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Author:Rev. George van Popta
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Congregation:Jubilee Canadian Reformed Church
 Ottawa, Ontario
Preached At:Ancaster Canadian Reformed Church
 Ancaster, Ontario
Title:The sin unto death
Text:LD 20 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs: Psalm 143:1,5,6; Psalm 51:4,5,6; Hymn 38:1,2,3; Hymn 38:4; Psalm 106:23,24

Reading: Matthew 12:22-37; 1 John 5:13-21

Text: CD V:4,5,6; Lord's Day 20
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ:

This morning, in recognition of Pentecost (which the church commemorates today), we heard something about the work of the Holy Spirit. About the work he directs towards the world, towards the church, and to the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit convicts the world of its guilt before God; guides the church in all the truth; and brings glory to Christ by taking the work of Christ and applying it to us. Wonderful work. Beautiful gospel.

What if someone rejects that work? Consciously, deliberately, rejects it? Someone has seen the light; has tasted the benefits of the gospel; has heard the good news of Jesus Christ-if that person then rejects the gospel, that light? What has that person done?

He has committed the unforgivable sin. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which is the unpardonable sin. Not unforgivable because of a weakness in God. Unforgivable because that person has placed himself outside the circle of God's grace. Outside the realm of where the Spirit of Christ is working, applying the benefits of the work of Christ.

We need to be clear on what the unforgivable sin is. It is not murder, or theft, or adultery, or drunkenness. Those are, of course, sins, but not unforgivable. One who is guilty of the sin of murder, theft, adultery or drunkenness will be forgiven if he repents. Rather, the unforgivable sin is a conscious rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit. When someone knows better, recognizes what the Holy Spirit is doing, but says he has no need or desire for it, he has placed himself outside the realm of God's forgiveness. He has committed sin unto death. He has sinned against the Holy Spirit.

Scripture speaks about this and warns against it in several places. In Matthew 12 the Lord Jesus spoke about speaking against the Holy Spirit. He said: Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

The context:

The Lord had just performed a wonderful miracle. He had healed a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute. The demon had turned off the man's eyes and shut down his mouth. The Lord had healed him so that he could both see again and speak.

This miracle had drawn great attention. The people were astonished and shouted: Could this be the Son of David, the promised Messiah?

The Pharisees, the opponents of Christ, said: Nothing doing! "It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons." Beelzebub, a nickname for the devil, for Satan. "Lord of the flies." The Pharisees went on the offensive against the gracious work of Christ. By way of slander they wanted to destroy the effect of the miracle. They state that Christ is an imposter. He claims to be of God, but really, he's of the devil. In league with the devil. According to them, the Lord's gracious heavenly miracle was nothing but a cheap trick from hell.

This was terrible slander. The Pharisees dared to call what in fact was the redeeming power of the kingdom of heaven a revelation from hell. They labeled the Messiah from heaven a sorcerer from hell.

It was in this context that the Lord spoke his profoundly serious word. The emphatic warning against the Pharisees: Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven!

Many have puzzled over the contrast the Lord made when he said: And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.

We want to ask: Is blaspheming against Christ not as bad as blaspheming against the Spirit? Is the Holy Spirit above the Son? Are the Father, Son and Holy Spirit not equal in glory (cf. LD 20). Are they not to be honoured equally?

There is a certain contrast. That cannot be denied. But we need to have appreciation for when the Lord said this. When in redemptive history. He said this when he was still in his period of humiliation. Yes, then already he was the great Son of David, the King of Israel, the Messiah sent of God. But there was still so much ignorance about who he was and what he had come for. At that point that had not yet been fully revealed. Even his disciples, time after time, demonstrated a lack of understanding about who and what the Lord was all about.

It was a terrible thing for people to speak against the Messiah, even when he was in his humiliation. But it was not outside the limits of forgiveness. For there was so much that yet had to be revealed. So much misunderstanding that had to be removed.

But when the brilliant white light of the gospel and of God's redeeming grace shone into the life of the blind and mute demoniac, and the Pharisees had the gall to call that the devil's work, then they were not speaking in ignorance. Of course not! They were hypocrites. And hypocrites never speak in ignorance. Hypocrites always speak against what they know to be the truth, the way, and the life. Hypocrites speak against better knowledge.

The Lord Jesus Christ has driven the demon out by the Spirit of God. The kingdom of God had come upon them. The grace of the kingdom was plain and visible for all to see. Knowing better they said: It's the darkness of hell.

By their conscious, knowledgeable rejection of the work of God's Spirit, they placed themselves beyond the reach of God's forgiveness.

On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to the earth as the Counselor, the Teacher. He came to take away every last question about the Lord Jesus Christ and his work. As we heard this morning, the Holy Spirit came to convict the world with the Word of God, to guide us into all the truth of the gospel, and so to bring glory to Christ. To take what is Christ's and to apply it to us. To make us share in all the benefits of Christ.

The church has been entrusted with the preaching of the gospel. We have the complete revelation of God. The scriptures teach us everything we need to know about the person and work of Christ. Through the church, the Holy Spirit proclaims the word of God about the Lord Jesus Christ and the way of salvation. Anyone who willfully rejects the proclamation of the Holy Spirit as it comes through the church of Christ commits the sin the Saviour spoke about in Matthew 12. For such a person rejects the light that is shining in the darkness, even as the Pharisees rejected it.

