Pretty much since the moment I became a Christian, I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly it means to “blaspheme the Holy Spirit.” How does that happen?
A few days back, I was once again reading Matthew 12:22-32, which deals with this issue. Here’s the story so you have some context:
Then a demon-oppressed man who was blind and mute was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the man spoke and saw. And all the people were amazed, and said, “Can this be the Son of David?” But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.” Knowing their thoughts, a he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand. And if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then will his kingdom stand? And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can someoneenter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. Whoever is not withme is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 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 l will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (emphasis mine).
Jesus casts out a demon, and the people begin asking if He is the Messiah. The Pharisees say that Jesus performs miracles by the power of Satan, rather than by the power of God the Holy Spirit. Essentially, they say that he’s practicing witchcraft (something punishable by death according to Old Testament law).
I’ve read this story probably a couple dozen times at this point, but when I read it this time, it was like a light was turned on in a dark room. To blaspheme the Holy Spirit is to continually and stubbornly reject His work and testimony concerning the identity of Jesus. To reject His work as that of Satan’s, and to unrepentantly reject God and His commands is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. And those who persistently & unrepentantly resist the Spirit and salvation through faith in Christ, will not be saved. A troubling thought, to be sure.
So, can a Christian blaspheme the Spirit?
The testimony of John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, sheds some light on why this is so.
John Bunyan was a great preacher and author in the 17th century, whose conversion and Christian walk were far from easy. Frequently battling what appears to be depression and very likely severe spiritual attack, he became consumed by an expectation of damnation for two years as he feared he had blasphemed the Holy Spirit. Here’s how he describes the event in his autobiography, Grace Abounding:
[O]ne morning as I lay in my bed I was, as other times, most fiercely assaulted with this temptation to sell and part with Christ, the wicked suggestion still running in my mind, “Sell him, sell him, sell him,” as fast as a man could speak. Against this also in my mind, as at other times, I answered, “No, no not for thousands, thousands, thousands,” at least twenty times together. At last, after much striving, even until I was almost out of breath, I felt this thought pass through my heart, “Let Him go if He will.” I thought also that I felt my heart freely consent to this. Oh, the diligence of Satan! Oh, the desperateness of man’s heart! (Grace Abounding, pp. 82-83)
For the next two years, he lived “with as heavy a heart as mortal man I think coud bear,” believing himself bound for Hell, a fear that would continue until God, in his mercy intervened.
[T]here was as if there had rushed upon me, very pleasant, and as if I heard a voice speaking, “Did you ever refuse to be justified by the blood of Christ?” With that, my whole life of past profession was in a moment opened unto me, where I was made to see that designedly I had not. So my heart answered a groaning, “No.”
Then fell with power that word of God upon me, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb. 12:25). This made a seizure upon my spirit: it brought light with it and commanded a silence in my heart of all those tumultuous thoughts that before, like masterless hellhounds, used to roar and bellow and make hideous noises within me. It showed me also that Jesus Christ had yet a word of grace and mercy for me—that He had not, as I had feared quite forsaken and cast off my soul (pp. 100-101).
Reading these words once again, the key to understanding blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is clear: It is the unrepentant refusal to to be justified by the blood of Christ. To deny the work and testimony of the Holy Spirit is to blaspheme Him. And to fear that you have blasphemed Him is, quite honestly, an indication that you haven’t.
If you have repented and believed in the gospel, do not fear. Christ will not leave or forsake His people. So let’s rejoice as we remember, as John Bunyan did, that God has “blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist,” and if we have strayed, “Return to me, for I have redeemed you” (Isa 44:22).