Luke 12:10 “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.”
He came to me during the Aberystwyth Conference in the Great Hall of the University this year. I think it was after one of the addresses of Dale Ralph Davies. He lives in England and he wanted to talk to me about his fears that he had committed the unpardonable sin. I greatly admired his seriousness; his relationship with the living God was of enormous importance to him. I answered him as best I could and told him that on my website there’s at least one full text of a sermon on blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which cannot be forgiven. Three weeks ago he called me, apologizing for taking my time but still concerned that he might have sinned the unforgivable sin. Had he read my sermons on this on the website? Yes he had. I said, “In three weeks time I will be speaking on this theme because one of the texts that refer to this is in Luke chapter 12. Can you wait until then, and read it or listen to it? Then come back to me.” I would refresh myself on the subject as I studied the text again. I haven’t looked at what I have written on this subject before. I have sought to be fresh and maybe my words will help him more this time. There are changes. God always has new truth and new understanding to bring out of his word. I did appreciate his trusting me with this sober question. He agreed to that, and so he will soon be reading this sermon and maybe even hearing it on line. Soon after I preach these message they appear on our website. I hope he will call me next week and we will chat about it. You may have no personal problem with this subject, but you are overhearing my pastoral counsels to a troubled Christian. He could be your father, or your brother or your son. He could be the neighbour who one day comes to you with his fears, but one day he could be you. So let us begin with references to this sin in the Bible.
WHERE THIS OCCURS IN SCRIPTURE.
You will not find these specific words in the Old Testament, or in the letters of Paul, or the other apostles. It is the Lord Jesus himself who refers the unpardonable sin and his words are found in the first three gospels.
i] Matthew 12:31&32 “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.”
ii] Mark 3:28-30 “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. He said this because they were saying, ‘He has an evil spirit.’”
iii] Luke 12:10 “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.”
So the starting place to understanding this problem has to be such words of the Lord Jesus as those.
WHAT THE UNPARDONABLE SIN IS.
The sin is called, “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” in all three gospels. We know the context of these words of Jesus especially in Matthew’s gospel and chapter 12. A man who had been demon possessed was brought to Jesus and our Lord delivered him. He cast the evil spirit out of the man. The man had become mute and blind through these evil influences and he was healed of that too. The gospel writers are impressing upon us that Jesus is more powerful than Satan, the god of this world. This miracle wasn’t done tucked away in a corner somewhere, and because it was observed and examinable and simply done by our Lord with no trace of trickery the watching multitudes talked to one another of what they had seen; “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matt. 12:23) they asked one another. If the promised Messiah came would he do any more than Jesus of Nazareth was doing, teaching, healing, performing signs of power over creation and the devil and death itself? It’s a great question. If the God of heaven, our omnipotent and good Father, who had spoken by his prophets for over 2000 years before Christ, should take our flesh and blood and live amongst us – what we disciples of the Lord believe has occurred – what else would you expect of his character and life? “Could this be the Son of David?” they asked. It was a wise deduction.
And then the sin occurred, this sin, this blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and it was just as visible as the deliverance of this man. It took place when Jesus was accessible and moving through the villages of Galilee. Here is the life of God the Son in the world with all his parables and profound teaching, this pure and holy and loving life, these great signs and the deliverances of oppressed people. Men and women were being awakened and convicted and stirred to see Jesus for what he was, and it was then that this unpardonable sin took place. A number of the Pharisees were angry and fearful that people would come to this conclusion about Jesus Christ that he was the Christ, the Son of the living God and so they were the ones who sinned the unpardonable sin. What did they do? They said, “Jesus is casting out demons by the help of Beelzebub, the very ruler of the demons.” Jesus was serving the devil; he was not the servant of God. In fact some of the Pharisees shouted out, “Jesus is the one who has an evil spirit” (Mk. 3:30). That was the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. It is to reject Christ as Messiah and Son of God and believe that he is the servant of Satan.
