In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul gives a serious commandment: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Given the gravity of blaspheming the Holy Spirit, which we recently studied, one could imagine that grieving the Holy Spirit is pretty serious too. So, what does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit, and how can I know if I’ve done it?
Basically speaking, to grieve is to feel sad, or be laden with sorrow. The Holy Spirit is God Himself. Yes, I know that’s another study for another time, but briefly, in Acts 5, when Ananias and Sapphira (Christians in the early church) lied to the Holy Spirit because of their greed, Peter told them they had lied to God. Did that grieve the Holy Spirit? Yes, it did. Here’s how we can know.
I hope you never grow weary of Bible teachers saying you’ve got to read Bible passages in context. Here’s another time you need to hear it. To understand what it means to grieve the Holy Spirit, we’ve got to read Ephesians 4:30 in context. When you read all of Ephesians, you realize Paul’s theme in this book is the body of Christ, or the church.
In chapter one, Paul speaks of God’s divine plan in the church. Chapter two is all about how both Jews and Gentiles come together in one body. Chapter three reveals God’s mystery that is fulfilled in the church. Chapter five instructs the church to live in submission to Jesus. Chapter six explains the warfare the church is engaged in. Going back to chapter four, we see it’s all about the unity of the body of Christ. Paul pleads for the Christians to strive for the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Given that there is just one church—one body of Christ—and that there is only one faith, we should unify ourselves around the one Lord, Father, and Spirit. He finishes the chapter with these words, which include our main text about grieving the Holy Spirit:
Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another. “Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.Ephesians 4:25–32
Now that you’ve encountered the verse in context, you probably don’t need the rest of this article to answer the question, “What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit.” Both before and after Paul tells us not to grieve the Spirit, he instructs Christians how to treat one another. As the body of Christ, we’re not to lie to each other; we’re not to lose control in our anger; we shouldn’t steal from one another; we are to refrain from corrupt, bitter, and malicious speech. We are to forgive one another. We are to be kind to one another.
So, what do you think? Do you think the Holy Spirit grieves when His people backbite, divide, and tear each other down? Is He laden with sorrow when He sees His people give into sinful, selfish, and egocentric desires? You better believe it. Paul says mistreating other Christians grieves the Holy Spirit “by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” To abuse a child of God is to forget that you’ve both been redeemed. The person of Christ will, as Paul says a couple of verses beforehand, put off the old self and former conduct. If you Jesus’ disciple, you will “be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.”
How do you know if you’ve grieved the Holy Spirit? Ask yourself: Have I mistreated a fellow saint? Perhaps in a disagreement, you forgot that you two are both laboring for the Lord, and that the problem is the issue, not the person. Yes, even in this context, the Lord knows we can sometimes make each other angry. But have you sinned in your anger? Have you torn down a brother or sister for whom Christ died? Have you forgotten the goal, which is to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1)?