Grace for Blasphemers
Hello Church Family,
I’ve been praying for you this week, particularly that God would intensify our worship of Him, so that we would be moved toward our Savior in true dependence, humility, adoration, and faith.
Last week, as I was finalizing my sermon, I realized that it was necessary to shave off a few hundred words in order to keep the message at a manageable length. It happens sometimes in my homiletic labors that thoughts and instruction are left on the proverbial “cutting floor.”
Well, one of the things I had planned to address in that exposition (but didn’t) was Paul’s statement about being a “blasphemer” in 1 Timothy 1:13.
Of all the questions I get as a pastor, the one that has come up the most, I suppose, is a question about blaspheming the Holy Spirit. What is this sin? And, furthermore, how can I avoid it? The most recent came in the form of a voicemail from a young lady who frantically informed me that she believed that she had committed the unpardonable sin. And she’s not alone. To complicate matters: sadly, under the influence of modern atheists like Daniel Dennett, Christopher Hitchens, and illusionist, Penn Jillette, a few thousand young people in the late 2000s took what was called “The Blasphemy Challenge,” where they filmed themselves cursing the Holy Spirit and then posted it on YouTube. The main point was to mock the existence of God and expressly violate Jesus’ warning in Mark 3:28-29, which reads: “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
Naturally, this act of rebellion produced some intense regret and trepidation among the participants. Many of those who boldly denounced the Spirit of God experienced a profound sense of fear and guilt almost immediately. And I understand why. If there’s one sin that can never be forgiven, I want to do everything in my power not to commit it, don’t you?
Here are some comforting words, though, and my answer to this young lady who called me: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is not uttering some phrase, combination of words, or collection of insults against God. Nor it is even denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is not one single action for which there is no forgiveness. Here’s what Jesus is talking about when He refers to the unpardonable sin:
To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to willfully and persistently deny the Spirit’s work in the human heart, and to ultimately justify oneself in doing so.
Without going into detail (a self-imposed 700-word limit won’t allow it!), that’s what the scribes were doing in the first century context: they refused to accept the Spirit’s work for what it was. And even this act in itself is not unforgivable; it is unpardonable only because it slams the door shut on the possibility of faith.
The persistent witness of Scripture is that salvation comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Not by any sort of works, good deeds, or perceived meritorious actions. Faith alone. But even faith is a gift, a result of the Spirit’s work in the hearts of unbelievers. Without the Spirit’s drawing, repentance, and faith are impossible.
So to blaspheme the Holy Spirit—to willfully and ultimately deny the Spirit’s work in the human heart, which seeks to lead a person to faith—is unforgivable, in that, it makes faith impossible.
As someone has said, it’s kind of like deciding conclusively, and without wavering, that the doctor who wants to perform a life-saving operation on you is in fact, a cruel murderer; it’s not that that conclusion will kill you; it’s the fact that because of that conclusion you will never give that doctor consent to operate on you. So you never receive the life-saving transplant that you need.
That’s what blaspheming the Holy Spirit is: ultimately and finally rejecting the one who would make it possible for us to receive the life-saving transplant that we need.
There is no statement, combination of words, or even action that is beyond God’s scope of forgiveness. God’s grace is infinitely wider and more sufficient than we ever imagined, saving even the most heinous of offenders. The Apostle is a terrific example: he was a blasphemer, persecutor, murderer, insolent opponent of Jesus and the Way, yet even he received mercy as God brought him to repentance and faith in Jesus.
God’s grace is powerful enough to cover the sins of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-11) and plenty of others. Even blasphemers.
So take joy in this: if you belong to Jesus, there is nothing you can do to separate yourself from the love of God. If you are a Christian you can never commit the unpardonable sin. There is no violation of God’s commands at any level that are beyond the scope of God’s amazing grace.
And when we understand this, it paradoxically does not encourage us to sin, but stirs our hearts with greater love for God, and a more passionate devotion to avoid offending the One who loves us so deeply.
In His Grace,