You remember that after the thirty silent years in Nazareth, the time when he was assisting his father Joseph the carpenter, the moment came for the great mission to commence – the mission he had been sent into the world by his Father to fulfil, his saving work. So he left Nazareth and went to the river Jordan to be baptized by John, and when he emerged from the waters the Spirit of God came down upon him to empower and energize and strengthen him for the mission ahead. The Spirit was seen by the crowds because he came in the form of a dove. The next three years were to be the most incredible that this world has ever seen or ever will see until Christ again appears. There was no escape from the multitudes of people who pursued him relentlessly, the thousands of sick people who came or who were brought to him, virtuous energy constantly draining from him, the endless scrutiny, companionship and training of twelve disciples, the preaching to vast crowds of people, the debates and arguments with scholarly opponents, the constant journeys and finally the arrest, the whipping, the trials, the crucifixion and death. To do all that the Lord Jesus needed the fullness of God the Holy Spirit. His own resources and wits and physical and psychological strengths would not be sufficient. Only the Spirit of God coming upon him without measure and remaining in him as omnipotence himself – I say that alone can explain all we read in the gospels of the life and works of Jesus Christ. It was by the help of the Holy Spirit that this demon-possessed man was delivered and healed, but the Pharisees shouted out that what Jesus had done was by the help of Beelzebub the ruler of the demons. Those words, a barometer of the spirit of deep hatred to Jesus Christ that was in their hearts, were the unpardonable sin. It was total rejection and opposition to our Lord.
They were “blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.” The Pharisees had received irrefutable proof that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of David. All his miracles were wrought by God, by the power of God the Holy Spirit. There were many hundreds of them. In some places disease itself was banished from communities as all the sick came to him and every single one without exception was healed. All who were possessed by demons – one unique feature of that time was the widespread prevalence of this phenomenon as the evil spirits were drawn to Galilee because their arch enemy and judge was accessible – every one, I say was delivered. Yet the Pharisees cried out that Jesus was actually doing all he did by the spirit of Beelzebub. That is the unpardonable sin; that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
The Greek word for ‘blasphemy’ occurs some 59 times in the New Testament and it is translated in a number of ways. I will give you four examples of it: Matthew 27:39 “They that passed by reviled him.” Mk 15:29 “They that passed by railed on him.” 2 Peter 2:2 “The way of truth shall be evil spoken of.” Jude 10 “These speak evil of those things.” So blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is a sin of the tongue, of the lips and the larynx and the mouth, as your voice reflects the hatred to Jesus Christ that is in your heart. When a person reviles what Christ has done, and speaks evil of it, slanders it, says a word against it, that it is from the devil and not from God, then he is blaspheming against the Holy Spirit.
EVERY SIN AND BLASPHEMY WILL BE FORGIVEN.
Jesus is very emphatic about this. Notice how he underlines it with his opening words, “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men” (Matt. 12:31). Consider blasphemy, taking God’s name in vain. That can be forgiven. Once a student came to see me who found his mind racing with blasphemies against Jesus Christ, and he thought he was committing the unpardonable sin. He was quite desperate with worry. I pointed to him these words of Jesus that every kind of blasphemy can be forgiven if we go to God and confess it, but that student had not actually spoken any blasphemous words. These were simply constant vile thoughts in his mind. Many have experienced the like. John Bunyan describes his agony in his undergoing a similar nastiness, those blasphemous thoughts. He describes it in his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. But even if you have spoken out vile blasphemous words cursing and swearing with the name of Christ, and if you’ve described Christ as an evil man, then you repent and ask God for mercy you will be pardoned. The apostle Paul tells us that this is what he had been, “I was once a blasphemer,” (I Tim. 1:13) he says, but God had shown him mercy. Curiously, he had done and said exactly what these Pharisees had said when Jesus delivered the demon-possessed man, and yet he had been forgiven. John Newton acknowledged his former frequent blasphemies but he also had known forgiveness.
