An Unforgivable Thing
There is this phrase in Scripture—“blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” It’s in Jesus’s teaching where he explicitly goes through and describes all the things that will be forgiven of people and then closes that talk by saying that the one thing that will not be forgiven in this world or the next is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
Understandably, this has drawn a lot of attention. And there are a couple of ways to look at it in the context of where it occurs in Jesus’s ministry and the Gospels. I think that’s legitimate and helpful, and you’d want to look even at the distinct Gospels and see how Jesus talks about it in the different accounts.
But theologically, I think the big picture you have to see is that it’s not that the Holy Spirit is somehow different than God or holier than the other two persons. There’s nothing about the identity of the Spirit as a person of the Trinity that sets him apart as the one you’re not allowed to blaspheme.
Of course, we’re not talking about who you’re allowed to blaspheme, but we’re talking about forgiveness when it comes to the Spirit. I think the way to understand this is that the Spirit of the Son—being the Spirit of the Father—brings into our lives a kind of wholeness with regard to God and a kind of finality or completion as well, the Spirit being the third person of the Trinity.
In this addition to the Short Studies in Systematic Theology series, Fred Sanders teaches readers how to hold a proper understanding of both the person and power of the Holy Spirit, exploring his role in both the Old and New Testaments.
It’s weird to say he is the final person of the Trinity, but there is a kind of perfection or fulfillment that goes on in the work of the Spirit. So I’m pretty sure that what Jesus is pointing to there is that kind of finality or fulfillment or purpose of the ways of God, indicating that there is a way of putting off the Holy Spirit which has this final character to it.
I should also mention that I think the safest way to interpret that passage is that it is not an event you should picture. Like, “Did I last Thursday blaspheme the Holy Spirit and thereby cross a line that can never be uncrossed?” I don’t think there’s any reason to treat it as an episodic event.
There was a really sad trend a few years ago of young people going on YouTube and posting videos of themselves blaspheming the Holy Spirit as a way of publicly deconverting and saying, “If there’s a thing I can do that can make me never Christian again, I’m going to do that on film and post it to the internet.”
Well, it’s tremendously sad, but one thing you want to say to those kids is you did not succeed in shutting the door to God by blaspheming the Holy Spirit. The words you said, the thing you did, even your intent to rebel as hard as you could, does not shut the door to forgiveness.
That’s not what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit means.
Fred Sanders is the author of The Holy Spirit: An Introduction.
All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
Following Jesus by faith (i.e., discipleship) is the foundation of understanding. We don’t simply understand and then follow. We come to understand as we follow. This is the work of the Spirit.
A relationship is a two-way street; that means that there is a role for us to play with the Holy Spirit. We need to think about what we need to do in order to enjoy and live out our communion with him.
Without the Holy Spirit, the church would never have been founded. Godly leaders would never have been called, believers added, gifts distributed, service rendered, or growth realized.