Is there a sin so terrible that God simply refuses to forgive it? If so, what is it? Murder? Adultery? Something else altogether? The Bible does answer this question. Unfortunately, the answer often only leads to confusion.
The Bible says that the only eternal, or unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29). As bad and wicked as some sins are, only one won’t be forgiven by God, and that is when His Spirit is blasphemed.
What is that? How can one blaspheme God’s Spirit? Does this describe someone cursing out the Spirit? Is this sin simply a person speaking irreverently about the third Person of the trinity?
Growing up in the church, I, admittedly, had been a little fuzzy on just what Jesus was talking about when He said this was the unforgivable sin. Our human minds can get behind a sin like murder or rape being an eternal sin, but why does blaspheming the Spirit carry such eternal weight to it?
Who is the Spirit?
I think to properly understand this sin, we need to understand the One who is being blasphemed. Who is the Holy Spirit and how can someone blaspheme Him? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. He is God. He is a person. And He has a distinct role to play in the divine plan of salvation. We can not understand how we might blaspheme Him until we understand what He does.
The Bible describes many jobs that the Spirit of God is given to do. The Spirit equips believers in the church with gifts to help build up the church (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). The Spirit also serves to seal Christians. This means He marks believers as people who authentically belong to God and are secure in their placement in His family (Ephesians 1:13-14). The Spirit also convicts people of sin and regenerates their hearts of stone, giving them hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26; Titus 3:5-6).
The Chief Testifier
But if I could sum up the ministry of the Holy Spirit in one statement, I would do so by saying that the Spirit testifies to the truth about Jesus. John writes, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.” (1 John 4:2). Jesus spoke the ministry of the Spirit as a ministry that both bears witness to Him and glorifies Him (John 15:26; 16:14). The fact of the matter is, no one can genuinely confess Jesus to be their Lord and Savior apart from the effectual working of the Holy Spirit inside of them (1 Corinthians 12:3). The Spirit has been given to bear witness to the truth about Jesus.
The Spirit convicts our hearts of sin. He hits us where it hurts, stinging us with the reality of our fallenness and our crimes against a holy God. He then leads us to see the only possible remedy for the curse of our sinfulness. That remedy is the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross which serves as a wrath-absorbing death in our place. He then shows us our great hope which is perfectly exemplified in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.
Rejecting the Testifier’s Testimony
Now let’s get back to this blaspheming business. If the Holy Spirit chiefly bears witness to the truth about Jesus, then to blaspheme the Spirit is to reject this Spirit-backed testimony about the gospel. This is what the Pharisees were guilty of doing during Jesus’ ministry. When Jesus warned about the eternal sin, He did so in a context where the Pharisees were witnessing His mighty works done by the power of the Spirit, and attributing those works to Satan (Matthew 12:24). The Pharisees had front row seats to the Sprit’s glorious testimony about who Jesus was, and yet, they still rejected Him.
This same sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit is what I believe John is referencing when He mentions “the sin which leads to death” in 1 John 4:16. In the context of 1 John, the author repeatedly warns about the danger of false teachers who began in the church, yet later left, revealing that they were antichrists (1 John 2:18-19). They denied the full truth of Jesus’ incarnation and His atoning death. Again, like the Pharisees, these were people who had been privileged to receive a lot of light and much Spirit-wrought testimony by spending time within the church community. They had ample witness to the truth about Jesus through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and yet they had come out to reject it.
About this, John Stott writes:
“This sin, committed by the Pharisees, was a deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. They ascribed the might works of Jesus, evidently done ‘by the Spirit of God’ (Matthew 12:28), to the agency of Beelzebub. Such sin, Jesus said, would never be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come. He who commits it ‘is guilty of an eternal sin’ (Mark 3:29).”
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes that the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, “…is a willful rejection of the teaching of the Holy Spirit as to the true nature and Messiahship of Jesus, the denying of Christ as to His true nature.” This sin then can only be committed by someone who has flatly rejected Jesus and refuses to submit to Christ in faith.
Who Should Be Afraid?
Those who are frightened that they have somehow accidentally committed the unforgivable sin, in general, show by their fear, a sensitive heart to spiritual things. Men and women who sincerely love Jesus and are fearful of offending God’s Spirit are in no danger of being guilty of the the eternal sin. They have not in any way rejected the Spirit’s testimony about Jesus, instead they have embraced it.
Those who should be concerned about committing this sin are those who have heard the Gospel’s proclamation many times. People who have been privileged to receive much light… people who have spent many hours in church sitting under the teaching of the Bible… people who may be fluent in Christianese and all the church-approved spiritual lingo, yet, they find in themselves hearts that are indifferent to the truth about Jesus Christ. It is the Spirit who bears witness to Jesus. To reject His testimony is to sin in a way that is unforgivable.