Let me read to you what once occurred during the ministry of Dr. Lloyd-Jones in Sandfields, Port Talbot during his remarkable pastorate in the 1920s. He says, “Let me give you what is the most graphic illustration of this that I have ever come across in my own experience. I mention it simply to illustrate the point I am making. I remember an old man who was converted and became a Christian at the age of 77, one of the most striking conversions I have ever known. That man had lived a very evil life; there was scarcely anything he had not done at some time or another. But he came under the sound of the gospel and was converted in his old age. The great day came when he was received into the membership of the Church, and when he came to his first communion service on the Sunday evening it was to him the biggest thing that had ever happened. His joy was indescribable and we were all so happy about him. But there was a sequel, and this was the sequel. Next morning, even before I was up, that poor old man had arrived at my house, and there he stood looking the picture of misery and dejection, and weeping uncontrollably. I was amazed and astounded, especially in view of what had happened the previous night, the greatest night of his life, the climax of everything that had ever happened to him. I eventually succeeded in controlling him in a physical sense, and then asked him what was the matter. His trouble was this. After going home from that communion service he had suddenly remembered something that had happened thirty years ago. He was with a group of men drinking in a public house and arguing about religion. On that occasion he had said in contempt and derision that ‘Jesus Christ was a bastard.’ And it had all come back to him suddenly and there was, he felt sure, no forgiveness for that. This one thing! Ah, yes, he was quite happy to forget about the drinking and the gambling and the immorality. That was all right, that was forgiven. He understood that clearly. But this thing that he had said about the Son of God, the Saviour of the world—that! He could not be consoled, he could not be comforted. This one thing had cast him down to utter hopelessness. (I thank God that by the application of the Scriptures I was able to restore his joy to him.)” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression, pp. 69&70). So blasphemy alone is not unpardonable.
Or again sexual sins are not unforgivable sins; I am talking about taking a man’s wife as king David did, incest – as Lot’s daughters engaged in, prostitution, rape, homosexual lust, pedophilia, bestiality and all the unspeakable abuses of God’s good gift of sex – none of that is unpardonable. Paul gives a list of ten sins including adultery of which members of the Corinthians church had been guilty and they all had been forgiven. Remember, the unpardonable sin is committed with the voice not the loins, with words which reflect the relentless and immutable contempt for Christ that is in men’s hearts. Remember Jesus words, “And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men” (Matt. 12:31).
I am warning you of making the definition of an unforgivable sin one particular transgression of yours, or one habit of sinning, that you judge to be so powerful and so heinous that that must be unpardonable. Where does it say in Scripture that that violence or that sexual sin, or those blasphemies cannot be forgiven. There were men who were guilty of crucifying the Son of God. They drove nails through his hands and feet and mocked his torment, and you might think that that is the unforgivable sin, but God came and declared to them the offer of mercy. Peter full of the Spirit told them at Pentecost to repent and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and they would know remission for that sin. Think of it, picking up the sledge hammer and a nail and nailing gentle Jesus to a cross and then mocking his pain. Jesus’ mercy is so great that even that sin can be forgiven.
4. WHY A WORD AGAINST THE SON OF MAN WILL BE FORGIVEN BUT BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL NOT BE FORGIVEN.
What can that mean? Blasphemy against the Son of Man is forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is never forgiven. Let me explain it to you. It is not difficult to understand. That distinction between blasphemy against Jesus and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was only relevant before Calvary. It doesn’t apply to us today. It has not applied since the resurrection of Jesus Christ and Pentecost. That distinction cannot be found in any of the New Testament letters, because it was only during the earthly ministry of our Lord that Jesus could make such a distinction. If you are still puzzled, then let me explain: the reason was that Jesus’ identity as the eternal Son of God was veiled from people during the thirty-three years he walked amongst men. So he perplexed people and they disagreed amongst themselves about him, some being very harsh in their judgments. His own brothers and sisters considered him to be merely the son of Mary and Joseph who had developed religious delusions about himself and so was one brick short of a load. Others argued, “He is Elijah, or he is one of the old prophets returned to us.” Others suggested John the Baptist. But the Pharisees were most harsh, saying, “No. I think he’s the devil.”
