Do not Grieve the Holy Spirit of God by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “Darkness and Light” published in 1982.
‘And grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.’
We come in our systematic study of the fourth chapter of this Ephesian Epistle, to the arresting and amazing statement which the Apostle here, as it were, hurls into the midst of a series of practical injunctions and exhortations. And surely as we find ourselves confronted by this thirtieth verse, there must be many things which come immediately into our minds. The first is that there is nothing, perhaps, which is quite so characteristic of the method of this great man of God, the Apostle Paul, as the way in which he does the very thing which we are considering here. Though he has an obvious division of his matter in this Epistle, as in every other, dealing with his doctrines in the first half and then going on to their practical application, he is never a slave to method. And thus you find him in the practical section, while actually dealing with specific, particular matters in a thoroughly practical and pastoral manner, suddenly hurling in a mighty statement like this, which again brings us face to face with the great central, pivotal doctrines of our Christian faith and profession. And in doing so, the Apostle really does show us not only his own method but certain profound truths about the whole of our Christian life and deportment.
The first thing we must consider is the question of the connection of this particular statement. And here there is disagreement among commentators, not serious of course, because in the last analysis it does not really matter. There are those who say that the statement really comes as a kind of climax to what Paul has already been saying; that having told us not to lie and not to be angry in a wrong sense, and having told us not to steal any more, and not to allow any corrupt communication to proceed out of our mouth, he says in effect, Be sure not to fall into these sins, because to do so is to grieve the holy Spirit of God. And, of course, this is perfectly true. But I think it is equally true to say that when the Apostle penned these words he also had in mind what was to follow: `Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice; and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.’ In the analysis which I put before you when we were dealing with verse 17, I suggested that this thirtieth verse is an introduction to that which is to come, rather than a summing up and enforcing of that which has gone before. I say all this merely for the sake of orderliness and the tidiness of our minds and our thinking. The more tidy our minds are as we read the Scriptures the better Christians we shall be. But undoubtedly, as I say, this statement covers both the preceding exhortations and injunctions and also those which follow. It comes here as a kind of centre, a focus, of all that is said in regard to the particulars.
In the second place, in this verse we have what may very well be described as the differentia of Christian ethics; that is to say, we have here what really makes Christian ethics what it is and differentiates it from every other kinds of moral or ethical system. All the others will tell you not to lie, they will tell you always to speak the truth, tell you not to lose your temper but always to be controlled and disciplined; they will tell you not to steal, they will tell you not to use bad language or any kind of corrupt communication, and to be kind and good, helpful and philanthropic; they do all that, but never in their systems do you find the command, `and grieve not the holy Spirit of God’; never! This is, I say, the peculiar thing, the differentia, the thing that marks it off, separates it, from everything else. And that is important, of course, in this way, that unless our conception of the Christian life and of Christian living and of conduct and of behaviour includes such a command and is based upon it, and is always leading us in this direction, it is not truly Christian. Good conduct is not of necessity Christian. And it is a tragic fact in the life and history of the Church, that so often morality, a morality which may even use Christian terminology, is taken for Christianity. But this is the test: Is the whole of our life centred in a truth like this? is this at the very heart of our whole outlook upon conduct and behaviour and at the very heart of our practice?
Furthermore, in this verse and statement, we have what we may well describe as the very heart and nerve and centre of the biblical doctrine of Sanctification. It is an appeal, yes, but notice the kind and the type of appeal that it is. Notice the nature of the Apostle’s appeal. Negatively he is not appealing to them to conform to a law or to a moral code or a code of ethics. He mentions no such thing. His appeal is not on a legal level, it is not that Christians should keep up to a certain standard. Standards are good in their place, but that is not the peculiarly Christian thing. Still more important is it to observe that Paul does not appeal to believers to refrain from certain things for their own benefit. In this his argument is quite opposed to certain popular schools of thought and of teaching which invariably teach sanctification in terms of ourselves. They come to us and say, Are you having any trouble in your life? are you being got at by a particular sin? are you being constantly defeated? If so, come to us, and to our clinic, and we will help you to deal with the particular sin that is getting you down. Not a word of that here, for it is not the biblical way of presenting sanctification. It does not start with ourselves, it is not in terms of ourselves. It does not say to us, If you want to live a victorious life and to be really happy and to have great enjoyment and wonderful experiences, stop doing this and that. Not at all! Of course, evil things are bad for me, and of course, as I am about to show, they will affect my experience, but that is not the first thing. If we lack understanding of biblical doctrine we shall betray the fact by the things we put first; it is the thing a man puts first that really tells you where he stands and what is his foundation.
