The Unforgivable Sin

Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for all sins and whatever blasphemies they utter. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—because they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” ~ Mark 3:28-30 (CSB)

Toward the end of Mark 3, we find one of the most debated sections of the gospel. Jesus, when confronted by his family and the Jewish religious leaders as he cast out demons, spoke of a sin that would not be forgiven. He warned that every sin committed had the possibility of forgiveness except for one: blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Many have debated and others have fretted over the meaning of Jesus’ statement.

To understand what Jesus intended, we must first remember that we can never divorce a verse or two from its context. A passage of Scripture (or any other thing written or said, for that matter) does not mean something simply because we as the reader or hearer want it to mean that thing. It has a meaning found within the intent of the author and his/her context.

In this case, though confronted by his family and leaders, Jesus did not directly rebuke his family’s statement of “He’s out of his mind,” though this also was not true. Instead, he honed in on the statement of the scribes: “He is possessed by Beelzebul” and “He drives out demons by the ruler of the demons.” (3:22)

Jesus first responded to the absurdity of the prince of demons casting out his own demons. He said, “If Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand but is finished” (3:26). In other words, Satan would be dumb to work against himself. The Bible describes Satan as crafty, cunning, and deceitful as the enemy of God’s people, but not dumb.

Then Jesus made his statement in 3:28-29 in response to the scribes’ words of “He has an unclean spirit.”

In other words, the scribes were opposing Jesus by attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan. Here we have the unpardonable sin: A so thorough rejection of the Spirit’s work through Jesus, and thus a thorough rejection of Jesus, so as to call the work of the Spirit evil.

But there also seems to be another element to this. The scribes weren’t men of a different religion, or even no religion, who thought Jesus’ ways were false. No, these were men well-educated in the Old Testament, who claimed to follow the One True God, were zealous for their religion, and should have realized from the prophecies that Jesus was their Messiah.

These are men who would seem to fall into the description of Hebrews 6:4-6

For it is impossible to renew to repentance those who were once enlightened, who tasted the heavenly gift, who shared in the Holy Spirit, who tasted God’s good word and the powers of the coming age, and who have fallen away…

They had every reason to know better, yet they ascribed the Spirit’s work through Jesus to the forces of darkness instead of to God.

So, we should know that the unforgivable sin is real, and it should challenge us to persevere in our faith, keeping our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. But we should not get bogged down in fear, worried that we have said a wrong word or thought a wrong thought and committed it.

This sin is a complete rejection of Christ and the Spirit’s work, not a temporary slip such as Peter experienced when he denied Jesus three times before being restored to repentance. And as C. E. B. Cranfield said, “We can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he has committed this sin, that the fact that he is so troubled is itself a sure proof that he has not committed it” (as quoted in William Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark).

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Good Reads 05.31.17 (on: grief, growing up, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On discipleship and real life: Discipleship for the Rest of Us by Jared C. Wilson

If the mast gets struck by lightning, so do we. When church people say “Discipleship means following Jesus,” I think they tend to picture a group of sun-tanned dudes in cantata-quality robe costumes peacefully strolling through green pastures, perhaps stopping here and there under the comfortable shade of a tree to watch Jesus smile at them and tousle the hair of precocious children scampering about at his Birkenstocked feet.

Or maybe I’m just cynical. When I ask “What do you think of when you hear the word discipleship?” I’d love to hear people answer more along these lines:

“Believing God has a plan for me even when I’m afraid he doesn’t.”
“Believing God loves me even when I feel like nobody else does.”
“Trusting that God is doing something for my good even though my life has always been terrible up till now.”
“Following Jesus even though my feelings speak more loudly.”
“Denying myself to do what’s right although I don’t really want to.”
“Imagining a time when I won’t hurt as much as I do now.”
“Imagining a time when my spouse or child won’t hurt as much as they do now.” (click here to read more)

On how every Christian is called to be a servant to others: Every Christian a Minister by Eric Davis

Biblically speaking, however, the Christian life is not like that. In keeping with the football metaphor, the local church leaders are more like the team’s coaches and trainers (minus the temper). As such, they are called to work hard, study, stay ahead of things, and prioritize the care of the players. But they are not the players. Instead, all Christians are more like the players. As they receive the care, training, and equipping from the coaches, they are the ones on the field enjoying the challenges and rewards of the game.

To maximize their joy and effectiveness, they are to regularly stay connected with the coaches and trainers. They give and receive input to the coaches. They communicate closely with them. Wounds are treated, successes celebrated, and mistakes nurtured. They may not know every coach or trainer, but they stay closely connected with at least one. That/those coach(es) then provide accountability, equipping, care, and a nurturing relationship for as long as the player is under their stewardship. God’s design for every Christian is more likened to players on a field than spectators in a grandstand. (click here to read more)

On dealing with the pain and grief we face in life: Six Words to Say Through Tears by Nancy Guthrie

But when we are the ones who are grieving, what is far more important than what other people say to us is what we say to ourselves — what we say to ourselves in between sobs, when we have more questions than answers, when the emptiness feels overwhelming, when anger is getting a foothold in our heart.

When the grief is fresh and intense, we might take some wild ideas for a test drive, but to move toward healing and return to joy requires that we press this one idea deeply into our souls until it begins to impact us at the level of our feelings: “I can trust God with this.” (click here to read more)

On looking to Jesus to guide us as we grow up: Like Us, Jesus Had to Grow Up Too by Alun Ebenezer

Growing up in today’s world is hard. It’s a time of big changes. Hormones kick in and there’s the strain of having to contend with social media, peer pressure, the need to be cool, exam stress, insecurity and society’s relentless demand to be successful. It can all seem a bit much and young people can feel that no one knows, as Amy McDonald sung, ‘a single thing about the youth of today’.

But there is someone who knows; knows exactly what is to grow up in this fallen, broken world. The Son of God who thought it not robbery to be equal with God (Phil. 2:6), 2000 years ago humbled himself, made himself of no reputation (Phil. 2:7, 8), became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). For 33 years he learned what it is like to be you and me; to be a baby, a toddler, a child and an adolescent. (click here to read more)

Its His Story

And John preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” ~ Mark 1:7-8

Today we begin a new devotional series though the gospel of Mark. Of the four gospels, Mark’s is the shortest and most fast paced, often using the term immediately not as a brief passage of time but as a quick transition from one account to the next.

Mark began his gospel with a quote from Isaiah about the messenger who would “prepare the way of the Lord.” He then described John the baptizer and his ministry to prepare people’s hearts for Jesus coming on the scene. Though John was popular and many went to see him, his attitude was one of humility. He knew his role in the grand story of Scripture—he was not the point, Jesus was.

He also knew that Jesus’ work would be far greater than his. Whereas he called people to repentance and baptism, Jesus offered something greater. Though Jesus also called people to repent (1:15) and be baptized (Matthew 28:18-20), Jesus would do something John could not: baptize people with the Holy Spirit.

Two of the first things that happen when we come to Jesus are: 1) Jesus fills us with the Holy Spirit, securing our new spiritual life, gifting us to serve others, and assuring us our place among God’s family; and 2) We begin to realize that our life’s story is not primarily about us but about Jesus.

Though John had a one-of-a-kind role in the world’s history, we are like him in that we need to humble ourselves under the exalted Jesus and we need to see ourselves as part of something bigger.

As Jesus fills us with the Spirit, may we make our life story all about Jesus. May we live to make his name famous. And may we serve others in such a way that they see us clearly pointing them to our Savior-King.

 

New posts in this series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

Good Reads 05.03.17 (on: the Holy Spirit, marriage, and more!)

Here is a collection of good reads gathered from across the internet this past week. Enjoy!

On the Holy Spirit: Four Ways We Go Wrong in Thinking about the Holy Spirit by Michael Horton

Many of us still remember the “Holy Ghost” from the old King James Version. For most modern people, a ghost is associated more with All Hallows’ Eve (a.k.a. Halloween) than with Pentecost Sunday. Especially in our age, the Holy Spirit is regarded (when taken seriously at all) as the “spooky” member of the Trinity. If you’re into that sort of thing—the paranormal and sensational—then the Holy Spirit is for you.

Who exactly is the mysterious third person of the Trinity? Why does he seem to possess less reality than the Father and the Son? Perhaps we think of the Holy Spirit as a divine force or energy that we can “plug into” for spiritual power. Or as the kinder and gentler—more intimate—side of God. But a person—in fact, a distinct person of the Godhead?

