The Blasphemy Against the Spirit (Phil Johnson)

Matthew 12:31-32   |   Sunday, January 31, 2016   |   Code: 2016-01-31-PJ

We are returning this morning to Matthew 12, where

Jesus gives that chilling warning about the unpardonable sin.

Specifically, Matthew 12:31-32: "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."

That is a troubling passage. Lots of people are confused

and confounded by it. I know that because people ask

questions about it all the time. Some people simply want to

know how to explain it, but there are also a lot of people

(Christians and non-Christians alike) who worry that they

might have committed a sin that is unforgivable. I've known

people (some in the church, some outside the church) who

are practically paralyzed with fear that they are guilty of

some sin that can never be forgiven.

Now, let's face it: anyone who takes Jesus' words

seriously should be troubled by a warning as dire as this. If

you can blow a passage like this off as nothing to be

concerned about, I'd be more worried about your soul than I

am about the guy who feels the burden of guilt and knows

there's no easy remedy for his sin.

Matthew 12:31-32 2

Still, if you confess Christ as Lord and trust in Him as

SaviorCif you understand the high price He paid to atone for

your sinCyou should not be perpetually stymied with the

fear that your sin is greater than His grace. There's especially

no reason for a Christian to have to entertain relentlessly

nagging anxiety about whether they can find forgiveness.

And yet we know some Christians do struggle with such

fears, because the issue comes up all the time in the

counseling room, in our Bible studies, in Q&A sessions, and

in private conversations. So that's why I wanted to take three

sessions to look at this passage in depth.

Even if you personally aren't tortured by fear when you

encounter this passage, I want to try to equip you to help

those who do grapple with those fears. Because if you have

meaningful spiritual relationships with peopleCor if you do

much evangelism, you will be asked questions about this


Here's a fact that may surprise you: Lots of people who

have never darkened the door of a church know this text is in

the Bible and secretly worry about it. When I used to do

street evangelism in Chicago during my student years,

people brought up this question all the time. In all likelihood,

some of your friends and neighbors and people you do

business with are privately wracked with fear that they might

have sinned past the point of no return. I know from

firsthand experience that there are a lot of people in the

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 3

secular world who may never give any indication that they

think about God, but nevertheless, their own consciences are

telling them that they may already have sinned so badly that

anything they ever tried to do good would never make up for

the sin.

That's true, by the way: Nothing you do that's good will

ever make up for your sin. It's true about all of us, of course:

nothing good we can do could ever atone for the sins we

have already committed. That's a vital part of the gospel


Of course, the gospel is good news because it explains

how our sins can be forgiven anywayCnot by any penance or

self-redemption we do for ourselves, but completely and

only because of the atoning work of Christ.

Still, some people imagine that some sin they have

committed is too big or too bad for even Christ to wash

away. They think God has given up on them. Therefore, they

have given up on GodCin the sense that they have put Him

out of their thoughts; they have seared their consciences, and

they have convinced themselves that they have no further

duty to God. Of course that is a Satanic lie, and that's the

kind of thoughtless spiritual apathy that keeps people in

bondage to their sin.

Even those who aren't merely apathetic sometimes use

this text as a pretext for not coming to Christ for forgiveness.

While I was in the process of preparing this message, I got a

Matthew 12:31-32 4

letter from a man who said he has been wresting for more

than a decade with the question of whether his sin is

unforgivable, and he said at the end of the process, "All I

have now is despair, terror, my pile of unimaginable sin, and

evil." We get letters like that all the time at Grace to You.

This guy once professed to be a believer, but he never

actually lived like a believer. Then someone showed him

Hebrews 10:26-27, which says, "if we go on sinning

deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no

longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of

judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries."

And a parallel passage, Hebrews 6:4-6, says, "In the case of

those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the

heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted

the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to

come, and then have fallen away, [it is impossible] to restore

them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again

the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to


So this guy is fearful. I have spoken to him several times,

and each time he raises the question of whether those

warnings apply to his case. Has he sinned away the

possibility of saving grace? How can he know for sure one

way or another? Because if you take the plain, simple

straightforward meaning of the words of Hebrews 10, he

thinks he is guilty as charged. He sinned deliberately after

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 5

receiving the knowledge of the truth. And now he is wracked

with doubts about whether his sin can ever be forgiven. He's

become obsessed with the subject.

