Rejecting the Holy Spirit
We have highlighted in this series of articles (as well as in three additional sermons) the Holy Spirit’s role in the spiritual development of God’s people. He gives us instruction via Scripture on things such as self-awareness, a sound value system, wisdom for living, instruction in worship, the nature and character of God, the significance of Jesus – His death, resurrection and reign, the reality of evil, incentive to righteous living, encouragement in times of darkness, assurance of future judgment and accountability, help in prayer – and more. Truly, we are led by the Spirit; we walk in the Spirit; we should strive to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
While the Holy Spirit is intent on transforming our character, He does not override our free will. Thus we can choose to reject Him or work with Him in our growth. But if we resist the Spirit, there will be consequences.
The “Unpardonable Sin.” Jesus makes a distinction between slandering Him and doing so in regard to the Holy Spirit: “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” (Mt 12:32). Why the difference? And is Jesus teaching God’s unwillingness to forgive the penitent blasphemer of the Spirit? Or does He address something deeper?
As always, consider the context. Jesus had just healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute (Mt 12:22). When the witnesses began to explore the implications of such power (“Could this be the Son of David?” – 12:23), the Pharisees blasphemed: “This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons” (12:24). Not only is this illogical, as Jesus notes (12:25-27), but such a benumbed mind bars the Pharisees from the kingdom: “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you” (12:28). If Jesus demonstrates both the power and benevolence of the Spirit in freeing a man from demonic oppression, nothing could persuade him to embrace the kingdom. He has rejected the divine credentials that identify Jesus as the one and only Savior.
Consider two men: One believes in God and Scripture, yet he considers Jesus to be nothing more than a wise teacher – certainly not a divine being – and he ridicules others for spouting such “nonsense.” The other rejects the foundation of the evidence itself – Scripture. He doesn’t believe it is inspired of God, thus he rejects the miracles, the prophecies, the unfolding of redemption, the cross, the resurrection, etc.
The first man, similar to Paul, might be taught more accurately about Christ and his heart brought to repentance. The second man, similar to Pilate, will not even consider the only thing that can truly educate him and motivate him to change and come to God, for he blasphemes the Spirit and His work by rejecting revelation altogether. There is no forgiveness for this man now or ever, for the only access to Jesus and forgiveness is via the Spirit. The consequence of such blasphemy is not that God is unwilling to forgive but that such a callous heart will not seek it.
Consider an analogy: Imagine an Apollo 13-type scenario wherein an astronaut has suffered cataclysmic damage to his space capsule and it is leaking oxygen. He cannot find in the troubleshooting manual how to shut off the tank and preserve the remaining oxygen, so he tosses the manual aside and calls the aerospace engineers at NASA for help. As he consults with the lead engineer, the astronaut rejects his recommendations to resolve the problem. The astronaut grows frustrated and questions the expert’s credentials. NASA then finds another engineer who persuades the astronaut to consult the troubleshooting manual again and talks him through the needed repair. This is a different outcome than a parallel situation where the doomed astronaut seals his fate by refusing to consult the manual or listen to the engineers. The first astronaut retains an openness to the only authority that can save his life – the troubleshooting manual – and after initially balking follows the procedures. The second has no hope because he completely rejects the manual and the procedures; he insists that he can fix the problem himself (by the way, this is often why airplanes crash; when a problem arises the pilot does not follow established procedures to resolve the issue).
The takeaway: If someone is worried about inadvertently committing the unpardonable sin, they haven’t committed it because those who have don’t care whether they have or not. (Having said that, I’m not convinced that the circumstances Jesus addressed can be repeated today.)
Grieving the Spirit. “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph 4:30). “Grieve” (“to cause pain, or grief, to distress” – Vine) does not tell us how this is done, and Paul doesn’t elaborate. But this exhortation lies in a context of moral issues: do not lie (4:25); do not be sinfully angry (4:26); do not steal (4:28). But 4:30 is sandwiched between two verses both of which involve speech: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers (4:29) … Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (4:31).
The sealing of the Spirit is evidenced by the fruit He bears in us: “goodness, righteousness, and truth” (Eph 5:9). These are polar opposites of what grieves the Spirit in Ephesians 4. The Spirit is a personal being; He is our teacher, corrector, cheerleader. He is so intimately involved with us that He is said to dwell in us. He wants us to be pure and moving toward spiritual maturity, and when we fail it grieves Him. We, too, grieve when our brethren falter, but that pales in comparison to the Spirit’s disappointment when we stumble and/or backslide.
Resisting the Spirit: In his last words Stephen indicted his Jewish murderers: “You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Ac 7:51). To reject the Spirit’s words is tantamount to the astronaut discarding the troubleshooting manual. It is to die a slow death, not of oxygen deprivation, but of the truth that fuels and nourishes our spirit. The Spirit can transform us if we “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jas 1:21).