The Question Box tonight deals with the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, as stated by Jesus in Matthew 12:31-32 and Mark 3:28-29. Jesus said, “I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Mt. 12:31-32).
The question I received asks of this, first, what is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and, second, is it possible for this unforgivable sin to be committed today and if so, can Christians commit it?
The best way to answer this is by appealing to the passages in question, which take place during one of Jesus’ confrontations with the Pharisees. The point of contention was Jesus’ healing of a man in the synagogue on the Sabbath. With the Pharisees watching, Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” (Mt. 12:10), and then immediately healed the man’s hand. Instead of repenting and believing, the Pharisees were infuriated; it was at this point that they begin plotting Jesus’ murder, in the meantime resolving to oppose him in any way. Seeing that many of the people were believing on Jesus, saying, “Could this be the Son of David?” they spoke out to smear his ministry. They rebutted the miracle, saying, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons” (Mt. 12:24).
It is that last remark that especially drew Jesus’ ire and prompted his statement regarding blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. To understand the distinction being made by our Lord we need to consider what was happening. It was not merely that the Pharisees heard Jesus’ preaching and denied his gospel. That would have been, as he said, speaking “against the Son of Man” (v. 31). But here they not only heard Jesus’ claims about himself, but they also received clear validation of those claims through the power of the Holy Spirit, via the miracle Jesus performed. Instead of believing, they attributed to the devil what was the work of Christ through the Holy Spirit. They said, “He has an evil spirit” (Mk. 3:30). So hardened were their hearts, that even knowing the miracle was of the holy God they ascribed it to the Evil One, knowing it was true they nonetheless insisted it was false. That is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, willfully and intentionally refusing to submit to God and his Word.
Can this sin be committed today? I think the answer is surely, “Yes.” People blaspheme against the Holy Spirit when persuaded by the Holy Spirit’s power of the truth of the Gospel and Christ’s claim to be God’s Son and our Savior they nonetheless reject it. D. A. Carson says such people are “thoughtfully, willfully, and self-consciously rejecting the work of the Spirit.”1 Their blasphemy is to deny the Spirit’s testimony and to knowingly ascribe it to some other (usually evil) source.
Why is this sin “unforgivable?” Jesus said, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Mt. 12:31). God is not unwilling to forgive. God gave his Son to die for our sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, because of his boundless grace. What makes this sin unforgivable is the offender’s unwillingness to repent and believe. Their hardened attitude is shown by “their determination to reject any proof for Jesus’ divine mission, to the extent that they even attribute God’s attestation of Jesus to the devil.”2 Jesus’ words on this matter assure us that such intentional and blasphemous rejection of the Gospel can render the heart no longer capable of repentance and leave the sinners like these Pharisees beyond forgiveness.3
That leaves one question, namely, should Christians fear that they have or may yet commit the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Perhaps you said something long ago that haunts you because of its blasphemous nature. Perhaps, knowing that you are vulnerable in this regard, the devil insinuates blasphemous thoughts in your mind and perhaps even puts them on your tongue? Are you, then, guilty of this unforgivable sin, or might you be?
The answer is that, by definition, no true Christian can have committed the unforgivable sin. Jesus promised, in John 6:40, “Everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” In fact, let me assure you that if you are worried that you may have committed the unforgivable sin that is strong testimony that you have not; if your heart were hardened enough to commit the sin you would no longer be concerned about your eternal state. Instead of pleading to Jesus you, like the Pharisees, would be plotting harm to his kingdom. If you believe and confess in your heart that Jesus is Lord and Savior, then you have accepted the Spirit’s testimony and by definition have not blasphemed against it.
Regardless of blasphemous words that have fallen from your lips, on your own or at the devil’s behest, if you have believed and turned to Christ then you have not committed this sin that is revealed through unbelief and hatred for Christ. The limited character of this unforgivable sin is revealed by the fact that even Simon Peter, who denied the Lord with curses on the night of his arrest, was brought to repentance and was restored by the mercy of the Lord. If you, like Peter, have sometime denied Christ out of weakness and sin, but not with hardhearted blasphemy, then like him you are qualified to speak about Jesus’ mercy and grace that offers forgiveness to sinners.
Let me say a final word to any here who are attending church, perhaps dabbling in spirituality, but have not yet accepted the Spirit’s testimony that Jesus is Savior and Lord. You are in a precarious situation and should be very concerned by this matter of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Do you realize the truth of Christ and his Gospel. Then turn to him without delay, lest your heart should be hardened by blasphemy and unbelief. If that is your situation, let me exhort you that “now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). You can know that you have not and will not commit the unforgivable sin by confessing your sin and turning to Christ in faith. 1 John 1:9 assures, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”
1 D.A. Carson, Matthew, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 10:292.
2 Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999), 366.
3 In my judgment, this very much parallels the point of the writer of Hebrews in Heb. 6:4-6, where people are “enlightened” through their direct knowledge of the power of Christianity and the truth of the gospel, yet stop short of believing and then turn away, and thus are not able to be brought back to repentance because of the hardening effects of their rejection.
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