Monday, March 15, 2010

The Sin That Cannot Be Forgiven

"And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven." ~ Matthew 12:31
"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." ~ Mark 3:29
"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." ~ Luke 12:10

Jesus speaks of a sin that will not be forgiven. It's not divorce and remarriage or failure to attend church or doubting God (contrary to what some have taught), unless you can somehow prove that all of those things and many more somehow equate to "blasphemy against the Spirit." I am sure there are some who have tried.

Here's why I believe those teachings fail:

There is never a point at which you cannot repent of those things.

"... if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." ~ 2 Chronicles 7:14
"Peter replied, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.'" ~ Acts 2:38
"The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." ~ 2 Peter 3:9

God wants to forgive those who repent, and will.

So if all those sundry sins are not "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit," then what is?

I believe that the key to understanding the term is - of course and always - in the context of the verses in which it is planted.

All three of the synoptic gospel writers record this teaching of Jesus in what is likely the same situation: the first two with fairly short teachings; the other in a much longer one.

In Matthew 12, Mark 3, and Luke 11 & 12 the setting for this warning from Jesus comes right after a charge by Pharisees (Matthew) and teachers of the law (Mark), who said: "He is possessed by Beelzebub! It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." Matthew has already told us that Jesus has just healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (Luke adds that afterward the man spoke), and that when it happened, people around were astonished and wondered "Could this be the Son of David?"

The teaching and record of the events that followed in Luke is so much longer that the healing takes place in chapter 11, and the teaching continues through chapter 12. Matthew adds that Jesus knew their thoughts before he began teaching: "How can Satan drive out Satan?" and adds: "He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."

The people accusing Him of consorting with demons are so twisted in their thinking that - because they have already rejected Him as good and of God - they see the wonderful outcome of a wondrous miracle as deceit from Satan; from Beelzebub.

They are so prejudiced that they can no longer tell right from wrong. They are like the people that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed a woe upon hundreds of years before:

"Woe to those who call evil good
   and good evil,
   who put darkness for light
   and light for darkness,
   who put bitter for sweet
   and sweet for bitter." ~ Isaiah 5:20

It's impossible to repent when you believe evil to be good and good to be evil.

I believe this is the reason why God commanded the Israelites, fresh into their promised land, to dedicate/completely destroy some of the cities which they would take after He had conquered them: men, women, children, old people, cattle, donkeys, sheep and goods (Deuteronomy 7). The original word may have a footnote in your NIV Bible that helps define it, saying "The Hebrew term refers to the irrevocable giving over of things or persons to the LORD, often by totally destroying them."

Why? God tells them:

"You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods." ~ Deuteronomy 12:31

They did these horrible, despicable things as worship to their gods, Baal (the earlier name for Beelzebub) and Molech and others; it was their religion, their culture, their upbringing to believe that this evil was good.

They were like the false teachers that Paul would warn Timothy about, hundreds of years later:

"The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron." ~ 1 Timothy 4:1-2

It's impossible to repent when you believe evil to be good and good to be evil.

That's why I chose to change the word "will not" in the title of this post to "cannot." It isn't just that God will not forgive this sin.

It's that the sin cannot be repented of.

This is how the writer of Hebrews tried to explain the common-sense justice of it:

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace." ~ Hebrews 6:4-6
"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." ~ Hebrews 10:26-31

That, I believe, is what Jesus is talking about when He speaks of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

It's a passage of scripture that is not without problems. Why Jesus is recorded as saying "Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven" in Matthew 12:32 and Luke 12:10, yet is also recorded as saying "But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God" in Luke's previous verse 9 goes over my head, even when I'm standing on a chair.

It may be a simple as the fact that while here, enfleshed as a man, Jesus our example showed the same respect and awe toward God's Holy Spirit as any man should. Blaspheming Jesus or disowning Him at that time, perhaps, could be forgiven: He looked like a man; ate, drank, walked, grew weary, slept, lived, died as a man. But the life-giving, life-sustaining, life-returning things the Spirit did through Him were undeniably good, and should not have been mistaken for evil - could not have been by any right-thinking person. Jesus seemed to be communicating that He understood this when He said: "The miracles I do in my Father's name speak for me" (John 10:25) and "even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father" (John 10:38), and "Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves" (John 14:11).

Peter, perhaps, could be forgiven when He disowned His Lord three times - having traveled with Him; having seen all the miracles; having been part of some of them. Even though he was the one who identified Jesus as God's Son, he could be forgiven for those moments of cowardice when he said, "I don't know Him" thrice.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law, on the other hand, may not have been forgivable at all. For they tried and tortured and crucified Him, all the time believing it to be the right and just and holy thing to do; their consciences seared as with a hot iron ... calling good "evil" and evil "good" ... trampling the Son of God underfoot.

It's impossible to repent when you believe evil to be good and good to be evil.

So I hope this helps explain, at least - even if I am totally wrong - why I sometimes become passionate in my discourse with brothers in Christ who preach that it is right and just to be judgmental and condemnatory toward those who do not observe their rules ... why I sometimes lose my composure when dealing with those who proclaim that they love the targets of their attacks yet spew words of hatred and mockery; who do all of their witch-hunting and false-prophet marking and apostate-declaring with absolutely clear consciences, believing themselves directed by God to do so without a hint of mercy, compassion, or grace.*

I know that it's easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye than for someone so enriched by the satisfaction of knowing he is right to ever enter the kingdom of heaven, ruled by the One who is perfect.