So this morning, I want to sweep all those questions

together and take a second look at Matthew 12:31-32 and its

broader context. Last time we considered the question of

what was the nature of the sin Jesus described as

unpardonable. This time let's consider why Jesus gave these

words about unpardonable sin in this particular context.

We'll talk about what this admonition meant to those who

heard Him, and we'll consider some very specific questions

about how the matter of unpardonable sin is relevant to you

and to me.

Matthew 12:31-32. I already read the text, and I hope you

have your Bibles open to it. Remember that when Jesus

spoke these words of warning, He was responding to a group

of Pharisees who accused Him of using the power of Satan to

cast out demons. They didn't make such a ridiculous

allegation because they actually believed it. This wasn't a sin

of ignorance or misunderstanding on their part. They didn't

really believe He was working in Satan's power; they were

just desperate to discredit Jesus any way they could, no

matter what He did.

In fact, it appears from John 11 that they knew full well

that He was the legitimate Messiah of Israel, because they

simply could not deny all the signs and wonders he did.

Matthew 12:31-32 6

Listen to John 11:47-48: "the chief priests and the Pharisees

gathered the Council and said, 'What are we to do? For this man

performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will

believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both

our place and our nation.'" So attributing the miracles of Jesus

to Satan was a desperate, last-gasp attempt to defame and

disparage HimCnot because they didn't believe He was who

He claimed to be, but because He simply wasn't the kind of

Messiah they wanted, and especially because He represented

a major threat to their political power. They wanted a

messiah who would defeat their enemies, not someone like

Jesus, who kept pointing out where they were wrong. They

wanted a messiah who would do what they said, not a Lord

whom they had to submit to. So they rejected Jesus and tried

their best to discredit Him even though they had no

legitimate reason whatsoever to doubt Him or challenge


In other words, the blasphemy they uttered was deliberate,

premeditated, and done with their eyes wide open. Jesus

called it "the blasphemy against the [Holy] Spirit"Cas if it were

the consummate, climactic apogee of all blasphemies. And it

was, because Jesus did His miracles in the power of the Holy

Spirit, and by saying He was working in Satan's power, they

were in fact calling the Holy Spirit "Beelzebul, the prince of


The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 7

So keep this in mind: That was the precise sin that

prompted Jesus to issue these famous words about the

unpardonable sin. It was a direct and personal onslaught

against Christ (and even more so against the Holy Spirit) in

the face of overwhelming, irrefutable evidence for the truth

of His claims. It was a deliberate, public, verbal act of

blasphemy by men who had looked Jesus in the eyes, seen

the truth, and had sufficient evidence for believing in

HimCbut they were determined at all costs to destroy Him


And last time we looked at this passage, we observed

three singular characteristics of the unpardonable sin: One, it

is extraordinary, not common. Two, it is deliberate, not

accidental. And three: it is a sin of the heart, not merely of

the lips.

Last time I also pointed out something I want to stress

again this week: Even this grim-sounding section of

Scripture about one unpardonable sin is accompanied by a

vast promise of forgiveness that covers every conceivable

kind of sin and every imaginable degree of sin anyone might

ever repent of. Verse 31: "every sin and blasphemy will be

forgiven people."

That, to me is the most remarkable aspect of what Jesus

was saying in this passage. It would not be surprising for an

omnipotent God who is perfectly Holy and righteous to

declare every kind of deliberate sin and thoughtless

Matthew 12:31-32 8

blasphemy unforgivable. If we truly understood even a

fraction of the diabolical evil that is inherent in even the

smallest of our transgressions, we would marvel that a

righteous God would ever be willing to forgive any sin.

