And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matthew 12:31 NIV)
The words of Jesus here in Matthew 12 have frightened many Christians. Have I committed the unforgiveable sin? No less a man than the great preacher, John Bunyan, feared that he might be guilty of the sin and was deeply troubled by it.
If you are someone who worries about this verse let me tell you what it does not mean. Jesus is not saying that there might have been a sin in your past, maybe something that continues to haunt you that you cannot confess to God and find complete and final forgiveness. Too many Christians struggle with guilt over sins of the past when the promise of God is clear.
If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin – 1 John 1:9
If we are ever to understand what Jesus is referring to we need to put these verses in their proper context.
What prompts Jesus to utter these remarks is what happens at the beginning of the section that leads up to his statement. In v.22-23 we discover that the people of Israel see Jesus cast out a demon from a blind and mute man. What they see leads them to conclude that maybe this man is the Christ. But when the Pharisees see that many are considering Christ they in turn attribute the work of God through Christ to Satan.
Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23 All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?” 24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” (Mat 12:22 NIV)
Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is therefore to deliberately and wilfully attributes the work of God to his ultimate enemy Satan. This sin is to self-consciously reject self evident truth about God.
The casting out of a demon can ONLY be the work of God. So to witness it and accept it is to see the incontrovertible hand of God at work. To then call it evil is the sin of blaspheming the Spirit.
So what does Jesus mean when he says ‘anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not’?
I think the best way to understand this is to see that it is possible to speak against Jesus out of ignorance. RT France in his commentary argues that it is possible to speak a word against Jesus
‘without being aware that one was opposing the saving purpose of God….But the significance of Jesus’ exorcisms was plain for all to see; there could be no excuse for misinterpreting this work of the Holy Spirit and attributing it to Beelzebul.’
Of course in our own times we are too sophisticated to believe in evil spirits but that doesn’t change the fact that there are men and women out there who make it their business, sometimes quite literally their business, for profit, to call what is good, evil.
Some of the new atheists come close to this. When Christopher Hitchens in his book ‘God is not great: How religion poisons everything‘ describes Christianity as an agent for evil in the world that is self-evidently false. It is a deliberate distortion of history to call good evil. Even a most basic look back into history reveals the profound impact for good that Christianity has had on our culture.
David Cameron in a speech remembering the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible said this
‘the knowledge that God created man in his own image was, if you like, a game changer for the cause of human dignity and equality…When each and every individual is related to a power above all of us, and when every human being is of equal and infinite importance, created in the very image of God, we get the irrepressible foundation for equality and human rights.’
Bruce Sheiman in his book ‘An atheist defends religion’ writes of the extraordinary impact of Christianity when he reminds us of what we owe to the gospel;
‘A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture’
To describe Christianity as a force for evil in our world is to call light to darkness, calling that which is good, evil is the very message brought to us today most clearly in the message of new atheism.
We also have to fear for a culture that refuses to see the hand of God at work in creation preferring to ascribe the existence and complexity of our universe to nothing rather than to God.
Dick Lucas, Rector Emeritus of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate, a large church in the city of London said this:
To look at this marvellous creation and dismiss the idea of God seems to me to be very close to calling light darkness
Are we any more rational than the Pharisees when we attribute the universe to ‘nothing’. Are we not so close to blaspheming the Spirit?
The psalmist writes
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. (Psalm 19:1-3 NIV)
The New York Times has a 36 hour guide to visiting Birmingham – ”no longer fly-over country’
(HT: Dave Chamberlain)
Christian Concern highlights the conclusion of Oxford Professor Roger Trigg, founding President of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion that Christians are in danger of facing ever growing persecution for their beliefs in British courts.
Ron Edmondson has highlighted some of the weaknesses, apparent and perceived, in leadership for an introvert. Well worth a read. It’s also a great reminder of how crucial it is to be self-aware in leadership and why although we may want to simply play to strengths we do need to compensate for our weaknesses if we are to lead well.
Kathy Keller (married to Tim) and co-author of The Meaning of Marriage gives her answer to the old chestnut ‘why shouldn’t a Christian marry a non-believer?’
Dave Kraft in his excellent book Leaders who last says
A leaders greatest assets are the people he influences, one of the real challenges in leadership is to figure out what kinds of people one should be involved with and what amount of time should be invested.
The big mistake Leaders make is to fail to be intentional as to who gets their time. We react to the demands of others rather than pro-actively seeking to develop others.
