THE THREE GREATEST SINS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
11-4-90 8:15 a.m.
And the Lord no less wonderfully bless and sanctify the listening heart and ear of those who listen on radio. You are now a part of our precious First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Three Greatest Sins. In our preaching in the Gospel of Mark, we are in chapter 3, and I begin at verse 22:
And the scribes which came down from Jerusalem said, This Jesus hath Beelzebub, and by the prince of the devils casteth He out devils.
And the Lord replied, Verily I say unto you, All sins shall be forgiven unto the sons of men, and blasphemies wherewith soever they shall blaspheme:
But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation:
Because they said, He, Jesus, hath an unclean spirit.
[Mark 3:22, 28-30]
The three greatest sins – this first one, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord, beyond any way to describe it, was compassionate regarding the weaknesses of human nature, the sins of the flesh. It is a moving experience just to follow in the Bible the Lord’s response to human error and human weakness and human sin. The prodigal son: he wasted his substance in riotous living; there were no sins of the flesh in which he did not engage. But the Lord’s story is one of love and welcome and forgiveness – the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32].
In the fourth chapter of the Book of John, the Lord is speaking there to a Samaritan woman. She’s had five different husbands; and the man with whom she at present was living was not her husband [verse 18]. Yet the Lord in compassionate mercy spoke to that scarlet woman about the goodness of God and the way of salvation, and won her to the Lord [John 4:10-29].
One of the most unusual things you’ll ever run into in textual criticism of the Holy Scriptures is that story in the eighth chapter of the Book of John. It’s the story of the woman taken in adultery [John 8:3-11]. And whoever it was back yonder in the beginning thought it didn’t belong in the Bible and cut it out. But it was a story of the Lord Jesus; and they stuck it, somebody later on, right in the middle of where it doesn’t belong, between the seventh and the eighth chapters of the Gospel of John. But it is typical of our Lord in His spirit and attitude toward those that fall.
The story of Simon Peter cursing and denying the Lord, and while he was in that measure of transgression, the Book says the Lord turned and looked upon Peter. What kind of a look? "Peter went out and wept bitterly" [Luke 22:61-62]. It was a look of loving compassion, understanding, sympathy, and forgiveness. There’s no exception to that, not in the Bible. Our Lord’s attitude toward human weakness and human sin, the transgressions of the flesh, our Lord’s attitude was always one of deepest sympathy and compassionate forgiveness.
There’s another area, though, altogether different; and it concerns volitional rejection, sins of the spirit and of the inner man. And you see that in this text that I have just read, and in the other places corporate and companion it in the Bible – sins of the spirit, volitional rejection of God. The national leaders of Israel committed that sin, desperately so, damnationally so. Our Lord came before His people with the credentials of heaven: He was introduced by John the Baptist [John 1:1-34]; the wonderful words that He spoke, "Never a man spake like that Man" [John 7:46]; the marvelous miracles that He wrought; "It was never so seen in Israel" [Matthew 9:33]; the affirmation of God from heaven upon the mission of our Master and the ministry of our souls [Matthew 3:16-17]. But the leaders of Israel said, "His credentials are not from heaven, they are originated in hell." And they said He was in cahoots and a companion of Beelzebub, the prince of devils, Satan himself. And they said, "He is motivated by an unclean spirit" [Mark 3:22]. Never was a man’s work under such caustic and bitter view as the work of our Lord under the eyes of the leaders of the nation.
They hated Him from the beginning. And their reaction to His cleansing of the temple was as deep and bitter as life itself [Mark 11:15-18]. His every act created another instance of that antipathy. Whatever was done, they found fault with it. "Why is it that Your disciples don’t fast? [Matthew 9:14]. Why is it that You eat with unwashed hands? [Mark 7:5]. Why is it that You sit down with publicans and sinners? [Matthew 9:11]. And how is it that You heal on the Sabbath day? [Matthew 12:10]. And how is it You blaspheme, saying that You can forgive sins?" [Mark 2:7]. And it continued and continued, and finally their antipathy turned to such bitter hatred that they murdered Him [Mathew 27:32-50]. And the Lord God looked down from heaven and said, "It is enough. It is enough." When you reject God the Father, there is the pleading of God the Son. When you reject God the Son, there is the conviction of God the Holy Spirit. But when you reject the pleading of God the Holy Spirit, there is none other appeal. And the Lord God looked down and said, "It is enough."
"He that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness; he is in eternal damnation: Because they said, He hath an unclean spirit" [Mark 3:29-30]. And a few years after this in 70 AD, the nation was destroyed and carried into captivity, and scattered over the face of the earth. This is the sin of the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
The second greatest sin is likewise another facet of that same rejection. I read from the tenth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, beginning at verse 26:
For if we sin willfully –
the Greek construction is a present participle –
abiding, continuing in settled unbelief, yielding ourselves permanently to the rejection of the Spirit of God, if we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? For we know Him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto Me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge His people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God
For our God is a consuming fire
Dear Lord! Great God! That refrain that I have just read is found throughout Holy Scriptures; not just here, but again and again and again.
