of learning from the God of the universe, and witnessing His miracles, he rejected Him. I don’t believe there was any going back from that, having turned to darkness after living in the light of the world for three years. The light of Christ did not penetrate his heart, not even after three years of daily teaching, witnessing of miracles, and observing His life and character. If the heart-change didn’t take place after three years of all that, he was not suddenly going to experience this change of heart after he betrayed Jesus. He was fully in the sphere of darkness at that point. Satan had entered him (Lu 22:3). As I mentioned before, God is sovereign and He could have intervened to create the needed change in his heart in order to be saved, but I believe this passage in Hebrews 6 indicates that God chooses not to do so in such cases.
The Unpardonable Sin
While there’s no going back from apostasy (unpardonable), it’s not the unpardonable sin that Jesus talks about in the following passages:
(Matthew 12:24, 31-32 – NET) – 24 But when the Pharisees heard this they said, “He does not cast out demons except by the power of Beelzebul, the ruler of demons!”
31 For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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. (full context Matt 12:22-32)
(Mark 3:22, 28-30 – NET) – 22 The experts in the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and, “By the ruler of demons he casts out demons!”
28 I tell you the truth, people will be forgiven for all sins, even all the blasphemies they utter. 29 But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, but is guilty of an eternal sin” 30 (because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”). (full context Mark 3:22-30)
The religious leaders accused Jesus of being possessed by, and casting out demons by “Beelzebul, ruler of demons” (Satan). This was a very evil accusation, and Jesus identified it as “blasphemy against the Spirit” and “speaking against the Holy Spirit.” Jesus cast out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit, but these religious leaders identified the Spirit as “unclean,” as the “ruler of demons.” Jesus then revealed that this type of sin is “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,” which is an “eternal sin” that no one can ever be forgiven of. This is the unpardonable sin.
Many Bible teachers believe this is a sin that could only be committed in Jesus’ day, since it was witnessed and directed at Jesus Himself in person, as He was performing His miracles. However, I’m not convinced. I believe the Bible reveals otherwise. In fact, where Jesus says, “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” this could be interpreted to refer to this sin as being committed in the future (from His day and age) in “the age to come,” which would be the Church age of the New Covenant. I believe this is the most sensible way to understand it. Support for this position is the fact that no sin will be forgiven in the “age to come,” if Jesus is referring to after a person’s death (having committed this sin while alive). No sin will be forgiven after we’re dead and gone. Forgiveness comes in this life only.
Therefore, if someone today reads the gospels, reads of all the miracles Jesus performed (including casting out demons) and retorts, “I agree! If this man Jesus performed miracles and cast out demons, it was surely in the power of the devil that he did so,” how is that any different than what the religious leaders said of Jesus in their day? I don’t believe there is any—because likewise, those who reject Jesus today commit the same sin as those who rejected Him in His day. Also likewise, those who reject the teachings of Christ today, are guilty of the same sin as those who rejected His teachings in His day. So how is this situation any different? I don’t believe it is. Therefore, I must conclude that the unpardonable sin of “blasphemy against the Spirit” is still possible and still applicable today, as Jesus Himself indicates. However, it probably doesn’t happen much, as was probably the case in Jesus’ day, as well. In fact, this instance recorded for us in the Gospels may be the only time it happened.
There’s Only One Unpardonable Sin
There’s a difference between apostasy and “blasphemy against the Spirit.” In regard to the latter, Jesus revealed this as the sin of those who accused Jesus of casting out demons by the “ruler of demons.” They boldly declared that the power through whom Jesus cast out demons – which was through the power of the Holy Spirit – was actually the power of Satan. I believe this sin is the same sin that the Apostle John referred to in 1 John 5:16-17:
( 1 John 5:16-17) – 16 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death. (NET)
This could refer to physical life (physical healing). However, in context, since the Apostle John just talked about eternal life in the verses preceding this (1 Jn 5:11-13), I think “life” here should be understood in the same sense. Context is everything. Thus, I believe John is referring to eternal life for the person who does not commit a sin that results in death (spiritual death). Does this mean that everyone we pray for (who does not commit the “sin resulting in death”), will be saved? Is that what John is saying? The answer is obviously no, for we know not everyone will get saved. Not even Jesus prayed for everyone. If Jesus could pray for everyone to get saved, then I believe He would have done so—perhaps even for Judas Iscariot. But Jesus did not pray for everyone (as He says in His prayer to the Father in John 17:9), but only for those whom the Father had given to Him (also Jn 6:37,39,44; Jn 10:29), which the Bible refers to as “the elect,” those who are “chosen in Him before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).
So what is John saying then? I believe he must be saying that God will give eternal life to those whom we pray for who are among the elect, who cannot commit the unpardonable sin. Only the non-elect can commit such a sin, and it’s a sin that is observable. It has to be observable or else we wouldn’t be able to recognize it for what it is, in order to know not to pray for those individuals. So, in other words, he’s saying “don’t bother praying for them, they’ve committed the unpardonable sin.” Thus, he reveals that they are not among the chosen of God.
