Luke 12:10 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.
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Since salvation is all about faith and not works (Scriptures), the only thing that could keep anyone from being forgiven is not some past sin (or work) but a current refusal to believe the promise of 1 John 1:9 (and elsewhere) that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. In other words: stubbornly refusing to accept Jesus as one’s Savior. Our faith might waver but forgiveness is ours every time we return to faith in Jesus’ power to forgive our every sin.
Jesus spoke about sin being unforgivable when the Pharisees decided that what was empowering Jesus was not God but the devil (Matthew 12:24). For as long as anyone continues to believe that blasphemous lie, it is impossible to believe that Jesus is God’s way of salvation. One cannot be saved until one corrects that wrong belief about the Savior of the world.
So it is not some past sin (no matter how gross or repeated) that makes forgiveness impossible. It boils down to whether one chooses to believe Jesus is God’s way of salvation and therefore that he can cleanse us from all sin.
Whatever Jesus meant by his puzzling statement about the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, the correct interpretation will be consistent with the rest of biblical revelation. And we know that in the rest of the Bible, God over and over declares his eagerness to forgive anyone and everyone who comes to Jesus, genuinely wanting forgiveness. The God of truth has emphatically given his word about this. In the light of so many unbreakable promises, it must be that if anyone were to become unforgivable, something happens that makes that person for the rest of his/her life refuse to accept through Jesus the forgiveness that God freely offers us all.
We will carefully examine the meaning of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and look at Bible saints who were clearly forgiven, even though they seemed guilty of the unforgivable sin.
Some of the following might initially seem unbelievable, but keep reading: further biblical proof will unfold as you proceed with this webpage.
What must one do to blaspheme the Spirit?
The Bible was not even originally written in English, so – as any Bible scholar will insist – to understand what the Bible means by blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, it is pointless consulting an English dictionary for the definition of “blasphemy”. Instead of jumping to our own presumptions in panic-stricken horror, we need to calmly and prayerfully delve deep into God’s Word. Let’s see what the Bible says Jesus was referring to:
Mark 3:22-30 And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’ So Jesus . . . spoke to them . . . ‘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.’ He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’ (Emphasis mine)
These people were not cursing or swearing, nor knowingly insulting the Holy Spirit. In fact, they were devout theologians who would rather face a thousand deaths than be disrespectful to the Spirit of God. They felt certain that they deeply revered the Holy Spirit. (Sidenote)
Whatever Jesus meant by the unpardonable sin, he was not referring to the use of foul language against the Holy Spirit when he warned these people. They were not even seeking to target the Holy Spirit. Jesus was the focus of their attack. Jesus, not the Holy Spirit, was the one they sought to insult and discredit. It just turned out that, as would be expected, insulting one member of the Trinity insults all three. The doctrine of the Trinity renders ridiculous any notion that the Holy Spirit might be more holy or more sensitive or less forgiving than the Son of God.
The salvation (eternal forgiveness) of Jesus’ enemies was at stake not because they were disapproving of some aspect of Jesus’ humanity – his fashion sense, table manners, or whatever – but because they were disapproving of something fundamental to Jesus’ spiritual role as humanity’s only Savior. They were not merely insulting the Holy Spirit; they were blasting any possibility of Jesus being the Savior of the world.
If, in speaking of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, Jesus was not referring to specifically targeting the Holy Spirit rather than another member of the Holy Trinity, neither could he be referring to a fleeting thought or a persistent unwanted thought. Let’s see why.
Suppose it were taught in Christian circles that thinking of blue giraffes is an unforgivable sin. ‘Think once of a blue giraffe and you’re eternally damned.’ Every Christian exposed to this teaching would end up thinking of a blue giraffe, since it is a fact of life that the harder anyone tries not to think of something, the more that person will think of it. This is not sinfulness; it is simply how the human mind works.
Do you suppose our Maker doesn’t know this? Do you think he’s set everyone up to be eternally damned? That’s what you would have to think if you suppose that God treats as unforgivable unwanted thoughts buzzing around in our minds.
