BLASPHEMY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT: A LAYMAN’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN
I remember as a child in elementary school (these were the good old days when it was not sacrilege to talk about Jesus in a classroom setting), our class teacher was answering a very random question from a classmate regarding judgment day.
The student had asked, “What is a person who has been bad all his life decides to be good on judgment day?”. The teacher responded, “God will forgive him. There is nothing God does not forgive except insulting the Holy Spirit”.
The teacher did not know the world of pain he unleashed on me by that one throw-away comment. From that very moment, the one thing every fibre of my being wanted to do is insult the Holy Spirit.
Again, this is one thing about the laws of God (which Paul acknowledged in Romans 7), they far from making you good, are supposed to point out to you how bad you really are. The laws of God ignite your sinful tendencies thus bringing them to your attention and it is only when you know how hopelessly sinful you are that you recognise your need for a saviour…but I digress…
Long story short, I became convinced I had, despite my very best efforts insulted the Holy Spirit. Some years later, I would send a text message to my neighbour who was a pastor asking “Is it true that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit would not be forgiven?”, till this day I remember his response vividly,
“No sin against the Holy Spirit would be forgiven (Mark 3:28)”
At that point, I concluded I was doomed. I began to read the book of Revelation to understand what hell would be like so I could know what my eternal habitation would be on my death.
However, on closer review of scripture, this matter is not as straightforward as my teacher and the good pastor had made it out to be because Paul by his own admission was a blasphemer but he obtained forgiveness from God,
“although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.”
(1 Timothy 1:13–14)
If the correct interpretation of this was that there would be no forgiveness for blasphemy then this would be the case irrespective of the presence or absence of a mens rea (i.e. intention/state of mind).
We revisit Jesus’s statement,
“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”
What is blasphemy?
In the original Greek, it is the word “Blasphemia” which denotes Scurrilous and abusive language so there definitely is an element of speech or speaking involved in blasphemy.
The context of Jesus’ statement in the above text (and in every other account) was that the Pharisees accused him (knowingly and maliciously) of casting out demons by the power of demons.
“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He has Beelzebub,” and, “By the ruler of the demons He casts out demons.”
Even Mark’s gospel further adds the following to Mark 3:28–29 quoted above,
“ because they said, “He has an unclean spirit.”
It would thus appear that Jesus is addressing something very specific, the words of the Pharisees. In Matthew’s account of this interaction, Jesus goes further to state that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of the heart,
“Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
So the statement of the Pharisees revealed something about the state of their heart. It showed that their heart was in complete opposition and resistance to Christ. It is thus my hypothesis, which I would attempt to justify subsequently, that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the rejection of Jesus Christ.
Now what is the mission of the Holy Spirit? Jesus lets us know,
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me”
(John 15:26, Emphasis mine)
“He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”
“But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
It appears the Holy Spirit’s main mission is to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ. Even the power Holy Spirit gave the disciples was to enable them to be more effective witnesses of Jesus Christ.
Now, this is the work of the Holy Spirit with respect to those who believe in Jesus Christ. What of those who do not believe? i.e. the world? Jesus states,
“And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me...”
The very first ministry of the Holy Spirit to the world is to convict them of sin. What sin? The sin of not believing in Jesus Christ.
Now in the context of the gospel message, all have sinned but all have now been justified by the death and resurrection of Christ, however it is effective only to the person who actually places His faith on Christ. It is this faith that results in one being justified before God and forgiven for sin.
All sins flow from our sinful nature and the only salvation from this sinful nature is in the atoning work of Jesus Christ, hence He says,
“Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins.”
So a refusal to be persuaded by the Holy Spirit to believe in Jesus Christ would be a sin to His very mission and purpose. And it is only in that rejected mission and purpose of believing in Jesus Christ that we could find forgiveness,. This would fit the narrative of Jesus Christ and the Pharisees because He had been working clear miracles in their presence by the Holy Spirit (Nicodemus admits in John 3:1 that the Pharisees knew He was a man from God) but they still refused to believe in Him.
The following verse in Hebrews seems to lend some credence to this,
“For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace?”
The “sin” being referred to in Hebrews when the whole epistle is read in context is unbelief in Christ. This was an admonition and encouragement of persecuted Jews to not return to Judaism after understanding and receiving the gospel.
More importantly, it is interesting there is a link here between trampling the Son of God underfoot, despising the sufferings of Christ on the cross and insulting the Spirit of Grace (i.e. the Holy Spirit).
In conclusion, the logic of the unforgivable sin then seems to me to be this,
(i) Jesus Christ died and was raised up for the forgiveness of sins and justification for all mankind
(ii) A person must believe in (i) above in order to have forgiveness of sins and justification before God
(iii) If a person does not believe in (i) above, they cannot be forgiven or justified before God as they are still in their sin
You see, from the above three premises, it becomes clear that the one sin that Jesus Christ could not have died for is a failure to believe in His death and resurrection.
It is that death and resurrection the Holy Spirit convicts the world of and failure to be convicted of this is an insult to the Holy Spirit and thus a sin that cannot be forgiven because there is no atonement for it.
*This is just my layman’s opinion and does not represent any widely accepted doctrinal understanding