31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And 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. (Matthew 12:31-32- ESV)
Wifey has asked me to post something about these verses after they were discussed at a Bible Study she attended this morning. Dutifully, I am now doing so. My only problem is that, while I'm happy with my general understanding of this verses, I don't think I've plumbed the depths of it. Feel free, anyone, to add your own understandings in the comment section.
One thing I do know for sure, however: this is not talking about using the Spirit as a swear word! (Just thought I'd head that one off at the pass).
Jesus has healed a demon possessed man who was blind and mute. The Pharisees, unable to deny it, attribute the healing to the devil. “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” (verse 24). Jesus responds by asserting that the Devil wouldn't be throwing out his own demonic servants - Jesus is driving out demons by the Spirit of God.
Jesus contrasts "every sin and blasphemy" with "blasphemy against the Spirit" and "speak[ing]...against the Son of Man" with "speak[ing] against the Holy Spirit. In doing so, he sets up a distinction between blasphemy against different members of the Trinity - the Son and the Spirit.
Now, it's fashionable in Trinitarian discussions these days to emphasise the Oneness of the Trinity instead of the Threeness of the Trinity, but here is an example where some sort of difference must be considered. What is it that causes God to say forgiveness is withheld from those who blaspheme the Spirit, but the blaspheme against the Son is freely given?
First of all, it can't be that the Spirit is more sensitive than the other members of the Trinity as Benny Hinn has suggested in his book, Come, Holy Spirit (sorry Benny, not this time). In order for our understanding of the Trinity to be true to the Bible, there can be no difference between the makeup of members of the Trinity. They are all exactly the same.
But, they do have different roles. [Check out the Athanasian Creed for a statement about the Trinity].
So I don't drag this on, let me simply (far too simply) put it this way:
The Father is God.
The Son is God expressed.
The Spirit is God received.
Or try this:
The Father is the person.
The Son is the person's body.
The Spirit is the person communicated to you.
The Father is the mind.
The Son is the word.
The Spirit is the breath carrying the word to you.
In other words, God the Father reveals himself to us through God the Son (always, but finally in the humanity of Jesus), but it is the Spirit who reveals God to our hearts.
So, when the Pharisees refused to believe that the deliverance performed by Jesus was empowered by the Spirit, they refused to recognise that operation of the Spirit which was in part for their benefit. By doing so, they were in danger of two things:
1. Closing their heart to the operations of the Holy Spirit, and preventing themselves from receiving the revelation of Jesus Christ, so excluding themselves from salvation.
2. Angering God by their hard hearts and causing him to vow that they would never be forgiven.
Imagine if someone had heard about you and decided they didn't like you. That's not a nice thing, but most of us would decide they were operating out of ignorance and would happily forgive them.
Then perhaps they see you and observe you from a distance, and based on that decide that you weren't worth a breath of air. Very hurtful, but also borne of much ignorance and redeemable.
But suppose you pursued their friendship, they were getting to know you personally and despite that they flat out reject you and insult you, what would be your response? You would be hurt and angry, and maybe decide you weren't going to bother with that person anymore. You offered yourself and it wasn't good enough.
In the same way, people may hear about God the Father and speak against him or misrepresent him and even blaspheme him, and yet they will be forgiven. People may be aware of Jesus, read his Word and observe his people, and misunderstand, hate and blaspheme him - they too will be forgiven. But when the Holy Spirit starts to work on a person's heart and they reject and blaspheme him, where else is there to go? You have rejected the only means of any personal relational knowledge of God. There is no forgiveness.
Other Biblical examples:
The whole book of Hebrews contains similar warnings:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’” (Hebrews 3:7-11)
4 For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Hebrews 6:4-8)
26 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. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
Application for today:
Many people, including myself, have read these verses and been gripped with fear. "Have I blasphemed the Holy Spirit?" Even worse, like the kid who has been told not to stick his fingers in the power socket, the temptation to do something that is expressly and seriously forbidden becomes almost overpowering!
So how do we look at this issue and deal with that fear?
Well, one more illustration might be helpful...