So let’s look closer at Jesus’ statement to see what he meant.
Mark 3:30 He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’
This makes it crystal clear: it was specifically because these Bible scholars genuinely believed that Jesus had a demon that Jesus issued them this warning. Imagine knowing the Scriptures inside out and yet being so willfully blind as to be convinced that Jesus’ miracles were evil and that the Savior of the world – the Holy Lamb of God upon whom their eternal destiny hinges – is demon possessed!
These theologians were not merely resisting the Holy Spirit’s powerful testimony that Jesus is from God; they actually chose to believe that the Savior of the world was so anti-God as to be in league with the prince of demons. This was not some fleeting or unwanted thoughts, as hits many true believers; they were so certain that their hideous belief about Jesus was right that they strived to convince everyone else to spurn Jesus, their only hope of salvation. Christ did not say that even these people could not repent and find forgiveness, but in his love he saw them as needing to be warned.
To understand what renders unforgivable the sin Jesus was referring to, we must ask ourselves what is it that makes any sin forgivable. We know that God’s forgiveness – his ability to be committed to justice and yet overlook sin that deserves to be punished – is possible only because the Holy Son of God was sent to earth on a divine mission to bear the sins of the world. He suffered for each and every sin that any human has ever committed.
Christ could do this only because he was utterly pure and sinless. As we know from Adam’s sin, the final wages of just one sin is death. Had Jesus the slightest trace of evil in him he would have been dying not for our sin but for his own sin. His death would then have had no more saving power than anyone else’s death. Moreover, had Christ been of the devil, as these theologians stubbornly asserted, his sacrifice would have been utterly unacceptable to the Holy God.
Anyone blaspheming the Spirit in the sense that Jesus used the term, genuinely believes that the Spirit through whom Jesus ministered was evil. We know that there is salvation only through Jesus and that no one can find God’s forgiveness while he/she is actively rejecting Jesus as Savior. We can get many things wrong about Jesus and the way he won our salvation – no one has perfect theology – but believing Jesus is working for the devil is just too fundamental an error. Anyone believing this about our Lord will refuse to accept that Jesus offers divine forgiveness. No matter how compassionate God is, no one believing that Jesus was acting on behalf of the devil could be forgiven in this life, nor in the next, because such a person is rejecting his or her only means of salvation.
Should, however, anyone stop believing that blasphemy and start believing that Jesus is God’s sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world, that person is no longer blaspheming the Spirit by which Jesus operated, and can now find forgiveness through Jesus.
We all know that people who for a period in their lives have rejected Jesus as Savior can find forgiveness if they change their beliefs about Jesus. Likewise, forgiveness is available to every former blasphemer of the Holy Spirit who reverses his or her beliefs about the Spirit who indwelt and empowered Jesus. We will carefully prove this from Scripture.
Hope for Those Who Have Blasphemed the Spirit
Anyone trusting in Jesus’ salvation can be forgiven even of the sin of having in the past believed that Jesus, the one mediator between God and humanity (1 Timothy 2:5) is so vehemently opposed to God as to be in league with the devil. But no one can ever be forgiven while they believe Jesus is in league with the devil. This offer of forgiveness for past blasphemy is confirmed in the book of Acts.
Beginning with his Spirit-filled sermon on the Day of Pentecost, Peter repeatedly preached forgiveness of sins to people to whom he said such things as, ‘Jesus, whom you crucified,’ and ‘You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life . . . Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord . . .’ (Scriptures).
The religious people Peter charged with these offenses obviously did not believe they were killing a godly man, and yet they were well aware of the undeniably supernatural character of Jesus’ miracles. If the power behind Jesus’ miracles were supernatural but not from God, it had to be demonic. These people must therefore have blasphemed the Spirit of God by passionately believing that Jesus was empowered by an evil spirit. And yet Peter, under the Holy Spirit’s anointing, offered these very people salvation if they were willing to repent – to change their beliefs about the Spirit through whom Jesus operated – and put their faith in Jesus as their Savior.
