Many Christians wonder whether God will forgive them for intentional sin – particularly premeditated and habitual sins. It’s easy to believe God will forgive us for accidental sins, but not for sins that we plan out in advance or choose to do over and over again.
So, will God forgive such sins? Before we answer that question we should be clear about what God thinks of these sins. He hates them because He hates all sin. Sin is contrary to His holy nature. Sin ruptures God’s relationship with us, and this grieves Him. He has given us the power to choose righteousness (Romans 6; 8:1-4), and yet we choose unrighteousness instead.
Back to our question. Will God forgiven intentional sin? If He won’t, then no sin would be forgiven because all sin is intentional. After all, sin is not something that just happens to us. We choose to sin. When faced with morally significant decisions, we either choose to obey God, or choose to disobey God. That’s not to say we don’t experience a moral conflict within us (Romans 7). While part of us desires to do good and not to sin, there is a part of us that desires to sin – and the part that desires to sin is stronger than the part of us that wants to do good. Neither is this to say that some sins require more intentionality than others. While some sins come more naturally and we commit them rather quickly (such as outbursts of anger during a heated disagreement), other sins require more planning (such as sexual sin, divorce, and murder). I think its these latter sins that concern us most. We feel more guilt and moral responsibility for sins we plan in advance that we do for more “spontaneous sins.”
So, will God forgive these intentional and habitual sins? Yes. After all, if Jesus instructed us to forgive our brother 490 times if he seeks forgiveness after each transgression (Mt 18:21-22), then surely He is willing to do at least as much. Scripture places no conditions on forgiveness, nor does it distinguish between forgivable and unforgivable sins. If we repent, God will forgive us (1 John 1:7,9).
The danger of intentional, premediated, habitual sin is not that God will stop forgiving us, but that we will stop seeking His forgiveness. Sin has a way of searing our conscience and killing our faith (Ps 14:1; Jn 3:19-21; Rom 1:18; 8:7; Eph 4:17-19; Col 1:21; Heb 3:12-14; 1 Tim 4:2). If we no longer feel guilty, we will no longer ask for forgiveness. And if our faith is being killed by habitual sin, then we will cease to be justified before God because only our faith in Christ can justify us.
While we should never turn God’s grace into a license to sin (Romans 6; Jude 4), His grace is available when we repent of our sin. We are on dangerous ground if we find ourselves planning both our sin and our repentance. Something is amiss in our Christian life if we are relying on God’s grace to cover intentional sin rather than allowing His grace to lead us to greater levels of holiness (Romans 6:14; Titus 2:11-12).
Some may appeal to Hebrews 10:26-27: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.” The context of this passage, however, makes it clear that the author is not referring to sin in general, but to the specific sin of apostasy. He was warning Jewish believers against abandoning Christ to return to the Mosaic Covenant.
The only exceptions to this are the unforgivable sin spoken of by Jesus and what John called the “sin unto death” (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:22-30; Luke 12:10; 1 John 5:16-17). The specific nature of either sin is not clear, but the unforgivable sin spoke of by Jesus is most likely not the kind of sin that a Christian could even commit (attributing the clear work of the Holy Spirit to the work of Satan). The “sin unto death” John spoke of is not clear. Scholars debate whether John thought this was a sin committable by Christians, or only by former Christians and non-believers who can rightly be described as anti-Christian. John may have in mind those former Christians who deny that Jesus is the Son of God. This is a sin to death because they are denying the only truth that can save them. It’s not so much that the sin is unpardonable, but that it will not be pardoned because the spiritual state of the one who committed is such that they will never seek forgiveness for it (they are apostates). Whatever John may have had in mind, he is not referring to the rank and file sins that followers of Christ commit.