Have You Sinned Against the Holy Spirit?
“There is a sin that does incur death.”—1 JOHN 5:16.
1, 2. How do we know that it is possible to sin against God’s holy spirit?
“I HAVE been obsessed with the thought that I have sinned against the holy spirit.” So wrote a woman in Germany, although she was serving God. Can a Christian actually sin against God’s holy spirit, or active force?
2 Yes, it is possible to sin against Jehovah’s holy spirit. “Every sort of sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men,” said Jesus Christ, “but the blasphemy against the spirit will not be forgiven.” (Matthew 12:31) We are warned: “If we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment.” (Hebrews 10:26, 27) And the apostle John wrote: “There is a sin that does incur death.” (1 John 5:16) But is it left to the one who has sinned seriously to determine whether he has committed “a sin that does incur death”?
Repentance Brings Forgiveness
3. What is likely true if we are deeply grieved over a sin we have committed?
3 Jehovah is the final Judge of wrongdoers. Indeed, all of us must render an account to him, and he always does what is right. (Genesis 18:25; Romans 14:12) Jehovah determines whether we have committed an unforgivable sin, and he can withdraw his spirit from us. (Psalm 51:11) However, if we are deeply grieved over a sin we have committed, it is very likely that we are truly repentant. What, though, is genuine repentance?
4. (a) How would you define repentance? (b) What is so comforting about Psalm 103:10-14?
4 To repent means that we change our attitude toward past or intended wrongdoing. It means that we feel sorrow or regret and turn away from a sinful course. If we have sinned seriously but have taken the necessary steps to show that we have really repented, we can draw comfort from the psalmist’s words: “He [Jehovah] has not done to us even according to our sins; nor according to our errors has he brought upon us what we deserve. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, his loving-kindness is superior toward those fearing him. As far off as the sunrise is from the sunset, so far off from us he has put our transgressions. As a father shows mercy to his sons, Jehovah has shown mercy to those fearing him. For he himself well knows the formation of us, remembering that we are dust.”—Psalm 103:10-14.
5, 6. Give the substance of 1 John 3:19-22, and explain the meaning of the apostle’s words.
5 Comforting, too, are the apostle John’s words: “By this we shall know that we originate with the truth, and we shall assure our hearts before him as regards whatever our hearts may condemn us in, because God is greater than our hearts and knows all things. Beloved ones, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have freeness of speech toward God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we are observing his commandments and are doing the things that are pleasing in his eyes.”—1 John 3:19-22.
6 We “know that we originate with the truth” by the fact that we display brotherly love and do not make a practice of sinning. (Psalm 119:11) If we feel condemned for some reason, we do well to remember that “God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” Jehovah shows us mercy because he is aware of our “unhypocritical brotherly affection,” our battle against sin, and our efforts to do his will. (1 Peter 1:22) Our heart will “not condemn us” if we trust in Jehovah, display brotherly love, and are not guilty of practicing deliberate sin. We will have “freeness of speech toward God” in prayer, and he will answer us because we observe his commandments.
They Sinned Against the Spirit
7. What determines whether a sin is forgivable or not?
7 What sins are not forgiven? To answer this question, let us consider some Biblical examples. This should prove comforting to us if we are repentant but are still sorely distressed over our serious errors. We will see that it is not so much a matter of what kind of sin a person has committed; rather, it is the motive, the heart condition, and the degree of willfulness involved that determines whether a sin is forgivable or not.
8. How did some first-century Jewish religious leaders sin against the holy spirit?
8 First-century Jewish religious leaders who maliciously opposed Jesus Christ were sinning against the holy spirit. They saw God’s spirit at work in Jesus as he performed miracles that honored Jehovah. Yet, these enemies of Christ attributed this power to Satan the Devil. According to Jesus, those who thus blasphemed against God’s holy spirit were thereby committing a sin that would not be forgiven in the present “system of things nor in that to come.”—Matthew 12:22-32.
9. What is blasphemy, and what did Jesus say about it?
9 Blasphemy is defamatory, injurious, or abusive speech. Since the holy spirit has God as its Source, saying things against his spirit is the same as speaking against Jehovah. Unrepentantly resorting to speech of that kind is unforgivable. Jesus’ words about such sin show that Jesus is referring to those who willfully oppose the operation of God’s holy spirit. Because Jehovah’s spirit was at work in Jesus but his opposers ascribed this power to the Devil, they sinfully blasphemed against the spirit. Hence, Jesus declared: “Whoever blasphemes against the holy spirit has no forgiveness forever, but is guilty of everlasting sin.”—Mark 3:20-29.
10. Why did Jesus call Judas “the son of destruction”?
10 Consider also the case of Judas Iscariot. He pursued a dishonest course, stealing from the money box entrusted to his care. (John 12:5, 6) Judas later went to the Jewish rulers and arranged to betray Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. Yes, Judas felt remorse after the betrayal, but he never repented of his deliberate sin. Consequently, Judas is not worthy of a resurrection. Jesus therefore called him “the son of destruction.”—John 17:12; Matthew 26:14-16.
They Did Not Sin Against the Spirit
11-13. How did King David sin in connection with Bath-sheba, and what comfort may be drawn from the way God dealt with them?
11 Occasionally, Christians who have confessed their serious sin and who have received spiritual help from congregation elders may still be plagued by concern over past transgressions of God’s law. (James 5:14) If we are personally troubled in this way, very likely we will benefit from considering what the Scriptures say about those whose sins were forgiven.
