Monday, March 11, 2019

Anonymous Asks (30)

“Is the unforgivable sin knowing the Holy Spirit and accepting his existence and then opposing him, or is it having Satan in you without you knowing about it and then claiming it’s the Holy Spirit, and vice versa?”

Well, that’s quite a mouthful. Let’s try to unpack that.

There are a couple of things about this question that show the person who asked it is at very least headed in the right direction in his thinking. For instance, he grasps that the unforgivable sin is closely related to the person of the Holy Spirit. That is definitely true.

The Passages in Question

Let’s have a quick look at the three passages in scripture that speak of a sin that will not be forgiven:
Matthew: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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.”

Mark: “ ‘Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’ — for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ ”

Luke: “[E]veryone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.”
The first thing we notice about the unforgivable sin (or the “eternal sin”, as Mark has it) is that it is a speaking sin. It is a sin you commit with your mouth. It is not a thing you do with your body or a thing you do in your heart, but something you say. It’s blasphemy — that’s the other word that’s used here. It is certainly true that you first have to have a blasphemous thought before it can become a blasphemous utterance, but someone might have all kinds of very wrong ideas about the Holy Spirit and his work and not have committed the unforgivable sin. Entertaining evil thoughts — even evil thoughts about God — is not the sin we are speaking about here.

No and No

So, strictly speaking, the answer to our questioner is No and No. “Knowing” and “accepting” are not the issue; it’s what a person says that matters here. Look at Mark. He actually tells us why Jesus made this statement about the unforgivable sin: “… for they were saying, ‘He has an unclean spirit.’ ” Moreover, the Matthew quote begins with the word “Therefore”, which again tells us that there was a reason Jesus made this statement. Here is the reason: “But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.’ ” In both cases, it is what the Jewish religious leaders said about the Holy Spirit that got them in trouble.

Now, notice the scribes and Pharisees were not at all thinking about the Holy Spirit when they blasphemed against him. They didn’t even use his name. Perhaps, like some theologians today, there were Pharisees who debated whether the Holy Spirit was a person or a force, and maybe even Pharisees who denied the Holy Spirit exists at all. We don’t know. What they were actually doing when they put themselves in danger of committing the unforgivable sin was commenting on the fact that Jesus (and even his disciples) were driving out evil spirits from men and women possessed by them.

In the case of the Pharisees, the catalyst for their blasphemy was a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute. He couldn’t see, he couldn’t speak, and everyone knew it. So it was a doubly powerful testimony to God’s power when Jesus healed him, because his physical disabilities were healed as well. And when he suddenly started speaking and demonstrating that he had his sight, I’m not sure what Jesus could possibly have done to provide more convincing evidence that the Holy Spirit of God was working through him to restore health and life and sanity to people in need of these things. God was making a statement about his Son, and he expected it to be heard.

The Prince of Demons

But what did the Pharisees say? “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” “He has an unclean spirit.” That doesn’t even make sense, and Jesus pointed that out:
“Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”
But the Pharisees and scribes hated Jesus so passionately that they abandoned all pretense of intellectual or spiritual coherence and uttered complete nonsense. And blasphemy. They attributed the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan himself. Basically, they called the Holy Spirit “Beelzebul, the prince of demons”. So even though they were not thinking about the Holy Spirit or using his name, Jesus rightly singled out where the real offense was. It was not so much against himself personally (“whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven”) but against the Spirit of God (“but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”).

The Unforgivable Sin

This is the “unforgivable sin”. It is witnessing a miracle performed by the Son of God in the power of the Holy Spirit of God and blaspheming by verbally and publicly attributing the act to God’s arch-enemy.

Why was their sin so unforgivable? Well, think about this: they had seen every bit of supernatural evidence that Jesus was speaking and acting in the authority of his Father that could possibly be shown them, and still they had not believed. Worse, they were not just unconvinced — not merely agnostic about Jesus, his work, and his relationship to God — but they were actively and publicly hostile, trying to turn others away from following him with every possible argument they could muster, including crazy arguments. If you have been shown every possible bit of evidence God can possibly show you and still rejected it all, well, how can you ever be convinced? You remain outside the grace of God by deliberate, willful choice. There is nowhere else for you to go.

And your sin remains unforgiven.

Every Sin and Blasphemy

By the way, when Jesus said “whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come,” I do not believe he was saying that the unforgivable sin could be committed in the “age to come”. It cannot. I believe he was saying that an unforgivable sin committed in his day could not be forgiven even though ages passed. We know this because in the parallel passage in Mark, he calls it an “eternal sin”.

So you couldn’t commit the unforgivable sin today even if you wanted to. It’s impossible. You’d need the Lord Jesus present. You’d need a miracle performed. And then you’d have to do something as spectacularly blind and crazy as these Pharisees and scribes and dare to speak out against it in public.

There are all kinds of sins you and I might commit. Some of them are truly terrible. But by the amazing grace of God, “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.”

Now, men and women can certainly reject Christ. That’s up to them. And rejecting God’s Son leaves the sinner in a lost and hellbound state. All this is true.

But you can’t commit the “unforgivable sin”. Not anymore.


  1. I didn't quite follow your reasoning. Since the Holy Ghost does not go on vacation (I assume) anyone in any time period can speak against him, No? Did you mean to imply that only speaking against the Holy Ghost in the triune material manifestation of Jesus Christ was a problem for people?