One of the most controversial sayings in all the ministry of Christ was His teaching on the Holy Spirit in Matthew 12:31-32. Undoubtedly, this passage has caused many Christians to ponder their right standing with God. And though Paul encourages us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil. 2:12 ESV), God does not call us to live in perpetual anxiety. Quite the contrary, He desires us who have repented and believed in the Lord Jesus and rest in Him (cf. Matt. 11:28-30). So we must ask the question, “What precisely is the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which Jesus mentions in Matthew 12?” As with every great question in Scripture we must approach this question carefully, prayerfully and in light of Scripture as a whole. Therefore, let us begin to answer this great question by working our way towards it through necessary preliminary questions.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. He is the same in essence, being and nature as God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. This is why the Spirit is worshiped and glorified along with the Father and the Son. When we look through the biblical text, we find right from the beginning that the Spirit does what God does. In Psalm 139, He shares the same attributes as God. Indeed, as Matthew’s baptismal formula makes clear, the Spirit has a special and unique relationship between Himself and the other members of the Trinity (Matt. 28:19). The Spirit is our Helper, Comforter, and the One who causes the elect to flee to Christ by their conviction of sin. The Spirit takes the work of Christ and applies it to our hearts for our redemption. The Spirit finds spiritually dead, slaves to sin and gives them a new heart, a new will and a new passion (cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27). The person and work of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, a necessity to the redemption of the Church. The next question follows by way of necessity.
What is blasphemy? Blasphemy is first and foremost a sin of the heart expressed by the tongue. Blasphemy proper means to slander the very name and character of the triune God. The third commandment reveals the priority of keeping God’s name sacred, and later in the Law, we find the capital penalty for its transgression in the time of Moses (cf. Lev. 24:14-16a; Deut. 5:11b). We may think this too severe, but this is because we have no sense of the gravity of this sin; we are more concerned with our dignity than God’s. We are not eager to maintain His holiness. We need to realize as well that God’s command reveals to us the depth and reality of this offense.
So, is blasphemy itself always damning? Paul’s first letter to Timothy gives us a small biography of Paul’s former manner of life. Paul writes, “formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent [of the Name]…” (1 Timothy 1:13a ESV) Paul’s blasphemy materialized into a visible clear opposition to Jesus and His Church, and yet we know he received mercy, not because of his morals, or himself, but solely because of the unmerited grace of God in Christ as Paul explains in 1 Timothy 1:14-16. What is revealed, however, is that not all blasphemy is unforgivable. As we look at Christ’s words in Matt. 12:31a, 32a we receive a great assurance of pardon. All sins will be forgiven, minus one. And the key to forgiveness is repentance.
The blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unique because, as understood in the context of the Pharisees, it is a perpetual refusal to accept the truth of Christ though they know better. The Pharisees knew something about Christ and the Spirit who empowered Him; they just didn’t care. The Pharisees called Christ a devil, even though they knew better and there we find the blasphemy of the Spirit. They reject the fount of their forgiveness and for that reason remain forever guilty.
A Christian can never commit this sin for God preserves them (John 6:37; 1 Cor. 12:3). False believers who die in unbelief, rejecting Christ, reveal they were never born again to begin with (cf. 1 John 2:19). This complex passage must serve as a warning to the unconverted and a comfort to believers who know that God preserves them and will never abandon those who come to Christ in repentance and faith; all of which are the gifts of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 2:8, 9). As a final word of comfort, Dr. R. C. Sproul encourages us, “Worrying about is one of the clearest evidences that [you O Christian have] not committed this sin, for those who commit it are so hardened in their hearts that they do not care that they commit it.”
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