12 King David sinned gravely in connection with Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah. Having seen this beautiful woman bathing as he looked down from his nearby rooftop, David had her brought to his palace and had sexual relations with her. Later informed that she was pregnant, he schemed to have her husband, Uriah, sleep with her to cover up the adultery. When that plot failed, the king arranged for Uriah to be killed in battle. Thereafter, Bath-sheba became David’s wife and bore him a child who died.—2 Samuel 11:1-27.
13 Jehovah handled matters involving David and Bath-sheba. God forgave David, apparently taking into account such factors as his repentance and the Kingdom covenant made with him. (2 Samuel 7:11-16; 12:7-14) Bath-sheba evidently had a repentant attitude, for she was privileged to become the mother of King Solomon and an ancestress of Jesus Christ. (Matthew 1:1, 6, 16) If we have sinned, it is good to remember that Jehovah takes note of our repentant attitude.
14. How is the extent of God’s forgiveness illustrated in King Manasseh’s case?
14 The extent of Jehovah’s forgiveness is also illustrated in the case of King Manasseh of Judah. He did what was bad in Jehovah’s eyes. Manasseh set up altars to Baal, worshipped “all the army of the heavens,” and even built altars to false gods in two temple courtyards. He made his sons pass through the fire, encouraged spiritistic practices, and caused the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem “to do worse than the nations that Jehovah had annihilated from before the sons of Israel.” The warnings delivered by God’s prophets were not heeded. Eventually, the king of Assyria took Manasseh captive. While in captivity, Manasseh repented and humbly kept praying to God, who forgave him and restored him to the kingship in Jerusalem, where he promoted true worship.—2 Chronicles 33:2-17.
15. What incident in the apostle Peter’s life shows that Jehovah forgives “in a large way”?
15 Centuries later, the apostle Peter sinned grievously by denying Jesus. (Mark 14:30, 66-72) However, Jehovah forgave Peter “in a large way.” (Isaiah 55:7) Why? Because Peter was genuinely repentant. (Luke 22:62) There was clear evidence of God’s forgiveness when on the day of Pentecost, Peter was privileged to give a bold witness about Jesus. (Acts 2:14-36) Is there any reason to believe that God would be less forgiving toward truly repentant Christians today? “If errors were what you watch, O Jah, O Jehovah, who could stand?” sang the psalmist, “for there is the true forgiveness with you.”—Psalm 130:3, 4.
Allaying Fear About Sin
16. Under what circumstances does God grant forgiveness?
16 The foregoing examples should help to allay our anxiety about having sinned against the holy spirit. They show that Jehovah does forgive repentant sinners. Of prime importance is earnest prayer to God. If we have sinned, we can plead for forgiveness on the basis of Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, Jehovah’s mercy, our inherited imperfection, and our record of faithful service. Knowing Jehovah’s undeserved kindness, we can seek forgiveness, confident that it will be granted.—Ephesians 1:7.
17. What should be done if we have sinned and need spiritual help?
17 What if we have sinned but are unable to pray because our sin has made us spiritually sick? In this regard, the disciple James wrote: “Let [such a person] call the older men of the congregation to him, and let them pray over him, greasing him with oil in the name of Jehovah. And the prayer of faith will make the indisposed one well, and Jehovah will raise him up. Also, if he has committed sins, it will be forgiven him.”—James 5:14, 15.
18. Why is a person’s sin not necessarily unforgivable even if he is expelled from the congregation?
18 Even if a wrongdoer is at the time unrepentant and he is expelled from the congregation, his sin is not necessarily unforgivable. Concerning a disfellowshipped anointed wrongdoer in Corinth, Paul wrote: “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary now, you should kindly forgive and comfort him, that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad.” (2 Corinthians 2:6-8; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5) To be restored spiritually, however, erring ones need to accept the Bible-based spiritual help of Christian elders and give evidence of true repentance. They must “produce fruits that befit repentance.”—Luke 3:8.
19. What can help us to remain “healthy in faith”?
19 What might contribute to the feeling that we have sinned against the holy spirit? Overconscientiousness or a weak physical condition may be factors. In such a case, prayer and added rest may be helpful. Especially should we not let Satan discourage us, so that we stop serving God. Since Jehovah has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, he surely takes no delight in the loss of any of his servants. So if we fear that we have sinned against the spirit, we should continue feeding on God’s Word, including such comforting portions as the Psalms. We need to keep on attending congregation meetings and sharing in the Kingdom-preaching work. Doing so will help us to be “healthy in faith” and free from anxiety over the possibility of having committed the unforgivable sin.—Titus 2:2.
20. What reasoning may help a person to see that he has not sinned against the holy spirit?
20 Any who fear that they have sinned against the holy spirit might ask themselves: ‘Have I blasphemed against the holy spirit? Did I genuinely repent of my sin? Do I have faith in God’s forgiveness? Am I an apostate who has rejected spiritual light?’ Very likely, such individuals will realize that they have not blasphemed against God’s holy spirit, nor have they become apostates. They are repentant, and they have abiding faith in Jehovah’s forgiveness. If so, they have not sinned against Jehovah’s holy spirit.
21. The next article will deal with what questions?
21 What a blessing it is to be certain that we have not sinned against the holy spirit! Related to this matter, however, are questions to be considered in the next article. For instance, we might ask ourselves: ‘Am I really being led by God’s holy spirit? Is its fruitage evident in my life?’
What Is Your Reply?
• Why can we say that it is possible to sin against the holy spirit?
• What does it mean to repent?
• Who sinned against the spirit when Jesus was on earth?
• How can anxiety about having committed an unforgivable sin be overcome?
[Picture on page 17]
Those who said that Jesus performed miracles with Satan’s power sinned against God’s holy spirit
[Picture on page 18]
Although he denied Jesus, Peter did not commit an unforgivable sin