Answer - According to Jesus' own words recorded in these scriptures...
- Matthew 12:31-32, 37 (I added verses 32 and 37 for context) - (31) "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. (32) "Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him either in this age or in the age to come... (37) "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." (NASB)
- Mark 3:28-29 (Verse 28 added) - (28)"Truly I say to you, all sins shall be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; (29) but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness; but is guilty of an eternal sin". (NASB)
- Luke 12:8-10 (Verses 8 and 9 added) - (8) "And I say to you, everyone who confesses Me before men, the Son of Man will confess him also before the angels of God; (9) but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (10) "And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him." (NASB)
But, what is blasphemy against the Spirit? And why does Jesus say that this won't be forgiven either in the present or in eternity?
The word used here for blasphemy means to : Slander, detract or take away from, lessen, or even speak ill or injurious about someone's good name. In this specific case it means to deny the divinity and to disrespect the very name, person, and ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus spoke these words of warning in response to the accusations made against Him by the Pharisees in response to the miracles He performed and the truth that He taught. By their own words the Religious leaders (who should have known better) were telling the people that the power behind the ministry of Jesus was not from God but from the ruler of demons (Satan). They were not only denying the ministry of the Holy Spirit who was empowering or working through Jesus but were leading the people to reject this truth as well.
Let me see if I can explain this by examining what Jesus taught about the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
We see the Holy Spirit moving and working throughout Scripture. In the beginning (Genesis) as the triune God is preparing to create we see the Spirit hovering over the dark and formless void (Genesis 1:2).
There is a tension here. The Spirit awaits the Father's Word (Jesus from John chapter 1) to be spoken and unleash the Spirit's power. God speaks and it "is"...that is the ministry of the Spirit. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God entering or coming over people who are called by God to perform miraculous deeds or to speak divine truth (prophecies). This is a very brief overview and I challenge you to read through the entire OT and look specifically for the work or ministry of the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament, God's Word (Jesus) has become flesh (Human) and dwells with us (John 1:14) and the Spirit operates directly through Him and whomever He (Jesus) gives the Spirit to (John 20:22).
When Jesus ascended into heaven to return to the Fathers side and await His second advent, He gave the promise to His disciples (believers today are also included) that He would send us a Helper or Counselor to live in us, and help us to follow Him, live holy, and carry out the work He left us to do (Acts 1:8).
Here is a quick synopsis of what Jesus said the ministry of the Spirit of Truth would be (but please read the entire passages for better understanding):
- He abides (lives in) all believers.
- He teaches us and reminds us of the truths Jesus spoke. Continuing the ministry that Jesus started while physically here.
- While the physical Jesus was limited by His physical body in space and time, the Spirit can be with all believers, everywhere, at the same time.
- He guides us to the truth.
- He discloses or reveals what is to come.
(8) "And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; (9) concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; (10) and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; (11) and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged." (NASB)
The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us of our sin. Not condemns us -- that comes from Satan, who declares that there is no hope (Romans 8:1) -- but conviction that we are sinning, acting or thinking opposite of the righteousness of God, that we have missed the mark, become disobedient and are in need of confessing our sins (agreeing with the Spirit that we have sinned...1 John 1:9) and repenting or turning away from that sin.
He convicts believers from the inside as our Helper or Counselor. He also convicts the "world" (unbelievers) of their state as sinners, cursed by sin and enslaved by it. Desperately in need to repent and be forgiven.
Don't miss this. He (the Spirit) convicted the world by the Law before Jesus came, and through Jesus' words and miracles while Jesus was here. He continued to convict through the Apostles and the scriptures that He would inspire them to write. He continues through believers today. When we witness, evangelize, and preach, the Spirit is ministering through us to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment.
To convict means to set forth the truth in such a way that people must choose to accept it as truth or deny it as being false. The Holy spirit, either directly, through the Scriptures, or through the witness of the Church, calls the world to see their true condition, to repent, and to receive the gift of forgiveness and salvation offered by the grace of God and through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Let me give you a couple of more verses of scripture to consider and then I'll give you my conclusion of why blaspheming the Spirit is unforgivable.
- John 9:39-41 - (39)And Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." (40) Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, "We are not blind too, are we?" (41) Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. (NASB)
- Hebrews 10:26-27 (read all of chapter 10 for context) - (26) "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (27) but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES. (NASB)
Unless they repented, their sin against the convicting work of Jesus and the Spirit could not be forgiven. Their own hard hearts and refusal to accept Jesus (and the ministry of the Spirit) condemned them to a state of unforgiveness. They had been given the truth but refused it and just went on sinning.
For today, the Spirit still convicts sinners of their need for a Savior and calls the unrighteous to salvation and forgiveness by the confession (which means to agree with the truth) of our sins.
The reason that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit was and remains unforgivable is not because God won't forgive our sins, but rather because the person who denies and slanders the ministry of the Spirit that convicts them of their sin, simply, stubbornly, and tragically refuses to ask for forgiveness. Or even believe that they have need of forgiveness.
There can be no forgiveness for the one who hardens their heart, closes their eyes and ears, and refuses to hear the Spirits' loving call to admit their guilt and repent of their sins.
Acts 28:27 - "FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL, AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR, AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES; OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES, AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS, AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN, AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."'
Hebrews 3:7-8 - Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS AS WHEN THEY PROVOKED ME, AS IN THE DAY OF TRIAL IN THE WILDERNESS..."
If you are at all worried or distraught, wondering and fearing that you have committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, then you probably haven't. If you had, if your heart was hard and your eyes and ears were closed to the truth, the truth most likely wouldn't bother or concern you!
Ask the Spirit of Truth (Holy Spirit) to convict you of any area in your life where there may be unconfessed sin or need for repentance. Listen to His convicting voice. And then humble yourself, confess your sin, repent, and receive the gift of forgiveness and restoration to a right relationship with God.
1 John 1:8-10 - (8) "If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. (9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (10) If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us."
Is the word of truth in you? Ask the Spirit. He'll let you know!
(Editorial Note: Pastor Joe recommends this book on the Holy Spirit. It discussed His divinity, ministry, and this sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit in greater depth.)
For the person interested in reading more about this question (or other commonly asked questions about the Holy Spirit) I recommend the book Engaging with the Holy Spirit: Real Questions, Practical Answers by Graham A. Cole.
It is available for purchase at Amazon.com.