Is Attributing the Works of God to Satan the Unforgivable Sin?

Unforgivable SinMany believe that the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — or the unforgivable sin — occurs when someone attributes the works of the Holy Spirit to the works of the devil. This view is based on Matthew 12:31-32, where some of the religious rulers state that Jesus was casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of demons (Matthew 12:24).

This is one of the most popular views about the unforgivable sin.

Attributing the Works of the Spirit to the Devil

It is often taught that this sin is committed when a person sees a miraculous work of the Spirit, and rather than give glory to God for what was done, gives credit to the devil instead.

It is believed that this sin is committed when people see the works and miracles of God, but state that the miracles are being performed the power of Satan rather than by the power of God.

This view is commonly held in Pentecostal charismatic circles where miracles, healings, and demonic exorcisms are a frequent occurrence. Leaders of these ministries sometimes state if other people write off supernatural healings, demonic exorcisms, and the gift of tongues as possibly coming from the devil, such people deny the power of the Holy Spirit and commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, which supposedly is the unforgivable sin.

Of course, in some charismatic circles, the behavior goes way beyond healing and prophecy and speaking in tongues. Some churches engage in holy laughter, barking like dogs and braying like donkeys, getting slain in the Spirit, rolling in the isles, and having tooth fillings changed to gold.

Yet when non-charismatic Christian leaders state that these sorts of activities are unbiblical and therefore not of God, they are sometimes condemned by charismatic leaders as having committed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

So essentially, those who believe that that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is attributing the works of the Holy Spirit to the devil use the fear of this sin to keep other people from challenging or questioning whether are not their miracles really come from God.

In other words, those who hold to this view use it to quell any challenges and quiet any questions about their ministry. They tell others to not question and not challenge them, because if they do, they might be committing the unforgivable sin.

Problems with this View on the Unforgivable Sin

Though this is a popular view, it is not the best interpretation of Matthew 12:31-32.

First, Scripture is clear that not everything that appears spiritual is from the Holy Spirit. Satan can and does counterfeit the work of God.

Second, we are supposed to test the spirits and see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). If we believe a certain activity is not from God but is a counterfeit deception, it is our obligation to denounce it. It does not seem that God would tell us to test the spirits and denounce those that were false if doing so could accidentally cause someone to commit blasphemy against the Spirit. The warning of Jesus against this sin in Matthew 12 seems to indicate that one commits it intentionally; not accidentally.

Furthermore, many religions and cults other than Christianity see miracles, signs, wonders, speaking in tongues, ecstatic experiences, dreams, visions, healings, and other such things. Certainly charismatics would be quick to denounce these practices as not being from the Holy Spirit, for they are not performed within “Christian” churches. But since these practices are nearly identical in form and frequency as those done in charismatic circles, these charismatic teachers must be careful about condemning these practices in other religions, for could it not be possible that these other miraculous experiences are also from the Holy Spirit? If so, then these charismatic teachers are attributing a work of the Holy Spirit to the devil, and are therefore speaking blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (according to their own definition).

After all, God works in mysterious ways, and we cannot be certain that the Holy Spirit is not at work in the lives of other religious practitioners—even in miraculous ways—with the intent of bringing them to faith in Jesus Christ.

If charismatics are right, they must not condemn any miraculous utterance, prophecy, sign, miracle, answer to prayer, or spiritual experience of any person or religious group as being of the devil, for there is no way to be certain when and where the Holy Spirit is blowing (John 3:8).

So although this theory is compelling and seems to fit the context of Matthew 12:31-32, the fact that it is impossible to live out in real life indicates that it is not the proper understanding. Theology must not only fit with Scripture, but must also fit with what can be lived out in life.

Fourthly and finally, however, this view does not actually fit the context of Matthew 12:31-32.

