Going back about fifteen years I was part of a typical cell group that met every Tuesday evening. One particular week, I can recall a girl visiting for the first time and asking what the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was. It was immediately clear that no one had ever given it any serious thought and the topic was pushed aside rather quickly. The girl never came back again and for some reason it is something that has always stayed with me. Recently someone asked me the same question once again and this time I promised to walk through it with them until he gained peace on the topic. I get the impression that many others too fear that they have at some point committed the unforgivable sin and it has left them spiritually in tatters. It certainly does not help that there are so many conflicting opinions out there either; some believe to blaspheme the Holy Spirit means to have ‘verbally cursed’ Him at some point, others teach that suicide is the unforgivable sin, still others say that it means to deny Christ after once having been an active follower of Him. After some personal meditation on the subject, I would like to offer an alternate view, please don’t consider this to be a ‘teaching’ but rather a collection of thoughts I am currently processing. I would sincerely appreciate any feedback from people on what I have to say as well. I am putting it out here more for feedback and to process my own thoughts than anything else.
So let’s start with that famous verse, I like Mark’s account best:-
Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies
they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but
is subject to eternal condemnation – because they said, “He has an unclean spirit”.
– Mark 3:28-30
Let’s break this statement down into four parts and really consider the words in each section.
“Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and
whatever blasphemies they may utter…”
Starting off, the bible says that on the cross Jesus bore and took away the sins of the whole world (John 1:29); God has, in Christ, reconciled all men to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18). Some of you make think by making such statements that I am a universalist which I am not even though I do technically believe in ‘universal reconciliation’ in the sense that God has reconciled all men to Himself. The subtle but vital difference though is that I do not believe in 'universal salvation'. Scripture clearly teaches that reconciliation and salvation are not the same things:-
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His
Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
– Romans 5:10
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ,
and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ
reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has
committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for
Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf,
be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we
might become the righteousness of God in Him. We then, as workers together with
Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For He says: "In an
acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you."
Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
– 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2
For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to
reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven,
having made peace through the blood of the cross. And you, who were once alienated
and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body
of His flesh through death, to present you holy and blameless, and above reproach
in His sight – if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are
not moved away from the hope of the gospel… - Colossians 1:19-23
Similarly, we have often assumed that forgiveness equals salvation but scripture does not teach that either. Jesus says in our foundational text that “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men” (except for one), Paul reiterates in 2 Corinthians 5:18 that God no longer counts our sins against us (see also 1 John 2:1). When Jesus hung on the cross He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do (Luke 23:34).” Should we assume that all those who were present and participated in Christ’s beating and execution will be saved? I don’t think so. What I think scripture teaches us is that God has done His bit; He has pursued us but not forced Himself on us either. Essentially He has put the ball in our court and reached His arm out to us; the option of grabbing hold of His hand is purely up to us. While Paul says God has reconciled Himself to us, he continues in 2 Corinthians 5:20 to say, “…we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God”.
but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness…
So here is the single exception to the rule, those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven of their sin and are subject to eternal condemnation. 1 John 5:16-17 speaks of sin which leads to death and sin which does not lead to death and I wonder if John is touching on the same topic here. If it is the Spirit which sets us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) then it must be a rejection of the Spirit which keeps us in bondage to death.
subject to eternal condemnation…
He who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life – Galatians 6:8
A clear contrast can easily be made between eternal life and death in scripture; those who receive the Spirits witness as to who Jesus is and are born of the Spirit are those who receive the gift of immortality in Christ.
He who hears my word and believes in Him who sent me has everlasting life, and
shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. - John 5:24
“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and
believes in Him may have everlasting life…” - John 6:40
I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread,
he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give
for the life of the world. – John 6:51
Jesus said to her, “I m the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though
he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do
you believe this?” – John 11:25-26
Those who are subject to eternal condemnation as Mark 3:29 puts it and have blasphemed the Spirit are the same ones who never believed in Jesus, who never ate of His flesh and became partakers in His life.
because they said, “He has an unclean spirit".
I want to quickly add something about the context of Mark 3:28-29 over here. Many have said that because in the story Jesus was rebuking the Pharisees for attributing His works to the power of Satan then that must be the unpardonable sin. I think it misses the bigger picture of what is going on in the passage. If my children ask me for chocolate thirty minutes before dinner and I say no it is not going to help them to ask for candy or chips either; the rule is not “no chocolate before dinner” but “no eating any junk food that is going to spoil your appetite before we sit down to eat”. This text is more than just a protective proof text for bogus faith healers to keep us from testing the spirits; rather it is about people who reject Christ for who He is as has been revealed to them by the Spirit (John 15:26, 16:13-15), the Pharisees were clearly doing that and Jesus is warning them here that they are treading thin ice. Should they continue to stubbornly resist the Spirit they would certainly die lost and condemned.
So what is the unpardonable sin?
It should be obvious by now where I am going but consider before I spell it out quickly some of the works of the Holy Spirit as well as scripture reveals them to us. Firstly, He convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8), He reveals Christ to us (Luke 3:22, 1 Corinthians 2:10-14) and is the one who baptizes us into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). By the Spirit we are granted everlasting life (Galatians 6:8), given access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18) and sealed for the day of redemption (Ephesians 4:30).
I submit then that the unforgivable sin is the ultimate and final rejection of the Holy Spirits witness and work in the world which is to point us to Christ in whom alone we have salvation.
He who has the Son has life and He who does not have the Son does not have life –
1 John 5:12.
Really, it is as simple as that. Whether someone can harden their heart to the point of no return while they are still breathing or it can only happen at the point of death is another point worth exploring perhaps some other time. My friend Jeremy Myers has a little saying which I love and wholeheartedly agree with, it goes something like this, “If you fear that you have committed the unpardonable sin it is a sure that you have not.” The mere fact that you care about such a thing is proof that He is still pursuing you. So take heart, perhaps things are not where or what they should be but its certainly not to late to fix that.