THE UNFORGIVABLE SIN
My grandson Peyton is discovering boundaries. He likes to push the limits. We received this house protection kit in the mail the other day with cabinet securers and electric plus inserts. The electric plug inserts had this happy face on them and I put them in the outlets around the playroom. Peyton discovered these things (and would someone like to tell me why they put a brightly colored smiley face on them to attract children?) and began to pull them out. I said, “No, Peanut, that will hurt you!” and he kept at it. So I said, “Peyton, I am going to set you on the steps if you don’t stop. Do you want that?” And he got this expression on his face, a grumpy, stubborn expression; probably one like Kari’s seen on mine when she says, “No, you can’t do that!” And Peyton stopped pulling out the protectors, but he didn’t leave the area. He kind of hovered near the outlets looking at me. He doesn’t want to avoid this boundary. He wanted to stay near it. He knows he’s not supposed to mess with these protectors, but he wants to stay near them.
I guess most of us are like that, though. We always seem to want to walk right up to the line that moves us from acceptable to unacceptable behavior, even though we know there are consequences if we cross the line. We do it on friendships, in dating relationships, with our families and with our relationship with God. In most of these relationships if you cross that line too many times you put the relationship in serious jeopardy.
But amazingly with God that’s not true. You cannot out sin His grace. You cannot disobey enough to warrant his rejection. You cannot break so many rules that God says, “I wash my hands of you.”
Let’s begin with an important truth:
I. WE LIKE HAVING SOME RULES
Rules give us security. We know what to expect—and what not to. Rules are the protectors that keep us from getting a shocking surprise. But if we refuse to follow the rules the result is insecurity, fear and distrust.
(I like the TV show “The Biggest Loser” where individuals or teams have to lose the greatest percentage of weight to stay on the show for the next week. As the show begins most of the contestants understand the rules…do this, work out now, eat this much…and at the end of the show the winners vote off one of the two people who didn’t lose as much. Those are the rules, but lately, in the middle of the show, those rules change. They allow a previously voted off contestant or a new contestant to come back on. And when this happens the old guard doesn’t like it at all. Those who have followed the rules all along get mad. They develop alliances. This is not what they expected. After these incidents the levels of distrust, hatred, meanness and insecurity rose. Should we be surprised? That’s what happens when a person thinks they have a firm grasp on a situation and the rules change without warning.
The same can be true with our relationship with God, so…
II. WHAT ARE THE RULES?
Matthew 12 has one of those verses that can feel an awful lot like a serious plot twist—seemingly in the words of Jesus Himself. If asked, most of us would say you simply cannot out-sin the grace of God. This is a hard and fast rule. There is nothing you could do that God would not forgive. Even if you lived a prodigal and rebellious life for years, you can always come back to a father that runs to meet you on the road home.
But we come to Matthew 12:31 and that rule seems not to apply. “Because of this, I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
That verse makes us wonder…is this fine print in our contract with God? If it is, how do we sin against the Holy Spirit? Could we have already done it? If so, are we “Dead men walking”?
To think about something unforgivable seems to go against everything we like about our relationship with God. We like the comfort and security. We like a relationship built not on our own ability, but what someone else has done on our behalf. Underneath it all we like knowing that we can always come back. We count on it as an unshakable foundation in a world of earthquakes and aftershocks. If the foundation goes away, we are forced to live life looking over our shoulders. Is that the fearful existence God has planned for us?
As always, in order to understand a single verse in the Bible we need to look at the context. What is happening around it? So let’s examine what was going on…
III. PREVIOUSLY IN JERUSALEM
At this moment in Jesus’ ministry everyone, except Him, was confused about His identity. Some claimed He was the Messiah. Others wondered how He could be the Messiah since they were looking for a military conqueror rather than a compassionate healer. Matthew 12 reveals conversations and questions about Jesus’ identity as he healed a man’s hand on the Sabbath and then enabled a blind and mute man to speak and see.
The scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus’ identity all figured out. It was clear to them who Jesus was. He healed on the Sabbath, breaking a basic staple of Jewish tradition. He also made preposterous claims about Himself and His own power. And when He cast out demons, He didn’t do it with incantations or spells. No magic trinkets. He simply commanded the demons to leave, from His own authority, and they went.
The conclusion the Pharisees came to about Jesus’ identity was—He is a messenger of Satan. That’s why He broke the Sabbath rule. That’s why He could so easily command demons.
Jesus denied these charges with a logical argument. “It would be foolish for any army to divide if it wants to win.” Why would He cast out demons if He were working on the same team?
And it’s at this point where He makes this “unforgivable” statement we’re studying. He said the claims the Pharisees were making came dangerously close to a sin that God would not forgive. That sin, the rule-changing sin, that can throw us into confusion and fear, is the unforgivable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
So let’s examine…
We have some idea of what the word “blasphemy” means, but those ideas come mostly from movies where religious zealots punish revolutionaries. If we go back to the Old Testament we find blasphemy defined as “a deliberate, defiant sin against God.”
Numbers 15:30-31 outlines the punishment for a blasphemer, “He will be cut off from His people, separated, thrown out of the community.”
But Jesus qualifies this sin to specifically be against the Holy Spirit. Jesus basically says, “You can blaspheme me if you want, but you’d better not blaspheme the Holy Spirit.”
In this moment where there is so much conjecture and argument about His identity the Son of God remains relatively unconcerned. He seems to be saying, “Say what you will about me, and say what you want about my father in heaven, because you can come back from those comments. But be careful; tread lightly on the issue of the Holy Spirit because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is deadly and devastating.
Why is it so devastating? Maybe the answer is found in part by examining exactly what the Holy Spirit does in our midst. According to John 16:8 the Spirit’s role is in the area of conviction. “When He comes He will convict the world about sin, righteousness and judgment.”
Similarly the Holy Spirit works delicately to “expose” our sin in the presence of God’s holiness. Holy is not his first name, it’s his work. He purposefully uncovers our flaws in order to present us as a picture of Himself.
The New Testament meaning of conviction means “to expose.” That’s the role of the Holy Spirit. To a world living in darkness he turns on the light. To a person who thinks they’re on the right track, he shows where it ends and points to the Way, the truth and the life. In a world that doesn’t believe in moral absolutes He steps in and exposes the error of the kind of thinking.
The conviction of the Holy Spirit is the only reason that any of us have a Christian perspective at all. We’ve looked through worldly eyes. He convicts us to see things through God’s. A preacher might have influenced us, or a friend, or a mate, but ultimately we would not be spiritually alive if the Holy Spirit had not pulled us toward salvation and then invaded our lives and convinced us of our need to repent. That’s what He does—He brings life where there is death. He brings conviction where there is pride. Without the Holy Spirit doing this in our lives we would never repent, die to self, be buried in Christ and rise to walk in the newness of a forgiven life.
What Jesus seems to be saying is this: You can say what you want about me. You can say what you want about my father. Evil and wicked as it may be, there is still hope for you when you do these things because the Holy Spirit can still work in your life. However, when you continually resist the truth of God exposed to you through the Holy Spirit, when you continually harden your heart to Him when He tries to break through, then you will shut out your opportunity for forgiveness. You have continually and willfully belittled the Spirit’s work in your life.
Those who repent and receive salvation do so only under the influence of the Holy Spirit. If you do not accept the Spirit’s role in your life you will never repent. If you never repent you will never receive forgiveness. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is a continual act of resistance that belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that He withdraws forever, rending us unable to repent.
People who have had the Holy Spirit withdraw His influence from them are a sad case. They no longer consider Christianity as a possible lifestyle. They regard it as supremely foolish. They’ve become too intellectual for children’s stories, and are too mature for miracles. By their hardened heart, and seared conscience, they bear witness to the withdrawal of the Spirit.
But amazingly this is a message of hope because the Holy Spirit is amazingly patient and longsuffering. He calls time after time after time. And when He is at work in the heart of the saved we find security even in our failures and sin, because those who have committed this blasphemy will care nothing about their shortcomings and sin. Our very concern makes a huge statement about who God is in our lives.
You see I know by faith that His love for me isn’t dependent on my ability to follow all the rules. It is the starting point for the journey and the Holy Spirit is my constant companion for the journey. The destination…HOME.