Sin Against the Holy Spirit?

by Rev. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz

Q. Why is the sin against the Holy Spirit rarely mentioned today in our church? Is that because we fear disturbing people and driving them away to other churches?

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A. It is difficult to know whether less is said or taught about this sin today than in years past. Personal perceptions and experiences in our congregational life vary and may not necessarily indicate a general trend. Based on inquiries received at the Synod level over the years, my own experience is that there is probably more taught and discussed about this topic today than we might suppose—and without fear of driving people away.

Since the first three Gospels all record Jesus’express warning about the unforgivable “sin against the Holy Spirit,” Christians cannot easily overlook or ignore the topic. Matthew (12:31–32) and Mark (3:28–29) tell us that Jesus uttered this warning in response to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus was casting out demons “by Beelzebul, the prince of demons” (Satan). According to Luke, Jesus also mentions this sin in adiscussion of publicly acknowledging or confessing Him (Luke 12:10). Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 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” (Matt. 12:31–32).

Focusing on Jesus’ words (some also see reference to the sin in passages like 1 John 5:16; Heb.6:4–6; 10:26–27), we learn this about the sin: Jesus specifically singles out the sin as “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” and speaks of it in distinction from blasphemy against the Son of Man (Himself). It belongs in a category to be distinguished from all other sins (though these remain gravely serious as well).

Those who commit such blasphemy are guilty of taking aim directly at the Holy Spirit, reviling and denigrating not only Him but what He does. In the words of Luther’s Small Catechism, the Holy Spirit has “called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” Without the HolySpirit’s working through God’s Word, repentance and faith are not possible (John 15:26; Acts 5:31–32; Titus 3:5, etc.).

Placing a target on the Holy Spirit and deliberately slandering Him implies that the person who commits this offense knows exactly what he is doing. The sin, therefore, manifests a heart hardened in impenitent opposition to the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. Every effort on the part of the Holy Spirit to bring or restore such a person to faith in Christ is rejected, repulsed and repudiated. “Whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit,” Jesus solemnly warns, “will not be forgiven, either in this age or the age to come” (Matt. 12:32).

In some ways, the sin is a tautology. Since the Holy Spirit brings us to faith, to reject or blaspheme Him is to reject Christ’s forgiveness. If that rejection continues and is not repented of, it is unforgiveable.

Christians are always to take seriously Christ’s admonition. But those who worry that they are guilty of this sin should be comforted in distress and assured that they have not committed the sin. As our Confessions remind us, God wants to strengthen all those who “feel and perceive a tiny glimmer and longing for God’s grace and eternal salvation in their hearts” and want His help in their weakness.

And finally, we make no judgments as to who may have committed this sin. We leave such judgment to Him who alone knows the heart (Matt. 9:4) and, for our part, remain faithful in our efforts to restore those who are overtaken by a trespass (Gal. 6:1ff.).

Send your questions to “Q&A,” c/o The Lutheran Witness, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295. Please include your name and address. All questions will be considered, but none can be answered individually. 

> On the Web Download The Lutheran Difference:  The Holy Spirit by Dr. Korey Maas at www.cph.org.

About the Author: Rev. Dr. Jerald C. Joersz was formerly the associate executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations.

March 2011

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