“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemies against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – because they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.'” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Being forgiven is an amazing thing. There is freedom in that experience that is unlike anything else. In Christ, we have the assurance of forgiveness. There is this incredible hope in Him that we can be forgiven and made whole. We can be forgiven no matter what it is we’ve done. Right? Well, according to Jesus, no. Let’s spend a few minutes talking about one of the hardest things Jesus ever said.
The Pharisees and scribes were generally pretty committed to their unbelief. Now, not all of them were so hard-hearted as this group apparently was because Luke tells us in Acts 6:7 that many of them would eventually become followers of Jesus. That just goes to show you the power of the resurrection. But some of them were so committed. They were so committed that, as we talked about yesterday, when they could think about no other explanation for the kinds of things Jesus was doing, they finally attributed them to demonic means.
More to the point, they accused Jesus of being demonic. They looked at what was obviously the work of God’s Spirit–there was no other rational explanation for the things Jesus did as He explained to them in the previous couple of verses–and said, “Nope, that’s the work of the devil.” In other words, they were so committed to their position of unbelief that they called what was good evil.
This state of affairs prompted Jesus to give what is easily the most disturbing warning He gives in the whole of the Gospels. While most everybody will be forgiven most everything, there is one category of sin that won’t be forgiven: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Let’s just ask the obvious question here: What is this? Perhaps even more important: How can we be sure we don’t do it, whatever exactly it is?
Let’s start with the “what is it” question. What does it mean exactly that we blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? From a definitional standpoint, blasphemy is saying things about God that aren’t true or right. It is willfully conflating the sacred with the secular, but in such a way that reduces them both to the level of the secular. In other words, blasphemy is treating God like He’s not God. Not unexpectedly, He doesn’t take very kindly to that anymore than you enjoy being treated like you’re something less than you know yourself to be.
The tricky part here, though, is that Jesus starts out this little bit by saying that people will be forgiven “of whatever blasphemies they utter.” Then, He goes on to carve out this exception for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as if that is a separate category unto itself. What makes the Holy Spirit so special that He gets His own category? This becomes especially true when you consider the doctrine of the Trinity. If God is truly triune, then wouldn’t blaspheming the Holy Spirit be the same as blaspheming the Father or the Son? Do they just have thicker skin than He does? But it’s all the same skin so why should it matter? Do you see how complicated this can get? It’s no wonder people have struggled so much with what Jesus said here!
Let’s shift our focus, then, from the exact words Jesus used to the context in which He used them. As I said a minute ago, the scribes and the Pharisees were determined not to believe in Jesus. They were determinedly looking at things which were obviously from God and declaring them to be from Satan. This was blasphemy of the highest order. This was the same kind of hard-hearted blasphemy of which Pharaoh was guilty in the story of the Exodus. They were walking very close to the line–and indeed some of them had already crossed over it–over which there is no coming back. Grace can’t reach that far.
But wait! I thought grace could cover every sin!?! How can I be sure I don’t cross that line?!? Let me explain. Grace can cover every sin, and, no, I’m not contradicting myself. Grace can absolutely cover every sin we commit. There is no sin God is not willing to forgive. But, we have to actually repent and be willing to receive that forgiveness in order for it to do us any good. If we don’t repent, we don’t receive the forgiveness, and grace can’t get to us. This is not because God isn’t willing, but because we aren’t willing. That’s the key point here and I don’t want you to leave this blog not understanding that. There is a point at which a person has retreated so far into unbelief that his heart has become hardened to the point it is no longer capable of repentance and receiving the grace the Father longs to give through the Son by the ministry of the Spirit.
It is this persistent, incorrigible unbelief that qualifies as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That’s the sin that won’t be forgiven, again, not because God isn’t willing to give it, but because we become unable to receive it.
Okay, but how do I know when I’m getting close enough to that line that I’m in danger of crossing it? I mean, there are some sins I just keep going back to again and again. Does this put me in some kind of a red zone? Well, ongoing sin in the life of a professed follower of Jesus is certainly a serious problem, but that’s in an entirely different category from what Jesus is talking about here. Someone who is getting close to this line or who has even crossed it doesn’t think about it anymore. She doesn’t experience guilt for her sin anymore at all. There is no remorse. There is no repentance. And, before you start thinking that may not be so bad, there is no more life either. Hope, life, and purpose are all extinguished entirely. There is just existing meaninglessly until death’s embrace becomes permanent. Not a good state of affairs, yes?
The encouragement here, though, is this: If you’re still wondering whether or not you’re near the line, you aren’t. As long as there is a willingness in your heart to repent, there is a willingness in God’s heart to forgive. No matter what. Grace really is that big. If you’ve got sin in your life, then, that is dragging you down, make the move to repent of it and be done with it. You may need to get help from a trusted friend because it is something you can’t beat on your own and that’s okay. But no matter what it is, if you are ready to confess it and repent of it, God in Christ is ready to lavish grace on your life and make you whole in His sight once more. I hope that you will.