Here he shows us what it should be. It is His glory! That is why I must not do certain things. `Grieve not the holy Spirit of GOD, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.’ Here is the Christian way, here is the biblical way of looking at this whole matter of sanctification. Not for ourselves, but for His sake! Our sanctification, our life, our conduct, is ever to be the realisation and the outcome and the outworking of what He has done for us, and of our sense of His glory and our desire to live to the praise of the glory of His grace.
The doctrine taught by the Apostle is that wrong living in any sense, or in any shape or form, grieves the Holy Spirit of God, in whom believers are sealed until the day of redemption. The order of words in the Greek original gives further emphasis to the statement: `Grieve not the Spirit, the holy Spirit of God’! That is how the Apostle put it: `the Spirit, yea, the holy Spirit of God, in whom ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’!
The first thing, obviously, that we are taught here pertains to the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. It reminds us that in the first chapter the Apostle puts it in this same interesting and extraordinary manner in terms of sealing. And here in his fourth chapter we are told that the seal that God gives us of the fact that we are among the redeemed is the Holy Spirit Himself. It is not a statement regarding what the Holy Spirit does to us, but that God seals us with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit himself is the seal. And He seals unto us the gift of salvation and all its concomitants, as the Apostle assures us in the first chapter, where he says; `in whom, after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession’. And here in this fourth chapter, the Apostle, taking it for granted that they are mindful of what he has already told them, now simply makes use of that argument in order to enforce and to apply this series of particular injunctions with regard to their ethical conduct and behaviour.
The important thing for us to hold in our minds at this particular stage is that the Holy Spirit has been given to us and that He dwells within us. No man is a Christian unless the Holy Spirit is in him. `If a man have not the Spirit of Christ’, says Paul to the Roman Christians, `he is none of his’ (8:9). This is a doctrine that runs right through the New Testament. We need not go into it here in particular. In chapter 3 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians the Apostle reminds us that the Holy Spirit dwells within the church as a body; at the end of chapter 6 in that same Epistle the Apostle puts it like this, `What? know ye not’—and he is now talking about the individual, not about the church as a body—`know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? for ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’ (verses 19-20). The thing which the Apostle surely has in the forefront of his mind in this thirtieth verse of the fourth chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians is, that the Holy Spirit dwells within us, that our bodies are the temple in which the Holy Spirit dwells. Now we shall see how he applies that argument and works it out.
The second thing which the Apostle tells us is that the Holy Spirit can be grieved. Now this, I say, is a most wonderful and astounding statement, and it sheds a flood of light upon the whole Christian doctrine of redemption. Christians are always to remember that God is eternal, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is! He is independent of everything, He exists in Himself, existed before time, before the world was, and He has no need of anything. There is a great theological term which I must use at this point because it helps to express the idea which here faces us—God is impassible; by which is meant just this, that God is not only not dependent upon us, or upon the world, or upon all the things that happen in it, but in an ultimate sense is not affected by them at all. You and I are creatures who are constantly being affected by the things that happen round and about us, and that is why we give place to anger and to wrath and the various other things with which we have been dealing; we are subject to them and we are affected by them. But God in and of Himself is outside it all. And yet we are told here by the Apostle, `Grieve not the holy Spirit of God’!