I know that I should pray for them, and I try. I really do. I want to care about them. I want to love and respect them. I want to remind myself that Christ died for them as surely as for me.

But from time to time, all I can pray for is "May God have mercy on their souls.

"And on mine, because of what I feel toward them."

*This tasks me, because Christian Courier editor Wayne Jackson, after quoting Matthew 12:31 earlier in the article, writes that "Any sin for which one seeks forgiveness through God’s prescribed plan can be forgiven." (Blasphemy: What is This Great Sin?). But what about sin that one does not see as sin; that one sees as good? For Apologetics Press, Kyle Butt concludes (regarding unforgivable sin) that "The fact that it is not mentioned after the resurrection, lends itself to the idea that it cannot still be committed. In fact, the indication from passages such as 1 John 1:7,9 is that 'all unrighteousness' that a person could commit today can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus." (Blasphemy Against the Holy Spirit—The “Unpardonable Sin”) That scripture, of course, closes with: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." One cannot confess what one does not perceive as sin. I can find no reference to this question on Forthright.net nor Seek The Old Paths. Other references to it on the Web are, as you might expect, all over the map - but so far, I have not encountered the view I've outlined here.

4 comments:

ben overby said...

Keith, I'm not clear on what Jesus meant, but it is a sobering warning that we have to take great care in how we think about reality. I will note that there was a time when I was as radical as anyone could be, calling evil good and good evil. I marked, wrote up, laughed at, and otherwise treated with contempt anyone who didn't walk the same narrow "old paths" I was walking. One example. I used to get an invitation every year to same church in middle Tennessee, where I'd "skin the cat," or "shuck the corn," (language we actually used!) by publicly naming certain liberal preachers and "out-of-the-fellowship" churches. When my eyes were being opened, I said certain things about grace during one lecture that resulted in me being found me in the hot seat in front of all the elders and the minister. At the conclusion of the meeting, I was told not to return to complete the series I'd started.

Everything eventually changed 180 degrees. Much of what I used to think was evil, I now see as good and lots of the stuff I used to support as good, I now see as dangerously evil. I was in a circle very much like the Pharisees, and in a real way, persecuting the church from the inside. I could tell you things that would make your toes curl. It was sick and sad.

And others have made the same journey.

When does a person cross the line, or move over to that place of no return? An eternal optimist, I tend to think that if I could repent (change my strategy for living), then ANYONE can, so long as they have life.

But I admit, again, that my judgment might be clouded entirely on this issue.

Grace to you, as always! And to me, too! : )

ben o.

laymond said...

Keith said, The Pharisees and teachers of the law, on the other hand, may not have been forgivable at all. For they tried and tortured and crucified Him, all the time believing it to be the right and just and holy thing to do; their consciences seared as with a hot iron ... calling good "evil" and evil "good" ... trampling the Son of God underfoot.

(Luke--"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.")

Keith, can you see where this condemns your argument that (Jesus is God)? The pharisees were not blaspheming God, they were accusing Jesus of doing that very thing, they were wrong, but if being wrong cut them off from ever being saved, the shed blood didn't wash away all sins, did it?

Matthew 12:31 Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.

blasphemy--Judaism.
a.
an act of cursing or reviling God.
(disrespect for God/ the Holy Spirit)

But, when we believe Jesus was sent by God/his Father, as a servant both to God and man, and remains today a servant to both. And he only spoke the Gospel as it is told to him, by God, and then we deny what Jesus spoke as the truth, that comes as close to blasphemy as I can understand blasphemy.

Jhn 14:28 Ye have heard how I said unto you, I go away, and come [again] unto you. If ye loved me, ye would rejoice, because I said, I go unto the Father: for my Father is greater than I.

Isa 44:6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I [am] the first, and I [am] the last; and beside me [there is] no God.

Isa 44:8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared [it]? ye [are] even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, [there is] no God; I know not [any].

laymond said...

Luk 23:34 Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted his raiment, and cast lots.

sorry, I meant to add this to my comment.

Keith Brenton said...

Nope, Laymond. Can't see it. When people get into the business of calling the Holy Spirit's works evil and of the devil - whether they involve Jesus in the conversation or not - that's blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. To me, it appears Jesus asked God to specifically forgive those who didn't know what they were doing ... to Him. Was that for all of us? For all who were present at the foot of the cross at the time? Or just for those who crucified Him and cast lots for His clothing? (Only Luke records this saying, and it is in that context.)

He had already said there could be forgiveness for those who disowned Him, even spoke against Him.

But His teaching about blaspheming the Holy Spirit seems confirmed rather than refuted by those later writings in the New Testament.

God can forgive the unforgivable. Jesus can blindingly appear to one who has condoned the persecution and execution of the just, then point him to a different course in life.

But the Father and Son do not always do those things.

Ben, I'd be fascinated to know if something triggered the change in the course of your ministry. I continue to cling to your optimism, too, but - as I said in the post - I know how difficult it must be to make that change.