So that's really the most remarkable aspect of Jesus'

statement: He expressly states that (except for one very

specific kind of blasphemy) every type and every degree of

evil we have ever committed is forgivable, redeemable, and

capable of being fully covered by God's grace and washed

whiter than snow by His redemptive work.

Psalm 136:1 in the KJV says "The LORD is good: [and] his

mercy endureth forever." The word "mercy" is translated

"steadfast love" in the ESV and "lovingkindness" in the New

American Standard. The Hebrew word includes the ideas of

goodness, lovingkindness, pity, and mercy. It includes all

those ideas. But the context here in Psalm 136 does seem to

put the stress on God's tenderhearted compassion for people

who don't deserve it. So "mercy" is certainly at the heart of

the idea.

That four-word phrase ("his mercy endureth forever")

appears 41 times in the King James version of the Bible. It is

one of the most commonly-used statements about God

anywhere in Scripture. It appears 26 times in Psalm 136

alone. It's the refrain of that psalmCappearing once in each

verse of the text. God's mercies are inexhaustible, and

Scripture stresses this over and over again. His grace is

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 9

greater than all our sin. "The steadfast love of the LORD never

ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every

morning" (Lamentations 3:22-23). In the words of Psalm

86:15, "God [is] full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering,

and plenteous in mercy and truth." Micah 7:18 says "[God]

delights in mercy." The kindness, compassion, grace, and

forgiveness of God are infinite, inexhaustible, never-ending,

new and fresh and every morningCand Scripture stresses that

fact from beginning to end.

"Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people." That's an

amazing promise, and it is Jesus' own starting point here. He

reminds us that there's no sin so dark and evil that it cannot

be washed by His blood and made as white and pure as the

driven snow.

So it should be obvious that what makes the blasphemy

against the Holy Spirit unforgivable cannot be some

deficiency in the magnitude or extent of God's mercy. Divine

mercy is infinite. Scripture teaches that truth again and again:

the grace of God is utterly inexhaustibleCit never runs out

and never fails. To say it another way, there is no evil so

great or so monstrous that divine mercy could be utterly

overwhelmed and extinguished by it. There's no evil that is

bigger or more robust than God's benevolence.

But what makes this particular blasphemy unforgivable is

a settled hardness in the heart of the sinner. It's not some

Matthew 12:31-32 10

kind of inadequacy or insufficiency in the kindness and

mercy of God. But this sin is beyond the pale of forgiveness

because the person who commits this kind of sin has already

received the full light of gospel truth; he knows it is true; he

has seen the kindness and compassion of God in the bright

light of abundant revealed truthCand yet he so utterly

despises the grace and goodness of Christ that he turns away

from Christ forever with the full knowledge of what he is

doing. So it's more than a mere thoughtless rejection of

Christ; it involves open and outright animosity against Him.

It is a full and final renunciation of Christ that is so decisive,

so deliberate, so brazenly blasphemous that it extinguishes

all hope forever for the person who commits it.

In other words, this is such a cold-hearted, hate-filled,

purposeful, irrevocable, and terminal act of reprobation that

the person who commits a sin like this would never even

think of having any kind of regret. The sin itself by

definition entails such a deliberate and decisive hardening of

one's own heart against the gospel (even after full proof of

the gospel has already been seen, heard, and understood) that

the person who commits such a sin would never again think

of, dream of, or wish for repentance. That is what makes this

sin unpardonable.

After all, no one's sin is ever pardoned apart from

repentance and faith, so when someone spurns the Holy

Spirit with this kind of finality and intentionality after

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 11

already being enlightened to the truth of the gospel, then

naturally, all hope for that person is utterly extinguished.

So (to wrap up our review) this much is crystal-clear

about the unpardonable sin: It's a deliberate sin. It's not a sin

of omission or neglect, and not something you could commit

accidentally, merely by a slip of the tongue or by blundering

into it through some unexpected mishap. In fact, it is

unforgivable because it seals forever the utter,

self-determined hardness of the sinner's heart. It's not a sin

anyone who commits it would ever even have second

thoughts about.

