“The blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” – 1 John 1:7

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.” – Luke 12:10

Luke 12:10 seems to spoil the radical, total and unconditional nature of God’s grace. How can it be read in a way that doesn’t contradict Romans 8:38-39 and 1 John 1:7? If nothing can separate us from God’s love, and we are cleansed from all sin, how can there still be sin that separates us, from which we cannot be cleansed? Also how can the persons of the Trinity be so distinguished that blasphemy against one is okay, but blasphemy against the other isn’t?

The golden rule of all Biblical interpretation is context. Although Luke doesn’t provide context for this verse and simply lists it among other sayings of Jesus, in Mark 3:23-30 and Matt 12:22-32 we are told what had happened to prompt Jesus to utter these words. Once again, it is a conflict with the Pharisees and/or scribes.

Jesus was healing the blind, the lame, the deaf, the demon possessed, setting people free from both physical and spiritual bondage. These were prophetic signs that the Kingdom of God had come, written about in Isaiah 61. The scribes would have known these scriptures better than anyone. But instead they claimed that Jesus was using demonic power to cast out demons. Their response to the obvious coming of the Kingdom of God was to call it the Kingdom of Satan.

The crucial point here is that nobody could deny or misunderstand the good things that were happening. Usually people have some excuse for failing to recognise the Kingdom of God: Christians do a bad job of presenting it, or it is weird and confusing, or it seems like just one good religion among others. When people reject Jesus for these reasons, then they are blaspheming against the Son of Man. But when the Holy Spirit has given inner illumination – has convicted someone of his truth in an undeniable way – to reject Jesus then is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

God offers unconditional forgiveness, but on one condition: we have to accept it. We cannot receive forgiveness if we don’t believe we need forgiving or if we don’t want to be forgiven. The sin of refusing to be forgiven is the only sin which cannot be forgiven. The only thing that can separate us from God’s love is wanting to be separated from it. God will never coerce us into his Kingdom: he always gives us the choice. If we refuse to enter it, then we are forgiven as long as our refusal comes from misunderstanding or confusion. But when it becomes absolutely clear by the witness of the Holy Spirit, then by refusing we cut ourselves off forever.

Although this verse can be sobering, we should remember that it is also very good news indeed. It informs us that the only people who will be in hell are those who have chosen it, conscious of what they were choosing. Nobody will accidentally find themselves in hell. We also learn from this that rejecting Jesus does not condemn someone to hell, provided Jesus is rejected because he has not yet been clearly understood. Nor can we possibly know whether someone has clearly understood Jesus or not, and therefore it is not for us to judge anyone’s eternal destiny. Our task is simply to bring the Kingdom of God into people’s lives, as described by Isaiah 61, as best we possibly can.

The following two tabs change content below.
Barney is Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology at St. Mary's Seminary and University. He hosts a podcast called Faith at the Frontiers which confronts challenges to the Christian faith with hope. He also has a column on Seen and Unseen, a magazine that offers Christian perspectives on life and society for a non-Christian audience.