Challenging The Blasphemy Challenge

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is all the rage these days. I first bumped into this strange fad when watching Brian Flemming’s documentary The God Who Wasn’t There. At the end of this film, at its very climax, Flemming, while standing at the front of an empty chapel, slowly turns the camera and speaks right at it, saying that He denies the Holy Spirit and acknowledging that this will guarantee him an eternity in hell (if, of course, Christianity proves true). It is meant to be a shocking, profound moment. Recently, inspired, I suppose, by Flemming, a group called The Rational Response Squad created The Blasphemy Challenge. They claim that they will give a copy of Flemming’s DVD to anyone who will first follow his example and damn themselves to hell. The instructions are simple:

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You may damn yourself to Hell however you would like, but somewhere in your video you must say this phrase: “I deny the Holy Spirit.”

Why? Because, according to Mark 3:29 in the Holy Bible, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.” Jesus will forgive you for just about anything, but he won’t forgive you for denying the existence of the Holy Spirit. Ever. This is a one-way road you’re taking here.

So they encourage their readers to shoot such a video, to upload it to YouTube and to send them the link. To this point is seems that 830 people have played along. There is something more than a little inflammatory about this site and the challenge it provides. Yet it is in no way shocking to me or to most other Christians.

The irony of this site is that it is based on a lie at worst, or a significant misunderstanding at best. It is based on a false understanding of the sin or the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. The members of the Rational Response Squad say “Some liberal Christians may throw out the parts of the Bible that they don’t like, but Christians who believe in the Bible as the word of God do believe that blaspheming the Holy Spirit is the single unforgivable sin.” And this is true. The Bible speaks twice of an unpardonable sin (Mark 3:29 and Matthew 12:31). Matthew 12:31 reads “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” and Mark 3:29 echoes it, saying “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.” This unpardonable sin has perplexed both Christians and non-Christians. Many Christians have wrestled with the meaning of these verses and have wondered if they have, perhaps unwittingly even, committed this sin. And now there are many atheists who are trying to deliberately commit this sin.

Atheists such as Brian Flemming and the members of this Squad teach that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is, very simply, denying His existence. Hence they instruct people to utter these words: “I deny the Holy Spirit.” This, they teach, will be a one-way road to perdition. The trouble with this view is that it is, quite frankly, wrong. It removes the verse from its context and, conspicuously, always focuses on the verse as given in Mark 3:29 not as we read it in Matthew 12:31. And not only is this interpretation wrong, but it is unsupported, as far as I can see, by credible teachers of the Bible (and, of course, by the Bible itself). Speaking personally, I have been a Christian for at least fifteen years now and have been listening to the Bible taught since infancy. I have never heard anyone teach that the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is as simple as denying Him. Of course what I have been taught represents only a narrow slice of what Christians teach, so I dug deeper, searching for what other Christians teach on this subject. I searched all the Bible commentaries I could find and searched other resources written by highly-regarded teachers and scholars. I once more came up with nothing that would support this view.

Admittedly there is some level of disagreement about what exactly constitutes this sin. But the vast consensus is this: that the blasphemy against the Spirit involves ascribing the work of the Holy Spirit, accomplished through Jesus Christ, to Satan. To commit this sin you must know that Jesus Christ is God and, despite that knowledge, ascribe the Spirit’s work through Him to the devil. Reverend Richard Phillips, pastor at First Presbyterian Church Coral Springs, Margate, Florida, says “There is no sin so great that the precious blood of the Son of God — of infinite value before God — is not sufficient to pay for it. The issue is that forgiveness comes only to those who believe on the Lord Jesus. And someone who knows who Jesus is — who realizes that his work is by the Holy Spirit — and yet so refuses to believe that he actually ascribes the Spirit’s work to the devil, cannot possibly be saved. Why? Because that person is not just ignorant, but they willfully, knowingly, reject Jesus as Messiah, as proved by the Holy Spirit. So this passage describes not someone who in a fit of anger or temptation commits blasphemy, but someone who refuses to believe on Jesus as the Messiah, even when he recognizes the Holy Spirit at work.” So the great irony, based on what the Bible teaches, is that this sin cannot be committed by one who considers himself an atheist! This sin presupposes seeing and acknowledging the work of God, but then attributing it to Satan.

As we begin to understand this sin we see that it is not so much that a particular sin cannot be forgiven as that there comes a point at which the Holy Spirit will no longer convict a person of sin and thus drive him to repentance. The Scripture is clear that any sin for which we ask forgiveness will be forgiven. But we only seek true forgiveness and only express true repentance when the Holy Spirit works in us. John Piper, a popular author, pastor and scholar writes “The unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is an act of resistance which belittles the Holy Spirit so grievously that he withdraws for ever with his convicting power so that we are never able to repent and be forgiven.”

If the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit was as simple as denying Him we would all be guilty of this sin. The Bible teaches that, as human beings, we all hate God and that we are all firmly and deliberately opposed to Him. Genesis 6:5 says “The Lord saw that…that every intention of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually.” In Ephesians 5:8 we read the Apostle Paul saying “for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light” and in 2:1-2 says “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience.” We all sin and we all hate God. We all hate Him, that is, until He changes our hearts so we see Him and know Him and love Him. I used to hate God. I was no different from Brian Flemming in my denial of God and my hatred towards Him. To continue this passage from Ephesians 2, I carried out the desires of my body and mind, and was by nature a child of wrath, like the rest of mankind. The next two words are among the most simple but the most glorious in all of Scripture. “But God.” The passage goes on to say (and I’ve taken the liberty of personalizing it) “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together with Christ. For by grace I have been saved through faith” (Read it here). I was the blasphemer, the sinner, but Christ intervened and stooped to save me despite who I was and what I had done.

Brian Flemming and the Rational Response Squad and others who use these passages about the sin against the Holy Spirit deliberately neglect the first portion of Matthew 12:31. It reads “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people.” Forgiveness remains for those who blaspheme. If you have made a video and have denied the existence of God, of His Son or of His Spirit you have blasphemed. You have sinned. Sin is a serious matter and one that God will deal with. But you have not committed an unpardonable sin. Do not be too secure in what you have done for Christ offers forgiveness, even for this. The Bible tells us that Jesus has come to seek and to save the lost. Christians are often prone to speak of “seekers” as those who go looking for God. But the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is the one who seeks and if Christ seeks after you, He will find you whether or not you’ve denied Him. He will graciously change your heart and allow you to see the beauty and glory of God. Being rich in mercy He will love you, even while you are dead in your sin, and will make you alive with Christ. You, too, can be saved by grace through faith if only you will believe in Him. There is forgiveness for all. God desires that you, too, be saved and gave his only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Look to Him.

If the issue of the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit continues to perplex, consider reading this excellent treatment of the subject. This one, written specifically for Christians, is also excellent.