I want to challenge this association of the Spirit merely with the extraordinary. (click here to read more)

On faith and God’s love: Playing in the Street of Unbelief by Mike Leake

I see this quite often with teenagers. They are in that awkward stage when they still want to be doted on by mom and dad (or whoever is playing that role) but also kind of not. And mom and dad have realized that junior is developing body odor and isn’t their cute little baby anymore. And so what you end up with is a teenager who knows his parents love him but only kind of. In the really bad cases of this I see teenagers do really dumb things just to see if they still have mom and dad’s eyes.

They’d deny it until they died, but what is the teenagers are trying to say is, “If you really love me you’ll stop me”. They are doing things they know they shouldn’t do, and going places they know the shouldn’t go, hoping that somebody will stop them. What’s really sad is when nobody cares enough to stops them. But many times teens are just being emotional and silly and playing a foolish game. Their only grounds for believing such nonsense are the raging hormones that feel like truth.

But adults can be just as silly. We go through difficult experiences. Dreams die. Plans break. Our spirits droop. We start to question God’s love for us. (click here to read more)

On dealing with pain, hurt, and forgiveness: You Know How Hurt People Hurt People? How To Stop the Cycle of Hurt by Ann Voskamp

And I’ve thought a lot about their reaction . . . and mine.

My first response was protective anger—natural for a mother, I suppose.

I was ripping those girls a new one in my head and hoping they caught my glares. But I know how girls are at that age because I was one once myself. A parent’s scolding would have only made them angry, and they would have walked away to continue their teasing in private—their words growing harsher as they made each other laugh.

But when Mareto simply introduced himself with kindness and a smile, the girls were baffled.

It was clearly not what they expected, and the element of surprise led to curiosity. Their mean laughter transformed into confused but genuine smiles of interest. (click here to read more)

On serving one another in marriage: A Marriage Checklist by David Murray

I’ve been taking our adult Sunday School through Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage. We’ve been camped out in chapter five for a few weeks, and yesterday we looked at Keller’s teaching on “Love Currencies” or “Love Languages.” His basic point was we must give the love-currency to our spouse that they value most and speak the love-language that best communicates love to them.

He then has a practical section on the three main currencies or languages—Affection, Friendship, Service—which I’ve arranged into a checklist. Keller recommends that husbands and wives regularly review a list such as this to identify the best way to give love to one another and then “concretely give love to each other in deliberate ways every week.” (click here to read more)

When Prayer Is Not the Answer

The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face? Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. Therefore, the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies.” ~ Joshua 7:10-12

After the unusual victory that God granted Israel in their battle against Jericho, Joshua led them to battle against Ai, which had a much smaller population and should have been easy to defeat. Yet, the army fled from the men of Ai because God was not with them in the fight.

In the face of this defeat, Joshua went before the ark of the covenant and cried out to God. God’s response was to tell Joshua to stop praying and go deal with the sin in the camp. You see, a man named Achan had disobeyed the command of God and taken items from Jericho for his own tent which God had told the people to destroy. Achan’s greed brought sin into the camp, and this sin in turn caused God to turn against the army in battle.

The solution was to deal with the sin and purify the camp.

This story also reminds us that sometimes prayer is not the answer. Yes, as God’s people through faith in Jesus, we are to be regularly devoted to prayer. Talking with God should be a daily part of our relationship with God. Yet, there are things in our lives that can hinder this relationship. Consider the following:

In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus taught that if you’re about to enter into an act of worship, such as offering a gift at the altar, but in the process remember that someone has been offended by you, then you are to leave your gift, go and seek reconciliation, and then come back and offer the gift. Paul warned in Ephesians 4:30, in a list of sins to avoid and of righteous behaviors to embrace, that we’re to be careful not to grieve the Holy Spirit within us. Our sins, after we come to Jesus, may not again separate us from God but they can strain our relationship with God. Thus, we should be quick to confess and repent (1 John 1:9).

Then, in 1 Peter 3:7, Peter warned husbands to honor their wives and see them as fellow heirs of the grace of life “so that your prayers may not be hindered.” God cares deeply for his daughters and he has entrusted them to us who are their husbands. If I mistreat my wife, God’s precious daughter, then I shouldn’t expect that God would want to hear my prayers.

