Many 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 (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 argue that when others 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. When non-charismatic Christian leaders argue that these sorts of activities are unbiblical and therefore not of God, they are condemned by charismatic leaders for being guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.
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.
So we are supposed to test the spirits and see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). If we are convinced a certain activity is not from God but is a counterfeit deception from the devil, 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. This warning of Jesus against this sin indicates 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, but since these practices are nearly identical in form and frequency as in charismatic circles, how can they be certain that in condemning these practices in other religions, they are not in fact attributing to the devil a work of the Holy Spirit?
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.
But aside from even the impracticality of this view, it does not actually fit the context of Matthew 12:31-32 as well as we might initially presume. 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, but rather were on the path to committing it. If they had already committed it, why would Jesus warn them about it?
So attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to the devil is not the unforgivable sin.
Though the Pharisees do make such an accusation against Jesus, He is simply warning 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 are beyond the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness.
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.