Now, having said all that, let's acknowledge also that we

still have a lot of questions about the unpardonable sin, and

Jesus doesn't stop to answer them here. We're left with lots

of hazy details, and several questions we'd like to raise whose

answers are completely shrouded from us. For example, can

we tell when someone has crossed that line? It would seem

pointless to try to evangelize or even pray for someone who

has committed this sin. One of the most difficult verses in the

New Testament is 1 John 5:16, where the apostle writes,

"There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that [any]one

should pray for that." Why aren't we given an infallible test by

which we can know whether someone has passed the point of

no return or not? For that matter, why isn't Jesus' explanation

Matthew 12:31-32 12

of the unforgivable sin more specific? "The blasphemy

against the [Holy] Spirit" isn't a very precise description.

But still, this is clearly a very distinctive sin. As we saw

last time we looked at this passage, the definite article is

important here. It's "THE blasphemy against the Spirit"Cnot

just any kind of careless remark invoking the Spirit's Name

in vain, but one particular type of blasphemy against His

Person and workCa blasphemy so horribly egregious as to be

completely unpardonable. It's a sin that specifically

desecrates Holy Spirit, in distinction from other kinds of

blasphemyCeven including every kind of blasphemy against

the Son of God. Jesus expressly says that all those other sins

are forgivableChowever grotesque they might be. (That's

assuming, of course, that the blasphemer repents.) Only this

one uniquely personal, uniquely deliberate blasphemy

against the Holy Spirit is not forgivable, ever. Wouldn't you

like to know the precise boundaries of that kind of

blasphemy, the better to avoid it? But Jesus gives no further

explanation about the specifics of this sin.

That's because the particulars of the sin are not what is

most important here. Jesus made this statement in the context

He did for a reason. It's not a statement about the sin per se;

it's a statement about these PhariseesCthe gross wickedness

of their way of thinking, the extreme dangers of their

singular brand of spiritual arrogance, the obscene folly of

persisting in known sin, and (most of all) the appalling

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 13

enormity of the mortal peril that hangs like Damocles' sword

over the head everyone who knows the truth about Christ and

yet hesitates to embrace Him as Lord and Savior by faith.

It is probably significant that all three synoptic gospels

mention the unpardonable sin. You'll find cross references to

this passage in Mark 3:28-29 and Luke 12:10. The fact that

the Holy Spirit preserved the record of Jesus' words about

the unpardonable sin in three of the four gospels underscores

its importance. Although Jesus addressed this rebuke to the

Pharisees, He said these things in the presence of His

disciplesCfor their benefit and for ours as well. So there's an

important spiritual lesson for you here whether you are a

believer, a blasphemer, or a fence-sitter.

For those obstinate Pharisees, rejecting Christ even after

they knew the truth about Him, Jesus' words were a

pronouncement of judgment. Jesus sealed their doom forever

with these remarks.

For the disciples, Jesus' words were a solemn warning,

calculated to provoke godly fear. The eleven faithful

disciples were about to be sifted like wheat. Specifically,

they were going to be tempted to abandon their faith in

Christ and forsake their calling as His disciples. They needed

to hear this warning and ponder the gravity of that kind of


Matthew 12:31-32 14

And for Judas in particular, this was an admonition about

the looming dangers of his hypocrisy and his hesitancy with

regard to Christ. Judas was a classic hypocrite, and Jesus

knew it. He pretended to be a close disciple of Christ, but he

wasn't really even a believer at all. Judas knew it, too. So

Jesus' response to the Pharisees' sin ought to have awakened

a holy fear in his heart. He was well on the road to the same

kind of deliberate self-hardening as the Pharisees, but at this

point he had evidently not yet rejected Christ with complete

finality the way the Pharisees already had. He was still sitting

on the fence at this juncture, and Jesus was telling him he

couldn't possibly stay there. Verse 30: "Whoever is not with

me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me


Now, this morning, I want to look at our passage from

those three perspectives. Because whoever you are, you fit

roughly into one or the other of those three categories.

