I’ll offer a dissenting view.
(I have several such posts percolating around the site--best way to find them is to navigate to a post on a hot topic and then scroll down for 10-15 minutes =) )
The narrow question - what is said in this passage
The passage from Mark is clear that we are expected to forgive everyone. The passage neither affirms nor denies the proposition that God forgives everyone.
The broader question - what we can derive from other passages
Jesus Himself indicates that not all sins will be forgiven:
but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be
forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.
So whether that means some people will be forgiven or very nearly all people will be forgiven, the option “all people will be forgiven” has been ruled out.
To be sure, I am not suggesting that God doesn’t offer forgiveness to everyone--rather, there will be those who do not accept it and therefore remain unforgiven and unchanged (or at the very least, not as changed as they might have been).
As ably demonstrated in other answers, the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was made for all people:
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but
also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
From what are we saved?
I propose that this subject is not one-dimensional. Let’s take 2 specific examples.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ will bring resurrection to all people--everyone, wicked or righteous, will be resurrected:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (1
28 Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that
are in the graves shall hear his voice,
29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the
resurrection of life; and they that have done devil, unto the
resurrection of damnation. (John 5:28-29)
As noted above, not all sins will be forgiven.
Peter explained the process that leads to accessing the power of God unto the remission of sins:
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in
the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall
receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)
Why would God condition forgiveness upon repentance?
- It is not because forgiveness can be earned
- It is not because God lacks power
- It is because God wants to transform people into more than they
already are. The things that are required of us (e.g. Matthew 7:21)
do not pay for salvation; their purpose is not transactional, but
2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what
we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like
him; for we shall see him as he is.
3 And every man that hath this
hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3)
I can’t speak for anybody else, but I’m not there yet--nowhere close. Nor will I ever be without the grace of God.
What then makes the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost unpardonable? This is as much a theological question as it is hermeneutical, but may I suggest that given that God desires salvation for all, what makes this sin unpardonable is not that it surpasses the power of Christ’s atonement, but that it is a line which, once crossed, the person will never return. God hasn’t cut that person off forever, that person has cut himself/herself off forever.
Why would God command us to forgive everyone if He will not?
His words to Samuel express it well:
the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward
appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7)
God can see the depths of a person's character that we cannot--thus forgiveness in the eternally efficacious sense of the word is His prerogative, and His alone. We do not know another person's heart, and as sinners ourselves are expected to be forgiving, leaving judgement to God.
After all, God is willing to forgive all people--then should not we be so as well?
Response to some specific passages
John 1:29 “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
This incredible offer of salvation has indeed been made to all the world--the implications of that statement are enormous--but God will not take away people’s sins against their will. He so completely respects people’s freedom to choose that He will let them reject His offer and choose to remain in sin. (so also Isaiah 53:6, John 3:16, Romans 5:15, Romans 11:32, 2 Cor. 5:18-19, 1 Tim 2:6, Titus 2:11, and 1 John 2:2 cited above)
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
God wants everyone to repent and accept His covenants--I don’t argue against that at all. Sadly, not everyone will. (so also Acts 17:30, 1 Tim 2:3-4)
Heb 2:9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
Jesus overcame physical death for all--see section “from what are we saved” above. (so also 2 Cor. 5:14)
John 12:32 “I [Jesus] … will draw all people to myself.”
Jesus will indeed draw all people unto Himself--at the resurrection all will be brought before Him to be judged (see John 5:22 & Revelation 20:12-15). That reunion will be wonderful for some and terrifying for others.
Rom 5:8, 10 “… while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. … if, while were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him by the death of His Son, …”
We do not have to attain perfection before accessing God’s grace (such a program would not work). So yes, while we are fallen, imperfect sinners, grace is offered to us. We are justified by Jesus Christ, not by our own merits--see discussion of grace below. (so also Romans 5:18)
May I respectfully offer what I have found to be a valuable hermeneutic principle? If we understand something said by Paul to contradict/overwrite something said by Jesus, 99 times out of 100 it is because we have misunderstood Paul.
23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ
Jesus: (Romans 3:23-24)
We are justified by the grace of God--we are given something we could never earn. I have argued elsewhere on the site that grace describes not a free lunch but a covenant. Grace is a gift, but a specific type of gift.
As discussed at greater length in the aforementioned post, “grace” from the Greek χάρις (“charis”) did not in Paul’s day describe a free lunch, it described a covenant relationship in which the stronger party gave something to the weaker party that could never be earned--but the weaker party cannot just take the gift and run--there are obligations associated with accepting the gift.
I submit that salvation--in the most complete sense of the word--does not come without those covenants of grace. God allows all to accept or reject His covenants.
My thoughts on grace are described cumulatively in much greater detail here and here.
God offers forgiveness and justification to all, but not all will accept it. But becoming clean from sin (as important as that is) alone is not enough--God’s program isn’t a reality tv show in which He watches people fall down and figure out how to get the help they need to get back up--He has something much greater in mind. God wants to transform us--everything He asks of us is not about earning our keep, but about what we are becoming through the process.
If we say that we want God to forgive us of our sins but allow us to continue along exactly as we were before, then we have entirely missed the point. Christ's atoning sacrifice is designed not only to make people clean, but to make them holy.