Session #088 The Point of No Return
Scripture Matthew 12:31-32
Summary What is the blasphemy against the Spirit, the unforgivable sin? Henson teaches from Matthew 12:31-32, staying in context and drawing from other parallel passages, showing that both unbelievers and believers must take heed to this warning by Jesus. This teaching will both challenge and encourage you.
Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31–32
Where God is concerned, is there a point of no return, where turning back is no longer possible? How do we know if we have crossed this point? What are some safeguards so that we never even come close to this point of no return? This teaching based on Matthew 12:31-32, explores what blasphemy against the Spirit (the unforgivable sin) is. It draws on these verses and parallel passages to show that both unbelievers and believers must take heed to this warning by Jesus.
What is Blasphemy?
First, we need to understand what blasphemy is. According to the Bible dictionary, it is a profane or contemptuous speech or writing against a person and also defined as slander or any word or action that insults or devalues another being.
In the Old Testament (OT), blasphemy is insulting against God and His Word, doubting His power, mocking His nature e.g., Israel is warned about cursing God and taking His name in vain (Leviticus 24:10-16) or deliberately disobeying God’s laws (Numbers 15:30). Some examples of Gentile kings mocking God are given in Isaiah 52:5 and Psalm 74:18.
In the New Testament (NT), there is a broader usage of the word that includes blasphemy against human beings besides God. We can insult God directly by mocking His Word or rejecting His revelation and His messengers e.g., Jesus was accused of blasphemy when He claimed to be the Messiah, making Himself equal to God and the Jews blasphemed against Jesus by mocking and insulting Him, calling Him names and challenging and taunting Him. Our conduct can cause others to blaspheme God and His Word (Titus 2:5, 1 Timothy 6:1). Our adherence to a false doctrine can cause others to blaspheme the Truth such as the prosperity gospel.
Blasphemy against other human beings (including leaders and authorities) are slander, derision, mocking of any kind that is condemned in the NT (Ephesians 4:31, Titus 3:1-2). As we follow the example of Jesus, Christians must also be prepared to be insulted and mocked for his sake.
Every Sin and Blasphemy will be Forgiven, Except…
With an understanding of the word ‘blasphemy’, we now examine the verses again. If we interpret the verses out of context, many of us may be guilty of “blasphemy against the Spirit” for we may have at some point doubted the work of the Spirit, ignored Him, and insulted the Holy Spirit. For example, some Christians were arguing about ‘the baptism of the Holy Spirit’ and they were adamant that it was of the devil but later became champions of the charismatic movement when they themselves were baptized by the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. Others might have been discerning, cynical, sceptical or blasphemous about some miracles or manifestations.
We need to consider the fuller context as the verse starts with the word ‘therefore’. Mathew 12 is about the increasing opposition against Jesus. The Pharisees were challenging Him, even with face-to-face confrontation on His casting out of demons (Matthew 12:24, 28). They were only interested in bringing Jesus down. Jesus then said in verse 30, “he who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad”, then followed by “Therefore I say to you.” Jesus was saying that if they were in the category He mentioned, they need to pay close attention. He was issuing a very stern warning and not a judgment. We can paraphrase it as “You can live wrongly and there is always room to repent and God will forgive. You can call Me names, insult Me and still get away with it. But be careful guys, you are not there yet, but you are coming really close to the point of no return…” The Pharisees have not committed the unforgivable sin yet but if they continued in that track, they will reach the point eventually and the irony is that as teachers of the law, they are very familiar with blasphemous sins that profane the name of God or His Word (Numbers 15:30-31, Deuteronomy 29:18-20).
Is There Really an Unforgivable Sin?
To understand this, we need to consider the nature of God and the role of the Holy Spirit. In Psalm 103:8, it is written that “The LORD is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” All through the OT, we see examples of God being merciful, gracious and long-suffering, giving Israel chance after chance before God finally “pulls the plug”, and yet, there is still hope and restoration for Israel. Because of His grace and mercy, God instituted a system of sacrifice where through offering a sacrifice yearly, the people’s sins would be atoned for the year and they get a new start each year. Finally, He sent Jesus, the Lamb of God, a better sacrifice and substitute through whom all sins can be forgiven. Forgiveness is always available through confession and repentance (John 1:9). However, it is not always sought. It takes a lot to anger God, and for Him to cut off anyone for all eternity.
Next, we consider the role of the Spirit of God, who is to convict people “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8-11), drawing people to Jesus and the good news of the kingdom of God. This is what the Holy Spirit is doing over and over again and is consistent with the nature of God. Therefore, when we consider the nature of God, the solution that comes through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God and the role of the Holy Spirit, the point of no return is pushed so far away that God never wants anyone to cross this point of no return.
So, what is this unforgivable sin? It is not simply an act of sin or an ignorant careless word but a rejection of God and His offer of forgiveness and reconciliation in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Apologetics Study Bible states that “blasphemy against the Spirit means consciously rejecting His incontrovertible testimony to the truth of the gospel”. There is a point of no return but it takes quite a while before one reaches this point. What can we learn from the Pharisees? First, it was their non-belief, rejecting Jesus and the witness of the Holy Spirit. The rejection was because of their pride and hardness of heart. We need to be mindful for these may push us to the point of no return.
Only for Pharisees or Non-Believers? Applicable to Christians?
Is this point of no return applicable to believers of Jesus Christ, since we have already responded to the Holy Spirit? In Luke 12:8-12, Jesus warned His disciples against denying Him in the face of persecution or hardship and refusing the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Even so, we see in the NT how hard it is to reach the point of no return e.g., Peter denied Jesus three times and even cursed Him (Matthew 26:74); all His disciples deserted Jesus, and all repented and were forgiven. Paul persecuted the Christians, forcing them to blaspheme (Acts 26:11). But when he encountered Jesus through the Holy Spirit, he responded with repentance and was forgiven. Therefore, we can see that it is not easy to reach this point of no return but it is still a warning for believers too.
Let us look at other verses that are along similar lines and the warnings given. In Hebrews 6:4-6, the warning is against falling away (apostasy), for it is impossible to renew those fallen away again to repentance. This is brought up in the context of the writer asking the disciples to move on from basic teachings and go on to perfection (Hebrews 6:1-3). The implication is that immature Christians are prone to fall away (to abandon the faith) in times of difficulty, bringing shame to Jesus and the work of the cross and there is no repentance if they do that. This is consistent with 2 Thessalonians 2:3 of a “falling away” before the Day of the Lord.
In Hebrews 10:26-31, there is also a warning against sinning willfully. This is consistent with the OT’s warning about presumptuous sin i.e., knowing the Law, you presume upon His grace to cover your sins time and again (Numbers 15:30-31) and your conscience is seared and hearts hardened (1 Timothy 4:2).
Next, in Hebrews 12:12-17, the warning is against bitterness and spiritual adultery (betrothed to Christ but worshipping idols, doing other things). The context here is that trials and discipline require endurance. The temptation is to become bitter and defiled, leading to hardness of heart and a tendency to compromise; preferring fleshly desires over our birthright and position in Christ. This leads to spiritual adultery and “no place for repentance”.
In Galatians 6:7-8, the warning is against gratifying the flesh. Paul is reminding the people to use their freedom to serve one another through love and not gratifying the flesh (Galatians 5:13 and 19-21). Every sin can be forgiven, however, if you keep doing this wilfully, you are sowing to the flesh, reap corruption and if you keep presuming upon the grace of God and ignoring the witness and prompting of the Holy Spirit, you can reach a point of no return.
Finally, 1 John 5:16 warns against sin leading to death. Examining the context in 1John 1:9, if we confess our sins, all sins can be forgiven but those born of God are expected not to sin (1John 3:9, 5:18). In case you have sinned, confess your sins and your sins are forgiven and we ask the Holy Spirit to help those who are struggling with sin and pray for them except for “sin leading to death”. In this case, there is no point praying for the person as he has already crossed the point of no return and there is already a hardness of heart. However, in practice, we should still just continue praying as we do not know for sure if one has crossed that point.
Two More Questions
Firstly, can Christians ever commit unforgivable sin? According to RC Sproul, every Christian is capable of committing it but he believes that God will not allow it. Though assuring and comforting, we do not fully agree with this position. By saying that God does not allow it, we take it to mean that God will keep pursuing us relentlessly by His Holy Spirit. However, we can still reject the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, if it will never happen, then why is there a need for such a warning. Therefore, love the blessings but heed the warnings.
The second question is “Have I committed the unforgivable sin?” To answer this, let us consider again what the unforgivable sin is by considering what it is not. It is not about specific sins like murder, divorce, abortion, suicide etc, for every sin and blasphemy can be forgiven. It is when we act or speak contemptuously against the Holy Spirit, doubting, ignoring, rejecting and insulting Him. David Mathir wrote that “if you worry about the unforgivable sin, then most likely you are not there, not yet”, for your conscience is still alive and still desiring to live right for God. However, worrying about sin is not the same as asking for forgiveness of sin and turning back to the Lord. Therefore, confess, repent, do not worry and live free. Some teach that there is no longer a need for repentance. Would that mean presumption? We need to be careful as it is a fine line.
Let us take heed of the word of the King. This warning is for both non-believers (those who reject the witness of the Holy Spirit) and believers (those who take Him way too lightly). We must beware of pride, bitterness, hardness of heart, and presumption. We need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading and prompting to confess and repent, to turn and return to God, always checking our alignment to King Jesus. We should never give up on Jesus and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit especially when we face opposition when we are on assignment. We should stay in the community so that we are able to encourage each other as people full of the Spirit. We should represent Jesus well and live well and not give cause for others to blaspheme God on account of our bad testimony. As a kingdom community, do not slander, speak evil, and blaspheme against one another, especially our leaders and those in authority. By the Holy Spirit, let our words be seasoned with salt, full of grace, blessing, and honouring one another.