Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Unpardonable Sin and Gifts of the Spirit

There's a lot of discussion about whether there is really an "unpardonable sin" in theological circles. According to Yeshua, there is:
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Ruach HaKodesh shall not be forgiven unto men. 32 And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Ruach HaKodesh, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come. (Mat. 12:31-32)
So what does that mean? Could someone have accidentally blasphemed the Holy Spirit and lost their salvation as a result? Not quite; as always, context is key.

The unpardonable sin isn't simply not to recognize the Ruach HaKodesh, the Holy Spirit or Breath of God, but to attribute a work of the Spirit to the Adversary. Remember, the Pharisees of whom Yeshua spoke weren't simply skeptically investigating the miracle, but claiming that the miracles, exorcisms, and healings that Yeshua did in the Spirit were done by HaSatan (aka Beelzebub). Specifically, they were making this charge of Him exorcising a man whose demon held him mute--and this miracle has Messianic significance.

The rabbis were not unfamiliar with exorcism. Their method was to command the demon in the Name of YHVH to give them its name; once they had the spirit's name, they were able to command it out with that name. (We see Yeshua using this method in the case of Legion; Luke 8:30ff.) However, in the case of a demon that kept its victim mute, they could not force it to give its name and therefore could not cast it out.

The amazing thing to them about Yeshua was not simply that He was casting out demons, but that He was doing so without involking the Name of YHVH, demonstrating that He had authority in and of Himself to command them. When He commanded out a demon of muteness, this was further proof that Yeshua is in fact the Messiah.

There were three miracles that had never been done before that the rabbis expected the Messiah to do: Cast out a mute spirit, heal a man born blind (cf. John 9), and cure an Israelite with leprosy (up to this point, only Namaan the Syrian had been cured of that disease). Thus, the Pharisees could not have helped but know Yeshua was the Messiah, and had to willfully close their eyes by accusing Him of being possessed by the Adversary!

That doesn't mean that we should believe that every miracle necessarily comes from God. One should be very careful when evaluating a miracle, and as Chuck Missler has pointed out, we evaluate the miracle by its message: Does it glorify God in Messiah Yeshua or not? Yeshua always glorified His Father and taught rightly from the Scriptures, so the Pharisees who accused Him of sorcery had no excuse.

I believe that warning against slandering the Ruach is is why Yeshua said, "And whoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the sanhedrin; but whoever shall say, Fool! shall be liable to be thrown into the fire of hell" (Mat. 5:22).

"Fool," in Hebrew idiom, doesn't simply mean someone who is being foolish, but has the connotation of "unbeliever." For example, in Psa. 14:1, we read, "The fool has said in his heart, There is no God! They acted corruptly; they have done abominable works, there is none who does good."

Ergo, Yeshua is not simply warning against calling someone a "fool" in the modern sense because they are being foolish. He is warning against calling a brother--that is, a fellow believer--a heathen or unbeliever, thus blaspheming (slandering) the work of the Holy Spirit in his or her life.

I was asked on KHouse's forum the other day if this meant that being a cessationist--that is, one who believes that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit ended after the time of the Apostles--was blaspheming the Spirit and therefore not saved.

The answer is: Possibly, but not necessarily.

I've noticed a natural process which occurs in many theologians, both past and present. First they ask, "Why don't we see miracles today?" From there, it is no great step from thinking that God never does miracles today to concluding that He never did any miracles at all. And once one concludes such a thing, one can no longer put their trust in Christ, for how can one trust a "known lie"?

I'll give you Bishop Shelley Spong as an example; if you're not already familiar with him, you can find out about him easily enough.

The first question, of course, assumes that we don't; personally, I've seen several, and I believe that if someone investigates the matter with an open mind and without presupposition, they will have to conclude that we live in a supernatural world.

For example, there was a study done some years ago where doctors tracked the progress of two groups of patients: One that had people praying for them, and one that didn't (the patients themselves didn't know whether they were being prayed for or not, to keep the test blind). Those who were prayed for healed better and faster in a statistically notable way.

A person who sees the work of God but does not praise God for it falls into the Romans 1 trap:
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools . . . Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves (vv. 21-22, 24).
Now note that skepticism because one has not seen evidence of miracles is not the unforgivable sin; seeing a true miracle and attributing it to the Adversary--i.e., to trickery--is. However, as one Berean rightly points out, "if anyone is worried about the unpardonable sin, they most likely haven't commited it."

Most cessationists are not willfully blind, but instead speak against gifts of the Spirit out of ignorance as a result of what they have been errantly taught. To commit the unpardonable sin, one would have had to have personally known a man whom they could see walked with God (i.e., lived out a Biblical morality), and whom they could see taught correctly from the Scriptures (with all due Berean dilligence), saw him being a light to the world and God changing lives through him, perhaps even saw that God worked miracles around him, but still called him demonically possessed because he spoke in tongues, for example.

But suppose a person who is taught cessationism his whole life encounters such a person, and struggles with his impulse to simply dismiss the man as a lunatic or a deceiver? He would still not have committed the unpardonable sin. The issue again is willful blindness, not struggling with contradicting paradigms.

However, a person who witnesses the intervention of God but does not give God the glory has willfully closed his eyes to the truth. To those who would close their eyes to the truth, God reserves the right to blind and harden so that they cannot repent (Mat. 13:10ff, Rom. 9:18 ).

