Matthew 12:31-32 – 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 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.
In this passage, Jesus gives the most dire warning we have ever heard him give. Simply put, the Savior lets us know that a person can come to a point where the forgiveness of God is no longer available to him or her. A person can push so hard against Jesus and toward their sin that they leave themselves eternally destined for hell just like the devil.
These two verses have been discussed for centuries, and many people find them very confusing. Jesus presents to us here the possibility of committing an unpardonable sin. We must be aware of the significance here and be sure to be under the grace of God.
So, what is this sin? Jesus says that some people will utter things against him that can eventually be forgiven. But some can blaspheme the Spirit of God in such a way that, no matter What, they will never be forgiven. But how does this work? Since Jesus and the Holy Spirit are persons of the holy Trinity, how can blasphemy against one not be the same as the other? It gets a little complicated.
Here is an important rule of understanding the Bible. When a passage of Scripture is unclear, you must allow the clearer portions of Scripture to help you interpret it. Since the Bible is inspired by God and without error, the clearer passages will shed light on those which seem dim to our understanding.
The Bible is clear that any person who repents of his sin and entrusts his soul to Jesus will be saved. The Bible is also clear that no person is saved who refuses to trust in Jesus for that salvation. This is clear in all of the teaching of the New Testament, and it must be the light by which we understand the confusing concept of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit as the unforgiveable sin.
What, then, is Jesus pointing at here? He is obviously aiming at what the Pharisees about whom he is speaking are doing, or are at least in danger of doing. They have seen Jesus perform miracles, acts of God’s grace and kindness. However, instead of praising Jesus for those miracles and coming to him in faith, the Pharisees are saying that Jesus and his works are from the devil. They are looking at the Son of God, the ultimate good, and they are calling him Satan, the ultimate evil. This is the blasphemy that is unforgiveable, to determine that God is ultimately evil and not good, and so therefore to oppose him.
But, this still leaves the question of how Jesus can say that words against him can be forgiven but blaspheming the Spirit cannot. The best resolution to that difficulty I can pose has to do with the difference between those who are misunderstanding Jesus in his earthly ministry and those who are actually seeing it and calling the work of God the work of the devil. Jesus is truly God and truly man. During Jesus’ ministry, here where Matthew is writing, people are only gradually beginning to see who Jesus is as the man Jesus travels around and preaches the gospel. To speak out against him could be forgiven. How? Forgiveness comes to all who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus for mercy. But, for the one who ultimately and finally decides that God himself is evil and that Jesus, God the Son, is evil and that the Spirit of God by whom Jesus did his miracles is evil, there is no other hope of salvation.
Also understand that this blasphemy is not a simple blasphemy. It is not a single speaking of evil but an unrepentant and unchanging set of one’s self against the Spirit of God in the person of Christ. After all, Peter denied ever knowing Jesus. Paul used to persecute Christians, believing that following Jesus was evil. But both men were forgiven when they repented and believed. But to blaspheme the Spirit is to place yourself in a determined position of declaring God to be evil and not good. It is to have a heart so hardened by sin as to stand in opposition to God until death.
I have heard people ask if they have committed the unforgiveable sin. I have known some people to be very worried about this because of the way that they have spoken out against the Lord in the past. But I will say this to you with confidence: If you are afraid that you have committed this sin, you have not done so. No person who has gone so far as to place themselves under the eternal wrath of God is going to care about whether or not God might forgive them. They will shake their fist at God until they die and enter into eternity under his wrath. But no person who desires God and who desires to be forgiven in Christ will have committed this sin.
At the end of the day, Jesus is speaking to us to show us that to oppose him is tremendously dangerous. Do not set yourself against God. See the danger, turn to Jesus, and find life in his grace.