You're either an undecided unbeliever like Judas was at this

point, a true believer like the disciples (but still subject to

temptation), or else you are a hardened unbeliever like these

blaspheming Pharisees. I hope there is no one here this

morning who has reached that level of unbelief and

deliberate opposition to the Holy Spirit, but if we learn

anything at all from this passage, it's that some people do go

to irrational and utterly ungodly extremes in their rejection of

Christ as Lord and Savior.

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 15

So let's consider each of these perspectives one at a time,

starting with the Pharisees. First, notice that this passage isC


This whole episode represents a clear turning point in

Jesus' interaction with the hostile Pharisees. With these

words about the unpardonable sin, Jesus was in effect

making a summary pronouncement of eternal judgment

against some of the chief religious leaders of the Jewish


This was a decisive moment for them. The One to whom

all judgment has been committed pronounced His verdict

against them, and in effect He declared that judgment

irreversible. From this point on, their doom was sealed. The

final sentence had already been read against them, and

although the execution of that sentence will be delayed until

the Great White Throne, nothing in earth or

heavenC"[n]either in this age [n]or in the age to come"Ccan

ever change or mitigate that judgment. They had sinned

away their last opportunity for forgiveness.

Remember what had brought them to this point. Certain

leading Pharisees had hounded and harassed Jesus

throughout His ministry. They were seeking by all means to

try to embarrass Him publicly. They repeatedly tried to

confound Him with trick questions, discredit Him in the eyes

of His followers, or otherwise show Him up. And all those

Matthew 12:31-32 16

efforts had utterly failed, every time. Everything they did in

opposition to Him only established His authority and

confirmed His claims while causing public disgrace for them.

But they only became more determined in their opposition,

until their fury finally boiled over.

The blasphemy that Jesus said was unforgivable was the

culmination of their long, relentless campaign of opposition

to Jesus. It's possible to oppose Christ and push Him away,

and even hate Him and yet still be drawn by the Holy Spirit,

won over by the gospel, and forgivenCeven after

blaspheming Christ. That is what Jesus Himself means when

he says in verse 32 that it's possible to "[speak] a word against

the Son of Man [and yet] be forgiven." That is precisely what

happened to the apostle Paul. It's happened to countless

people who have become convicted of the truth of the gospel

and the claims of Christ after they have already opposed

Him. The moment they repent, all of that is instantly


But with these Pharisees what you have is the exact

opposite phenomenon. They become convinced that Jesus is

for real; they know in their hearts that His claims are true;

they see the lightCand that only makes them more bold in

their determination to destroy him and discredit him in the

eyes of other people, by whatever means they can. This was

not a sudden shift in their posture with regard to Christ. This

was not an accidental blasphemy that inadvertently slipped

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 17

from unguarded lips. This was not merely a one-time

infraction that Jesus arbitrarily judged more harshly than He

judged other people's wrongdoing. This was the culmination

and the termination point of their opposition to Him. From

this point on their hatred for Jesus was not rooted in mere

ignorance; because in order to persist in this level of

antagonism against Jesus, they had to spurn the Holy Spirit's

enlightenment. And in giving voice to willful hatred of Him,

they thereby committed the consummate act of blasphemy

against the Holy Spirit.

Matthew takes pains to stress that this didn't just come out

of nowhere. It happened after a series of key incidents

recorded in Matthew 12 where Jesus demonstrated that He

was Lord even over the Sabbath. He had just healed a man's

incurable physical defect, and instead of rejoicing with the

man who was healed and praising God that they were

privileged to witness such an undeniable miracle, Matthew

12:14 says, "The Pharisees went out and conspired against him,

how to destroy him." Their opposition against Jesus had

reached the point where they were even willing to plot

murder. And that, of course, was the seed of the conspiracy

that ultimately put Jesus on the cross.

So don't underestimate the gross wickedness that was

behind their hatred of Jesus. It wasn't merely unbelief. In

fact, they did not dispute whether the miracle actually

occurred. It was undeniable.