For example, in the sixth chapter of the Book of Genesis, God says, "My Spirit shall not always strive with man" [verse 3]; there’s a limit. It’s a strange thing: in the next chapter, chapter 7, the Bible says it was God that shut the door [verse 16]. I can imagine when that flood came and the waters began to rise, I can imagine people hammering on that door, "Let us in!" God shut the door. God shut the door. It’s an amazing thing to me, in the sacrificial system there was no provision for willful sin; there was no sacrifice for willful sin.
In the story of Saul, "The Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him" [1 Samuel 16:14]. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew, in the story of the ten virgins, the five virgins knocked at the door, and God had shut it; God did it [Matthew 25:10]. I don’t know of anything more awesome than this refrain in the first chapter of the Book of Romans, verse 24: "Wherefore God gave them up" [Romans 1:24]. In verse 26: "For this cause God gave them up" [Romans 1:26]. And in the next verse, God gave them up [Romans 1:28]. It’s a resounding, terrible note in a tragic song, melody: "God gave them up."
When we look at that, the Bible is no respecter of persons; the Bible speaks of every sin of humanity that you can think for [Acts 10:34]. There’s no sin that you can name that the Bible does not describe in the lives of His saints, of His people. Adam willfully transgressed and disobeyed [Genesis 3:1-6]; God saved him, God forgave him. Noah got drunk [Genesis 9:21] and was the occasion of one of the greatest condemnations to be found in human history; God forgave him. Abraham lied and lied and lied again [Genesis 12:12-13; 20:2]; God forgave him. Lot was covetous, moved toward Sodom [Genesis 13:10-11]; God forgave him and saved him. Moses was a murderer [Exodus 2:12]; God forgave him. Rahab was a harlot [Joshua 2:12]; God forgave her. David was an adulterer [2 Samuel 11:4]; God forgave him. Manasseh led the people into death and corruption [2 Kings 21:9]; God forgave him. As I have mentioned, Simon Peter cursed and denied the Lord [Matthew 26:74]; God forgave him. But there is one sin that God will not forgive. There is one sin that leads to eternal damnation, and that is the sin of the ultimate rejection of Christ our Lord [Mark 3:28-30].
When you touch Christianity, you are not introduced to, conditioned by, some kind of an intellectual sophistry. Christianity, the Christian faith is not a debate; it’s not a battle of words. Christianity is the judgment of Almighty God upon life here and hereafter. And oh! what an awesome decision is made when we face the presence of Christ in our lives. Out of it is either an anathema or a benediction. The Bible says that this gospel that your pastor is preaching is the savor of life unto life, or of death unto death [2 Corinthians 2:16]. Our Lord said it is a stone on which if a man stumbles, it will break him in pieces; or if it falls upon him it will crush him to powder [Matthew 21:44]. The gospel message of Christ is like a great electric power line: it brings life and light to the people, or it can be the source of immediate destruction and death, this sin of a willful rejection of Christ.
My father, my earthly father, was a believer in the unpardonable sin. And I so poignantly remember an instance that he would refer to again and again. We were in a revival meeting in the little town, in the little white crackerbox church that I attended as a boy. And the town marshal was named Charlie Step. And that particular night, in that particular revival meeting, in that particular service, in that one, the Holy Spirit of conviction came upon Charlie Step, and he wept and he cried during the invitation. And men in the church pled with him to accept the Lord. He refused. My father said to me, "He will never be moved again. He has committed the unpardonable sin, and he will never be saved." That made an impression upon me. And I followed the life of Charlie Step for so many years I can’t count them because of my father’s prophecy and prognostication that he will die in damnation and in hell; he has committed the unpardonable sin. And he died in that rejection, just as my father said.
I so well remember going to an old man in a service that I was pleading, preaching, begging, making invitation: and he replied to me every time I’d press him seemingly, "I cannot believe." He had grown insensitive. So many rejections he had become impervious to the appeal of the gospel. There is a line by us unseen that crosses every path; the hidden boundary between God’s mercy and God’s wrath. There is a line where if you step over it you will never be saved: you are eternally damned, the unpardonable sin. It is the most awful, awesome, tragic, horrible prospect that I know in human life; and it is committed everywhere. There are people world without end, no matter how you pray, or no matter what you say, or no matter what you do, they are like stone, they are like iron, they are unmoved: they are going to be lost forever and forever. O God, have mercy upon us!
The third greatest sin is in the passage that you read together this morning: "If any man see his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is sin unto death: I do not say you are to pray for it. All unrighteousness of course is sin: and there is sin not unto death. There is also sin unto death" [1 John 5:16-17]. What sin is that, the sin unto death? It is a sin that is committed by Christian people. "If anyone see his brother," a brother in Christ, a sister in Christ, "if you see a brother, a sister, in the Lord," this is a sin of the saints of God, it’s a sin of the Christian, "and it is not unto damnation, it is not unto hell," like the unpardonable sin, like the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, this is a sin of physical, earthly death.
Now I want to broaden that in my definition of that earthly judgment: the sin that a Christian can commit, and he is visited by the earthly judgment of death. It can mean death to his dreams. It can mean death to his hopes. It can mean death to his ministry. It can mean death to his influence. It can mean death to his life in this world. I do not know of a more poignant instance of that than these world famous TV evangelists. They have committed a sin unto death: they have lost, O God, how much! Jim Baker is even in the penitentiary, and others of them world without end – the sin of the Christian, a visitation of judgment from God.
The Bible speaks of that and illustrates that over and over again. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire unto the Lord; and the Lord sent judgment to consume them [Leviticus 10:1-2]. I think of God’s people going into cults, the New Age movement, all of these things offering strange fire unto the Lord. There’s a judgment from God that accompanies it.
I think of the story of that young prophet, in 1 Kings chapter 13, God sent him with a message, saying, "You are not to tarry, and you are not to break bread, you are to deliver My message and come back." After he delivered his message according to the Word of the Lord, an older prophet stopped him and said, "Come and break bread with me." And the young man said, "No, no, God has said I must not tarry. I must not break bread, I must return!" And the old prophet said, "But God has said to me you are to stop and to hesitate and to pause and to come and to break bread with me." And the young prophet listened to the old man prophet’s voice, and tarried, and broke bread with him. And God sent judgment; and he was slain in the way [1 Kings 13:11-28].
How many times do I see that? A young minister is called of God to deliver the Word of the Lord, and he listens to some professor or some preacher, and he turns aside from delivering the message of God; and he listens to that liberal or that unbeliever, and God judges him from heaven.
Take again – and I just, God help me, I sometimes read things in the Bible – "Let a man examine himself" – we’re having the Lord’s Supper tonight – "and let him eat of that bread and drink of that cup; for he that eateth and drinketh unworthily," not an adjective, it’s an adverb, "unworthy manner," in the way you do it, "He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, in an unworthy way, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For this cause there are among you those that are weak, and those that are sick, and some of you have died"; a judgment of God upon His people because of the way they dishonor our Lord in the Lord’s Supper [1 Corinthians 11:28-30]. That’s why you kids, when you come to church here, you’ll never see anytime, anywhere in this earth anybody ever take the Lord’s Supper as seriously, as reverently, as we do here in this church. God is honored when we do that, that way. And when we don’t, God says, "There are some who are sick, some who are weak, and there are some who have died because of the irreverent way in which they have observed My Holy Supper" [1 Corinthians 11:30]. And when you come to church tonight, and we have the Lord’s Supper, you will feel that holy awe and reverence before the table of the Lord.
I have to close. May I point to one other? These are the sins of God’s people.
In those days, when the number of the disciples were multiplied, there arose a murmuring against the people there who were not obeying the word of the Lord. And a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira, sold a possession, kept back part of the price, his wife privy to it, brought a certain part, laid it at the apostles’ feet. And Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, to keep back part of the price of the land? While it remained, was it not in your own? After it was sold, was it not in your power? Why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. And Ananias hearing these words fell down dead, gave up the ghost. And three hours later his wife came, and Peter said, Is this? And she said, Yes. And Peter said, How is it that you have agreed to lie to the Holy Spirit? The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, to carry thee out. And she fell down, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came, found her dead, and, carried her forth, and buried her by her husband.
O Lord! This thing of stealing from God, taking the part that belongs to God and using it for myself! – there is a judgment that comes with it.
And I haven’t time to expatiate on it, but that is the one common denominator that I see in all human life. Whether they are rich, whether they are poor, doesn’t make any difference: when we steal from God there is a judgment of the Lord upon that theft. And may the Lord deliver us from it, O God, O Lord.
Isn’t it wonderful to turn aside from those sins? "Lord, I believe in You and give my life to You. And Lord, I want to honor You with the strength of my days. And whatever You place in my hands, dear God, I’ll be faithful to You and ask God to honor and bless the dedication of my life and strength and gifts to Thee." It’s a wonderful thing to walk in the love and grace of the Lord.
Now Fred, we must sing us a song. And while we sing the hymn, to give your heart and life to Jesus, or to come into the fellowship of our dear church, so welcome this day, while we stand and while we sing.
THE THREE GREATEST SINS
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Mark 3:22, 28-30
I. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-30)
A. Compassion of Jesus toward sins of the flesh, human weakness (Luke 10, John 4, John 5:1-11, Matthew 26:24)
B. Volitional sins of the spirit, of the inward man, are sins of rejection
1. Seen in the sin of the leaders of Israel (John 7:46)
II. The unpardonable sin (Hebrews 10:26-31, 12:29)
A. Terrible truth taught throughout Scripture (Genesis 6:3, 5, 7:16, Numbers 15:27-31, 1 Samuel 16:14, Matthew 25:10, Romans 1:24, 26, 28)
B. Bible depicts sins of the saints
C. One sin brings eternal damnation: conscious, volitional rejection (2 Corinthians 2:16, Matthew 21:44)
1. Charlie Stepp
III. The sin unto death (1 John 5:16-17)
A. A sin of the child of God
B. Seen in Scripture (Leviticus 10:1-2, 1 Kings 13:11-26, 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, Acts 5:1-11)