Christians often wonder if they or someone else has committed the unforgivable sin of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Throughout church history, this sin has been associated with everything from adultery to divorce to suicide. However, instead of having the effect of causing insecurity in the life of a believer, this passage should work in the complete opposite manner. Here, Christians should find supreme comfort.
Just prior to Jesus’ healing a demon possessed man, Matthew quotes from Isaiah 42 and uses Isaiah’s words to demonstrate Jesus identity as the promised Messiah. Isaiah describes him as the one of whom God says, “I will put my Spirit upon him… and in his name the Gentiles will hope.” Isaiah’s use of Spirit throughout his prophecy always indicates God’s presence or stamp of approval upon whatever is being described (Isaiah 42:1; 44:3; 48:16; 59:2; 61:1). In other words, God’s Spirit identifies what is uniquely his. So when, Jesus is identified as the one with the Spirit, he is clearly the one through whom God will bring hope to the entire world.
This is why whenever Jesus responds to the Pharisees accusation that he casts out demons by Beelzebub that he has such an issue with their position. They had essentially called the one through whom God is redeeming the world, Satan. They had attributed to the evil one what God had performed by his Spirit through his Son. In that context, Jesus says, “Therefore, I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (12:31).
Certainly there is much warning to be heeded by Matthew’s audience here. Be careful that you do not dismiss God’s plan of justice and redemption that is unfolding before you as something that is evil. If you do, salvation is impossible for you. It is only found in submission to God’s kingdom, so turn with bended knee to the one upon whom God has placed his Spirit and joyfully surrender to him.
However, this bold warning against blasphemy of the Spirit ultimately should not drive the Christian to despair but to assurance. This unforgivable sin when combined with some of the examples of the despicable creatures that God has had mercy upon throughout the Bible should demonstrate to us how broad and radical the mercy of God actually is. To be clear, there is a real warning here for all of us not to continue on in sin and opposition to God even while thinking we are okay. The Bible is unfamiliar with an unrepentant, sin-loving Christian. However, if the evidence of our salvation is there, we must remember that the evidence itself points us back to mercy we did not deserve, and we may look in some respects at passages like this with great thanksgiving to God.
Thieves who have spent their lives ripping people off–guys who had surely outran the mercy of God–find mercy from the man hanging next to them (Luke 23:39-43).
Miracle-witnessing disciples who deny Jesus three times in the same night are later able to write “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3).
Church persecuting Pharisees with blood on their hands can now say, “In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me… Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus!” (1 Timothy 1:13-14).
Everywhere a Christian stands, he stands as a former blasphemer upon whom the mercy of God has fallen. The hope in this passage doesn’t come from his or her nervously tip-toeing around being careful not step on the hidden land mine of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. No, their hope is found in the supreme assurance of salvation that comes from knowing that because of Christ, the one upon whom God has placed his Spirit, that forgiveness is unavoidable and unrelenting. The believer in Christ looks back and sees this warning like the survivor of an airplane crash looks back and sees a pile of smoldering debris. We look back at our sin-induced rebellion against an angry God and like Paul see this warning and say, “But God had mercy on me… Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was (1 Tim 1:14).”