Do you remember the days you were a kid? Most people would say that was it the best time in their life. They will reminisce about childhood as the time when life was filled with sheer unadulterated joy. Dreaming of great adventure, waiting for Santa to bring you presents, playing outside with the neighbors, and thinking of all the cool places you would go in the future. It seems that we had no responsibilities, nothing serious to think about and no worries. There were no fears; it was just fun and games… right?
When I was still in elementary school, an overzealous Sunday school teacher (who I hope did a good job handling other bible passages) taught us a lesson from Matthew 12:31-32. I dont exactly remember the intricacies of the lesson or the illustrations she used, all that I remember was understanding that there is a sin which can never be forgiven: blaspheming the Holy Spirit. I went home that day being certain that were I to say a bad word about the Holy Spirit, whether aloud or just think it, I would never be forgiven.
It was a one way ticket to hell, and there was no return. “No forgiveness for all of eternity,” she said.
For weeks I struggled with myself reviewing every possible scenario, thinking “what if I say this or that?” It appears that the harder you try to avoid thinking a bad phrase, the more it permeates your mind. The very things I did not want to say began to preoccupy my thoughts, tempting me, beckoning me. I would struggle day after day to keep my mind on something… on anything else; because my eternal destiny was at stake. Nights were the worst. As I would lie in bed and contemplate my life, and if I was good enough for Jesus to love me… then some wicked phrase would appear, as if taunting me. Some nights I would resort to reading a book others I would have to get more creative. In my family watching TV was not considered to be the best way to spend time, yet in spite of the punishment for being caught, when I would start to think about the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, I would quickly sneak downstairs at 1am and watch TV (on mute) just to make sure my mind would not lead me to commit the unpardonable sin and become damned for all eternity.
I lived in constant fear. During the day you would see me laughing and smiling, yet at night, when the my heart was the only thing I could hear in the eerie stillness of the night, a terrible panic would besiege me. I felt as if I were a spider, being dangled over the pits of a fiery hell waiting to engulf me. And I thought my mind and willpower were the only things that held me from irreversible weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Turns out that was actually Jesus that was preventing me from falling in.)
At one point, I dont remember where or why, my will power failed me, and while I loved Jesus and the Holy Spirit, my brain thought about saying something bad about the Holy Spirit. I slipped. I followed the thought of a “what if I say this” with an actual bad statement. I didn’t mean it all all yet I knew had failed.
“.Im going to hell! There is nothing that can save me now” I silently cried to myself to sleep. My pillow was wet that night. For a whole week I dragged myself around, depressed and swimming in a sea of utter despair and hopelessness. At that point the only reason I didn’t want to die was because of the irrevocable misery and pain which surely awaited me. Eventually my dad saw me and asked what the problem was… through tears I told him I had committed the unpardonable sin and was going to hell because Jesus wasn’t going to forgive me. And the saddest thing, I told him, was that I loved Jesus and didn’t even mean what I said with my thoughts. Slowly my dad explained to me that it was just a temptation and if I didn’t mean to think it, I was still saved. Those were probably the happiest words I had ever heard. I had obtained salvation again! Do you know whats its like to be sure you are going to hell and then receive news of your freedom from that destiny? It is more joyous than anything one can imagine!
Dealing with the Passage
Unfortunately my Sunday school teacher was terribly wrong when she said all it takes for a person to irreversibly lose salvation was to say a blasphemous word against the Holy Spirit. It was not the devil that planted those thoughts in my head, it was her incorrect teaching. Yet I dont want to blame her, I want to explain the passage to others that they may benefit from my story. I know and have heard of many poor souls who were likewise tortured by these thoughts.
1. The Context
So what is this passage about? If we look at the verses prior to understand the context in which Jesus said this, we run into an interesting story. Jesus cast out a demon from a tormented man and when the pharisees heard of this they said “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
They accused Jesus of being Satan! They accused the power of the Holy Spirit of being the power of Beelzebul, the devil. In responce to this Jesus, knowing their thoughts, began to teach them, culminating in the passage about blasphemy about the Holy Spirit not being forgiven. They key thing to understand here is that the blasphemy Jesus spoke of was not merely saying a bad word about the Holy Spirit, but considering the works of the Holy Spirit to be the works of the Devil! It was rejecting the Holy Spirit.
