The Sin Against the Holy Spirit
In our last study we mentioned different “classifications” of sin. The last, and most serious of those might be called “Forgivable and Unforgivable Sin.” Jesus Himself makes this distinction between certain sins: “Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). Jesus had just cast a demon out of a man, which had awed the people. In response, the Jewish leaders countered with the statement “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons” (Matthew 12:24). It is this statement that precipitates the above comment about blasphemy and warns against blaspheming against the Holy Spirit – a sin which is unforgivable.
What is Blasphemy?
In each of the parallel passages which speak about the sin against the Holy Spirit, Jesus uses the word “blasphemy”. Blasphemy is speaking evil about another, or more specifically, to speak evil about God. This was so serious that Old Testament Law required the death penalty for those committing blasphemy: “And whoever blasphemes the name of the LORD shall surely be put to death. All the congregation shall certainly stone him, the stranger as well as him who is born in the land. When he blasphemes the name of the LORD, he shall be put to death” (Leviticus 24:16).
Jesus was falsely accused of blasphemy when He forgave the sins of the paralyzed man (Mark 2:5-7) and when He proclaimed to be the Son of God (John 10:32-33 and Matthew 26:63-65), but the real blasphemy is what was done by the Jewish leaders (Luke 22:63-65), the people at the foot of the cross (Matthew 27:39), and the criminal crucified with Jesus (Luke 23:39).
Forgiveness in Jesus Christ
But with God there is forgiveness! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). When we confess our sins we are assured that we have forgiveness through the blood of Jesus Christ. “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Through Christ ALL our sins are washed away!
Jesus said: “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:31-32). People who blaspheme Jesus can and will be forgiven. What a tremendous assurance!
Consider the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. Matthew tells us that early in the day, even the criminals - both of them - reviled Jesus (Matthew 27:41-44). But later in the day, when one of the criminals repents of his earlier sin, we hear Jesus promise him: “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). How important it is to keep in mind that with God there is forgiveness for even the greatest of sins!
Why is this Sin Unforgivable?
With this promise of forgiveness for sin Jesus includes a warning to all people. We are warned of “speaking against” or “blaspheming against” (Mark 3:29, Luke 12:10) the Holy Spirit. The person committing this sin “never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation” (Mark 3:29). Why is this sin unforgivable? What makes this sin so much worse than other sins?
Scripture tells us that the work of the Holy Spirit is to bring people to faith and keep them in the faith. Paul says: “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). What makes this sin unforgivable is the fact that by committing this sin a person is rejecting the Person of God who brings us to faith and maintains our faith. Committing this sin makes repentance impossible because it is directed against the one whose responsibility it is to convict us of our sin and bring us to repentance. Speaking of the work of the Holy Spirit Jesus said: “And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Since the Holy Spirit’s purpose is to “convict us of sin” (John 16:8), “testify of Jesus” (John 15:26), and “teach us all things” (John 14:26), a rejection of Him and His work is unforgivable.
It must be remembered that we do not know when the sin against the Holy Spirit has been committed since we cannot see the heart. This becomes more clear when we consider of the lives and sins of God’s people recorded throughout both the Old and New Testaments. While Abraham, David, and even Saul (Paul) committed horrible sins and blasphemies against God, they did not commit the sin against the Holy Spirit since they were all brought to repentance by the LORD in the end. So while we should warn about the danger of the sin against the Holy Spirit, as human beings we cannot judge when this sin has been committed since only God “knows the heart” (Acts 15:8).
At times people who have heard or read about the sin against the Holy Spirit have come close to despair, believing that they have committed this unforgivable sin. Those who feel such grief over their sin can be sure that they have NOT committed this sin, because those who have rejected the working the Holy Spirit can have no remorse or guilt over their sin, nor will they be even the least bit concerned about their spiritual well-being!
In this Age or in the Age to Come
These words of Jesus resound with another message: the reason sin is so dangerous. The results of sin will certainly affect us here on this earth (see Romans 13:4). But the worst consequence of sin is an eternal one. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), Paul says. This is not simply referring to physical death, but more importantly, eternal death in hell! Some religions teach that hell does not exist. Others teach that the punishment of God is not an eternal punishment, but that those who reject God will be annihilated and simply cease to exist. These teachings weaken the force of the law by minimizing God’s condemnation of sin and our deserved reward for our sin. The result is that many people are taught that sin is not as serious as it really is!
But consider the Word of God in Scripture: We find that there are only two options for us after death - hell, perdition, and death – or salvation, redemption, and preservation from such a fate (Matthew 25:31-46). In addition there are many passages in the Bible which speak of the punishment in hell as without end for those who do not have faith in Jesus as their Savior from sin.
Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life“ (cf. Daniel 12:1-2).
Mark 3:29 “But he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation“ (cf. Mark 9:43-45).
Revelation 14:10-11 “He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
The eternal punishment of hell is consistently put in contrast to the eternal joy of heaven. Many try to belittle the coming judgment of hell or scoff at the reality of God’s judgment against sin. They seek to feel more comfortable with their own sin as they try to live however they please while here on earth. But wishing does not make it so! Their words do not change the reality of hell as it is described in Scripture! May the LORD preserve us from all sin and continue to lead us to repentance through the working of the Spirit!
Note: This study was prepared for the Bible Class at Zion Lutheran Church, Lawrenceville, GA by Pastor Nathanael Mayhew.
If you would like more information about this study,
please contact Pastor Mayhew