Part of the reason they said such wicked things about him was that the Lord Jesus was deliberately hiding his glory from men. Who would dream that the Lord of glory could be the baby sleeping in a stable in Bethlehem? What veiling of his glory to hang between two thieves on a cross! He wouldn’t let demons announce that he was the Holy One and the Son of God. “Keep it to yourself,” he ordered them. He healed some men and then he forbade them to tell people that he was the one who had transformed them. Thirty years of obscurity were followed by three years of humiliation. He had nowhere to lay his head – what a strange son of king David! He was a wanderer on earth. He called himself the Son of Man, but he was the hidden Messiah. He entered Jerusalem as the prophesied Messiah, but he did so sitting on a little donkey. “Is this the Messiah?” people asked. He made such shadowy application to himself of Old Testament Messianic prophecies. His disciples were often saying to one another, “What is he saying to us? What does he mean?” He talked to them in parables and they didn’t know what he was getting at. Before his resurrection Jesus prevented men coming to a full knowledge of who he himself was. His nature is hidden from the eyes of men from his baptism right up to the resurrection morning. For that reason blasphemies against him during those years could be forgiven. If men made all manner of cruel judgments about him during those three years their blasphemies could be forgiven. We can understand that because the Lord Jesus himself was keeping his identity as the eternal Son of God hidden from us.
5. WHY BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE HOLY SPIRIT IS UNFORGIVABLE.
The answer is plain, because all unrepented sin is unforgivable, not because their hatred of Jesus and their wild words were special. In fact it is very commonplace, a ubiquitous boring sin, but if it is clung to then like all sins it is non-forgivable, not now, and not ever. The Pharisees attributed Jesus’ miracles to the work of Beelzebub. Unless that sin was confessed and abandoned it was an unforgivable sin. While they clung to that attitude their consciences were seared, like clinging to any sin, intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual or a sin of omission. If you refuse to recognize it as a sin and will not confess it to God and ask for his mercy it becomes an unforgivable sin. The Pharisees had the enormous privilege of observing Jesus Christ close up, and yet they would see no beauty in the life of Jesus, the death of Jesus or his resurrection. They would never seek justification and new life from Jesus, and on top of that they used whatever influence they had to discourage anyone else from doing the same. They were consumed with hostility towards our Lord. They were not going to pray to him and ask him to bless and help them because they judged him to be the servant of the devil. For them Jesus was a person to be resisted and other people must be encouraged to oppose him too. I am saying that while that spirit is in a man he is an enemy of God in his life, in his death and also in the world to come, and there is no forgiveness.
The heart of the natural man has a bias against God. It is even at enmity against him. Your heart as an unbeliever is at war with Christ. Religious people may not say, “If only they’d meet with Jesus they’d change.” They had met with Jesus. They cannot say, “If only they could see his mighty signs and miracles then they would change.” They had seen his wonders – some of them had met Lazarus alive from the dead. They may not say, “If only they heard the gospel preached with the power of the Holy Spirit sent from God then they would change.” They had heard Jesus preach the Sermon on the Mount. They had had the greatest privileges of the whole human race. There is no evidence whatsoever that they lacked concerning the incarnate God. A man may hate classical music because all he has heard is a local group of amateurs who can hardly play their instruments and who can’t keep together scratching out a horrible version of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Pathetic. Then you want to say to him, “Let me take you to the Albert Hall and a Promenade Concert where there is a top flight orchestra and conductor. They are playing some glorious, well-loved, rhythmical and melodious compositions.” However, if after hearing that orchestra he still wriggles and sighs and can’t wait for the evening to end then you know his heart has no place for classical music because he has heard the best and disdains it.