To elaborate, in regard to this “sin resulting in death,” it seems clear John has a specific sin in mind. As I’ve already stated, I believe this is the same sin that was committed by the Jewish religious leaders, which is “blasphemy against the Spirit,” which John was likely there to witness for himself. He had firsthand knowledge of it. On the other hand, it’s not likely John was referring to apostasy, since this is merely an extreme form of unbelief, which all who never come to faith in Christ are guilty of. Thus, apostasy is more of a state of being than a single act of sin, as in the case of blaspheme against the Spirit. That’s the difference between the two. Therefore, there are not two unpardonable sins—although, both are unpardonable.
However, while I think most cases of apostasy will be observable – as in the case of blasphemy against the Spirit – it may not be so apparent in some cases of apostasy, at least not as certain as it is with blasphemy against the Spirit—which is a very vocal and malicious statement against the Holy Spirit. However, in the case of apostasy, we may not always know exactly what a person believes, unless we have a detailed conversation about it. Also, I think it’s possible that some may keep it to themselves and simply depart quietly from church and Christianity, at least the true form of it. Also, as I talked about, while unbelief may be sin, it’s more of a state of being than a single act of sin. Thus, apostasy is more of a process toward final unbelief, than a single act of sin—as in the case of blasphemy against the Spirit. Again, that’s the difference between the two.
Particular Redemption and Sovereign Election
Since in both cases of apostasy and blasphemy against the Spirit, a line has been crossed that prevents people from coming to faith in Christ, it reveals that only the non-elect can be guilty of these. The elect, on the other hand, who were chosen in Christ for salvation from the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4; 2 Th 2:13), will surely come to faith in Christ, which means that it’s not possible for them to commit either one. Even if such a thing were possible for the elect, I believe the Holy Spirit would need to intervene before that ever happened. This should give peace to all true born again believers that it’s not possible for us to commit either one.
Furthermore, the fact that the blood of Christ covers all sins, and the fact that the elect can never be guilty of either one, proves or confirms particular redemption (limited atonement) and Sovereign election—that Jesus died only for certain individuals. Thus, the blood of Christ does, indeed, cover all sins, but only for all the sins of the elect. This is a strong case for particular redemption, because someone who has been chosen by God for salvation could never be guilty of these.
All through the Bible, particularly in the New Testament, we see that there are no sins that the blood of Christ does not cover. Therefore, if the blood of Christ covers all sins, then it must refer to those who cannot commit these offenses, which has to be who the Bible refers to as “the elect.” If all the elect receive forgiveness of all their sins – and they do – then the unpardonable sin and apostasy can only be committed by those who are not among the elect.
It must be noted that while we cannot ordinarily see or know who the elect are, both Jesus and the Apostle John (in 1 Jn 5:16-17) reveal that there is an observable and unpardonable sin that points to a non-elect person who commits such a sin—referring specifically to blasphemy against the Spirit. There will be no doubts when someone commits this sin. It will be blatant. In such a case, we know they are not among the elect. Those are the only people we know for sure not to be among the elect, and so John tells us that we’re not to bother praying for them, for it is not possible for them to be saved. They will not or cannot be brought to faith in Christ. When Jesus condemned those Jews who committed blasphemy against the Spirit, He knew they were not among His chosen.
To elaborate, if Christ died for every person who comes into the world, if the blood of Christ covers the sins of every person who comes into the world, and if salvation is available to every person who comes into the world (as Arminian theology teaches), how then can there be an unpardonable sin (even if it could only be committed in Jesus’ day, as many believe)? Furthermore, how can apostasy be possible (which is also unpardonable), if the blood of Christ covers all sins, as Scripture teaches? How do we explain the discrepancy between the fact the Bible teaches that there are no sins the blood of Christ doesn’t cover, and the fact the Bible also teaches that there is sin that the blood of Christ doesn’t cover? This is either a contradiction (which we know there is no contradiction of truth), or there is a valid way to explain this. Again, I believe the answer has to be that the blood of Christ that covers all sin must apply to a certain group of people, to certain individuals of whom it is impossible to commit these unpardonable offenses. Again, the Bible refers to them as the elect, the chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world (Eph 1:4). To them the blood of Christ covers all sins, them for whom He died. From my point of view, this is the only reasonable way to explain this discrepancy between these two biblical truths.
While I don’t believe the unpardonable sin of speaking blaspheme against the Holy Spirit occurs much, I do believe that apostasy is something that does occur a lot. If you’re on social media and follow a lot of Christians and Christian leaders and websites, you know that there have been many people – and some well known – who now claim not to believe anymore. That amounts to renouncing Christ. The possibility of turning away from the truths of Christianity is very real—and as I’ve explained, this has to do with those who were never truly converted, never truly saved, but rather, learned and embraced the truth of Christianty intellectually, but eventually decided it wasn’t the truth after all—and formed their own understanding, or adopted the understanding of someone else outside of mainline Chrisitianity. If we know of anyone like this, it’s a major reason for concern. This is a time for serious conversation with these individuals to find out for sure what they really believe now, and what they used to believe.