The answer in each of these situations isn’t to pray more, nor is the answer to ignore the situation. The answer is to deal with the sin present in our lives that hinders our relationship with God and others. Then, with renewed fellowship through the continued grace of God, we find restoration in our prayer life and in the tasks that God has called us to.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

God is for God

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped and said to him, “What does my lord say to his servant?” And the commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take off your sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so. ~ Joshua 5:13-15

Before the battle with Jericho, we find this brief and seemingly cryptic account in the book of Joshua. Joshua encountered a man with a drawn sword and asked, “Are you for us or our enemies.” This would seem to us to be a reasonable question. The man answered, “No,” and identifies himself as the commander of the Lord’s army.

On first glance, we might think that this is an angel that God sent to fight the spiritual battle alongside the physical (think 2 Kings 6, for example). But Joshua worshiped at the commander’s feet, the commander did not tell him to stop, and then he told Joshua to remove his shoes because he was on holy ground, much like the voice of God said to Moses from the burning bush. It would seem then that this commander was a Christophany, an appearance of the Son of God in physical form before the birth of Jesus.

As such, the commander’s answer shows us a truth we find throughout scripture: God is for God. In The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer wrote, “The Christian religion has to do with God and man, but its focal point is God, not man.” Everything that God does is for his own self-exaltation and glory.

And that is a good thing. God is not engaged in an evil pride as he acts to exalt himself. No, we know that God is the highest good and the greatest being. If there was something or someone higher or greater than God, then that person or thing by nature would be God instead. But since God is the highest good, then there is nothing that can be better than the exaltation of God, by himself or by us.

When you factor in the many perfect attributes of God’s being, we find that this benefits us as well. Because God is the greatest good, he delights in doing good to others for his glory.

We see this in Ezekiel 36. There, God promises salvation to his people. He speaks of cleansing them from sin and idolatry, of giving them a new heart and spirit, of putting his own Spirit within them, of delivering them, of being their God, and of blessing them greatly (36:24-38). Yet, this is prefaced by God declaring, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name” (36:22-23).

So it is with our salvation in Jesus: God gives us many wonderful things—forgiveness of sin, adoption into his family, joy and peace, a new heart, his Spirit within, and an eternal and glorious inheritance. We are caught up in his abundant love and goodness in a way none of us deserve. Yet, ultimately he saves us that we might glorify him (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Let us then rejoice over the goodness of God and the great truth that God is for God.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

The Promise of God’s Presence

And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you all the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan.” ~Joshua 3:10-11 (ESV)

With the spies returned from Jericho, Joshua was ready to lead the people across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. God had been with them in the past as he led them out of Egypt with many signs and wonders, and through the wilderness wanderings via the pillars of cloud and fire. Now God again promised his presence with them as they began their conquest of the Land.

And how would they know? How would Joshua’s leadership be verified? How could they trust that the victory was sure?

God gave them a sign. They already had the ark of the covenant as a visible reminder. In it were the stones containing the words of the covenant that came through Moses, as well as Aaron’s budded staff and a jar of manna. All of these reminders of God’s promises and provision. Even more, the ark was decorated with gold and figures of cherubim (winged, heavenly creatures) that surrounded what was called the mercy seat, where God manifested his presence as he gave Moses commands for the people (Exodus 25:22).

As the priests carried the ark into the waters of the Jordan, joined by a man representing each tribe, the waters stopped and stood in a wall and allowed the people to cross on dry land, just as had happened with the Red Sea as they fled Egypt.

God demonstrated his presence.

We no longer have the ark of the covenant like those Israelites did as they crossed the Jordan. Indeed, no one knows what even became of the ark after the Babylonians destroyed the temple. But we have something better, we have Jesus.

Hebrews 8-10 explain that Jesus brings to us a New Covenant that is superior to the Old one written on those tablets of stone and sealed in the ark. This New covenant truly provides the forgiveness of sins. The ark, everything within it, and everything that surrounded it in the tabernacle and later the temple were mere shadows of a greater reality. They all pointed to Jesus and his sacrifice for our sins.

Jesus is God’s promises fulfilled and his provisions given. And through Jesus we have more than an external reminder of God’s presence with us—we have the Holy Spirit within us (Romans 8).

So, let us not be like the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan, looking to an artifact and a wall of standing water to remind us of God’s presence. Instead, let us look to Jesus and all that he has fulfilled. And by faith, let us live daily with the Holy Spirit internally reminding us that because of Jesus we are God’s children and he is our Father—a Father who will never leave nor forsake his children.

New posts in this devotional series will appear most Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

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