Q: Mt. 12:32-Does Jesus imply, speaking against the Holy spirit includes denying His divinity and the personhood?
1. Have I ever committed the unforgivable sin?
This question looms in the minds of many Christians today, especially in the midst of theological debates surrounding the ministry of the Holy Spirit, where Pentecostalism clashes with Cessationism. This sin, the one Jesus explicitly warned about, is the only sin for which He declared there would be no forgiveness, neither in this world nor the next. Apostle John even advises against praying for the sin that leads to death (1 John 5:16).
Fundamentally, this sin stands apart from the daily transgressions people commit, much like how murder is a crime most citizens would never contemplate. It is distinct from the sins of omission or commission, where one either fails to do what is right or actively engages in wrongdoing. All other forms of blasphemy, even against the ‘Son’ himself, including betrayal, denouncement, and crucifixion, are pardonable.
Therefore, understanding the gravity of the unforgivable sin is crucial. Picture it as the spiritual equivalent of a ‘death penalty’ in the legal realm. Just as the death penalty represents the most severe and irreversible judgment and punishment for a crime, the unforgivable sin is the gravest of spiritual offenses.
In this post, I aim to grasp what makes the unforgivable sin unique, all through the lens of Jesus’ words in their historical context. Along the way, we may uncover the answere to the title question and at the same time, fresh insights and find solace from the persistent fear that lingers in our hearts.
2. The Profile of the Unpardonable sinner in the Historical Context
a. Who were the individuals responsible for committing the unpardonable sin?
Jesus directed these words toward a specific group of people: the Pharisees and Scribes on the scene from Jerusalem.
The Pharisees were known for their piety and self-righteousness, while the Scribes held prestigious roles as scriptural copyists, legal scholars, and esteemed teachers in Jewish society. These two groups, along with the high-priestly family and local elites, formed the 70-member Sanhedrin, the highest governing body in Jewish life. They were deeply versed in sacred scriptures and were renowned for their strict adherence to the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament, and the ‘traditions of elders.’
Early in Jesus’ ministry, religious leaders, and members of the Sanhedrin, in particular, were curious about Jesus’s identity. However, as time passed, some of them, though not all, turned against Jesus, disputing his potential messiahship based on various grounds. They argued that his origins in Nazareth and Galilean roots, rather than Bethlehem, the hometown of King David, disqualified him.
More importantly, they accused him of violating the Sabbath by performing healing and exorcisms on that day. Furthermore, added to it, they took great offense at his claims of divine connection, referring to God as his Father and boldly declaring, ‘The Father and I are One,’ not to mention his assertion of the power to forgive sins.
Upon these assessments, instigated primarily by vocal Pharisees, priests, and scribes, it was concluded that Jesus’s behaviors did not align with long held Jewish religious laws and customs. These breaches were seen as a clear disqualification for any divine influence or authority, let alone the long- awaited Messiah. Consequently, they regarded Jesus’s extraordinary abilities as not necessarily being from the Holy God and compatible with someone whom they concluded was acting in defiance of the Laws given by Moses.
b. The Traits of the Unpardonable Sinners Revealed in Synoptic Gospel Accounts
The first three books of the New Testament, we find recorded the words of Jesus that shed light on the concept and nature of the unpardonable sin, as well as the profiles of those who first committed this transgression.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather
with me scatters. Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will
be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be
forgiven. And 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”(Matthew 12:30-32)
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man,
and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against
the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal
sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit”(Mark 3:28-30).
“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be
forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not
be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
The Greek term 'blasphemy – βλασφημία' carries the basic meaning of being 'slow to call and identify something really good as ‘good’ or truly evil as ‘evil.’ In the given contexts, it signifies a failure to acknowledge the working of God or speaking in direct opposition to God. To 'speak against' in these contexts means to utter statements equating the source of divine power—the Holy Spirit—and His works, working in Jesus, with the prince of demons (v. 24). Unlike art forgery, which can be separated from falsely attributed acclaimed artists, the powerful miracles manifested through Jesus can never be attributed to anyone other than the Holy Spirit.Thus, to speak against the Holy Spirit includes denying His holy divinity and the Holy Trinity.
Specific traits that characterize those who commit the unpardonable sin:
- They chose not to aligned with Jesus and actively discourage others from following Him and His teachings.
- They consistently and openly express objections whenever an opportunity arises to disapprove of the source of power operating within Jesus.
- They not only disapproval but also denounce the divine spirit in Jesus, attributing it to the Devil rather than Yahweh, thereby demeaning Jesus as an agent of the Devil.
- They verbalize or speak out their inner thoughts and contemplation openly and publicly.
- In addition, in the larger context of the Synoptics, they are ‘devout’ people of God, theologians and clergies, holding sacred offices withing God’s community.
3. Is it One-Time Act or Iterative Act?
The consensus is that the Greek texts of Synoptics do not provide any definite answer, except for reaffirm the seriousness of the offence.
