Some families have some weird rules about what is forgivable and what is unforgivable.
- Like whether the toilet paper goes over or under on the roll.
- Or whether the toothpaste tube should be squeezed in the middle (like it is by the barbarian I live and work with) or flattened up from the end, like a polite person should do.
- I once overheard a woman scream at her child from across a park, “You put that down! We are a Pepsi family!”
Knowing what’s forgivable and what’s not is how we stay in a family, or a group of friends, or a community. And usually, no one comes right out and says what’s unforgivable.
Usually we find that out that key piece of information right after we did whatever it happens to be.
But Jesus comes right out and tells us what the only thing is that we can’t do.
And it’s one of his teachings about the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 12:22-32 NRSV
Then they brought to him a demoniac who was blind and mute; and he cured him, so that the one who had been mute could speak and see. All the crowds were amazed and said, “Can this be the Son of David?”
But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons, that this fellow casts out the demons.”
He knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.
If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? If I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your own exorcists 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 to you.
Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property, without first tying up the strong man? Then indeed the house can be plundered.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
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.
Jesus says that Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit is Unforgivable Forever. Why is that?
It’s because of who the Holy Spirit is, and what he does.
In John 6:63, Jesus says, It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless.
I sure know that to be true. Anything good that has happened in my life is a miracle. As in, ultimately, I have no explanation for how I ended up here. If it all depended on me, my brain, and my own natural morality, I would not be anywhere good. As Jesus said, my flesh is useless.
And as a good Presbyterian, I believe that all of our flesh is useless! (Don’t you feel good now?) And not just ours, but everyones!
Every day it is a miracle that there is anything good in the world, and not just pure chaos. It’s all divine intervention in the lives of otherwise completely useless people.
Every good deed, every noble pursuit, every positive action, is because of the intervening power of God’s Holy Spirit.
People don’t have good ideas. God gives people inspiration.
People don’t want to work to make them happen. God gives people motivation.
People don’t want to see things through. God sustains people through.
And God is so good, and so giving, that God makes it all feel like they are all our good ideas, and our hard work.
But ultimately, it is all the workings of the Holy Spirit.
People don’t change unless God’s spirit works change in them. The Spirit is the one who helps us see where we’ve messed up. The Spirit is the one who brings us sorrow about it. And the Spirit is who gives us faith and the desire to do better.
The Holy Spirit is God Who Changes Us.
We believe that without the Holy Spirit, we couldn’t change. Without the Holy Spirit, we couldn’t believe. We are forgiven by God the Father, because of God the Son, through the power of God the Holy Spirit. And that power is really important! All the good things that happen in our lives that make forgiveness possible are all works of the Holy Spirit.
And that’s why Jesus is telling us in our scripture today that it’s possible for a person to be completely lost, completely beyond the pale, because all good things come from God the Holy Spirit, and apparently there comes a point where the Holy Spirit says “I’m out”.
So if you’re worried today, that maybe you accidentally committed the unforgivable sin years ago, don’t worry. Being worried about it shows that you didn’t do it. Christians can’t commit that kind of sin.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Christians can commit all kinds of sin, but what marks a Christian is they don’t settle in for the long haul. They hate it and repent from it. They feel bad about it and turn to God for fresh forgiveness.
Henry Alford wrote,
“It is not a particular species of sin which is here condemned, it is a definite act showing a state of sin, and that state a willful, determined opposition to the present power of the Holy Spirit; and this as shown by its fruit, blasphemy.”
So it’s not the individual actions, but the inner state that is the ultimate problem. The heart is the heart of the problem.
And while we like to say things today like “You can’t know what’s in someone’s heart” or “It’s the thought that counts”, Jesus teaches us many times that we can actually get a fairly accurate portrait of what’s in someone’s heart by just paying attention to what comes out of their mouths.
In Luke 6:45 Jesus says,
The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
And now, we’re ready to define blasphemy.
What is blasphemy?
We usually hear the word blasphemy used in a very religious way, right? When we use the word in English, it almost always means to speak about God, or something like that, right?
And that’s the way it is used about 2/3’s of the time in the New Testament. But the Bible doesn’t reserve the word for that. In the New Testament, the original greek word gets translated as blasphemy 12 times, and the same word is translated as something like slander around 6 times.
So there isn’t some special word for false words said about God, and another word for false words said about everyone else. Blasphemy is just false words said about someone.
And the word we use most often in English for that is slander. Slander is speech that besmirches another’s good name. It’s name calling, belittling, lies, …stuff like that. And as Jesus said, it’s not the words themselves that are the ultimate problem, but the heart that they flow out of that matters.
Now Jesus says that all kinds of blasphemy can be forgiven. Even blasphemy against God the Father and God the Son.
But he says that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shows that a person is so far gone that forgiveness just won’t work for them. It precludes forgiveness. It blocks people from ever getting the power in the first place.
Now since that is even a possibility for people, we need to learn to see it. Since Jesus tells us that there is a certain kind of hardness of heart that precludes the Holy Spirit from working in people, we need to develop an early detection system for it.
One way we can do this is by looking closely at the text this teaching comes from.
There is one way here that this creeps in to our hearts:
The Pharisees saw Jesus as their rival. Any win for him was a loss for them. So when they witnessed him do something good, they attributed it to something bad. When they saw him do something that only God could do, they said he must be in league with the devil. He did something helpful, so they twisted it in interpretation to fit some harmful conspiracy theory.
And when Jesus found out, he warns them that they are on very dangerous ground.
Jesus teaches them, and us, that confusing your rivals with your enemies can harden your heart really fast.
Giving even an inch to the enemy in order to hurt your rival doesn’t hurt your rival nearly as much as it hurts you.
And it hurts you most by blinding you to what’s good, and making you unable to speak the truth. When all you care about is beating your rivals no matter the cost, you end up on the side of evil.
The Holy Spirit isn’t interested in our rivalries! The Holy Spirit is trying to get us onto God’s side, not enlist God onto ours.
The Holy Spirit sees things that we can’t, and invites us, pushes us even to go places that we can’t see yet.
So we have seen that blasphemy is false words said about someone, and blasphemy against the holy spirit is a real problem. We also heard Jesus tell us that our words reflect the condition of our heart.
Which means the Holy Spirit, the very presence of God in the world, wants access to your heart.
The Holy Spirit of God can change more than your behavior. Being a Christian with the Spirit of God at work in your life is more than cleaning up your act. The Holy Spirit can work in your life, to transform your heart, your passion, your perspective to be less like the Pharisees and more like Jesus.
The Spirit will help you see and take on the sin in your life, will call you into bold and challenging work in the world, will bring to your lips the Scriptures that you need to hear when you need to hear them.
All you have to do is open your life to Jesus, and the Spirit will take it from there.
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins
More Readings on the Holy Spirit
- Matthew 12: 31-37, Mark 3:28-30, Luke 12:8-11
- John 15:26-27
- Matthew 10:19-20, Mark 13:11, Luke 12:11-12, John 14:26
- John 14: 15-26