While it is undoubtedly true that in the context of Matthew 12:31-32 Jesus is performing miracles and casting out demons, and the Pharisees accuse Jesus of doing such things by the power of Beelzebub, this does not mean that condemning the work of the Holy Spirit as a work of the devil is the same as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

Note that Jesus does not actually say that the religious leaders have committed the unpardonable sin. Instead, He says they are in danger of committing it. They were on the path to committing this sin, and Jesus was warning them about it. After all, if they had already committed it, why would Jesus warn them about it? He wouldn’t have.

Though the Pharisees accusation Jesus of working together with the devil, Jesus warns them that if they continue on the path they are on, they may likely commit the unpardonable sin. They have not committed it yet, but if they persist in denying all the evidence that is before them, they may come to a place where they put themselves beyond the reach of forgiveness.

So this proves that attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is not the unforgivable sin. ⇦ Tweet that!

If you make a mistake in testing the spirits, you are forgiven!

Though we should always strive to rightly discern the Spirits and to see when something is being done by the Spirit of God or by an evil spirit, if we make a mistake and discern wrongly, we have not committed the unforgivable sin. We have simply made an error in judgment, for which there is infinite grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

The Holy Spirit is not so sensitive as to condemn forever those who confuse His works with those of the devil. ⇦ Tweet that!

He understands that we are influenced in many ways by many voices and that sometimes we lash out at Him in anger, saying things that we do not mean, and thinking things we later regret.

It is a serious sin to say that something is evil when it is good, and this is why Jesus warns the Pharisees when they say this about His miracles. So while such a sin is getting close to the unforgivable sin, it is not the sin itself.

If you have attributed to works of the Holy Spirit to the devil, do not think that God has left you or that the Holy Spirit has abandoned you. Neither is the case. God still loves you and forgives you, and the Holy Spirit is still with you, drawing you to be more like Jesus Christ. If this were not so, you would not be reading this post.

So be encouraged. Be comforted. Recognize that you are forgiven. Then ask God to help you move on from whatever you have said or did so that you can know the truth of His infinite love, and be drawn deeper into fellowship with Him.

Receive all my posts on the Unpardonable Sin by email!

There are about 20 of these posts, and you will receive one every two days. This will allow you to spend the next 40 days finding freedom from the fear of committing the unforgivable sin. The final email in this series will also contain a free PDF copy of my book on the Unforgivable Sin.

Add your name and email address below to get started.

(Note that if you already receive email updates, filling out this form will take you to an "Update Subscription" page where you can opt-in to receive the posts on the Unpardonable Sin by email.)

Want to learn more about Scripture and Theology?

Skeleton ChurchWhen you choose to receive my blog posts by email below, you will also receive my future eBooks for FREE.

As a bonus, you will immediately get access to one of my most popular eBooks: The Skeleton Church.

Enter your email address below to get started.


Comments

  1. Mk says

    pray for me, when I was growing up I always had this thought in the back of my mind, that I would do something that would caused me to be eternally lost, so I was afraid of heights, if I drink I might curse God or something, so I stay away from that, I was a very fearful child, I always was interested in God, I always believed but didn’t know how to live a saved life,people that were saved they always talked about the don’ts never that God loves you . I prayed the pray for salvation and asked Jesus into my life. Then I joined a church I loved reading the Good News bible back in the 70s. I was very legalistic. 2 yrs into my walk,I would hear cursing over my head, one day at church I heard a voice that said clap your hands I said go to he–.and it felt like The Spirit left me I became weak after church I went to this scripture in Matt 12 I prayed and prayed it was like silence I continued in church but dry I would get hope but still no peace about what I did, every 5 yrs it seems like it would reoccur,get counseled get better, so to make a long story short, here I am today still struggling with the curse word, evil thoughts to myself, I read your comments again and again. I feel like my life is just going around in circles never really accomplishing anything.

    • says

      Mk,
      I am sorry you are experiencing this. Know that no matter what, Jesus loves you, forgives you, and is not upset at the thoughts or words that enter your head. We live in a broken world where bad things happen and people have difficulties. He understands and is with you in your pain and fear and doubt.

  2. Ann-Olivia says

    Jeremy, I’m terribly afraid I have committed this sin. I read a user comment on a website called Tektonics.org under The Unforgivable Sin. It said that ‘ whoever has such an unrepentant, hardened heart capable of thinking ‘ You have Satan in You. ‘ then not feeling bad after has committed it.

    Well here’s my story: I kept having all these thoughts. I don’t think I believe them in my heart. But I told the Holy Spirit he knew my heart better than I knew it, and he knows whether I have committed blasphemy or not. What if he thinks I actually did?! I’m really worried, please answer soon. It’s just every day the thoughts keep getting worse and worse. I don’t want my heart to be hardened.

  3. Ann-Olivia says

    It’s just that I’m worried, this man who commented online said The Spirit led him through Scripture and showed him what the sin was. I just really need assurance of my salvation because unlike this guy online, the Holy Spirit didn’t come and talk to me about this. I’m nervous. And sometimes I’m not worried at all. I’m not sure if it’s because I have been forgiven or if it’s because I don’t care because I have blasphemed him? Please help ASAP!

    • says

      Ann-Olivia,
      First, don’t believe that guy who said the Holy Spirit led him through the Bible to show him what this sin was. People say all the time “The Lord told me” or “God showed me” but this is just a tactic some people use to make sure nobody questions or challenges their ideas. In my opinion, it seems that this is taking the Lord’s name in vain.

      Second, You have not committed the unpardonable sin. Are you concerned about it? Of course you are. Otherwise you wouldn’t be leaving these comments. That means that the Spirit is still at work in your life, and that you don’t want to hurt or offend Him. But even if you did hurt or offend Him, He would still love and forgive you. He is not so easy offended or scared off from us.

  4. Matthew Richardson says

    On second thought, it is actually the devil that is being accused here. Not God. The only sin is not believing that Jesus was God. This is not unforgivable. It reamined possible for the accusers (while they yet lived) to accept the truth at a later date.

  5. Thomas says

    The controversy about the sin that will never be forgiven is deep and complex, and so I must write more than a short response here. Jeremy, most Bible commentaries I’ve read (and probably that you have read, too) agree that the Pharisees of Matthew 12 definitely did speak against the Holy Spirit, and that the Lord Jesus strongly implied that they did so. Greek and Bible scholar Spiro Zodhiates wrote that “speaking against the Holy Spirit” in the original language refers to a single, not continuous, blasphemy. I can fully understand, therefore, why charismatics and many others maintain that a single incident of such a blasphemy will result in one’s eternal damnation in the lake of fire (regardless of any “change of mind” that might follow the incident).

    Such is plainly the literal interpretation of the passage! Consider also the following: more than one Pharisee was involved in the accusation and Jesus knew THEIR thoughts, but in all likelihood, just ONE Pharisee was a spokesman for the others (otherwise they all spoke in unison!) Yet the text indicates that the accusation against our Lord was a collective sin.

    On the other hand, as you indicated, Jeremy, the Lord did not explicitly say that they had spoken the blasphemy that would never be forgiven. And after His response to them, the Pharisees didn’t drop dead, like Ananias and Sapphira did, after the apostle Peter revealed that they had lied to the Holy Spirit, in Acts 5:5-10. Perhaps they themselves didn’t understand the Lord was telling them they were unforgiveable. (Yet if the Pharisees didn’t commit the unpardonable blasphemy, is there any example in the Scriptures of anyone who had?)

    Furthermore, Peter also rebuked the hearers at Pentecost who said that the tongues speakers who were actually filled with the Holy Spirit were drunk, and corrects them, (Acts 2:13-21) but does not say they had spoken against the Holy Ghost. Truly enough, the Lord in His Matthew 12 response MIGHT only be issuing a strong warning for all of His hearers (and readers!), without also condemning the Pharisees of His day. But might implies uncertainty, and so the literal understanding could instead, in fact, be correct, in my opinion. Those who maintain that interpretation, of course, have to live by it themselves, so they must always be very careful about what they say, and think, all the time. They would have to believe that God would never forgive any misspeaking, carelessness, or confusion on their part on saying anything at all about or to the Holy Spirit or the work and person of Jesus.

    In the first century, pious Jews would not utter the personal name of God, lest they mispronounce it and thus sin grievously. But are we not to have teachings about and indeed from the Holy Spirit in God’s word? Therefore, there could be a risk that we might say or hear something that would constitute blasphemy were it untrue, or in any other way wrong.

    In my opinion, the “hard sayings” of our Lord are just that, that we might meditate on them, again and again. The most conservative readers of the Scriptures say, let’s be safe and careful, lest we speak against the Holy Spirit and end up in hell forever. Such a careful approach to this solemn matter is prudent for one to apply to himself, but quick condemnations are not appropriate for mere mortals to make concerning what others have said. God alone has the final word.

    Could it be, if any of the Pharisees of Matthew 12, etc. had a change of mind, they were speaking against the Son of Man (forgiveable), but if not, they were speaking against the Holy Ghost (unforgiveable)? This speculative question is simply not answered directly in the Scriptures.

    Then again, immediately after His solemn declaration about the sin that would never be forgiven (Matthew 12:32), the Lord says “Either make the tree good, and his fruit good…” (12:33, KJV) and seems to imply that the Pharisees (again, after their wicked accusation) and the other hearers (readers) should make/(choose?) the right (assessment of His work?) and reject the wrong one, in this context. (But again, perhaps 12:33 was really only addressed to those who heard Him whose hearts were open to a change of mind, and not to the wicked Pharisees.)

    Consider also, an apparently earlier, basically identical, accusation in Matthew 9:34, where the Christ made no response to it. Then, there’s also Luke 11:15, where Jesus makes a similar response but no reference (in Luke 11:17-26) to a sin that will never be forgiven. No doubt the charge the Pharisees made was deliberate, and one they had premeditated, in a desperate effort to turn the people against Him. These and other incidents, especially including the one in Mark 3:20-30, are relevant, and probably other passages of Scripture are as well, in helping us understand what this terrible sin is, and is not. No doubt you cover them all as well in your book on the subject, Jeremy.

    Many readers/hearers mainly only consider Matthew 12:32, about the sin never being forgiven, in all the relevant passages. It’s easy to imagine that there would/could/might be countless expressions made about or to the third person of the Holy Trinity that would constitute speaking against Him. Would denying His existence be one form of the blasphemy that would never be forgiven? How then could any atheist be converted and saved? How about denying the triune nature of God? If so, no Jehovah’s Witnesses could be saved, nor any of the other countless religionists who deny the personhood of the Holy Ghost. Could one commit this blasphemy (perhaps being unaware of the passages that discuss this sin) and simply have no memory of it, maybe doing so going off into, or in, a state of sleep? If so, any of us could fall into that category (we can’t know for certain that we never did it, since our memories are imperfect), and we wouldn’t know until Judgment Day that we had. Yes, these are extreme examples I am considering, but I’m just thinking through the matter with thoroughness. Ironically, also, a literal interpretation means a mute person like the one healed in Matthew 12 (or perhaps one that was completely illiterate, unable to write) could in no way commit such a sin. Is that what our Lord had in mind?

    Finally, for whatever it’s worth, the Catholic Church, surely an ancient community of believers at least, teaches that “final impenitence” will never be forgiven, a conceptual interpretation of the passages rather than a literal one, but one that seems to have support within the relevant scriptures collectively. While at first glance this is a more liberal, gracious position, in another way of considering it, virtually any persistent sin could be considered an eternal sin, if not completely overcome by the end of one’s life. Is that what our Lord meant? Again, we must consider with all gravity and sincerity of mind what He did say, reflect on it soberly,and take heed.

    Of course, much more can and should be said on this vital subject, but that’s plenty, more than enough, for now!

  6. Soul says

    You say that they had not commited the sin yet, but you did not show scriptures are you just assuming? Where is he saying they are in danger of committing the sin?I dont see that scripture either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *