There is a passage which reads: “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, `Who is this that doth speak evil [blasphemia] words? Who is able to forgive sins, except God only?'” (Luke 5:21). In this passage the noun is Greek blasphemia, intimately associated with the verb Luke uses in his “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” passage (which is blasphehemio). In Luke 5:21, note the association between blasphemy and forgiveness of sins. The trouble with the scribes and Pharisees understanding is that they see a man, Jesus Christ, forgiving sins, and they reason that only God can do such a thing. By granting forgiveness of sins, Christ has committed what they consider blasphemy (because they also reason that Christ is saying that He is God).
Now we are going to delve very deeply into the heart of Christ. Christ said that we must forgive others. In our minds, we interpret His command NOT to mean that God has forgiven that person, but that WE have forgiven that person—as if there are two separate events taking place. Sweet reader, there are not two events. If you are able to forgive, then you have done so through the receipt of the Holy Spirit, for that is the essence of all goodness. And if you have done so through the Spirit, then you have also granted forgiveness through the power of God and Christ, because there are three “who are testifying in the earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood, and the three are into the one” (1 Jo 5:8). Or do you not believe what Christ said to his disciples? Jesus said, “`Verily I say to you, Whatever things ye may bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever things ye may loose on the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens” (Mat 18:18). If it is too cryptic of a verse, move to where Christ was with his disciples, ready to send them forth: “And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained'” (John 20:22-23). Do you claim to have received the Holy Spirit? Have you become a disciple of Christ? If the answer is in the affirmative, then this verse applies to you. When you forgive, God forgives; when you do not forgive, God does not forgive. Penitent sinners are forgiven through Jesus Christ. You must forgive those who repent, or you will blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Simple. Clear. Concise.
Yet, the message is radically different from the Jewish understanding. Not only does our scripture in Christ say that Christ forgives sins, but that recipients of the Holy Spirit also forgive sins. This is dangerous territory to a weak believer. It seems to grant us a power that is on par with God Himself, just what the Jewish scribes feared. But Christ clarified His relationship, saying, “I am not able of myself to do anything; according as I hear I judge, and my judgment is righteous, because I seek not my own will, but the will of the Father who sent me” (Jo 5:30). Now Christ, Son of Man, knows the will of God, and he in turn clarifies our relationship to Himself: “I am the vine, ye the branches; he who is remaining in me, and I in him, this one doth bear much fruit, because apart from me ye are not able to do anything” (Jo 15:5). And Christ sends us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth by which we bear fruit, and when we receive, “we are not able to do anything against the truth, but for the truth” (2 Cor 13:8). We are not God; we have God. We are not Christ; we have Christ. We are not the Holy Spirit; we have the Holy Spirit. All things we do, we do for them, and they are one. We have the power to forgive sins because we have these three. God dwells within us, and as such Christ prays to the Father for his disciples: “that they all may be one, as Thou Father [art] in me, and I in Thee; that they also in us may be one, that the world may believe that Thou didst send me” (John 17:21). Then, are we not like Paul who cries out that “with Christ I have been crucified, and live no more do I, and Christ doth live in me; and that which I now live in the flesh — in the faith I live of the Son of God, who did love me and did give himself for me” (Gal 2:20)? Now Christ lives in you, and the Father and Jesus make their abode within you. When you forgive, God forgives; when God forgives, you forgive. The Holy Spirit cannot practice unforgiveness towards penitent sinners, for Christ came to call the sinners to repent because sinners need forgiveness. If Christ dwells within you, then you can do no other action than forgive those who repent! Consider John’s words: “If any one may see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give to him life to those sinning not unto death; there is sin to death, not concerning it do I speak that he may beseech” (1 Jo 5:15). In other words, pray forgiveness for those who have sinned, but not if the sin was the “sin unto death.” We cannot ask forgiveness for unforgiveness, for how can unforgiveness ever accept forgiveness?
There are commentators who argue that the “sin unto death” spoken of by John, and “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” are two different things. I would not agree! There is only ONE thing that Christ says cannot be forgiven. He says that if you will not forgive others, neither will God forgive you of your sins – those words are recorded in Mat 6:15 and Mark 11:26. So important was this mandate, Christ included it in what we call the Lord’s Prayer: “and forgive us our sins, for also we ourselves forgive every one indebted to us” (Luke 11:4). Was Christ confused? Didn’t Jesus also say, “I say to you, all sin and evil speaking shall be forgiven to men, but the evil speaking of the Spirit shall not be forgiven to men (Mat 12:31)? Are there two unforgivable sins – unforgiveness as one, blasphemy as the other? No. Christ was not confused, nor forgetful; and John is not talking about some “other” sin that leads to death. There is only one. If you are able to receive it, then understand this: although there may seem to be two, it is in reality only one. Unforgiveness is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.