Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

Part 1: How Confusion Thwarts Holiness

By Christopher Schwinger

The Series

How Confusion Thwarts Holiness
Interpreting Context
Being Serious without Fear
Identifying a Hard Heart
Hope in the Journey to Freedom
Understanding Grace

What does it mean to "reject" God or "blaspheme the Holy Spirit"? This topic has fascinated me for a long time because I often wonder what advantage a believer has over an unbeliever, as I see just as much of an unkind attitude in devout Christians as unbelievers, even if their code of behavior is in accordance with Biblical morality. They don't reject God or blaspheme the Holy Spirit, but they can be very uncaring in unexpected ways, even if they follow the prescribed duties of churches such as helping the poor, providing counseling services for struggling marriages, doing street evangelism, and acting like they're welcoming. Christendom is, by and large, going through the right motions, but deep down, the foundations are lacking. When people — which is most people, Christians just as much as non-Christians — react in anger instead of compassion at being inconvenienced, how does the love of God abide in them (1 John 3:17)? Also, why do people seem much more trained to respond the "right" way to a gift given to them than to give out of the goodness of their heart? Why do so few people say encouraging/affirmative things proactively? When I was in high school 10 years ago, I felt deeply empty because as much as I reached out to people and demonstrated that I cared, they hardly even responded to a "hello." It became more painful in subsequent years when friends dropped the communication altogether, people who had been Christians for decades, who had rapport with me in Christ in the past. More and more, I have found it agonizing that in the times I'm fortunate enough to get a response to personal communication at all, it seems self-centered and a one-time exchange. I blame this on an insufficient understanding of grace as being just the thing that gets you to heaven. Grace is much more than this. The problem has a lot to do with how we view repentance and the "unpardonable sin."

The "unpardonable sin" of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, found in Jesus' statements in Matthew 12:22-37, Mark 3:20-30, and Luke 12:8-10, has recently posed a great problem for someone who was working with me by email through GotQuestions. Jesus says in those parallel passages that blasphemy against Himself and any other sin can be forgiven, but not blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees were accusing Him of having a demon because He didn't come from their power structure and was healing people on the Sabbath and associating with scurvy people. It was a challenge trying to help the questioner with his fear. There have been other occasions, too, where I have had to explain to questioners how we can know whether God likes us and try to resolve their struggles of how to prove to God or ourselves whether our belief in Him is sincere. The basis for this is that God's love is defined mostly as what gets us to heaven, nothing more. It is a crime how little people get God's love explained to them. The political psalms put a lot of emphasis on the world knowing that Israel's God is the one true God and we should honor Him out of compulsion, though sometimes the psalms affirm that He is worthy of love and there are some deeply moving passages asking God to protect an innocent psalmist from evil connivers. Mostly, though, fear is the motivator given, and showing mercy to sinners is not often considered a virtue. Sometimes the same Old Testament passages which rejoice that God secured a military victory or cares about the orphan, widow, and stranger are very chauvinistic and devoid of mercy, which is an astonishing contrast. Those writers have a lot in common in that way with some Christians I have known. If you're not eager to join us, you've rejected God, the attitude is. This is part of the reason for an ever-growing cultural divide between conservative Christians and "the world".

Regrettably, there is almost a vacuum in theology about how to go from fear as the motivator to love as the motivator. The Johannine books, which are the Gospel of John and 1 John (2-3 John and Revelation too, but they don't share the same thematic connection as John and 1 John), are the highest in New Testament theology to reach toward this ideal. But how to transition from fear to love is like an uncharted ocean.

Jesus' statements and the apostles' lists of virtues (the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians, for example) are not just rules to follow. Yet I sense most Christians have the Old Testament emphasis on not neglecting a single precept, lest the wrath of God come upon you, as the Mosaic Law says. The Apostle Paul discovered that Jesus came to free us from that level of burden, so that we can take on the burdens we are meant for, the burden of liberating the world that has walked in darkness. Paul thought a lot about how the more we try to make sure God is pleased with us, the more burdened we get, but the only way to know He is pleased with us is to believe and do what He has revealed to us. But if what He has revealed to us are statements like "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit shall not be forgiven," how do we wisely choose how to interpret them? On the matter of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit being unforgivable, the main thing to consider is whether, if taken literally, that statement conflicts with the New Testament's understanding of Jesus' atonement. It certainly does, such as 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

But is it the act of confessing or the heart which wants to confess that "cleanses" us? The act of confessing is the expression of the heart. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is also the expression of the heart, people will say. Unfortunately, people tend to view every behavior as an expression of a good or evil heart. I often have been told that any angry or unappreciative expression from my mouth comes out of a "wicked" heart. I see, after going through a lot of internal doubts, that sometimes things are done out of desperation and don't fit the "good" and "evil" categories. People put way too much emphasis on the rigidness of God's punishment with a punitive emphasis on His atonement, that He died because we deserved everything He went through. While I agree in a way, I'd word it differently to incorporate other components, like that He had no other way to restore us, and we had no other way to get fellowship with Him, because we were broken by our first ancestors' sin. It should be obvious that the biggest issue people have with the doctrine of hell is that Christians take a "my way or the highway" attitude, rather than explaining that God yearns to rescue us from our own self-destruction, since we and the sin within us have cut ourselves off from Him.

If God desired to create a cross-shaped bridge over that gap in fellowship, that means nothing is too insurmountable. If a lifetime of licentiousness, dishonesty, emptiness, etc. is no match for His grace, can one statement of "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" be a match for His grace? Or why should one lie be interpreted as a sin which must be beaten out of a person by disciplinary action, rather than as a moment of weakness which may be rooted in emotional concerns? Why is a harsh and angry reaction so natural for so many people? Is it really unconscionable for people that a kind response is sometimes useful for leading a person to virtue?

I could ask the same question about the hostility in the Muslim and Hindu worlds to Christianity. When we have been taught to fear something, it is really hard to stop fearing it. The Muslim and Hindu worlds have such a strict social hierarchy and fear-based religious systems. In Judaism, the idea of loving God for His goodness is rooted in the Exodus more than anything else, and in Christianity, it's rooted in Jesus loving sinners who did not know Him. But fear that we'll lose God's favor persists even with those two powerful demonstrations of grace (unmerited favor).

In parts 2-3, I will address the meaning of "blasphemy of the Holy Spirit", and in parts 4-5 I'll connect it to the problem in the church of lack of grace.

Image Credit: Jeremy Brooks; "No Entry"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Salvation  | Biblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | Eternity-Forever  | Jesus-Christ  | Theological-Beliefs

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Published 1-14-16