Interview With Mark Garcia

The differences between WTS and WSC are very interesting to discuss. And Mark Garcia is a strong proponent of the WTS version, which states that Calvin’s duplex gratia stems from his doctrine of union with Christ. Listen to this interview with him.

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Heirs With Christ

The book with this title is a new book by Joel Beeke on the Puritan exposition of the doctrine of adoption. This book has a rather amazing amount of content for only 134 pages of text plus 16 pages of prefatory material. Adoption is almost ignored today in systematic theology. Certainly, it is not being given nearly the same amount of attention that it received in the Puritan era. The picture of this doctrine painted by J.I. Packer and Douglas Kelly is certainly true of most standard systematic theologies. However, the Puritans gave a great deal more attention to this doctrine than more modern theologians have.

The forward is by Dan Cruver, and it is a very helpful forward in and of itself. He says that “earthly adoption is horizontal…Heavenly adoption is vertical” (xi). “Adoption is heavenly before it is earthly…Adoption is something God has done and is doing before it is something we have done and are doing…If adoption is first heavenly before it is earthly, why do we Christians so often think of earthly adoption before we think of heavenly adoption?” (idem).

Dr. Beeke’s own study tells us of the personal impact the study has had on him: “This study of Puritans on adoption has blessed me more than any other, except perhaps my study of the assurance of faith.” I wish more authors would tell us how their study has impacted their lives as Beeke has. It makes the book much more personal and real. It tells us that Beeke didn’t just write this book to have another book on the market. He wrote it because it was a subject near and dear to his heart.

He starts with a bibliographical study of what the Puritans have written on adoption, as well as some more recent studies. It is a very helpful bibliography, with comments on the helpfulness and depth of many of the entries. He caps this section by telling us that the Puritans wrote about 1200 pages on adoption, and that no major study on the Puritan doctrine of adoption has ever been done. Certainly, Beeke himself has gone a long way towards filling that rather large gap in the literature. So important is adoption for the Puritans that they viewed it as “the climax of the ordo salutis” (p. 13).

Regarding the greatness of adoption, he notes David Garner’s conclusion that “adoption in Scripture is coterminous and nearly synonymous with union with Christ” (p. 19, quoting Garner’s Ph.D. thesis, done in 2002 at WTS). After a brief chapter on the comparison of adoption in the OT and NT, Beeke goes on to describe the distinctions between adoption and regeneration, adoption and justification (which I found to be the most helpful section in the entire book), and adoption and sanctification. In the section on adoption and justification, for instance, he says that “adoption is a richer blessing, because it brings us from the court room into the family” (p. 28). Of course, this is not to de-centralize justification, since justification involves the forgiveness of our sins, and nothing is more important than that. However, if a judge acquits a person, that does not necessarily mean that he is then going to invite the guilty-but-forgiven criminal into his home to be his own son. That is what adoption is. The rest of the book contains chapters on the Westminster definitions, the transforming power of adoption, pastoral advice, relationships, the privileges and responsibilities, motives, and warnings/comfort. In short, the book is a shot in the arm for encouragement, since the doctrine of adoption is so full of comfort. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is wondering whether he belongs to God or not. The importance of the book is only heightened when we consider that modern culture does not feel like it belongs anywhere. The rootlessness of postmodernism is biblically answered by the doctrine of adoption. We belong to God when we have faith in Christ. Buy it. It will be one of the best $10 purchases you can make this summer.

The Heart and Its Fruit

Matthew 12:33-37

7/13/2008

My professor of counseling at Westminster Seminary, Paul Tripp, once told this true story about himself. He and his wife were looking at their apple tree one day. The apple tree was not doing very well. His wife said, “Isn’t there anything we can do to make this apple tree look better? I mean, it looks just awful! The fruit looks terrible. It’s all rotted and withered.” Paul didn’t say much of anything, but was thinking to himself. One day, about a week later, his wife looked out the window toward the apple tree and saw a strange sight. She saw Paul with a ladder, a staple gun, and a bushel basket full of beautiful apples. Paul then proceeded to staple the apples to the tree in order to make the tree look better. I’m sure you can see that this is plain silly. The tree would look great for a little while. However, the fix was only temporary, because the good apples would only stay good so long before they too would wither away to nothing, leaving the tree in precisely the same condition it was in before. This is a great metaphor for how much Christian counseling is done today, and how people view the Christian life. Behavior is all people are concerned about, it seems. But behavior is the fruit. The heart is the root. Much of Christian counseling looks at the fruit and tries to staple on good behavior to a rotten heart. It might look good for a little while, but it will not stay. What Jesus is telling us is that we need a new heart, a new root system, so that the fruit of our lives will also be good.

We looked last week at the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were committing that unforgivable sin. And, of course, the only way that could happen is if the Pharisees had old withered up, dry hearts. Jesus is going to call them something else in these verses, a less than complimentary name: brood of vipers. Loosely translated, “bag of snakes.” Jesus knows what their heart condition is, and the evidence is there for anyone to see. They are blaspheming the Holy Spirit, which is not something the people of God could possibly do. The heart is the source of behavior. There is an unmistakable connection between the root and the fruit. If the heart is made good, the fruit will be good, but if the heart is bad, then the fruit will be bad.

Matters are not so simple for us, however. Jesus can read hearts perfectly, whereas we only have the fruit to go by. Jeremiah tells us that the heart is very deceitful. Our own hearts can tell us many things that are not true about ourselves. How many have deceived themselves into thinking they were saved when they were not! How many people have deceived themselves into thinking they were not saved when they were! The truth of the matter is always found in Christ. All too often, we try to peer into our own hearts to see if we have faith. But that is not helpful. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne once said, “For every one time you look inside yourself, look ten times at Christ.” Christ is the assurance of salvation, not ourselves. We should not trust what our hearts tell us, but what God tells us in the Scripture. If you believe that Jesus Christ has done His work for you personally, that He died to take away your sin, and rose again to conquer death for you, that is your salvation. It does not depend on what your heart tells you, but on what God tells you in His Word.

The heart is a treasury, Jesus tells us. It is a treasury of good or it is a treasury of evil. And that is in accordance with its nature. The principle here is that we are free to do what it is in our nature to do. This gets into the question of free will. There are two definitions of free will, one biblical, and the other non-biblical. The definition of free will that is biblical is this: any person is free to do whatever it is in their nature to do. If their nature is evil, they can only do evil. If their nature is good, then they can do good, although even people who are renewed still have remnants of the old nature left, and hence it is still possible for Christians to sin. However, there is no evil in God, and so it is not possible for God to sin. Any person can do what it is in their nature to do. This definition is biblical, since we can see it laid out for us right here. However, there is a second definition of free will that is not biblical. This second definition of free will says that a person can do anything good or anything bad regardless of what their nature is. This definition of free will means that a sinner can please God, and that God is able to sin. Otherwise, they would not be truly free, according to this definition. This definition conflicts with God’s sovereignty, since if God has decreed that a person do something, and yet it is possible for that person to do the exact opposite, then it is possible for a person to thwart God. And yet we believe that God has decreed everything that comes to pass. And yet we also say that man has a free will, but it must be the first definition, which is that a person can do whatever it is in his nature to do. If a person has only a sin nature, then he cannot please God. The first three chapters of Romans makes this very plain: none of us have a good nature by birth. We all have a sin nature. None of does good, no, not one. Paul says it about fifteen different ways, just in case we didn’t get it the twelfth time. Human beings in their sin nature cannot please God. That is why God has to be the one to change us, change our hearts, change our natures, and thereby change our will. After we become Christians, then we can indeed choose to please God, by God’s help.

The last point of the text has to do with the Final Judgment. The Pharisees might have been thinking to themselves that their statement against Jesus was only spoken in an unguarded moment. They knew that they were “just kidding.” They were only trying to prevent the crowd from following after Jesus. Paul Tripp said an interesting thing about drunk people and what they say, because often they don’t know what they are saying. He said that there is nothing that comes from a drunken man’s mouth that wasn’t there before in his heart when he was sober. From the overflow of a man’s heart, a man speaks. Even careless words fall under this judgment, says Jesus. The Pharisees cannot get out of things that easily! Every careless word will be judged on the Final Judgment Day. Every careless word is evidence of what is in the heart.

This last verse might seem to be a works salvation. But the context tells us that it is the heart that will be judged, and the words will be the evidence of the heart. It is the fruit. One can judge how good a tree is by how good the fruit is. The scary thing about this, of course, is that every word will be judged. Every single thing that you say can and will be used against you…unless! If your faith is in Christ, then have already been judged in Christ. As Paul says in Romans 8:1, one of the most comforting verses in all of Scripture, there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You have already been judged not guilty, if you trust in Christ. So your words will be judged in Christ. And your greatest friend, your Savior, your Brother, the Lover of your soul, the husband of the Church, your Shepherd, your Rock, your Redeemer, your salvation, He will be your judge! If the thought of Final Judgment scares you, then just remember that you know the Judge! You know the Judge, and the Judge knows you, and has already pronounced your sentence! You are already not guilty by faith. A perfect righteousness is required, and perfect righteousness has been supplied in Christ Jesus. When God looks for you, He sees you in Christ and His righteousness.

So grateful ought we to be for this judgment that our fruit will be good. Bear fruit, my friends! Every branch that bears good fruit is pruned by God so that it will bear more fruit. But every branch that does not bear fruit is cut off and thrown into the fire. But this is not a works salvation, either. For you can only bear fruit if God makes your heart good. The good apples will come, as long as the root system is sound. Ultimately, there are only two kinds of people: the brood of vipers, which is really just another way of saying “the seed of the serpent Satan;” and, on the other hand, the seed of the woman, the Christians, those with faith in Jesus. The best thing about all this is that the root system can be changed. Only God can do that, but He is doing it all the time for people. He changes their heart of stone into a heart of flesh, so that He can start implanting the Holy Spirit inside us. The Holy Spirit is like the sap of the tree that eventually produces the fruit in us. It is heavenly sap, and the fruit will come. Tend your own branches. If there is something in your life that is preventing you from bearing as much fruit as you should, you should cut it off and throw it away. Maybe it is something that is good in and of itself, but which has you distracted from better things. Maybe it is a sin of some sort that seems to get you down all the time. Put that sin to death, and cut off that dead branch. Then the sap will flow to the fruit in your life, and you will produce beautiful, full, ripe fruit to the glory of God.

Do Hard Things

Alex and Brett Harris have just come out with a book entitled Do Hard Things. There are few books more counter-cultural or necessary for teens to read. As a pastor I often weary of trying to minister to teens who will not be impressed by anything because they expect the church to spoon-feed/entertain them rather than teach them Bible content and (horror of horrors!) doctrine. Even the church’s expectations of teens is that they are not able to handle doctrine because that’s too deep for them. This book is excellent in its ideas, well-written, well-organized, and easy to read, yet profound in application. Alex and Brett have written a book I hope and pray will change millions.

The basic thesis of the book is the title. However, the title needs a bit of explication. Culture has low expectations of what teens can do and what they should do. However, since the Bible does not speak about “teenagers” as such, and since, in history, people in their teens have been expected to be adults, Alex and Brett maintain that the teen years are not for slacking off and partying, but rather for accomplishing things for Christ. The subtitle is helpful: “a teenage rebellion against low expectations.” It is an edgy title, since Alex and Brett are clearly playing on teens’ desire to rebel. But it is really gutsy to rebel against the entirety of culture, all the more so since the cultural expectations are often more hidden than explicit.

I was pleased that the Harris brothers carefully qualified the message of the book to exclude a works righteousness paradigm. It is not possible to earn salvation by doing hard things. This message is always needed because we are inherent legalists. In fact, we might even think that we have to maintain favor with God by doing hard things. Plainly that is not the message in this book. The only way to heaven is through trusting in Christ, who has done THE hard thing (impossible for us) of taking upon Himself the guilt of our sin, and giving us His spotless righteousness that we may not only have our sins forgiven, but also have an entrance into eternal life.

What was especially inspiring about the book was the stories of real life people that were included to emphasize the point being made. The stories fit the point they were making very well.

They start the book with a description and refutation of what they call the “Myth of Adolescence.” The illustration of the elephant was exactly to the point: culture can hold on to us quite easily by its expectations: as easy as a simple rope can hold on to the elephant, because the rope has the elephant’s mind bound into thinking that the elephant cannot go anywhere. The ridiculousness of this way of thinking becomes obvious when the examples of George Washinton, David Farrugut, and Clara Barton are taken into account. They write: “The problem we have is with the modern understanding of adolescence that allows, encourages, and even trains young people to remain childish for much longer than necessary” (p. 33). They myth is that the teenager is an invented category (stemming from the unintended consequences of the child-labor laws) seeking to describe those young people “with most of the desires and abilities of an adult but few of the expectations or responsibilities” (p. 35). The power of the cultural expectation is well delineated: “we live in a culture that wants to tell us how to act, how to think, how to look, and how to talk. It tells us what to wear, what to buy, and where to buy it. It tells us what to dream, what to value, what to live for- and it’s not Christ” (p. 43). The better way is to see the teen years as the launching pad of life.

Doing hard things then requires doing things outside of our comfort zones, doing things that go beyond what’s expected or required, and doing things that are too big to do alone. I also deeply appreciated their expansion of the category “hard things” to include the small everyday things like chores that may seem pointlessly repetitive. The example of the Vikings is very inspiring in this regard.

I have no real criticisms of the book. But I do have some challenges for the Harris brothers. My estimate is that the project of challenging teens to do hard things is only half done (at most!) in this book. There are hints of the world of ideas laced through the book, but another book needs to be written. I even have the title for it: Think Hard Things. One of the biggest problems today is that cultural expectations also shackle the teen world of ideas. Of course a teen cannot do a Ph.D. while being a teenager. They’re too young. Of course a teen cannot learn calculus in high school. Of course a teen cannot learn Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. Of course a teen cannot learn…Society has dumbed down education to the lowest common denominator. Unfortunately, this shackle is a lot harder to shake, since adults control the education system. Why not change it? We have a grass-roots movement here capable of shaking the entire world. Teens have their parents’ ears. And we have two young men who have the ears of that movement. Based on books such as Douglas Wilson’s book Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, much could be accomplished in the realm of ideas.

Why not apply the lessons of doing to the hard problems of philosophy and thinking? Teens, learn Greek, Latin and Hebrew and become theologians, and see the stunning grandeur of biblical truth, far, far deeper than you could think possible. Learn Greek and Latin and become classically educated. Learn to think logically. As Dorothy Sayers said in her essay, the teen years are probably the best years for learning logic, since teens love to argue and debate. Do that well.

Another area that needs addressing is television and visual media. Neil Postman’s book here (Amusing Ourselves to Death) is vitally important. We are becoming an illiterate society because entertainment is transforming culture into a visually based culture rather than a verbally based culture. Simply compare the Lincoln-Douglas presidential debates (thirty minute segments followed by fifteen minute rebuttals) to today’s presidential debates (five minute segments and thirty second responses!). Our attention spans have been ripped to shreds because of commercials.

Going along with this is the cultural malaise regarding art of all kinds. Kenneth Myers’s book All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes details the differences among the various levels of art. To spend all our time or even most of our time in popular culture, never learning about great art is cultural death. We need to be thinking about high culture that challenges our scope and makes us grow more than popular culture, which is barely worth one listen (in the case of music), let alone sustained attention, whereas a Beethoven Symphony will give us new layers of meaning the deeper we go. This is not to say that we should just chuck popular culture entirely. However, popular culture is for entertainment, not for growth. If we want to grow, we need to be in high culture.

Furthermore, the Enlightenment has resulted in the fragmentation of knowledge. One branch of learning cannot speak to another branch of learning. The problem of the one and the many in philosophy is ugly here, since knowledge is simply assumed to be many. And yet God is one. In fact, the Trinity has important ramifications for the problem of the one and the many. These are just some of the myriad areas that Alex and Brett could impact for Christ. And then, after that, comes Believe Hard Things

Some Good Links

New Blog: Check out the new Calvin 500 blog, giving you news and perspectives on 500 years of Calvinian influence in the world.

Perspectives on Reformed church growth: the newest episode of Christ the Center, an interview with Drew Dinardo, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Margate, Florida.

Fear Not!

I have had the honor of conducting about fourteen funeral services in the three and a half years I have been a pastor here in North Dakota. Every time I conduct a funeral service I have been so grateful for the training I received at Tenth Presbyterian Church’s Round Table discussions. I don’t even remember the name of the pastor who led it, but he had many years of experience ministering to the dying and the bereaved. I was delighted, then, when I read this book, for all the same emphases were there. In fact, this book is a gem, because it states the issues not only eloquently, but pastorally. This is the perfect book to give to someone who is bereaved or on their death-bed. It is not long, but is full of comfort and truth.

What is so good about this book? These things: it shows the true character of death as sin in full flower; it shows the bankruptcy of the worldly way of thinking about death; it shows that death is unnatural and yet defeated; it shows the difference between Christian grief and non-Christian grief (the latter having no hope); it shows the vital importance of the resurrection as the lodestar for comfort; it concentrates heavy emphasis on the physical nature of the resurrection (so important because in large part it is the physical nearness of the beloved one that the bereaved miss) without de-emphasizing the importance of the vindication of truth that the resurrection provides; and finally takes all the sting out of death and judgment for the believer, while proclaiming the Gospel clearly to the lost. What more could you want in a single book dealing with death? May this book not only be instrumental in death-bed conversions, but may it spread comfort to Christians facing death and to Christians facing bereavement, and may it help Christians be equipped to help others in these kinds of circumstances.

The Divine Decrees

My previous handling of section 7 is here. This section really gets at one of the key issues separating the FV from its critics: what can we say about the non-decretally elect?

What I like about this section: Wilson affirms that the elect cannot increase or diminish. Obviously, he is using the term “elect” here in a decretal sense, not in the so-called “covenantal” sense. Then, however, we come into terminological difficulties. Let me explain three ways of seeing the covenant: 1. The covenant is made only with the decretally elect, and there is nothing more to say. This is the typical Baptist position. 2. The substance of the covenant is made with Christ and with the decretally elect in Him (see WLC 31). However, there is a covenantal administration that includes the decretally elect and the non-decretally elect, and is the basis for infant baptism. This is the position of Witsius, a’Brakel, Turretin, and most if not all the Post-Reformation guys (and many of the Reformation guys, too). This is also my position. It is equivalent to the inner/outer distinction made by, say, Scott Clark. 3. The covenant of grace is undifferentiated between the elect and the non-elect (used in a decretal sense). This is the FV definition of the covenant. There is no way to harmonize the FV definition with WLC 31, by the way. They cannot say that the covenant of grace was made with Christ, and with all the elect as His seed, unless they want to change the definition of “elect” in WLC 31. I think the original writers of the WLC meant decretally elect there, not covenantally elect.

Moving on to the “common operations,” it would be helpful if the FV would clarify precisely what those common operations are. In the comments on my last post (linked above), this was a serious question. What does “varying degrees” mean? Is Wilkins’s covenantal justification a common operation?

Thirdly, concerning the supposed overlap of covenantal terminology with decretal terminology, this question arises: why use the language that way, when every last Scripture used to prove this point from an FV point of view can be just as easily (I would argue more easily) be described as a judgment of charity? I have yet to find a single FV proponent argue exegetically that the judgment of charity argument holds no water. Wilkins, for instance, is constantly dismissing the judgment of charity position, but he will not engage in the exegetical reasons why the judgment of charity argument doesn’t work. In other words, on this topic, the wheel wasn’t broken, and the FV has tried to fix it. Fixing something that isn’t broken usually results in breakage.

The statement about “trumping” also came in for a fair bit of confusion in the comments. What does it even mean to say that the decrees don’t “trump” the covenant? The answer to this question presupposes, of course, the discussion concerning the participants in the covenant, and how they are participating, as shown above in paragraph two. From my perspective, of course the decree doesn’t trump the covenant, since the covenant is made (in its substance) with the elect! Then the judgment of charity argument explains why Paul uses decretal language to describe people who may or may not be decretally elect. This is a perfectly reasonable and logical explanation of the use of language. Now, I am not saying that certain terms of the ordo salutis have only one definition. “Justification” means something different in Paul than it does in James, as many, many, many Reformed scholars have noted before me. But that isn’t the issue. The issue is this: when Paul uses an ordo salutis term to describe the non-elect, what is happening? Is Paul assuming that all the members of the church have justification unless proven otherwise? Or is Paul actually stating that non-elect members of the church really do have “justification,” whatever that means now that it doesn’t mean the ordo salutis sense? FV writers have never been able to clarify what this covenantal justification is and what it isn’t. Sometimes (when not under the pressure of examination) they will say that it has overlapping meaning with the ordo salutis term. Other times (when under the pressure of examination), they will say that it does not have any overlap in meaning with the ordo salutis sense. Regardless, the question still remains: in what does this “covenantal justification” consist? What is it? I would propose that if the FV cannot answer this (and I have yet to see a definition of covenantal justification sufficiently distinct from the ordo salutis sense), then it is a very unhelpful term. Why use a term that you cannot even define? The difference between Paul and James in the term “justification” has been defined. Paul means it in a declarative sense, whereas James means it in an evidentiary sense. Declaration and evidence are two clearly distinct categories. No doubt the FV will accuse me of wanting to have all my t’s crossed and my i’s dotted. No doubt they will accuse me of wanting everything compartmentalized into a nice neat box, when there is “mystery” concerning some of these things. However, I am talking about justification, which is surely central to the Christian faith, and if we cannot be clear on justification, then we should chuck the whole thing and become Mormons.

On the Holocaust of Christians

Chuck Colson has some interesting and eye-opening figures on the holocaust of Christians in the twentieth century. The article itself is dated 2002. The estimate is that 45,000,000 Christians have been martyred in the twentieth century. According to the same estimate, the total number of Christians martyred since the time of Christ is around 70,000,000.

I want to point out a couple of things. Firstly, such numbers, as Colson points out, do not diminish the horror of the Holocaust in the least. However, Jews should not think that they are the only ones who have been persecuted in the twentieth century. Christians have lost more than 7 times as many lives as the Jews lost in the Holocaust. Not a fact that you will hear much about in the news (nor do I particularly want it to be reported. It is not as if Christians need to brag about being persecuted).

The other thing I wish to point out is that Colson’s conclusion is not how we should pray for the church. Indeed, the Chinese church has told us differently. Why should we pray that persecution should be eliminated against the church, when persecution is something we are told that we should expect? Not only that, but persecution is good for the church, eliminating nominalist “Christians.” I am not saying that persecution is a good thing, in and of itself. I am very thankful that I am not being persecuted for my faith. However, God overturns evil for good constantly, as He has been doing all throughout history. I am raising the point only to encourage us to pray for the persecuted church. And this is how we should pray: that the church remain faithful in its witness, not compromising the truth of the Gospel for comfort’s sake.

The Importance of the Sabbath Principle for Justification

I have loved this quotation from Vos as soon as I read it:

Before all other important things, therefore, the Sabbath is an expression of the eschatological principle on which the life of humanity has been constructed…The Sabbath brings this principle of the eschatological structure of history to bear upon the mind of man after a symbolical and a typical fashion. It teaches its lesson through the rhythmical succession of six days of labour and one ensuing day of rest in each successive week. Man is reminded in this way that life is not an aimless existence, that a goal lies beyond. This was true before, and apart from, redemption. The eschatological is an older strand in revelation than the soteric. The so-called ‘Covenant of Works’was nothing but an embodiment of the Sabbatical principle. (from Biblical Theology, p.  140).

