“Whoever says, ‘I know him’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar…”
(1 John 2:4 ESV)
There was a time when Jesus’ warning against blasphemy really troubled me. In Matthew 12:31-32 Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” As a child, I was a little preoccupied with this, wondering what “The Unforgivable Sin” really was. Was there one sin, one particularly nasty sin, which if committed, would forever damn you? Did pastors know what it was, but not tell anyone so as not to tempt them with that sin? What if I had already committed it?
I remember hearing Dr. John Gerstner when I was only 8 or 9 years old, teaching on the Perseverance of Saints (it must have been good, because I don’t remember much from that long ago.) In Gerstner’s scratchy old voice, I vividly recall him declaring, “Because my salvation is the work of the almighty God, and because I am sealed with the power of his Holy Spirit, my savior will not allow me to blaspheme and thereby lose my salvation. My salvation is secure because it is the gift of God.” That helped to relieve my conscience, but I still wrestled with what it meant to blaspheme God.
I remember one person telling me that suicide was the unforgivable sin. His reasoning was, you have to ask for forgiveness after you sin in order to be forgiven. Since suicide makes that impossible, it is unforgiveable. I am so thankful that I’ve had some good reformed pastors who have exposed the problems with that line of thinking. If our salvation depends on our ability to seek forgiveness for every fault, then we, like Luther, had better be obsessed with self-examination and repentance. However, if we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and that faith produces within us a spirit of repentance and trust in Christ, then our salvation is not at risk when our sins are unconfessed. That is not license to go on sinning, but relief in knowing that our salvation is not dependent upon our own moral perfection.
What then, is this “unforgivable sin?” Jesus helps to define blasphemy as “speaking against the Holy Spirit.” In the immediate context of the passage in Matthew, this could mean saying that Jesus is the devil, attributing to Satan the work and power of God through the Holy Spirit. This outright denial of the revelation of God’s Spirit to our hearts and minds is the denial of God Himself. For those who continue to reject and deny the reality of God, and the truth of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, they have blasphemed the witness of the Holy Spirit.
But it is also possible for those who call themselves Christian to blaspheme. After all, this warning given in Matthew was for an audience of those who already believed. So what was at stake? In the very next line in Matthew, Jesus says, “The tree is known by its fruit…” In other words, if you are really alive by the power of the Spirit, then your life will reflect the holiness and life that the Spirit gives. As John said in the passage above, “By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep hi commandments. Whoever says, ‘I know him,’ but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”
I love this commentary from George MacDonald:
God says, as it were, “Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to chose to go on sinning – how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin. Shall I keep you alive to do things hateful in the sight of all true men? If a man refuse to come out of his sin, he must suffer the vengeance of a love that would be no love if it left him there. Shall I allow my creature to be the thing my soul hates?”
There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all – only we must begin to do good, begin to do evil no more.
If you are content with holding on to your sin, in persisting in your way rather than submitting to the way of the Lord, you have no part in him at all. To hold on to sin when God calls us out of sin is a slap in the face of our loving savior. Shall we continue to live in the sin that Christ died for? Would it be loving for God, for the Church, for brothers and sisters in Christ, to allow sin to go unchecked, uncorrected, unrepented, so as not to offend; when such a sin will ultimately lead to judgment and death?
I, as dear old Gerstner taught me, believe that, ultimately I cannot blaspheme God because I have been saved, and am being made righteous, by God himself. Under the first definition of blasphemy, God’s Spirit of Holiness will keep me from rejecting the truth of my savior Jesus Christ, by the continued renewal of the mind and the piercing of my heart through the sharp sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Under the second definition, God, who has begun a good work in me, a work of righteousness and holiness by the power of His Holy Spirit, will continue to sanctify me and cleanse me from sin, for He is faithful to complete what He has begun.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:3-4)
So let us rest in the sure and certain promise of God, that we are saved by grace through faith, and let us grow in righteousness, leaving behind all the sins that would weigh us down and keep us running the race that is set before us.
Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace!