Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

- Ephesians 4:30

Given the biblical doctrine of the Trinity, we know that each person of the triune Godhead delights in that which the other persons are doing. There is a mutual indwelling (perichoresis) among the persons of the Godhead — the Father in the Son and the Spirit; the Son in the Father and the Spirit; and the Spirit in the Father and the Son. To put on Christ, then, is to put on the Father and the Spirit as well, and living out the new life in Christ according to the pattern He gives us pleases our triune Creator. On the other hand, violating the standards given to the disciples of Jesus not only grieves the Son of God but also the Father and the Spirit.

The apostle Paul makes this very point in Ephesians 4:30 when he warns us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” When we sin, the Holy Spirit experiences grief in a manner appropriate to His deity. He cannot stand the presence of sin and hates it when we, His dwelling place, entertain transgression (Hab. 1:13). Yet even though the reality of His grief proves the Spirit’s personhood, His grief is not exactly the same as ours. The Spirit cannot be paralyzed by grief, and His grief is always holy, undefiled by sin, ungodly jealousy, and all the other flaws that often attend our sorrow. His grief, ultimately, is a mystery. John Calvin comments, “No language can adequately express this solemn truth, that the Holy Spirit rejoices and is glad on our account, when we are obedient to him in all things, and neither think nor speak anything, but what is pure and holy; and, on the other hand, is grieved when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling.”

God’s Spirit is especially sensitive to sin because of His close relationship with us, those who have been saved and defined as the Lord’s holy people (1 Peter 1:13–16). The Spirit seals us “for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30; see 1:13–14) — He dwells within us when we trust in Christ Jesus, marking us as the people of God who will be spared divine wrath on judgment day. By the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, we are increasingly conformed to our Savior’s image, and a return to a pattern of life wholly dominated by sin is impossible for all those whom the Spirit has sealed (Rom. 8:29–30). Still, even Christians may fall into significant sin, which grieves the Spirit, introducing a distance between Him and us.

Coram Deo

Just as we experience the joy of restoration upon repentance, so we make amends for grieving the Spirit when we turn from our sin and seek to do His will. When we sense a distance in our relationship to God, it is wise to ask ourselves if we are engaged in some persistent, impenitent sin that brings the Spirit grief. He may withdraw for a time that we might recognize that our sin has grieved Him and that we need to deal with it.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 6:1–7
Isaiah 63:7–19
Mark 3:1–6
Acts 5:1–11

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