Matthew translates Jesus’ words (most likely from Aramaic) into Greek using the Aorist Subjunctive conveying what might happen “to speak,” while Mark, opts for the Aorist Subjunctive form of the verb “to blaspheme.” Luke, too, conveys a comparable message from Christ, but employs an Aorist Participle, simply indicating that the act of ‘blasphemy’ occurred earlier periods.
In all three accounts, the consistency lies in the fact that Jesus wasn’t referring to a single or ongoing event. Rather, he was addressing on the gravity of ‘blaspheme against the Holy Spirit’ during some period of the course of our lives.
We have gained a valuable insight into the profile of the transgressor of the unpardonable sin, but we are still uncertain whether it is one-time act or iterative act or at what point does one crosse the line into that dreadful sin.
4. Two major Theological Perspectives:
We often encounter two contrasting assertions:
- 'If you worry about committing ‘sin,’ you most likely not have committed the unpardonable sin.'
- 'Those who are ‘born again’ cannot commit the unpardonable sin because God safeguards His ‘elect’ – the Calvinist view.'
While these statements may offer some comfort, neither the ‘most likely not’ nor the “once saved, saved forever’ positions definitively address when a person becomes condemned.
Many beliefs and sayings exist regarding the unpardonable sin, but the ultimate judgment rests with God, not us. Thankfully, God has provided Biblical means to help us discern our standing on this crucial matter.
5. The Clues of the Unpardonable Sinner
Clue #1 -The Unpardonable Sinner, No Heartfelt Confession of Sins Possible
According to 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This cleansing includes the removal of guilt and the feelings associated with it. However, Apostle John even advises against praying for the sin that leads to death, referring the Unpardonable sin (1 John 5:16).
The ‘unpardonable sinner’ cannot make a ‘genuine’ confession, acceptable to God, and find forgiveness. For the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sins, leads us to the “mercy seat” to confess and be cleansed by the ‘precious blood of Jesus,’ does not reside in the person who committed the ‘Sin’ and condemned.’
In one instance, Jesus shared a parable with His disciples about self-righteous Pharisees who prayed pretentiously standing in the temple, thanking God that ‘I am not like these extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or these tax collectors.’ Jesus’ comment was that such arrogant prayers were not ‘justified’ (Luke 18: 9-14). However, the Bible says, when these stiff-necked people turns to God, there will be forgiveness, as Jesus said,'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel' (Matthew 4:17; Acts 3:19).
God, as merciful and long suffering as He is, His patience has an end. In First Samuel 16:14 says, the ‘Spirit of the Lord had departed king Saul,’ and as result, ‘Lord did not answer him either by dreams, Urim, and prophets’ (1 Samuel 28:6). He commanded the Prophet Jeremian ‘pray no more for these people, do not even weep for them, for I will not listen’ (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14).
Without the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Counselor, it is not possible to make a sincere confession to be heard by God, and there can be no Divine forgiveness of sin. Such prayers become self-indulgent and hollow, like a ‘noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.’ Without a genuine heartfelt confession, there can be no forgiveness of sin from God, the first clue to the unpardonable sin committed – the first clue.
Clue #2 – The Absence of the Liberating Power of ‘Divine Forgiveness’
All sins carry ‘spiritual weight’ that affects our minds, hearts, and our relationship with God (Psalm 38:4; Isaiah 59:2). This burden diminishes our sense of security, inner peace, and our awareness of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives.
The unpardonable sin, in this regard, should be of weight far greater than any other sin, possibly too immense to bear as the King David cried out to God, ‘Do not take the Holy Spirit from me.’ Or perhaps the hearts have become insensitive, even seared, and hardened, rendering one oblivious, like the Pharisees and Scribes. It appears that their conscience seemed unaffected at all by the ‘sin,’ and unashamedly continue carrying out their ‘sacred duties.’ Jesus even advised people, ‘Receive their teachings but do not imitate their deeds.”
However, forgiveness has the remarkable power to lift this burden and restore what was lost. Feeling forgiven is the natural result of God’s forgiveness, a profound and undeniable spiritual reality. As children of God, we can eagerly anticipate these liberating blessings from our loving Creator when He lifts the weight of sin from us, much like, the relief a defendant felt when the judge declares a verdict – “Not guilty” and “All charges dropped.”
When someone crosses the line into committing the sin of ‘blasphemy against the Holy Spirit,’ Biblically speaking, they can no longer expect to experience the liberating grace that the Holy Spirit bestows. Since this sin is considered unpardonable in this life and the life to come, those who transgress must bear the heaviest spiritual burden alone. The Holy Spirit, Jesus referred to as the “Another Helper” and “Comforter,” no longer resides in them, even though they still receive God’s “common grace” like all others in the world.
For a while after crossing this line, their life might seem “business as usual,” but eventually, the consequences of this sin will catch up with them. A sense of fear may loom in their minds, especially as they approach the end of their lives.
Thus, the absence of this liberating experience serves as a significant warning sign.
