Thursday, October 7, 2010
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the Unforgivable Sin:
Q: What is the “sin against the Holy Spirit,” found in Matthew 12:31-32, that God will not forgive?
In Matthew 12:31-32, Jesus says, ”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.” (ESV)
These words of Jesus have been the source of a great deal of speculation on the part of Bible teachers as well as a source of fear and guilt for many Christians over the years since they were spoken. Many people fear that they may have committed this “unforgivable sin,” and therefore are eternally lost. Other people live their lives in fear of committing this sin, and Bible teachers throughout the ages have either tried to explain it away or magnify its importance. However, a closer look at these words of Jesus, as well as the context in which they were spoken reveals the true nature of Jesus’ warning.
In the Bible, the words “blaspheme” and “blasphemy” are a reference to the act of speaking evil about God. This occurs elsewhere in Scripture when people portray God falsely, either by their words or their actions. In the context of these verses, Jesus is responding to an accusation from the Pharisees that when He casts out demons, He is not casting them out by the power of the Holy Spirit, but instead by satanic power.
It does seem unusual that Jesus does not address their accusations against Him, but instead responds by criticizing their treatment of the Holy Spirit. In the Scriptures, though, the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit always go together. When Jesus was Baptized by John, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit descended upon Him and remained there (Matthew 3). All of the work that Jesus did in the Gospels was done along with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, Jesus instructs His disciples (John 14-16) that after He ascends into heaven, the Holy Spirit’s work will focus on reminding people of Jesus’ words and actions during His earthly life.
Since the work of Jesus and the Holy Spirit are so closely tied together, to blaspheme one is to blaspheme the other. Especially in this case, when they accuse Jesus of working miracles by powers that are spiritually evil, to speak evil about Jesus is also a direct accusation against the Holy Spirit who works with Him.
While in Matthew, we see the chain of events during which Jesus said these words, Luke includes these words in a list of other sayings of Jesus rather than within the story during which they were originally spoken. The preceding sayings in Luke 12 deal with unbelief and rejecting Jesus, giving us a clue that this saying is likely to be dealing with the same theme.
The rest of the Bible continually speaks of the fact that every sin can be forgiven by those who trust in Jesus. In fact, the only sin that the remainder of the New Testament ever mentions as the cause of a person being condemned to eternal punishment is that of rejecting Jesus death as the payment for sin.
When we take all of this evidence into account, it appears that the sin against the Holy Spirit that is unforgivable is that of being confronted with the truth about Jesus and rejecting Him in spite of the evidence. This unforgivable sin is not simple unbelief by one who is uninformed or unfamiliar with the truth about Jesus. Instead, it is the willful rejection of Jesus when one has been confronted with the truth of who He is and what He claims about Himself.
In commenting on these verses, Martin Luther summarizes their meaning by saying, “This is the great and unforgivable sin, when someone resists God’s Word and work. Other sins are easily recognized and have a form, but this one, with which one dashes against God, is not recognized and is therefore unforgivable.” “There is no grater sin than not to believe this article of ‘the forgiveness of sins’ which we pray daily in the Creed. And this sin is called the sin against the Holy Spirit. It strengthens all other sins and makes them forever unforgivable.”
The consistent testimony of the Bible is that for those who trust in Jesus all sins are forgiven, but for those who reject Him, no sin is forgiven.