Kraft argues that there are 5 types of people we interact with in our role as leaders
1. Resourceful people (people who motivate you, inspire you, equip you as a leader)
2. Important people (people who have important roles in the church because they are fellow leaders, occupy positions of responsibility etc. So fellow church officers; Elders, Deacons, Treasurer, ministry area leaders, staff, etc.)
3. Trainable people (men and women who demonstrate potential. Godly, gifted and available people who could lead in the future)
4. Nice people (people who’s company we simply enjoy. They might be encouragers or people with similar personalities with whom we ‘click’.)
5. Draining people (people with needs, often long term, who look to us to help sustain them over a long-term)
I’m not quite sure what the category titles mean (I’ve had a go at filling out the detail next to each title but they are my interpretation rather than his).
The point that Kraft is making is that we need to be deliberate and strategic in who gets our time.
Here are his ‘Seven habits of Highly ineffective Leaders’
1. They spend too much time managing and not enough time leading
2. They spend too much time counseling the hurting people and not enought time developing the people with potential
3. They spend too much time putting out fires and not enough time lighting fires.
4. They spend too much time doing and not enough time planning
5. They spend too much time teaching the crowd and not enough time triaming the core
6. They spend too much time doing it themselves and not enough time doing it through others
7. They make too many decisions based on organisational politics and too few decisions based on biblical principles.
Why is so little time invested in the right kinds of people? The draining and nice people get all the prime time. The resourceful and the trainable get the leftovers.
I strongly suggest that you arrange your life, time, and weekly schedule to be able to invest in trainable people; growing hungry, teachable disciples; and potential leaders.
After Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman Mehdi Hasan replied with a good summary of exactly why he is wrong on the issue of the relationship between God and science
Tullian Tchividjian explores the enormous possibilities for Christians who grasp the reality of justification by Christ through faith.
Here are 10 top take-homes for me from Jesus + Nothing = Everything
1. Functionally, living out the gospel does not come naturally, even for Christians
Obviously, before we were Christians, it was never our natural bent to seek all our satisfaction in Christ and the gospel; but even after God saves us, that isn’t where we naturally turn.
2. Therefore our Christian lives become focused on what we are doing rather than on what Christ has done. The results are disastrous.
Our rules become our substitute savior, and keeping those rules becomes our self-salvation project, with Jesus safely outside the picture. With enough rules and regulations set up, we don’t need Jesus.
3. Church makes things worse!
To make this situation worse, our idolatrous self-focus is only intensified by what is typically taught and preached in our churches. The fact is, a lot of preaching these days has been unwittingly unconsciously seduced by moralism. Moralistic preaching only reinforces our inner assumption that our performance for God will impress him to the point of blessing us.
4. The message we communicate is a denial of the gospel and a disincentive to non-Christians
Millions of people, both inside and outside the church, believe that the essential message of Christianity is, “If you behave, then you belong.” From a human standpoint, that’s why most people reject Christianity.
5. The truth of the gospel is that Jesus + nothing really does = everything. If only we would believe it.
If we are in Christ , then everything we need, we already possess…approved by God, accepted by God, redeemed by God, forgiven by God, and transferred from darkness to light by God.
6. Believing the gospel of justification deep down alone has the power to sanctify.
The gospel transforms us precisely because it’s not itself a message about our internal transformation but about Christ’s external substitution…Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification.
7. All of our teaching and preaching must be an exposition of the gospel of justification
All theology is an exposition of the gospel, a further articulation of the gospel in all its facets, meticulously unfolding all its liberating implications and empowering benefits.
8. The gospel not only has the power to change us but to set us free to serve our neighbours
God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbour does – Martin Luther
9. Now you can spend your life giving up your place for others instead of guarding it from others, because your identity is in Christ.
10. It is hard work to keep the gospel central to our thinking, living, and preaching. Unless we persevere in doing so we will naturally revert to a life of self-justification.
I’m always amazed at how hard it is for my heart to embrace what my head affirms.
The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are at looking outward. Instead, we need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ. – Sinclair Ferguson
I’m working through Tullian Tchividjan’s (cha-vi-jin) great book Jesus+Nothing=Everything, winner of Christianity Today’s award for best book in the category of Christian living for 2011.
At one point he includes an illustration put together by a friend on how easy it is to avoid Jesus by becoming a legalist:
1) Makes rules outside the Bible
2) Push yourself to try and keep your rules
3) Castigate yourself when you don’t keep your rules
4) Become proud when you do keep your rules
5) Appoint yourself judge over other people
6) Get angry with people who break your rules or have different rules
7) ‘Beat’ the losers.
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