So if you have heard bad preaching – a man bawling at you for an hour – ignorant, prejudiced and nonsensical – then we can appreciate your saying, “If this is Christianity it is not for me.” But these people of Galilee had not been bored by religious charlatans. They had seen men blind from earth regaining their sight, and a Jewish synagogue ruler having his daughter raised from the dead after the room where her body lay had been full of Jewish people who knew that she had been lying. It had been Jesus of Nazareth who had raised her. These people of Galilee had heard the wonderful parables of Jesus and his superlative preaching, and yet among them there were those men, principally Pharisees, who said of Jesus, “This is the devil’s servant,” and they murdered Christ by crucifixion. They had received the knowledge of the truth, and so they sinned willfully in rejecting the Saviour, and that is it. There is no other sacrifice, no other name, no other mediator with God, no one comes to God but by him and they have despised and rejected him. To keep that attitude is to be guilty of unforgivable sinfulness.
6. WHY JESUS WARNED THEM ABOUT THE DANGER THEY WERE IN.
Why did he tell them this? Why trouble them with thoughts of ‘unpardonable sin’? To make their danger plain. No unrepented, no unconfessed, no unacknowledged sins are pardoned, ever, in this world or the next. So Jesus gave them this dire warning. “How you think . . . how you have responded to me . . . what you say . . . is an unforgivable sin while you cling to it.” That is what Jesus is saying. Hasn’t the Lord often said things like that in the past? Let me give you some illustration, He tells the Moabites that not one of them can enter his assembly. No way. His assembly is not a multi-faith gathering, but then Ruth turns from her people and her gods and she comes to the Lord and his people. She abandons the Moabites and so she is able to enter the assembly, and one day becomes the great-grandmother of David and an ancestor of Jesus. Again, God tells his Old Testament people that no adulterer shall live, but king David sins that sin, and then repents deeply of his adultery and he lives. He continues to reign as king. Again, Jonah the prophet told the people of Nineveh that within forty days their city would be overthrown. There was no hope of mercy and pardon for such evil-loving pagan idolaters; their doom was settled, and yet the people of Nineveh, from the greatest to the least, asked, “Who knows what will happen if we cast ourselves on the Lord?” They all believed God’s warning and they repented and God did a wonderful thing, he repealed the death sentence. His judgment did not come upon them. The promised overthrow did not occur. Again, king Hezekiah was terminally ill. In fact the prophet Isaiah said to him, “This is what the Lord said, Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover.” Yet Hezekiah cast himself on the mercy of the Lord and he did not die; he recovered.
So in the Scriptures there are divine warnings of certain death and judgment given by the Lord to his people and the purpose of them is that they will awaken people to turn and repent. Hearing them the people will shake themselves and take action so as to avoid the condemnation of God. “If I continue to think and speak like this then there is no forgiveness for me. I must repent and seek mercy from God.” God announces that that is his strategy in Jeremiah chapter 18 and verses 7 and 8: “I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.”
Jesus was speaking to the Canaanite woman who pleaded with him to heal her daughter, and when his disciples cried, “Get rid of her,” Jesus said to her. “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then he further told her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matt.15:24, 26). Yet the woman did not say, “Que cera cera,” and become fatalistic. She did not say that there was no hope for her daughter, she cried even more to the Lord that he would heal her child, and the Lord did that very thing. What he said as not being right for him to do . . . became right.
So I am saying that the direct harshness of the Lord’s warnings to those Christ-hating Pharisees was intended to stop them short. What authority this man Jesus had to speak in such a way, to tell them who may and who may not have their sins forgiven – to tell you if you may have your sins forgiven. So some among them would have said, “Let us consider again our judgment of Jesus, our harsh words, and let us ask him for pardon, who knows whether we might be forgiven?” And that is exactly what you must do if you suspect that you have committed the unforgivable sin. Take it to God and confess it to him. Who knows whether the Lord may not pardon your sin. Are not all manner of sins and blasphemies forgiven? Isn’t this what Jesus says? Doesn’t God say that it is not his will than any should perish?
There was one occasion when the Lord said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then who can be saved? That was the response of one of the disciples when they heard those words. Jesus then replied to him that with God all things are possible. So it is with you who fear that you have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Take it to God! Confess it to God. With God all things are possible, even forgiveness for your sins. Where sin abounds grace does much more abound. His grace is greater than all our sins.