It just struck me recently that the Covenant of Works functions as a Sabbatical principle because of the work-rest paradigm of the Covenant of Works. As God had rested from His labors, so also was Adam going to rest from his labors, had he obeyed.

This eschatological Sabbath-structure of the Covenant of Works plays also into justification and the Covenant of Grace, in that Christ has done the work while we get the rest of eternal life. Of course, this is only true in an “already” sense. There still remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, which is why the Sabbath has not been abrogated. But the Sabbath character of the Covenant of Works is why all attempts to make Adam’s obtaining of eternal life solely by grace through faith fall to the ground, whereas Christ’s obtaining of that Sabbath rest for us (in an already/not yet schema) is the fulfillment of the Sabbatical principle of the Covenant of Works in the Covenant of Grace.

The Unforgivable Sin

Matthew 12:30-32

7/6/2008

George Borrow, a 19th century author, wrote a book called Lavengro. In the middle of this book, he tells the lamentable story of a man who thought he had committed the unforgivable sin when he was seven years old. All his life he was tortured by it. He had this fascination with it as a child, and then one day he “blasphemed” the Holy Spirit. For ever after he was terrified of coming upon that place in Scripture which is our text, for he feared that he was condemned for eternity. As we go along, we will see some of the things which eventually helped him in understanding what this sin is and what this sin is not.

The context is extremely important for understanding what this sin is. The Pharisees have just said that Jesus is casting out demons by the power of Satan. They just called something very good something very bad. Furthermore, Jesus has said that He casts out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit. So whatever the unforgivable sin is, it is something that the Pharisees have been committing. They are saying that the Holy Spirit is really the spirit of Satan. That is the worst blasphemy that can possibly be committed.

A further hint at what this sin is can be gleaned from verse 30. Jesus there gives one His famous statements that there is no neutrality. There are only those who are for Christ, and those who are against Christ. The unforgivable sin, therefore, cannot be committed by a Christian. It is impossible. The Holy Spirit will not let that Christian commit it, since it is the Holy Spirit who ultimately lives in us and preserves us for the Final Day. The unforgivable sin can only be committed by unbelievers.

However, people can torture themselves even here, can’t they? They think they may have committed the unforgivable sin, and that makes them doubt their salvation. However, this is not the way we should go about determining these things. The question of whether we are Christians or not does not depend on the question of whether we sin. All Christians sin. And that is not to excuse sin in us. By no means. However, we have to realize that we are not sinless until we die. Rather, we should be asking ourselves these questions: do I repent when I sin? Do I confess my sin to God? Am I becoming more and more holy over time? And this progress does not have to be always in an upward direction. What we want to look at is the overall trend-line, not where we are at a given moment.

As many wise Christian scholars have said, ultimately speaking, if we are in any doubt whatsoever as to whether we have committed this terrible sin, that doubt is proof positive that we have not committed it. Let me repeat that: if we are in any doubt whatsoever as to whether we have committed this terrible sin, that doubt is proof positive that we have not committed it. If you have the teensiest, tiniest doubt about the matter, then you have not committed. You cannot accidentally fall into this sin. More tender consciences have been wounded by Satan in this regard than can possibly be imagined. I myself used to wonder whether or not I had committed this sin. I used to almost dare myself to commit it to see if lightning would strike, or to see if god could forgive this sin.