Clue #3 – No Fruits of the Spirit
Jesus said, ‘what is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit,’ and ‘when the Holy Spirit comes, He will dwell in us.’ Apostle Paul exhorts all Christians to ‘walk by the Spirit and walk in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:16, 25). And he also said, ‘the works of produce the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ – “love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”
In essence, Jesus, and the Apostles, state that those who cross the line into the ‘unpardonable sin,’ will not bear ‘fruits of the Spirit.’ They are no longer ‘born of Spirit’ and ‘walk by the Spirit.’ As stated before, their life may appear as ‘holy and dignified’ as ‘business as usual,’ yet spiritually, they are back to the ‘old flesh, live and walk by the flesh.’ They may talk “I am holier than thou” as if they are “living in Spirit,” but in truth they are not. They are walking in flesh and darkness, thus bearing no fruits of the Spirit – the third clue.
6. The Myth of “Elects” cannot Commit the Unpardonable Sin
It’s worth revisiting the notion that the “Elects,” the born-again, cannot commit the unpardonable sin., but only the ‘non-Elects’ can.
If this is the case, it raises questions about the rationale, rationality, and purpose of Jesus’ declaration of the “decree” since it appears irrelevant to the “non-elected” who are already eternally doomed. As observed above, the target audiences were the ‘Elites’ group of God’s chosen people, not the gentiles.
Furthermore, contextually, the declaration of the ‘Sin’ by Jesus was a ‘warning’ by nature, not a mere condemnation. He was making it clear the severity of acts of ‘blasphemy and speaking against the Holy Spirit’ to prevent God’s chosen people from committing the dreadful ‘sin.’ This precautionary warning goes for the next generation of believers in the coming era of the ‘Another Comforter,’ the age of the Holy Spirit.’
Such notion is grounded on the dogma of ‘Sovereignty of God’ overarching the role of the intrinsic ‘free-will.’ The entire redemption narrative in the Scripture exists due to the’ act of rebellion by the first of the human beings through their ‘free will,’ and the subsequent stories as well.
In addition, such assertion depicts God as ‘cruel and un-loving,’ much more, point the ‘finger of blame’ to God for all our failures and the ‘evils’ in the world. It is unwarranted mischaracterization of the Holy, Loving, and Good God.
"The God of the Bible remains consistent in all His eternal, holy, and righteous attributes; His plans are not irrational but part of His eternal wisdom. He does not 'unconditionally' predestine individuals for eternal condemnation, nor does He pronounce an 'unpardonable' guilty verdict on those who, doctrinally, are deemed 'non-elect.' Conversely, we do not sin because we are 'foreordained' to sin; rather, we sin through our 'autonomous free will,' and, therefore, bear responsibility for our actions. This understanding is crucial for the meaningful interpretation of prescriptive Scriptures, encompassing both 'dos and don’ts,' such as God’s command in Genesis 2:16-17 not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, under the threat of death. This consistency applies to all the commandments and promises of blessing and curses given to His chosen people, Israel. The God revealed in the Bible remains the same yesterday, today, and forever."
In “Exploring the Unpardonable Sin,” we delve into the enigmatic concept that has left many Christians pondering their own spiritual standing. This unforgivable sin, as warned by Jesus, sets itself apart from the daily transgressions we may commit. It’s not a slip of the tongue or a careless utterance; it’s a conscious and deliberate act, much like murder in the legal realm.
We examnined the historical context and profiles of those who first committed this grave transgression. We explore key traits that characterize the unpardonable sinners and whether it’s a one-time act or an iterative one.
Furthermore, we address two major theological perspectives, offering insights into the uncertainties surrounding this sin. However, while the ultimate judgment rests with God, in His grace and mercy, God did not leave us in helpless hanging, instead, He provided clues to examine and discern ourselves on the matter of this dreadful ‘sin.’
We delved into and highlighted three Biblical significant clues of the unpardonable sinner, emphasizing that it takes much more than a simple misstep to commit this sin. We also offer checklists to help readers discern their own spiritual standing in relation to this concept.
Ultimately, this exploration aims to shed light on the unpardonable sin, alleviate lingering fears, and empower readers to evaluate their spiritual journey with a sense of clarity and understanding.
The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a topic that has troubled many, but it’s important to remember that God’s love and mercy are boundless.
Jesus has issued this warning out of His deep concern for His people, so that none of us would stumble into this grave sin.
While theological debates may leave us with unanswered questions, we can turn to the Bible and the Holy Spirit for guidance. The Scripture provides valuable clues to help us navigate the pitfalls of committing this sin.
The ‘warning’ also implies that there is time for confession and forgiveness before it becomes unpardonable. Therefore, as long as we sense the convicting nudges of the Holy Spirit, there is an opportunity for reconciliation.
If you find yourself plagued by lingering fears of this sin, take time to seek God’s face.
In moments of recurring doubts, remember to resist and rebuke the enemy. (James 4:7).
Our God is merciful, gracious, and loving. He doesn’t want His children to suffer in agony. As Jeremiah 29 reminds us, when we seek God with all our hearts, we will find Him, and He will hear our prayers.
So, may the Lord bless and keep you, dear readers, as you continue your journey of faith. May His face shine upon you, be gracious to you, and grant you peace. And may His name be upon you as a source of blessing and guidance
Soli Deo Gloria! Sola Scriptura! Solus Christus!