Tucked away in this Pentecost sermon is something else highly significant. Forgiveness is offered to people who ‘disowned’ (the word, translated ‘denied’ in the King James Version, is used twice in Acts 3:14-15) Jesus. In the original Greek, this very word is the one Jesus used when he stated:
Matthew 10:33 But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.
Jesus’ pronouncement here is as emphatic as the one he made about the unforgivable sin. It offers no hope for anyone disowning/denying him, and yet Scripture elsewhere proves beyond doubt that this sin can indeed be forgiven. This highlights the fact that whenever we see in Scripture what seem like terrifying pronouncements of doom, they apply only to those who die without ever regretting that sin and seeking forgiveness for it through Jesus’ shed blood.
Consider this Scripture:
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
Like very many other disturbing parts of the Bible, this seems to give no hope to anyone found guilty. If we panic, however, it is because we have ripped such verses out of the Bible; reading them in isolation, without adequately considering the rest of Scripture.
In this case, the answer is in the very next verse:
1 Corinthians 6:11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
It is simply not true to the nature of the Bible, however, to always expect to find hope in the immediate context. For example, we read something similar in the book of Revelation, but the surrounding verses do not hint at forgiveness being available. The verse seems to say that all liars are sent to hell, but we know this cannot be true because that interpretation is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture, and what human has never lied?
Revelation 21:8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
It makes no difference whether the interpretive key to a Scripture is in the next verse or a hundred verses away; it is a serious mistake to try to interpret supposedly damning Scriptures while disregarding the repeated teaching of the Bible about the power of our risen Lord to forgive all sin.
A verse is taken out of context not only if surrounding verses are overlooked but whenever a passage is divorced from the full biblical revelation of God. Statements of doom, like ‘the wages of sin is death’ or ‘anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven’ were never divinely intended to be torn from the rest of the Bible and twisted into something that nullifies other parts of God’s revelation.
Suppose a parent warns a child, ‘Disobey and I’ll kill you!’ The correct interpretation of those words depends entirely on the person’s character. It will mean radically different things if the parent is loving and gentle, with a sense of humor, or is harsh, or is quite capable of murder. To correctly understand the Word of God, one must understand the heart of God. So what is the heart of God? Love, says the Bible. It is love that causes him to strongly warn and it is love that causes his heart to melt and forgive at the first sign of repentance.
To understand what God means by harsh statements that seem to deny all possibility of forgiveness, we must get to know God as deeply as we possibly can. A key way of knowing how someone will react in a new situation is to observe over a long period how he handles similar situations. So to understand how God will react to someone blaspheming the Spirit, let’s look at how he acted previously, after issuing other dire warnings. Over and over, the Bible records God seemingly giving people no hope, and yet letting them off the hook anyhow, the moment they changed their attitude and looked to him in faith. For example:
* God told Moses, ‘Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.’ Moses disobeyed the Almighty’s command to ‘leave me alone.’ That’s a bold act, since it was for disobedience that all the others were about to be destroyed. But this man knew God’s heart. He prayed and God reversed his decision to destroy them (Exodus 32:10,14).
* Not only was Rahab a prostitute, she belonged to a tribe that was so corrupt that the Lord insisted that every member of it must be exterminated (e.g. Deuteronomy 7:1-2) and yet she was not only spared but became an ancestress of the Messiah.
* The Law of God said no Moabite could ‘enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation’ (Deuteronomy 23:3) and yet Ruth, David’s great-grandmother, was a Moabite and became another of God’s chosen in the Messiah’s family tree.
* God’s law said that everyone guilty of adultery must be put to death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22; John 8:5). David the adulterer repented and, despite God’s anger, he was not only allowed to live but to continue to reign as king with God’s full blessing (2 Samuel 12:13).
* Jonah was a prophet (2 Kings 14:25). His entire prophecy, according to Scripture, was ‘Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown’ (Jonah 3:4). The prophecy held not a shadow of hope. God’s chosen instrument to pronounce this death sentence was a man who hated these people with a passion. He wanted them annihilated. You can be sure there was nothing about the body language or tone of voice of this messenger from God to hint to these pagans that the God of this foreigner might be loving or merciful. Everything hitting their senses told them they were doomed. They were wicked. They deserved destruction. Their time was up. Yet they repented and the divinely inspired prophecy fell to the ground.