This brings us to one of the many motivations of those people who think they have committed it: they want to be in a position by themselves where they have done something that God cannot forgive. This is not something that people do out of conscious rebellion, but rather something that they do with fear and trembling. But the underlying motivation is pride. This is one of the main points in the story Lavengro: Peter (which is the name of the man who thinks he has committed this sin) has a wonderful wife, who is very understanding, and eventually she comes to say this to him (in tears, for she does not ridicule Peter, but is rather extremely compassionate). She says to him that Peter seems to want to have done something that will thwart God. Ultimately, this does not convince Peter, and yet it is true. Therein lies our strange fascination with this sin. We want to play around the edges of it. Then we think something against the Holy Spirit, and step back in some sort of shock as if we may or may not have crossed the line. Let me assure you that this sort of thinking, while childish and foolish, is not the unforgivable sin. Here are some characteristics of this sin: it is final and irrevocable. You cannot commit it, and then want to take it back. If you want to take it back, then you have not committed it in the first place. The person who commits this sin deliberately hates God, and has finally and ultimately rejected the Holy Spirit in his life. It is not a temporary hardening of the heart, but a final set-in-stone hardness of the heart. It is the judgment of God, in fact. We see this same judgment in Romans where God gives such a person over to a reprobate mind, and they commit all sorts of terrible sins because they have no conscience left. They delight in calling good evil and evil good.

I think oftentimes we think so much of the unforgivable sin that we forget to notice just how much comfort there is in these verses. Look at verse 31: “therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people,” full stop. There is forgiveness of all sins and blasphemies for those who will repent and turn from their sins to the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. There is no sin so large that God cannot forgive except this one sin, which is equivalent, as one scholar puts it, of the sick man on the hospital bed throwing out the very medicine that would save him, and reviling the doctor for trying to save his life. We would agree that such a man gets what he deserves. Forgiveness does require repentance on our part, which is a work of the Holy Spirit. It does require that we ask for forgiveness. The one who will not ask will not receive. It is really quite simple.

A word is necessary about the difficulty of understanding the first part of verse 32. When Jesus says that the words against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but not the words against the Holy Spirit, He is not saying that we can go ahead and revile the Son of Man with impunity, as long as we ask for forgiveness later. That is not what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is saying is that there were many people during that time who would look at Jesus and not see the King of the Universe. They doubted at first, and may even have said some things against Jesus. But many of those people repented later on, and their sins were forgiven as well. Again, more encouragement and comfort from this passage: it is quite possible to hate Jesus and blaspheme against Him, and say all sorts of horrid things about Him, but then be changed by Christ and repent, turn, believe, and be completely forgiven. Such was Saul, who later became Paul. He blasphemed against Jesus for quite a long time before the Lord changed him.

To explain the last part of verse 32 is also important. When Jesus says that there will not be forgiveness in this life, or in the age to come, He is not somehow implying that our sins can be forgiven after we die. All He is saying is that for this unforgivable sin there is no forgiveness, period. It is an eternally unforgivable sin. This verse cannot be made to say that there is a chance for forgiveness after death. That would contradict the rest of Scripture, which plainly tells us that this life is the only chance we have of belonging to Jesus.

Some practical applications: do not think you are alone in all this temptation. Again, going back to Lavengro, the thing that eventually convinced Peter that he had not committed this sin was the thought that many other people often thought this way, and yet that was no proof that they had, and they went on to mature in the faith and realize that they could not have committed such a sin. Peter became a very happy and useful minister after he finally found out why the Lord had let him think this all these years: it was to prepare him to be sympathetic in the ministry, and to be careful and gentle with wounded consciences.

Secondly, beware of rejecting the Lord Christ. While I have tried to make sure that we understand that fear of such sin is groundless, since the people who commit this sin know absolutely nothing of the fear of the Lord, we are still to take this sin seriously. We are not to be against Jesus, but to be with Jesus, and to be gathering, not scattering.

Thirdly, we see here the importance of confessing our sin. Do not try to hold it in, and thus have such terrible conscience problems. Confess freely before God your sin. And if you have a wounded conscience and are afraid, that is the very time to see a minister about it. A conscientious minister will never laugh or ridicule wounded consciences, but will rather lead the person back to Christ, where all hidden treasures of forgiveness and true happiness lie.

So, do not be overly concerned about whether you have committed this sin. If you fear you have and are remorseful,then it is proof that you have not, and have merely committed some lesser sin, which is surely forgivable. Cling to Christ, and He will show you what is good.

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