However, every single unbeliever is now committing the sin of rejection. Every single believer has at times rejected the works and Personhood of the Father, Son, and Spirit. The sinners natural state is to resist and blaspheme God, how then can this be the unpardonable sin? There are surely many sinners who rejected Father, Son, Spirit and are now under tender care in His flock. Christ said in Mat 12:31 that every kind of sin is forgivable, and that is the very message of our Gospel.
2. Why the Holy Spirit, and not Jesus?
Now to make things even more confusing, Jesus also said that blasphemy against the Son, is forgivable, but it is specifically that which is about the Holy Spirit which is not.
What do we make of this? Father, Son, Spirit are in a Holy Unity. God is a trinity and all three Persons are equally holy. I have heard it preached that the Holy Spirit is more easy to offend and is unforgiving , but that in itself is nearly blasphemy, for the Holy Spirit is God. Many commentators and theologians agree that the issue lies not in the horrific nature of the sin or the greater sanctity of the Holy Spirit, but the illuminated state of the human being ultimately rejecting the Holy Spirit.
Jesus said that blasphemy against himself will be forgiven (and that is glorious for even his disciples struggled with understanding who he was.) Jesus on the earth was in a veiled state to many. People saw him and talked to him. They may have spoken ill and blasphemed but they did so ignorantly, not knowing he was the Son of God. They did so with their eyes closed (1 Ti 1:13). All sinners do this, and Jesus forgives and redeems.
To blaspheme the Holy Spirit one must do so in knowledge of his glory, in full hateful rejection after knowing who He is. The bible says the Holy Spirit is sent to convict us and to bring us to the Father. To reject the Spirit who is doing works that are clear and not attributable to anyone/anything else (ie. casting out demons) is a terrible type of rejection. If a human soul has seen the works of the Holy Spirit it their fullness, has had the truth illuminated, yet consciously rejects that which has been opened to it, that is a sad thing. The pharisees saw Jesus cast a demon out. Jesus reminded them satan would not fight against himself. Satan wouldn’t cast out demons for he places them in people. A house divided falls. Yet the pharisees, those who studied the Holy Spirit their whole lives, seeing Him work, against all logic and emotion, in the coldness of their evil hearts rejected Gods most intimate call to them. If they rejected this, in the evil of their hearts they would surely resist every other invitation. And that is not forgivable, for to be forgiven they must accept the Spirit, not reject Him.
In the following verse Jesus confirms this by saying: “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil.”
3. Have you committed the unpardonable sin?
If you believe in Jesus, no you have not. In fact, if you believe in Jesus, you CANNOT.
Unless you ultimately, finally, conclusively, irreversibly, consciously reject Jesus as Saviour of the world and also the personal and intimate work of the Holy Spirit in your life, you have not committed this sin. And indeed only those who die rejecting and blaspheming every attempt of the Holy Spirit to convict them (John 16:8) lead them (Rom. 8:14) and witness of the Father (John 15:26) will be guilty of the unforgivable sin. And how shall one be forgiven except that they receive forgiveness through accepting the work of the Holy Spirit, for it is He who seals us for salvation (2 Cor 1:22)
I shall leave you with the words of Matthew Henry “Here is a gracious assurance of the pardon of all sin upon gospel terms. Christ herein has set an example to the sons of men, to be ready to forgive words spoken against them. But humble and conscientious believers, at times are tempted to think they have committed the unpardonable sin, while those who have come the nearest to it, seldom have any fear about it. We may be sure that those who indeed repent and believe the gospel, have not committed this sin, or any other of the same kind; for repentance and faith are the special gifts of God, which he would not bestow on any man, if he were determined never to pardon him; and those who fear they have committed this sin, give a good sign that they have not. The trembling, contrite sinner, has the witness in himself that this is not his case.”