Matthew 12:31-32 18

Someone might be thinking, Yeah, but that was a much

more gullible age than ours. People were especially

susceptible to claims of miracles. That culture was not prone

to doubt supernatural claims, and that's why the Pharisees

didn't suggest that Jesus was merely performing

sleight-of-hand tricks. That ignores the truth about

first-century Judaism. Check the biblical record and you'll

see that there had been no verifiable miracle for several

centuries before Jesus came. According to John 10:47, even

John the Baptist (whom Jesus said was greater than anyone

before him) never did a single miracle. Miracle-claims were

by no means common, and if the Pharisees had wanted to

discredit Jesus, the easiest thing in the world to do would

have been to expose Him as a mere trickster. You can bet

they would have done that if it were possible. But when so

many people knew people who had been born blind and had

been given their sight by Jesus, it was a little hard to write

that off as a parlor trick. Here (in Matthew 12:22) was a man

both blind and mute and demon-possessedCand Jesus

instantly made him physically and spiritually whole. Before

that (verses 10-12) it was a man with a withered armCand

the Greek word suggests that his hand was severely and

visibly deformedClike a wilted, dried-up leaf. Suddenly,

before everyone's eyes, (v. 13) his hand was made to be as

healthy as the other one.

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 19

There was absolutely no point in questioning the reality of

the miracles. They were too public and too impossible to

fake. So these desperate, hate-filled Pharisees instead

accused Jesus of using Satan's power to work mighty

wonders. And when they said that, they deliberately

blasphemed the Holy Spirit, because He was the one who

empowered Jesus' miracles. Luke 11:20CJesus said, "it is by

the finger of God that I cast out demons." In Luke 4:14, at the

very starting point of Jesus' public ministry, Scripture tells us

that He came "in the power of the Spirit." To say Jesus did

miracles by Satan's power was tantamount to calling the

Holy Spirit the prince of demons. And since they had already

hardened their hearts against everything they knew to be true

about Jesus, this was a sin with no remedy.

Thus Jesus' words to them should not be seen as a

warning, but as a pronouncement of doom. It was a

declaration of judgment. The Pharisees' self-hardening and

deliberate unbelief had reached its culmination in this

stunning expression of blasphemy. They had seen every truth

the Holy Spirit could possibly show them. They knew the

full truth about Christ. They had seen Him exercise His

power; they had witnessed the beauty of His goodness up

close and in personCand it had only stirred them to a deeper

hatred of Him. They had rejected the only remedy for their

hardness of heart and now with this shocking expression of

blasphemy, they sealed their rejection forever.

Matthew 12:31-32 20

Such a sin is unforgivable because it is an expression of

full and final impenitence. Once again: it's a sin no one ever

could or would repent of. The language of Mark 3:29 makes

this clear: "whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit . . . is

guilty of an eternal sin" That means the sin itself is by

definition never-ending, everlastingCit goes on forever and

ever. That is the very nature of it, and that is why it is

unforgivable. These men could not and would not ever have

forgivenessCbecause they had so deliberately fixed their

opposition to Christ that they would never bow to receive a

pardon from someone they were so determined to hate. They

had rejected every ray of light and every pang of conscience

in their blind determination to discredit Christ, and from now

onCstarting on that very SabbathCthey would reap the bitter

consequences of their own self-will.

Therefore Jesus pronounced their doom, and He did it

publicly, emphatically, and with irreversible finality. He was

not pleading with them or offering them a second chance.

His goal was not to instruct them or admonish them, or even

solicit their repentance. He was finished with them, and this

was his formal pronouncement of God's verdict against them.

That becomes obvious in the way he begins to speak to

them after this. In Matthew 12:34 He says, "You brood of

vipers!" and in verse 39 he calls them "An evil and adulterous

generation." That's not merely name-calling. He is addressing

them as sons of Satan, condemned liarsCirreversible

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 21

reprobates. Because that is exactly what they now were:

damned fools. He was simply pronouncing their judgment.

They didn't seem to get it, though, and they asked Him for

another sign in verse 38. This is merely a taunting challenge

from the same group who had already judged his miracles

satanic. Of course, Jesus refused to perform for them. He

promised the sign of the prophet Jonah (v. 39-40Cof course,

he is talking about his resurrection), and then He again

declares their doom in even more emphatic terms (verses

41-42). This is a prophecy about the day of judgment: "The

men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation

and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and

behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the

South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and

condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the

wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than

Solomon is here."

And then the whole encounter closes with an insight into

the dark side of the spirit world that underscores the futility

of moral reform without true faith. That, of course, was the

whole problem with the Pharisees; they were clean and swept

on the inside, but their hearts were the habitation of demons.

So the closing line of the conversation sums up Jesus' whole

message to them: (v. 45) "The last state of that person is worse

than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation."

Matthew 12:31-32 22

Not very uplifting is it? Still, I'm convinced there is a

gracious and benevolent reason Jesus pronounced all that

doom and gloom in public. And this (I believe) is also the

chief reason this episode is recorded for our benefit in all

three synoptic gospels: It is an urgent warning, a sober

admonition, and a tender plea to everyone other than the

Pharisees who were already guilty of that unforgivable


And here's point two. (Point 1: this was a judgment

against the Pharisees.) Point 2, it wasC


I'm convinced this episode is given so much prominence

in the gospels because it is still important today. It was

important for the disciples to hear this, and it is important for

you and me as well.

Now, I've said it's a warning, and you might be wondering

why. Why would he warn His disciples about the dangers of

an unpardonable sin? Most if not all of them (except for

Judas) were already believers by this point. No authentic

believer can or would ever do anything that would cost them

the loss of their salvation. Jesus Himself said, "whoever hears

my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does

not come into judgment, but has [already] passed from death to


The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 23

So if it's impossible for a genuine believer to come into

judgment, then it's also (by definition) impossible for a true

Christian to commit the unpardonable sin. We know that

simply from what we know about the nature of the

unpardonable sin.

So how is this a warning to the disciples? Well, they were

about to be sifted like wheat. Remember in Luke 23, during

the Last Supper, when Jesus was warning the disciples that

He was about to be betrayed by one of them? The mood was

very somber, and Jesus turned to Peter and He said (Luke

22:31): "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you,

that he might sift you like wheat." The Greek pronoun ("you")

in that verse is plural. Satan was going to sift them all like

wheat. Just before the crucifixion, all of them would be

subjected to a Satanic trial that would stress their faith to the

maximum. Jesus went on in verse 32 to say to Peter, "but I

have prayed for you that your faith may not fail." And there he

was speaking to Peter particularly (probably saying this

quietly, out of earshot of the other eleven)Cso he uses a

singular pronoun. "I have prayed for you, Peter, that your

faith will remain intact." This was a private reassurance to

Peter that even though he was about to go through the

darkest trial of his life, Christ was praying for him, and God

would sustain him, so that even though his resolve would fail

and his courage would melt, his faith would remain intact.

And it did.

Matthew 12:31-32 24

I have no doubt that one of the factors that kept Peter's

faith intact was the cumulative weight of everything Peter

had ever heard from Jesus' own lips about the deadly dangers

of unbeliefCincluding a healthy, holy fear of the kind of

blasphemy that Jesus said could ever be forgiven.

I'm sure you have noticed that Scripture is peppered with

warnings addressed to groups of Christians about the danger

of falling away, the danger of losing ground spiritually, and

other dangers associated with hypocrisy. And if your faith is

healthy, I'm sure you think about those warningsCand think

seriously about them. Second John 8, for example. The

apostle writes: "Watch yourselves, so that you may not lose

what we have worked for, but may win a full reward." In those

verses I read earlier, Hebrews 6 talks about the dangers of

falling away, and Hebrews 10 warns about sinning after we

have received knowledge of the truth. Bible teachers and

commentators have debated for years about whether those

verses suggest that Christians can in fact lose their salvation.

We don't believe that's what those texts teach, of course.

But one fact is beyond debate, and it's this: those

warnings were all addressed to people who professed to be


Now let me say this clearly, even though we don't have

time this morning to do a full exegesis on Hebrews 6 and 10.

