June 7, 2015

Rector’s Reflection

“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” – for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.”

Ouch. Never have forgiveness?

Too many folks have been stopped in their tracks after being convinced that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit. In the folks I’ve talked with who believed or suspected that they had blasphemed the Holy Spirit, none of them had actually done so. The very fact that they were even concerned about it was a very good indication that they had not done so. There’s really lots of leeway when it comes to the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit can be RESISTED. Acts 7:51 “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do.”

The Holy Spirit can be QUENCHED. 1 Thessalonians 5:19 “Do not quench the Spirit.”

The Holy Spirit can be GRIEVED. Ephesians 4:30 “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.”

The Holy Spirit can be QUIETED. Zechariah 6:8 “Then he cried out to me, ‘Lo, those who go toward the north country have set my spirit at rest in the north country.’”

The Holy Spirit can be INSULTED. Hebrews 10:29 “How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace?”

And finally … The Holy Spirit can be BLASPHEMED.

According to Scripture, you can resist the Holy Spirit, quench, grieve, quiet, and even insult the Holy Spirit (not that I’m saying these are good things!) and yet not commit the unpardonable sin by blaspheming the Spirit.

This has been part of the problem. People (clergy included) have wadded all of these things together with blaspheming the Holy Spirit. Others have even thrown some additional real or imagined sins into the mix as well, and this has caused undue consternation in many an otherwise stable Christian.

So what’s the deal? It would seem that every other kind of sin and even every other kind of blasphemy can be forgiven. Scripture says ALL! In the Greek language ALL is always translated as … ALL! Axe murderer? ALL! Bank robber? ALL! What if you got divorced and remarried? (I bring up the last one because I know someone who believed that somehow by divorcing and remarrying he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit and was lost and separated from God forever. No!) ALL means ALL! So why is the Holy Spirit so fussy about blasphemy?

Well here’s my take. Blasphemy in general is something intentionally slanderous and/or injurious to one’s good name. Speaking blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is when someone knowingly and deliberately attributes the works, operations and/or gifts of the Holy Spirit to the Devil or attributes the works and operations of the Devil to the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees did this when Jesus was casting out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. They said, “He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons.”

I’m sure the Pharisees had to have had some inkling that they were looking at a miraculous work of God, but their stubborn resistence, evil pride, and arrogance was so great that they willfully rejected this inkling.

At the end of the day, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not achieved by someone who is just parroting someone else or speaking out of ignorance. It’s also not just something stupid that someone casually says once or twice. Blasphemy is something that is said deliberately and abundantly from the heart.

But what makes it unpardonable?

For me, blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the rejection of Christ’s offer of salvation, his free gift of eternal life, and thus, his forgiveness of sin. If you don’t accept his gift you can’t be forgiven. Salvation is received by the indwelling Holy Spirit. If you deny the Holy Spirit entrance into your life, you cannot be cleansed from unrighteousness.

Blaspheming against the Holy Spirit, then, can be understood as a persistent, stubborn rejection of the gospel of salvation, and it’s unpardonable because as long as a person remains in unbelief, he voluntarily excludes himself from forgiveness. Or put another way, if you want to play tennis but refuse to buy a racket, you can’t play tennis.

And remember, unpardonable is not God’s decision; it’s the individual’s.