And so today, when someone consciously rejects the light of the kingdom of God that is so obviously shining in this dark world, he blasphemes against the Holy Spirit who came on Pentecost. Such a person denies what has come to light in all its clarity. For whatever reason he rejects God's saving and forgiving love in Christ Jesus.

Hebrews 10 speaks about this same sin from a different angle. From a post-Pentecost perspective. There's a serious warning in Hebrews 10:26ff. If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

If a person deliberately lives in sin, refuses to repent though he knows the truth of God the Holy Spirit has revealed to and through the church of Christ, that person can really only expect judgment and condemnation. Such a person (v. 29) has trampled the Son of God underfoot. He has profaned the blood of Christ. He has insulted the Holy Spirit.

The church is then warned (in v. 32) not to reject the light of the gospel. Not to throw away their hope, but to persevere in the faith. Related to this is what we read in 1 John 5. (1 John 5:16 NIV) If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

What is the sin that leads to death? Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Knowingly turning against the gospel. Knowing that there is no salvation apart from Christ, and yet, for whatever reason, turning away from Christ. Rejecting the light. Spurning the sacrifice of Christ. Knowing that those who reject the gospel will face the severe judgement of God, and yet choosing that judgment, that condemnation. Choosing hell over heaven. Stating that hell is better than heaven. Stating that the heavenly grace of God is actually worse than hell. Choosing Beelzebub over Christ. The Lord of the flies over the Lord of lords.

That is the sin that leads to death-eternal death.

John teaches us that we are not to ask God to forgive that sin (when we see it in others). God will not forgive the sin that leads to death, and so we have no business asking God to do so.

We need to be clear about this. If a fellow believer sins against God, you may ask God to forgive your fellow believer's sin. E.g., if your fellow believer is guilty of theft, since he is a believer he will repent (if he does not repent he proves himself to be an unbeliever). He will repent, and you may join him in prayer asking God to forgive that sin. Similarly, parents may ask God to forgive the sins of their children (as Job did, e.g.).

But if someone commits the sin unto death (deliberately rejects the gospel of salvation), we may not ask God to forgive that sin. We may ask God to bring that hardened sinner to repentance. Yes, you may do that. But you cannot ask God to forgive the unforgivable.

It seldom happens that those who once knew the gospel and then consciously, against their better judgment, turned away from it, repent and return. But with God nothing is impossible. It may be impossible for us to bring them back to repentance. But with God, all things are possible. And for someone who has blasphemed the Holy Spirit, there is only one prayer: Lord, let him return to you.

None of this is meant to frighten you or deprive you off the assurance of your salvation. The Lord Jesus and the Apostle John did not say and write these things to scare you. These profoundly serious words of the Lord and his apostle John are also words of love for you from your Good Shepherd. He wants to warn you not to resist or reject that which has become crystal clear since Pentecost. The serious warnings have a place as a means of grace. Also by strong warnings he wants to keep you walking in the way of salvation.

Sometimes believers become scared that they, perhaps, have committed the unpardonable sin; that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit; that they have committed the sin unto death. A believing child of God ought not to be scared about this. We read about that in those articles from the Canons of Dort. Yes, the believing child of God falls into sin. Even grievous sin. Through our own fault we, at times, turn away from the guidance of the Holy Spirit, yield to the lusts of the flesh, and are drawn away into serious and atrocious sins.

We ought not to underestimate the seriousness of gross sins. As we confess in Article 5, gross sins greatly offend God, incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, cause the exercise of faith to be suspended, severely wound the conscience, and sometimes for a while make the child of God lose the sense of God's favour.

However, God will bring his elect child to repentance. God will not completely withdraw his Holy Spirit from those who are his own even in their deplorable fall. He will not let his elect children commit the sin unto death, the sin against the Holy Spirit (Art. 6).

This teaching does not make us fatalistic so that we end up saying: Well, if he's elect the Lord will bring him back; if he's not elect, I guess the Lord won't. As always, not only do we confess the sovereignty of God but, at the very same time, the responsibility of man. Anyone who sins must repent of sin. Believers who commit atrocious sins that grieve the Holy Spirit need to repent of their sin. Those who, while remaining in Christ's sheepfold, commit sin need to repent. Those who have rejected the blood of Christ and the guidance and word of the Holy Spirit, who have crossed over the boundary, who have completely left the sheepfold-they need to listen to the call of the Good Shepherd. He is standing at the gate of the sheepfold calling the hardened sinner back in; but he won't call forever.

Those who, despite their sins, remain in the sheepfold, can be assured of God's preserving power and grace. In terms of this morning's sermon, they are convicted by the Holy Spirit and confess their sins. They believe in Jesus Christ. They accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit. They accept the Holy Spirit's application of all the benefits of Christ.

Having been born of God we do not continue in sin. We turn away from sin. The only begotten Son of God keeps us safe. The devil cannot harm us.

We await the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. For, since Pentecost, that is the only thing that needs yet to happen in the redemptive program of Christ. He died, arose, ascended to heaven, poured the Holy Spirit out upon the church, and now is reigning from heaven. We await his return.

And in the mean time, we the dear children of God serve the one true and eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the mean time, we keep ourselves from idols. AMEN

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. George van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2003, Rev. George van Popta

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