In the Words of Inigo Montoya…
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
What “word” am I talking about? “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”
We often hear this summed up as something like: “the ultimate and final sin of rejecting Christ as Savior.” But when one looks at the context in which Jesus spoke these words, there may be more light shed on this confusing truth.
Matthew chapter 12 provides the most in-depth narrative (with the parallels being Mark 3 and Luke 11). Matthew 12:15 provides this summary: Jesus was fulfilling Scripture by healing many people. Matthew then gives us this specific encounter of an exorcism-healing. When the Pharisees (the religious elite with a strong head knowledge) saw this, they accused Jesus of casting out demons in the name of Satan. Of course, we know that is was in the power of the Holy Spirit that these demons were being exorcised. In verse 30 Jesus says, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” This is followed by a huge, glaring “Therefore” in verse 31. Which means that the conclusion drawn in verse 31 is based on the content of the preceding verses: “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
What sin were the Pharisees committing in this account? They were calling the work of the Holy Spirit to be a work of Satan.
How does this apply to us today?
Recently, there have a been a handful of “high profile” people who have made either confessions of faith in Jesus or repentance back to biblical teaching.
For example, a few months ago, the world-famous prosperity gospel preacher, Benny Hinn, apparently repented of his teaching and committed to teaching the True Gospel of Jesus. You can watch that video here. There are plenty of commentaries evaluating this “confession”. Many are skeptics. Some say that it is a publicity stunt. Other say, “If he is sincere, he will give back all that money.”
Here’s the thing, if he truly has had the eyes of his heart enlightened, that is a work of the Holy Spirit. Yet some (often the very knowledgeable) are calling it a work of the flesh or of Satan.
Here are two more examples:
A few years back, Justin Bieber apparently repented and was baptized. Here is a short article about that.
Most recently, musician/artist/rapper Kanye West (who has a long history of public self-worship) has spoken out about his repentance and salvation in Jesus. Watch his testimony at church. (side note: most of the people reading this blog come from a very different culture than Kanye West. Be careful not to watch this with cultural blinders on.)
Once again, there are many people who are familiar with the lifestyle and beliefs that Kanye lived previously. There are many doubters. There are many who say this is not genuine and he is doing it to sell albums.
Once again, if Kanye (or Justin Bieber) has truly placed his faith in Jesus, that is a work of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:8). We must be cautious to call something Satan that might actually be the Holy Spirit. To do so would be to risk committing the grievous sin that the Pharisees committed in Matthew 12.
What then is the proper response? How do we know if this is of the Holy Spirit?
Look at the next verses in the context of Matthew 12:
“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Bearing the fruit of righteousness (Phil 1:11) will be the test of their faith (just as it will be for us). As Paul said in Acts 26, “[the Gentiles] should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” True repentance has always led to kingdom-fruit-bearing. John the Baptist preached this (also to Pharisees) in Matthew 3:7:8, “You brood of vipers (same words Jesus used)! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.”
The test for these hugely public figures will be “fruit in keeping with repentance.” The role of the church should be to pray for and build up people in their faith, not hold them to a higher standard than we would hold any John Doe who walks the aisle of our church during an altar call. Pray that God would provide biblical mentors and accountability for these individuals whose lives before Christ has placed them in a spotlight few of us could endure. We must not hold them to a standard that we could not uphold ourselves. If my post-conversion sins were broadcast on the news, internet, and tabloids, I would probably be crushed under the weight of guilt and shame. Yet that is the lot for these individuals.
The REAL danger is for us, the “religious in-crowd” who is tempted to attribute to Satan what might actually be the work of the Holy Spirit. The very sin that Jesus said will not be forgiven. Let God be the judge of men’s actions. Let us love not in word and speech, but in our actions (1 John 3:18).
Woe to those who call evil good
and good evil,
who put darkness for light
and light for darkness,
who put bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter!