I’m giving some serious thought to forgiveness as we approach the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. As a side not, I acknowledge that this piece is particularly heavy with scriptural references, but since the topic is a little controversial in Christian circles, I thought it would be a helpful tracking device for my train of thought.
The unwillingness to forgive is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Is my statement true? It seems that we, as the followers of Christ, ought to give serious consideration to the idea of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, as the three synoptic gospels inform us that it is an unforgiveable sin; in fact, it is the only unforgiveable sin:
“And whoever may speak a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven to him, but whoever may speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this age, nor in that which is coming” (Mat 12:32).
“but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness — to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment” (Mark 3:29).
“and every one whoever shall say a word to the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven to him, but to him who to the Holy Spirit did speak evil, it shall not be forgiven” (Luke 12:10).
I have read several explanations about the “unpardonable sin,” and the articles can be sorted into a variety of categories: (1) the sin is rejection of the Spirit, (2) the sin is apostasy, (3) the sin is against the Spirit in Christ only, (4) the sin is attributing the work of the Spirit to evil forces. These explanations don’t seem simple enough to me. Paul said, “I fear, lest, as the serpent did beguile Eve in his subtilty, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that [is] in the Christ” (2 Cor 11:3). Perhaps we must look diligently and follow many scriptural paths, but the answer that awaits discovery will inevitably be “simple.”
In Mark, the scripture informs us that Christ was responding to the scribes who were saying that Jesus had an unclean spirit; casting out demons by the hand of Beelzebub. So, there are a good number of people who embrace the idea that Christ intended to relay that the actions of the scribes are the definition of blasphemy against the Spirit. That cannot be correct, for we know with all assuredness that if one of those scribes repented and fell at the feet of Christ, he would be forgiven. Therefore, what the scribes were doing cannot define blasphemy against the Spirit; but rather, Jesus used this specific moment – that moment when the Jewish scribes were speaking ill of Him (which would seem to be the ultimate insult from the perspective Jesus’s followers)—to imply that even this blasphemy against the Son of Man, can be forgiven. It must have been difficult for the disciples to stand beside Christ, the Son of Man, while the scribes blasphemed Him. But Christ never asked for retribution for Himself. In my mind, it is reminiscent of the time when Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, and the Lord told those who were with him to “suffer even this” (Luke 22:51). So, if the words of the scribes are not the blasphemy to which Christ refers, then what is?
After Matthew gives his account of the scribes’ insults towards Christ, he moves into a description of Christ telling the masses that the tree is known by its fruit. This is an excellent place to pause. Why would Mathew immediately move into this discussion, and why is it important? A good tree produces good fruit. Good fruit is the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23); and also, “all the law in one word is fulfilled—in this: `Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself'” (Gal 5:14). If we serve God, then we love one another, and love fulfills the law; we are granted grace by our forgiving and loving Father, “and if by the Spirit ye are led, ye are not under law” (Gal 5:18). If, however, we do not have love for each other, then we are not led by the Spirit. Without the Spirit, we are led by the flesh to produce bad fruit: “adultery, whoredom, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, strifes, emulations, wraths, rivalries, dissensions, sects, envyings, murders, drunkennesses, revellings, and such like” (Gal 5:22). Against these actions, the law must stand firm. When we accept Christ, we recognize that our bad fruits are evil, we appeal to God, cry out to Christ, repent of our sins, and receive forgiveness—grace pours freely unto those who receive the Spirit. Do you see? The law is still the law; nothing has changed there. The change is that we have Christ, and He has redeemed us from the law and we have been granted forgiveness of our sins. ALL of the sins that Paul listed can be forgiven. I can, even now, feel my own soul bristle at the thought of a truly repentant pedophile being forgiven, but God knows the heart—God alone. If we say that God cannot forgive certain sins, then we make the Word a liar; to forgive is the power and the grace of God. Now God gives the Spirit through the Son so that we might emulate Him.
Continued: The Unpardonable Sin (Part 2)