Now, lest someone try to convince you that we must therefore believe every miracle, Yochanan (John) writes, "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1). The Adversary can do miracles too, so how then are we to judge a miracle? By it's message: No miracle of God will point to anyone but the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who became flesh for us in the person of the Messiah Yeshua. Nor will any miracle contradict the Scriptures; nor does doing a miracle give any man the authority to tell us not to follow what the Bible tells us to do:
All the things I command you, be careful to do it. You shall not add to it, nor take away from it.

If a prophet rises among you, or a dreamer of dreams, and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder which he foretold to you occurs, saying, "Let us go after other gods which you have not known, and let us serve them," you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For YHVH your God is testing you to know whether you love YHVH your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after YHVH your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments, and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. And that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken to turn you away from YHVH your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slaves, to thrust you out of the way in which YHVH your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put the evil away from the midst of you. (Deu. 12:32-13:5)
Does this give the Pharisees who called Yeshua a servant of Satan any excuse? Not at all, for none of them ever found Him to teach the Torah incorrectly, so they had no cause to believe that He was leading Israel astray. (This is one reason that I object to teaching that Yeshua came to do away with the Law, that is, the Torah. Not only did He Himself say that wasn't the case in Mat. 5:17-19, but we blaspheme--slander--Him to the Jews when we make that claim, based on the above passage.) Rather, their rejection of Him was born fully from their own prejudices and because they loved the praise of men, which He was taking away from them.

Dave Hunt has written some rather scathing pieces against the charismatic movement in his day. I don't think his problem is willful blindness, nor do I think he's committed the unpardonable sin. Rather, early in his walk, he ran into a group that was abusing the gifts of the Spirit (to the point where it's questionable which spirit was involved), did enough research to find other groups that were abusing the gifts, and decided based on his experience that Charismatics were not Biblical.

We struggle with this issue in my own congregation. We don't reject the gifts of the Spirit, but we've seen them abused quite often. Nevertheless, our Messianic rabbi started this congregation because of a vision God gave him, believes in annointing the sick with oil, and is very versed in spiritual warfare--so he's not rejecting all gifts of the Spirit by any means, nor committing the unpardonable sin. Indeed, he is appalled that the Southern Baptist Convention recently passed a resolution that no one who spoke in tongues was allowed to be a missionary for that denomination.

What he hates, and I agree with him 100%, is when people refuse to put their gifts under the authority of Scripture. Tongues, for example, are to be kept private unless God provides an interpreter (1 Co. 14:28 ). If one believes he or she has a prophecy, he or she should allow it to be judged (v. 29)--and certainly no prophet can by the Spirit of God testify against the least letter of the Word of God as we have seen. While we believe in demonization, not every problem in life is due to having demons that need casting out, and so on. We are trying very hard to have a balanced approach, to walk a tightrope between two extremes.

Cessationism started as a response to Catholicism. The Catholics were telling the Reformers, in essence, "The Holy Spirit, the angels, and the saints still do miracles for us. Are they doing miracles for you?" The Reformers overreacted by coming up with a doctrine to explain away the apparent lack of miracles rather than asking if there was something they lacked. (There's a reason God identifies the Reformation with Sardis in the Revelation.)

This filtered down through the centuries to those who treat the Reformers the way the Jews treat the Talmudic sages; most people believe in Cessationism not because they are willfully blind, but because they have trusted their teachers. They've not committed the unpardonable sin, though if they then turn around and without investigating the matter carefully teach others the same, they will be held accountable by God (this is why we are warned that not many should try to be teachers, Jas. 3:1)--not to the loss of their salvation, but I believe to the loss of some of their reward in the Olam Haba, the World to Come (cf. Mat. 5:19, 1 Co. 3:8ff), as well as to the loss of some of God's gifts in this world (the Olam Hazeh).

On the other hand, one is quite correct to question which spirit a person is operating under if he starts teaching against, or even ignoring, God's Word. Those who uncritically accept prophecy or who go seeking after signs and wonders in lieu of studying and keeping (i.e., applying) God's Word are in just as much trouble.

This is one of the many narrow roads that we must walk to follow Yeshua, neither wandering off into "Charismatic Chaos" on the one side, nor quenching God's Spirit on the other. We must also walk the narrow road between legalism and cheap grace, between justice and mercy, between loving the lost and becoming unequally yoked with them, and so on.

"Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings" (1 Th. 5:19-20), but "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 Jn. 4:1).



Anonymous said...

How does this sin relate to the promise of Messiah in John 6:35-40? I fear I may have committed this sin in my youth by something blasphemous I said that included reference to the Holy Spirit. However, I still have a strong desire to come to the Lord for forgiveness and pardon. Am I correct to understand that what made this unforgivable is not some defect or arbitrariness in God's mercy, but rather that the disposition of the Pharisee's heart placed them outside the range of God's forgiveness? Is there anything someone could say or do that if they repented of it and turned to the Lord for mercy, the Lord would still reject them?

Michael Bugg said...

First of all, I apologize for keeping you waiting, as I was out of town last week.

In answer to your question, the mere fact that you have repented and want to follow God is ample proof that you did not commit the unpardonable sin. Remember that no one comes to Yeshua unless the Father draws them (John 6:44).