The Lord Jesus is saying that your every sin may be forgiven, unless you steadfastly refuse to cast yourself on the mercy of God, unless you continue to think that the religion founded by Jesus Christ is wicked. No one obstinately believing the damnable doctrine that Jesus is a servant of Satan can be forgiven, but every one who once believed it, but no longer does so, but rather has turned from it to trust in Christ can find forgiveness.
Any sin for which you sincerely seek Jesus’ forgiveness, however heinous the sin might have been, cannot be the unpardonable sin. No one went to hell longing for pardon from Jesus for any sin, wanting rather to go to holy glorious heaven. I’d go to hell with you if that were the case. If you have hardened your heart all through your life against the Lord then there is no saving power present in dying or in death that can change that. You will die exactly as you lived. You will remain dead in the same state as you remained in your life. Your heart has become so calloused that you refuse to turn to God and seek the blood of Christ to cleanse you now and also when you stand before him. You will never want pardon from God even when you see him. You do not want God, and that is why your sin is unpardonable.
7. WHY WE MAY FEEL WE’VE COMMITTED THE UNPARDONABLE SIN.
We have an enemy of our souls, Satan, who carries his chains around and he troubles us. Compared to God of course he is a weakling. All he can do is tell us cunning lies to steal our peace. He is like the school bully who’d like to beat you up but dare not touch you because your best friend is the strongest boy in the school and you are always close to him. It is like that with us and Jesus, as long as we cling to our Friend and Saviour then the weakest Christian is a thousand times stronger than Satan. This makes the devil very cross and so he tempts and tries you by making you think that Jesus no longer loves you because of some sin or other of yours. He suggests, “The Lord has stopped loving you because you did that nasty thing and he can’t forgive you for that.” That is the source of the feeling that you are the man in the iron cage. It does not come from God. He does not tempt us to despair.
That student came to me with those blasphemous thoughts going round and round his mind – they were the devil’s fiery darts. That man spoke to me at the Conference and then called me three weeks ago about his fears that he has committed the unforgivable sin. The devil has been shooting his fiery darts at him.
Let me tell you again those words that every pastor tells a congregation or an individual where there is concern that the unpardonable sin has been committed. One of the great evidences that you have not committed the unpardonable sin is your worry that you might have done so. There are people around us in their thousands who have not read the Bible or been to church for many years. Most of them have rejected Christ and his salvation but they are people at peace. They think all is well in this life and in death and whatever lies beyond. They are in a state of unpardoned sin and soon to be in a place of unpardonable sin, but they couldn’t care less. But here is one person who loves Jesus Christ and his salvation and hopes and prays that he will get to heaven saved by his precious blood, but he fears he has committed the unforgivable sin. He hasn’t . . . but fears he has; they have . . . but are confident they haven’t. So your feelings are no safe guide to your state. You dare not trust this doubting frame!
Let me remind you of a man loved by Jesus who blasphemed and swore saying that he didn’t have anything to do with Christ. He said that, huffing and puffing, three times. His name was Peter. He denied Jesus, but it was not unforgivable. Jesus saved him with one look, bringing him to repentance. You remember there was a glorious scene when Jesus drew Peter aside and three times asked him if he loved him. In the end Peter said, “I don’t know, but you know all things. You know if I love you.” Jesus restored Peter and commissioned him immediately.
You may have denied Jesus some time in the past. You may be deeply burdened by that and wonder whether you have crossed the line and there is no hope for you ever returning. There is hope for you. That man called Peter, whose heart had broken at what he had done, was restored by Jesus and became a great and powerful preacher of the word of God. Even if you have denied him or blasphemed against him or done some terrible things I can tell you that if you bow your head before him, and trust him as your Saviour you will see the work of grace in your heart going on, and going on, and going on. A mustard seed of saving faith in Jesus is greater than a ton of sins.
3rd October 2010 GEOFF THOMAS