I recently wrote about the question “Have I committed the unforgivable sin.” We’ve been working through Mark’s Gospel at our church and I preached on chapter 3 where the topic comes up when Jesus talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In that section, Jesus says:
28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
In my sermon, I talked about how the religious leaders had so hardened their hearts that they were convinced that good was evil and evil was good. This led to some lively discussion in our life group. Wasn’t it the case that others in the Bible had ended up doing the same? What about the apostle Paul, didn’t his persecution of the church fall into the same category? Can’t we all find ourselves in a situation where we end up doing the same? We try to resist God.
It’s worth going back both to the context of the verses and to the detail of them to get a bit more understanding of what Jesus was saying and why he was saying it. First of all, as one of our elders pointed out in the discussion, we can spend a lot of time on verse 29 but it comes together with verse 28. The first thing Jesus says is “all sins will be forgiven … and whatever blasphemies.” The “unforgivable sin” needs to be understood in the context of Jesus’ ability and desire to forgive. We must keep his great love and mercy in focus.
Secondly, the context is that Jesus is directing his words to the religious leaders. Here were men who had a great knowledge of God’s Word, who had responsibility for the spiritual care of others and most importantly were facing Jesus directly as he revealed himself in person. What were they doing? When encountering the living, incarnate Son of God and seeing the power of the Holy Spirit at work in him, they chose to reject him and say that it wasn’t the Holy Spirit but an evil spirit.
So, consider two things here. First, that others such as Paul were resisting and rebelling, that was prior to such a direct encounter. When Paul did meet the risen Lord Jesus face to face on the Damascus Road, he repented. Second, see that even at this point, Jesus isn’t condemning, he’s warning. He’s saying “You are treading every near the edge. Be careful.”
Now, another helpful thing to consider is “What do we mean by unforgivable/ not forgiven? I think we can take that one of two ways. The way we tend to read it is that on judgement day God will say something along the lines of:
“I sent my son to die for your sins but when we planned calvary, we really didn’t expect you to go that far. You’ve outdone yourself and now you’ve been so naughty that I cannot forgive you this one.”
Yet, we know that such thinking simply doesn’t fit with the message of the Cross and the amazing power of Jesus to forgive. In fact, it would suggest a weakness in God. To help us think this through, I used the example of a Doctor’s surgery. The Doctor may say “I’m so sorry but your illness is incurable. You are going to die.” Or he may say “Your sickness is so serious that if you keep refusing to take the medicine it will be incurable and you will die.” In the latter example, the point is not that there is nothing that can be done about the disease but rather that the patient is refusing the very means by which they can be helped and healed.
So, it is worth remembering that the very work of the Holy Spirit is to bring life, healing and forgiveness. The technical term for this is “Regeneration.” So, if we despise and refuse the Holy Spirit, it’s not so much that this is a particularly egregious thing to do but more that we are refusing the very means of our salvation like refusing the medicine. So long as we harden our hearts to the Holy Spirit, rejecting the grace offered through Christ, there is no forgiveness.
This means that I think it best to talk of Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit not just as being a point in time failing. It’s not that one day you are going to do something and God is going to say “Now you’ve committed the unforgivable sin and I’m kicking you out of my family.” Instead we are talking about:
A settled decision of the will to oppose and reject the Holy Spirit leading to a hardening of the heart so that the person’s permanent perspective sees good as evil and evil as good. This results in a whole of life orientation away from God without any signs of repentance.
This means that someone who has put their trust in Jesus isn’t going to fall into that category. The way I make sure I don’t commit the unforgivable sin is by keeping my eyes fixed on Christ.