* The prophet Micah prophesied in the days of King Hezekiah, saying, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.”’ Hezekiah sought the Lord, and God relented (Jeremiah 26:18-19).
* King Hezekiah was terminally ill. The great prophet Isaiah said, ‘This is what the LORD says: Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.’ Hezekiah prayed and another prophecy hit the dust (Isaiah 38:1-5).
* The Bible clearly indicates that prophecies of doom are not given so that God can prove how smart he is in predicting the future, but are given in the hope that the prophesied condemnation will be averted by the people repenting. ‘If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation . . . repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned’ (Jeremiah 18:7-8, see also Jeremiah 26:3.13; 36:3). ‘And if I say to the wicked man, “You will surely die,” but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right . . . None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. . . he will surely live’ (Ezekiel 33:14,16). Why is this? Because of the heart of God: ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live . . .’ (Ezekiel 33:11).
* Jesus repeatedly rebuffed the Canaanite woman, calling her a dog and saying in response to his disciples’ plea to get rid of her, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel’ and later, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs’ (Matthew 15:24,26). She persisted and got what she wanted – the very thing Jesus had just pronounced ‘not right’ and contrary to his divine mission.
This overview allows us to see deep into the heart of God and know what he really means by harsh statements that seem to give no way out. Their very harshness is intended to move people to seek God so that he could relent.
God is neither fickle, nor a liar. He sticks steadfastly to what he means; never to anyone’s misunderstanding of what he means. The only way to avoid misunderstanding God is to never underestimate his merciful, loving heart, and how an offender’s change of heart and faith in Christ’s sacrifice frees God to forgive as he longs to, and suddenly the impossible becomes possible. Of course, if a person does not respond the way God hopes, the dire statement remains in force.
To understand what God means by an unpardonable sin, it is essential to interpret it in the light of God’s forgiving heart, and his ability to forgive through Christ, and his inability to forgive outside of faith in Christ. If, however, instead of reading the Bible in sync with God’s heart, we read it while letting ourselves be dominated by a condemning conscience or by fear that Jesus is not ‘able to save completely those who come to God through him,’ (Hebrews 7:25) we will repeatedly get it wrong.
Sadly, feeling sure of God’s forgiving nature is particularly difficult for some people suffering psychological afflictions such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (free-floating anxiety can be misinterpreted as being unable to be freed from guilt), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (which can cause a condemning conscience and/or uncontrollable, blasphemous thoughts), major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or delusional disorder. I explain this more – especially OCD – in subsequent pages. Of course, not everyone suffering this way has been diagnosed. Treating such illnesses will help people read the Bible in a way that is closer to how God intends it to be understood.
Another Holy Spirit Blasphemer Forgiven
I can find just one explanation for Saul’s behavior: he believed – and did all he could to force others to believe – that Jesus performed his miracles through the power of demons. The supernatural character of Jesus’ ministry was common knowledge at that time in his part of the world. So much was this the case that Peter could confidently say to a stranger living on the geographical fringes of Palestine, quite distant from Jerusalem and Galilee where Jesus performed most of his miracles, ‘You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee . . . how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him’ (Acts 10:37-38).
Saul, a most intelligent man with connections with the top Jewish leaders, and deeply involved in trying to change Christians’ beliefs, would have had to have known all about Jesus’ famous miracles. Furthermore, he was not some modern day skeptic. Being a Pharisee, he strongly believed in the supernatural – angels, demons, life after death, and so on. Clearly, when Saul was violently opposed to Jesus, the miracle worker, he must have been convinced that Jesus’ power to supernaturally heal was demonic.
The man who became God’s chosen apostle, literally tortured Christians, trying to force them to blaspheme (Acts 22:19; 26:11). Since he was a God-fearing man who thought he was serving God by doing this, he could not have supposed at the time that he was seeking to make them blaspheme God. He must have been trying to get Christians to utter the blasphemous things about Jesus and the Source of Jesus’ power that at that time Saul himself firmly believed to be true.
To leave us in no doubt, Paul himself declared in writing that he ‘was once a blasphemer and a persecutor’ (1 Timothy 1:13). He said he acted in ignorance, but it was a very limited ignorance. He blasphemed despite being a Bible scholar, knowing every word of Old Testament Scriptures, including all the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by Jesus. And he continued to be a blasphemer despite the witness of all the countless Christians he argued with and all those he tortured. This man’s total forgiveness proves how eager God is to find reason for mercy.
In contrast to Christians who blaspheme only half-heartedly or occasionally, Paul was relentless in his blasphemy and in his determination to force Christians to blaspheme. ‘But Saul was not a Christian when he thought such horrible things about Jesus,’ object people who feel if they sin after becoming a Christian it somehow stops God from being forgiving. This implies that God was more loving or gracious toward us when we were his enemies than after he had made us his own. That’s ridiculous! If God can find the grace to forgive his enemy, can he not forgive his own child?
Romans 5:10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Emphasis mine)
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
If Saul’s evil could not only be forgiven but he was selected by God to be one of the greatest Christians, then God will forgive you and make you great.
As Scripture affirms, the Lord truly is ‘patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9). (In the original Greek, ‘repentance’ literally means to change one’s mind.)
So Saul, and anyone like him, could be forgiven and wondrously used of God for the rest of his life simply because he had a change of heart and no longer believed that Jesus had a demon.
What makes people unforgivable is not God hardening his heart against them. The God of eternal love, who wants no one to perish, does not suddenly crack and no longer want to forgive certain people. They are unforgivable solely because there is salvation through no one else but the One they are dismissing as demonic. It is an eternal sin because once a person dies still consciously rejecting Jesus’ salvation, there is no opportunity for forgiveness in the next life. Anyone repenting and believing in Jesus before death, however, will be forgiven.
Impossible to be Saved?
It is utterly impossible for any camel to pass through the eye of a needle, and yet Jesus said that even that impossibility would be easier than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Let’s not water down what Jesus was saying. A camel was the largest creature commonly found in the nation and the eye of a needle was the tiniest easily describable opening. It’s not just hard; it’s impossible. The disciples understood. They were flabbergasted. ‘Who then can be saved?’ they asked in astonishment. If ever you are tempted to think it is impossible for God to forgive your hideous sins, then burn Jesus’ reply into your brain, ‘With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God’ (Mark 10:27).
Let’s clarify the matter by revisiting this incident. Jesus stated that it is impossible for some people to be saved. Then – apparently only because the disciples queried him – in the next breath he said that with God nothing is impossible. From this we see that no matter how impossible it might be for a Holy Spirit blasphemer to be saved, it suddenly becomes possible when the God of the impossible becomes involved.
The issue then becomes: will such a person change his or her attitude and seek God for this miracle or will the person continue to spurn his or her only hope of salvation? We already know where God stands – he wants no one to perish. The ball is back in the blasphemer’s court.
At first reading, Jesus’ statement about an unforgivable sin seems to contradict the rest of Scripture. The Bible says every sin can be forgiven; Jesus says the sin of blaspheming the Spirit by which Jesus operated – believing that the Spirit in Jesus is of the devil – cannot be forgiven.
In reality, they are saying exactly the same thing. The Bible says your every sin will be forgiven, if you believe that Jesus is God’s means of salvation. Jesus says your every sin will be forgiven, unless you refuse to believe that Jesus is God’s means of salvation, and instead choose to believe Jesus is of the devil.
No one believing the damning doctrine that Jesus is demon possessed can be forgiven, but anyone no longer believing that blasphemy can find forgiveness.
As explained earlier in this series of webpages, however, God’s eagerness to forgive does not mean he will make faith easy. It is those who face great challenges to faith who end up achieving great things for God and will enjoy immense eternal glory. For your loving Lord to make it easy for you to believe that you are forgiven, would be to rob you of a reward greater than we could ever imagine.
Any sin for which you sincerely seek Jesus’