What Is the Sin Against the Holy Spirit?
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1999
Read the accompanying Newsletter for September 1999
The matter of "sin" and its consequences is one of the most misunderstood doctrines in the whole of the Scriptures. The theology used to explain what "sin" happens to be is some of the most complex that has been devised by mankind. Many people have simply given up on trying to understand the issue and (in exasperation) "let the Church authorities define what it is and let them tell us how to avoid it." In many cases, one of the first questions a layman will ask a clergyman is: "Is that a sin?" And, we find that most ministers or priests will then define what their denomination believes to be "sin" and offer suggestions on how to avoid such things and remain in the good graces of the church authorities. In fact, some church denominations even grade the types of "sins" that can be committed and they range their intensity from being minor and insignificant to being major and even (in some vile cases, so the church authorities tell us) some are unpardonable. Such an unpardonable "sin" in the view of various church groups is usually reckoned to be the "Sin Against the Holy Spirit." So, what is that "sin"?
In order to arrive at a satisfactory answer, let us first examine just what "sin" is in the first place (that is, as the word "sin" is used in the Holy Scriptures Ė the divine words of God himself). The word is used in a secular and nonreligious sense in Judges 20:16. It reads in the King James Version: "Among all the people [of the Tribe of Benjamin] there were seven hundred chosen men lefthanded: everyone could sling stones at an hairbreadth, and not miss." The italicized word "miss" is the same word translated throughout the Old Testament as "sin." In a positive sense, the word "sin" in the Bible means, "to MISS the mark." In other words, the left handed Benjaminites could sling a stone at a bulls eye target and NOT "sin" once [that is, they would NEVER "miss" the bulls eye]. They were so expert that they could even hit a hair's breadth!
So, when the Scriptures use the word in a moral or religious sense, it always means, "to miss the mark" in relation to the directions that God commanded people to walk in their daily lives. It means by analogy: "to leave the singular path" that God has told mankind to walk. And since God has shown certain people the way He intends them "to walk" [or to act in their lives], the word "sin" is further defined as the breaking of laws that God has given for people to obey. It even extends to the breaking of any law (whether it be of Godís origination or manís). Note what the apostle John tells us: "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). In the original Greek written in the text by John, the definite articles ["the"] were not used, so he actually means that the breaking of any law [whether Godís or manís, but more particularly "Godís"] represents "sin." Indeed, the apostle John even broadens the meaning later in his epistle when he states: "All unrighteousness is sin" (I John 5:17). The apostle Paul extends its meaning even further by teaching: "For whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). Thus, if one does not abide by the standards of religious or secular society that has been established by God or by mankind, the person is sinning. Even if specific laws are not being broken but there is general unrighteousness being expressed by a person, that is also sinning. And even if one does not always express faith in God and in His promises, that is also sinning. This means that if you or I leave the normal paths of righteousness as governed by a mature conscience, we by default are sinning.
The consequence of sinning is very much misunderstood by many people. This is especially true of Christians because the cardinal theology of the New Testament insists that all Christians have had their sins forgiven by the punishment for your sins being placed on the back of Christ during His life and at the time of His crucifixion. This brings up an important point. Under normal circumstances, all sins (even the most minor and insignificant) are reckoned to be UNpardonable in the eyes of God and human society. That is why Christ died for each of us by paying the penalty for those UNpardonable sins that had to be paid (and Christ paid them for us). Though it is true that the Christian "gets off the hook" so to speak, yet Christ did NOT "get off the hook." He paid your debt in full on the tree of crucifixion. So, when you come before God and Christ in the resurrection at the Judgment Seat for sentencing for the sins you have committed, God reckons your sins as fully paid for by Christ with the punishment that He suffered in your stead. Now the Father could have simply pardoned you and me of all our sins, but He didnít. Our sins are UNpardonable, so the Father had Christ undergo the punishment for you and me. Christís punishment of our sins is ONLY in regard to the Judgment (sins you have committed against God), NOT sins against humans or society. All sins against society we pay now or we are pardoned and/or are forgiven.
The truth is, if a person gets caught in his or her sinning (in this physical life), there is always a punishment or some kind of deprivation associated with the sin. For example, if you deliberately run a stop sign in your automobile and the policeman catches you, the court will either fine you money or perhaps restrict your freedom or even send you to jail. You can plead before the judge that you are a Christian and that Christ Jesus and the Father have forgiven you of all your sins (and the judge himself may be a Christian), but will the judge let you off from punishment? The judge will sentence you anyway, just as he would any other sinner who broke the laws of the land. In another instance (this time of a physical nature), you might eat an unripe apple and get a consequent stomach ache. Again, you may plead the punishment of Christ in your stead and ask for a relief of the pain, but in this case (because of your own silliness in eating an unripe apple) you will still suffer the consequences. That means your sin is still UNpardonable. If it is UNpardonable, that means that you have to pay for it. There are thousands of such UNpardonable sins that you and I must pay for ourselves every day of our lives. In other words, touch a hot stove (which could be reckoned as a sin against the healthful state of your body) and you will pay the consequences right then and there. All these sins that you and I commit will eventually be paid for by ourselves by our deaths (Romans 6:23). All of us are ordained of God to die (Hebrews 9:27). Our deaths actually pay for our sins against mankind and society, while Christís death clears us in the Judgment of all spiritual sins against God. Even if we live to witness the Second Advent, all of us must die. We will simply die and be resurrected from the dead in the twinkling of an eye (I Corinthians 15:52). We will then go through the Judgment triumphantly since we are now reckoned to be "in Christ," free of any spiritual sins against the Father (Hebrews 9:27).
