I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin. (Mk 3:28-29)
Although many fear that they have done unforgiveable things, Jesus clearly said that there is only one unforgiveable sin, and that is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to blaspheme someone? You might have heard that it is taking the Lord’s Name in vain, but that doesn’t fully capture the meaning of blasphemy. In the original Greek, the words blasphemy (Mt 12:32) and blaspheme (Mk 3:28) mean to slander or to speak falsely of someone in a manner than injures their good name. When people accused Paul of preaching grace as a license to sin, he said their reports were blasphemous, or slanderous (Rm 3:8). In other words, the reports were false and injurious to his reputation and message.
Jesus’ warning about not slandering the Holy Spirit is reported in three gospels (Mt 12:32, Mk 3:29, Lk 12:10). In two of those accounts the warning comes after Jesus had been driving out demons “by the Spirit of God” (Mt 12:28). But the Pharisees and law teachers thought Jesus’ power came from Satan. “By the prince of demons he is driving out demons” (Mk3:22). In other words, they were giving the devil credit for work done by the Holy Spirit. I would say that is fairly slanderous! In Luke’s account the context is a little different. This time Jesus was preaching to a crowd of “many thousands” when He gave them this famous couplet:
I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. (Lk 12:8-9)
Right there you have a baseball bat for whacking every single believer who has been cowardly in their witness. Well, you would, if Jesus didn’t immediately follow up with this:
And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. (Lk 12:10)
Peters of the world be encouraged! Peter disowned Jesus before men but Jesus declares of him, “he’s forgiven!” When Jesus warned us about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, He made it clear that the sin of speaking a bad word against the Son of Man, like all sins and blasphemies, will be forgiven. If you grew up cursing God, be assured that this sin – along with all your sins and blasphemies – was indeed forgiven when Jesus went to the cross (Col 2:13). You may have cursed God, but He has blessed you! How? By removing your sins as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).
People sometimes ask me, why do you grace preachers say all our sins are forgiven? The answer is, because Jesus said so! This is the Good News and either you take Him at His word or you don’t. You are not forgiven because of anything you’ve done but in accordance with the riches of His grace (Eph 1:7). But just because you’re forgiven, it doesn’t follow that you’re saved. Grace is ineffective unless it’s matched with faith (Eph 2:8). And this brings us to…
The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit
As we have seen, to blaspheme someone is to slander or speak falsely about them. To understand what it means to speak falsely of the Holy Spirit, we must first discover what is true about Him and His ministry. Jesus tells us:
When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (Jn 16:8-11)
Before He died, Jesus said that His blood would be poured out for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:28). If all the sins and blasphemies of men were forgiven at the cross, there’s only one sin the Holy Spirit can convict you of: “in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me.” Do you believe that you have been eternally redeemed through the blood of Jesus (He 9:12)? Do you believe the Spirit-inspired scriptures when they declare that Jesus’ sacrifice has done away with sin once and for all (He 9:26)? If not, you are resisting His conviction and calling Him a liar. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but the stakes are enormous. If you think you must do things like confess and repent from your sins in order to get what Christ has freely given, then you are denying Him and His finished work. You are walking after the flesh and slandering the Spirit. What’s the solution? Jesus tells us: “repent and believe the good news” (Mk 1:15)! Biblical confession means agreeing with the Holy Spirit about your sins (1 Jn 1:9). Although you were completely and eternally forgiven 2000 years ago, you will not experience that forgiveness until you say “yes!” to Jesus.
Jesus also said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and law-teachers, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:20). Writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul declared that the gospel reveals a righteousness from God, a gift that is received by faith from first to last (Rms 1:17). You are not righteous because of anything you’ve done, but because of everything He’s done. On the cross Jesus took our sin and gave us His righteousness (2 Co 5:21). In Christ you are as righteous as He is (1 Co 1:30). The second aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to convict you of your righteousness. If you believe Him you will look at yourself in the mirror and confidently declare, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus!”
The third aspect of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is that He will seek to utterly convince you that the prince of this world is condemned. You are not condemned, Satan is. If you are responsive to the Holy Spirit’s conviction, you will confidently declare, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” You will ask with wonder, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” With a firm revelation of the Father’s love for you – revealed through the Son and affirmed in your heart by the Spirit – you will have no fear of punishment (1 Jn 4:18). You won’t wonder whether God gives and takes away and you won’t view natural disasters as divine judgments. Instead of confessing your sins you will boldly confess your sonship and lay claim to all the rights of intimacy and inheritance that come with that (Gal 4:7).
The Holy Spirit must be the most misunderstood Person in the Bible. I plan to write more about the Him and His ministry over Easter. But to answer the question at the top of this post – what is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? – it is refusing to believe the Holy Spirit’s testimony regarding the grace of God revealed through Jesus Christ. In a word, it is unbelief. Unbelief may manifest in a hard heart or in a religious spirit that confuses the devil’s work with the Lord’s. In either case, to resist the Holy Spirit is to trample the Son of God underfoot and treat as unholy the blood of the new covenant that sanctifies us. It is slanderous and insulting to the Spirit of grace who seeks to convince us – through the written word and revelation – that Jesus is true, you are forgiven, and He now offers you the free gift of His righteousness.
As we will see in the coming posts, the Holy Spirit is not some Divine Policeman in the sky with a great big whacking stick. He’s actually the most awesome, powerful, and wonderful Being in the universe. And He is absolutely committed to your success in Christ!