(We'll come back and look at them in another message, Lord

willing.) But I'll tell you emphatically that those passages do

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 25

not nullify the promise of John 5:24: Genuine believers have

passed from death unto life and will never come into

condemnation. Salvation is forever. Eternal life is our present

possession, and it is (by definition) permanent and

everlasting. You can't lose it, because it wouldn't be eternal

life at all if you could. And justification would mean

nothing, either, if it could eventually be overturned by a

future guilty verdict. Grace would mean very little as well, if

something I do could nullify what Christ has already done

for me.

And we've been over this subject many times, so for now,

let me just reiterate that I don't believe it's possible for a

genuine Christian to lose his or her salvation. Therefore, it's

also impossible for any genuine believer to commit the

unpardonable sin.

So what are all these warnings in Scripture about? Let me

give you two basic reasons for that; First of all, they are

warnings to people who have professed to believe but aren't

true believers yet. (Let's keep that on the back burner and

we'll take it up when we get to point three.)

But second, and more to the point here, those warnings

are promptings that the Holy Spirit uses to keep true

believers faithful. Warnings such as this encourage us to

examine ourselves, to see whether we are truly in the faith.

They provoke godly fear. They remind us of the exceeding

sinfulness of sin.

Matthew 12:31-32 26

If you are truly in Christ, you are eternally secure in Him.

In fact, we sometimes refer to this truth as the doctrine of

eternal security. But the classic name for the doctrine is the

perseverance of the saints. And I like that expression a little

better than "eternal security," because it gets more to the

heart of the truth. The idea is not that if you are saved, you

are OK no matter what you do, but that if you are truly

saved, you will see the fruit of salvation in how you live. If

your faith is real, you won't fall away. But security isn't

automatic or mechanical, irrespective of what we do. Those

whose faith is real are secure because God keeps them

faithful. We "are kept by the power of God through faith unto

salvation" (1 Peter 1:5). That's the King James Version again.

The English Standard Version says, "By God's power[,

believers] are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready

to be revealed in the last time." Same idea. God is guarding

and keeping our faith alive. He uses means to keep us

faithful. Warnings such as these are a vital part of the means

He uses to do that.

Now, there are people who do fall away. Sometimes

people who we think are the best of saints fall away, and

abandon the faith. And what that actually proves is that they

were never genuinely saved to begin with. They weren't true

believers at all. "They went out from us, but they were not of us;

for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us.

The Blasphemy Against the Spirit 27

But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not

of us" (1 John 2:19).

I've had a few friends over the years who I thought were

solid believersCpeople who seemed to understand Scripture

well and have a solid grasp of doctrineCwho have hugely

disappointed me and dishonored Christ by falling away and

turning against Him.

Judas was like that. There's not a hint anywhere in the

gospels that any of the disciples ever thought he was a

phony. They trusted him so much they made him their

treasurer. And even when Jesus told them that one of the

Twelve would betray Him, every one of them suspected

themselves before they suspected Judas, according to

Matthew 26:22.

But Judas was a phony, and that is why I believe Jesus'

words about the unpardonable sin were chiefly for his


Point 1: this was a judgment against the Pharisees. Point

2: it was a warning for the disciples. And now point 3: it


Matthew 12:31-32 28


Now I'm going to do something I never do. I almost

always finish my outline, even if it means going overtime.

But this morning I'm going to stop there and pick it up next

week. That will enable us to close a lot of dangling threads.

First of all, years ago, when I first began teaching in

GraceLife, I did a series on the bad boys of the Bible, but I

never did a message on Judas, who was the baddest bad-boy

of all.

Second, as I've said, I believe this section on the

unpardonable sin was chiefly for Judas's benefit, and for the

benefit of all the fence-sitters and phonies like him. So I

don't want to cut this study short.

And third, There is so much to say about false professions

of faith and phony Christians in the New Testament that it

would be a shame to cut this third point short. So I'm going

to leave it there for this week and ask you to hold this

thought in your mind all week, and come back next week

prepared to do some serious self-examination.

OK? Bear with me for a week, and we'll come back and

pick it up right here next week, Lord willing.