The gospel of Matthew talks about divorce being forbidden except in the case of sexual immorality (Matthew 19:9). A lot can be said about that issue, but at it's heart, divorce is allowed where the oneness between husband and wife has been violated. In essence, each spouse has given themselves to the other, and then the cheating partner has turned around and rejected their spouse for someone else. God sees that violation of relationship as having broken the marriage, and so divorce is permitted to make the breakage permanent. BUT...
...divorce is not mandatory. A spouse who has been cheated on has the option to give up on the relationship or try to repair it.
When anyone seriously rejects the Holy Spirit, God, too, has the choice of making such a betrayal a reason for giving up on that person or to pursue them again. Our sin is not too big for God to deal with. He is not so sensitive that any little thing will put him off. And he is gracious enough to forgive even those sins we think he will never forgive us for.
So, how do we know what he's chosen? How do we know if we've committed the unforgiveable sin in his eyes?
If we never feel his Spirit drawing us to him again. If we never again feel convicted by sin. If we never again experience his grace, his mercy, his presence in our lives.
If we stop worrying about it after a time and merrily go on our way without the reality of Jesus in our lives at all. Billy Graham's father apparently believed for years that he'd committed the unforgiveable sin. He still went to Church and raised his children as Christians, but he himself was haunted by the fear that he was damned beyond all hope.
If someone cares for that long, it is very unlikely that they've committed this particular sin!
You see, most people who commit the unforgiveable sin don't know and don't care. In fact, if you are worried at all about having committed the unforgiveable sin, it is likely because his Spirit is still drawing you and he has not given up on you. Get people to pray with you - you need other Christians in this fight; confess that fear (unconfessed fear is a thousand times more powerful than confessed fear); plead with God to show you his favour; get into the Bible and force yourself to read the promises of salvation through Jesus. In the end, it will be God who reveals to you that you are not eternally damned, but sometimes you need to fight to get to that point where that revelation is made.
My fear came when I was about 15 after I read Hebrews 10:26:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins
My problem was that I sinned deliberately. I consciously did what I knew was wrong before God in a myriad of little ways. And all the reasoning in the world could not convince me that Hebrews 10:26 didn't mean what it said.
So what did I do?
Well, I didn't go to other Christians, because I didn't believe they'd be able to help me. Big mistake! Instead, I first tried to bargain with God. "Lord, if I do one good turn a day for the rest of my life, will you let me into heaven? I don't need to be your son, I could be a doorkeeper, a servant."
Then, I tried to find an explanation of that verse that let me off the hook. I wouldn't let myself believe any of them.
Then I tried to reason that everyone sins deliberately, so the verse couldn't be referring to the deliberate sins I committed, or no one would be saved. That gave me some hope, but the problem was that after reading that verse and knowing the terrible consequences of deliberate sin, I still went ahead and sinned deliberately. If I wasn't in trouble before, I was now!
So what helped me?
Well, I shared it with others.
At first they were only a very little help. They trotted out the line that "if you're worried that you have committed the unforgiveable sin, you probably haven't". That is very true, but they said, "probably". Maybe I was like Judas who was so worried about it, he committed suicide. (That option did cross my mind!).
I approached a couple of other Christians. They prayed for me, but the breakthrough only came when one Christian I knew pointed out that Hebrews 6:4-8 (which by then I equated with Hebrews 10:26-31) contains these words:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have...fallen away, to restore them again to repentance... (Hebrews 6:4, 6)
"Can you repent?" he asked.
"Yes, I think so," I replied.
"Then you haven't committed the unforgivable sin," he said.
A ray of light burst through. Unlike Esau, I could repent! I wanted to repent. And slowly the despair lifted.
I say slowly, because even though that was the death-blow, the animal took a bit of time to die. Whenever I came across something that might speak about the unforgiveable sin, I would check out what they said in order to confirm that I was okay. But the fact that I wanted to and could repent brought me back to the realisation that, even if I didn't quite understand Hebrews 10 or Hebrews 6 or Jesus' discussion about the unforgiveable sin in the gospels, I knew I was okay.
God had not given up on me. His Spirit was still working in my life.
If you fear you have committed the unforgivable sin, talk to others. Don't suffer in silence. And hopefully some of what is written here may help you.
(Written originally in 2009)