The following transcript is taken from 9:30 to 16:50 of Dr. Craig’s Question and Answer podcast.
Matthew 12:32 says, “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.”
Question: How would you define the Holy Spirit in this sense?
Oh I thought you were going to ask a quite different question. And maybe that’s what you’re getting at. But the Holy Spirit is the same Holy Spirit Jesus always speaks of, the comforter who would come in his place, and who we call the third person of the trinity. The trinity is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
What Jesus says in this passage as well as in Mark 3:29 is that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an unpardonable sin. It’s the one sin that cannot be forgiven. Well we might ask ourselves, what in the world is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit? Sometimes you will meet people on the street who will come up to you, and they appear to be somewhat deranged, and will say “I blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, I’m going to Hell.” And they’re deeply troubled persons. What does it mean?
Well I think what Jesus is talking about there is a person who irrevocably and consciously resists the work of the Holy Spirit in his life. To bring that person to salvation or to keep that person in salvation. So it would be a sin that would separate one from Christ, irrevocably, permanently and consciously. That would be an unforgivable sin, because that is a sin which separates you from Christ.
But as well, I’m persuaded this is a sin which could occur in the life of a Christian, if the Christian were to commit apostasy and throw Christ out of his life. And this is referred to in the book of Hebrews in a couple of places. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were under the threat of persecution. And because of the persecution they were feeling, they were tempted to go back to Judaism, to renounce Christ and return to Judaism. And the author of Hebrews says if they do that they forfeit salvation.
For example look at Hebrews chapter 6, lets start with verse 4. He says:
4 For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
7 For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God.
8 But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.
So here he’s talking about people who have been born again, they’ve tasted the Holy Spirit they have come to know God’s goodness, and he says if they commit apostasy, that is to say, if they consciously renounce Jesus Christ, and revert back to non-Christian ways, he says it’s impossible to restore them again to repentance, and that they’ve crucified the son of God all over again on their own account.
In chapter ten of Hebrews it also speaks of this in verse 26 and following:
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?
There’s the Holy Spirit that is mentioned here.
30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”
31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
And what he’s reminding his readers of again, is if you reject Jesus Christ, if you crucify him anew, if you spurn the son of God and trample underfoot his blood by which you’ve been sanctified, if you outrage the Holy Spirit, then he says you will fall back under the judgment of God.
So I think blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is something that would be, first of all irrevocable rejection of the testimony of the Holy Spirit to Christ in the life of the unbeliever, and it would be conscious apostasy in the life of the believer, who would blaspheme they Holy Spirit by renouncing him, by casting him out of his life, and reverting back to a non-Christian status.
So if you’re worried that you’ve committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, you don’t need to worry. Because anybody who is worried about that, shows by that very fact that his conscience is still sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prodding and prompting in his life. The person who is truly apostate or truly a blasphemer against the Holy Spirit will be so dulled in his conscience, so reprobate, that he won’t even care.
So the pastoral lesson I think is, that if we know unbelievers who once were Christians and have lost their faith, maybe they made a commitment as a child and now have drifted away from the Lord, we should always assume that person has not crossed the line of no return, and can be brought back, that it is someone for whom we should pray and try to bring back to faith.
And there’s a promise in the book of James about this, James chapter 5:19,20:
19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,
20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
So what James seems to contemplate there is someone who’s on the path to destruction, he’s on the road to apostasy, but he hasn’t crossed the line of no return. And he says if you bring that person back, you’ll save his soul from death and you’ll cover that multitude of sins that he’s committed. There’s still hope, so we should always assume in the life of the backslidden Christian that the person still has the opportunity to repent and be saved and come back.