For all those, however, who are not a part of the first resurrection (Revelation 20:5), they will have to wait until after the Millennium to be raised from the dead. This is also the fate of those who have sinned against the Holy Spirit. What is the sin against the Holy Spirit? Paul states in Hebrews: "For if we sin willfully [Greek: persistently and deliberately] after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins" (Hebrews 10:26). Paul then delineates what this "willful sinning" entails. He goes on to state that it refers to former Christian believers who: "have trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace" (Hebrews 10:29). Note the last evil. It was doing an active despite [Greek: "offered wanton and deliberate insult"] to the Spirit which God gave to the person graciously [freely and joyfully]. This is a very serious sin indeed.
Just what do all the texts relating to this sin against the Holy Spirit tell us? They show that it pertains to those few Christians who (though they once rejoiced in and reaped many blessings from God that they knew came from God) now turn from God and accuse Him of being a liar, a cheat, a no good person and that His plan for the redemption of the human race is manifestly vile and unholy. In other words, they go from an attitude of deep repentance, joy, reverence and thankfulness, into an attitude of hate, revenge and outright vilification of God, Christ Jesus and the plan for salvation. I can give you an example of such a person. In our Portland area we had a talk show host on the radio who was reared in an ardently Christian home. He shared the Christian teaching the family had with joy and thanksgiving to God and Christ. But then his mother (whom he loved deeply) got cancer and for five years suffered intensely. The whole family (including the person I am speaking about) prayed diligently that God would not only heal his mother, but especially that God would take away her pain. This was, of course, a reasonable request that any of us would ask. However, in this case, the mother got worse and finally died. This is when her son blamed God for her pain and death and that God took away from him and the family a woman who had done no wrong in her life (according to them). He then turned against God and began to revile Him. He did not simply become a nonbeliever in God, but he took up a hateful revenge and an active antagonism against everything that God called holy and good. He began to hate God and Christ and the plan of God. This ATTITUDE he developed (among other types) is a classic example of the sin against the Spirit (Hebrews 10:29).
If a person develops such a spiteful ATTITUDE during this physical life and fails to repent of it, this sin (or hateful ATTITUDE) will not be forgiven during the rest of this age, nor even if one develops such an attitude in the Millennium. It will not be forgiven at that time either (Matthew 12:31,32). In other words, such people will DIE in their recalcitrant attitude. This is called a "sin unto death" (I John 5:16,17). Letís face it, if any person embraces such an ATTITUDE, it would be unwise for God to resurrect such a person in the first resurrection along with all the faithful Christians who have not had such hard feelings toward God for the difficult manner of life that God assigns to all people on earth. Listen, all of us have had bad things happen to us (like the patriarch Job and his terrible sickness), but we have not cursed God because of it. True, we may not like what God has given us to bear but He has promised not to put us to trial above that we are able (I Corinthians 10:13). Still, it is true that there are a few people who actually hate God and they blame Him for the miseries that they now endure. Such people usually will not repent of their hateful attitudes against God (which is the sin against the Holy Spirit) and they will die in their sins. That is what John meant when he said it was a sin unto death (I John 5:16,17).
However, is this the end in a terminal way for such people who begin to hold God in disdain and disrepute in this life? Of course not. It simply means that such people will have to wait until the final time of judgment for them to straighten out their attitudes when God gives them the power and the willingness to do so. It is important for us to understand one thing. It is really God himself who can and does "harden the hearts" of people from time to time. Paul explained this whole matter in a clear way in Romans 9:9 through 28. Paul said that one day God will take away that "hardness of heart" and He will lovingly call the very people who had such bad ATTITUDES against Him and Christ Jesus as being "my people" and the "children of the living God" (Romans 9:25,26). This happens because God "turns the key" in their minds to cause them to develop a new and proper ATTITUDE that will be thoroughly compliant and sympathetic to God. The Father will rescue each of them from their wrong attitudes. Notice carefully the clear and plain teaching of the apostle Paul on the matter of our wills that we have within us. God has the power and the authority to place in each of us (or in the entire human race) the proper type of will [that is, the proper kind of ATTITUDE toward God and toward mankind]. The apostle Paul said: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do [Greek: to perform] of his good pleasure" (Philippians 2:13).
To see how God blinds peopleís eyes and hardens their hearts, and then how He takes away the blinders and the spiritual earplugs to make people understand the truths of His divine knowledge and wisdom, one should read the whole of Isaiah 29:9-24. Just because some people (who once rejoiced in God and Christ Jesus) turn from the truth and begin to hold God and Christ in disdain, does not mean that they are lost forever. Christ Jesus came into the world to save the world (John 3:16,17), not to condemn it or to lose it. God will recreate their wills to conform to the righteous and holy will of Himself and of Christ Jesus. Recall, God is the full creator of the will, NOT man!
The truth is, God and Christ know precisely what they are doing in any given case. It is certain that God will not resurrect a person in the first resurrection who does not have a proper ATTITUDE toward God and Christ, but it is equally certain that "all Israel" eventually will be saved (Romans 11:26-36), and so will all humans who have ever lived. All will finally be saved by grace in Christ (I Timothy 2:46). In fact, as I show in my book "The Essentials of New Testament Doctrine," the Holy Scriptures teach that all humanity GOT saved "in Christ" even before this world was founded (II Timothy 1:9). It is true that God puts all of us through various trials in this life (and some of them are glorious while others are evil), yet God will see to it that all of us will finally be redeemed. He will see to it that "the key in our brains and minds" will be turned to be in accord with that now experienced by God the Father and our Elder Brother, Jesus Christ. Christ will fulfill the teachings of Hebrews 2:10-18 to the dotting of an "I" and the crossing of a "T." It was because of this that Paul was able to state with confidence:
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been his counselor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For OF him, and THROUGH him, and TO him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen" (Romans 11:33-36). Truly, God will eventually save all!
Ernest L. Martin
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