Now how are these two things reconciled? That is the question. In an ultimate sense we cannot reconcile them, it is a great mystery that is beyond our understanding; but we are entitled to say this, that because of the way of salvation and redemption, and as a very part of these mercies, God as it were has stooped to our level. We see it in the incarnation of the Son; He took on human nature, and therefore He knows our ignorance and our weakness and our frailty; He knew by experience what it was to hunger and to thirst and to be tired; He brought Himself within that possibility. And here we are told the same thing about the Holy Spirit, that for the purposes of redemption and of salvation, because He has come to reside and to dwell in us, it is possible for us to grieve Him. Now this is a kind of temporary condition, but it is a true one. In salvation He has put Himself into a relationship to us in which it is possible for us to hurt Him, to grieve Him, to disappoint Him.
The analogy that we must bear in our minds is obviously this, that our relationship to the Holy Spirit is a relationship of love. And this is the very essence of the Christian doctrine of salvation. We have finished with law, we are no longer under law; but we are under grace, and we must never think of ourselves in those old legal terms. When a Christian sins, what he should be most conscious of is not so much that he has done that which is wrong, or even that he has broken God’s law; what should really trouble him is this, that he has offended against love. The very term grieve establishes that. Our relationship is now a personal one. And it is because we forget this personal relationship that we get most of our troubles and problems in our Christian lives and experiences. We will persist in regarding the Holy Spirit as no more than an influence or as a kind of power. But we must realise that He is a Person! You cannot grieve an influence, you can only grieve a person. You cannot hurt a power, you can only hurt a person. He can be disappointed in us. A principle cannot be disappointed, it is only a person who can be disappointed. And here, I say, is one of the most vital and important things for us ever to grasp, that we are in this relationship to the Holy Spirit; if we are Christians He is in us, He dwells within us! Wherever we are, He is! And let us never forget His tenderness. Is He not represented in the Scriptures as a dove? He descended upon our Lord at the baptism in the Jordan in semblance of a dove! And that is the Spirit who dwells within us. He is in us, our bodies are His very temple.
Now obviously all this is only true of those who are believers; it cannot apply to a non-Christian. An unbeliever can resist the Holy Spirit, but he cannot grieve Him. The only person who can grieve Him is one who belongs to the family, and is in this personal relationship. It is in this way that I, as a Christian, must look at sanctification; not simply in terms of particular actions or happenings or experiences. I must forget all that, as it were, and realise that the Spirit is in me and is always with me. My every action is known to Him, and it is possible for me to grieve Him, to disappoint Him, to sadden Him. That is the meaning of this term grieve.
Our next point follows in logical sequence. How then do we, or may we, grieve the Holy Spirit of God? And the answer is plain before us. Anything that we do which is not holy is grieving to Him. `Grieve not the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God!’And this must be interpreted in its fullest sense. Obviously the things that the Apostle has been detailing grieve the Spirit. Anything which belongs to the flesh grieves the Spirit. Take the list given in Galatians 5: ‘Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like.’ All works of the flesh, and they grieve the Holy Spirit of God. But let us remember that we grieve Him not only in actual deeds or practices. We have been reminded already that we can grieve Him with our words. He is always with us, He hears everything we say, `Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth’, therefore. He is grieved by it: and by other things that Paul goes on to mention. But we must go a step further. You can grieve Him by your thoughts. He is in you! He is within you!How often has the devil tripped us all at this point? You say, But I don’t do such and such a thing. No, I know you do not do it, and you may not have done it because you are a coward, but you thought it, and you enjoyed it, and you played with it in your imagination, and you thought all was well because you had not done it. Not at all! you have grieved Him! An unworthy or an impure thought, a thought of anger, jealousy, or envy, grieves Him, hurts Him, as much as does the action. Everything is known to Him; He knows the innermost recesses of your mind and heart and being, and He is as much grieved by unworthy thoughts as by unworthy words and unworthy actions.
But these are not the only ways in which we grieve Him. There is something which I think is even worse, namely, our failure to realise His presence within us, our failure to honour Him as we ought, our failure to realise that He is always with us. Is there anything more insulting than that? Can another person insult you or hurt you more grievously than by just going on as if you were not there? by behaving and conducting himself or herself as if you were not in the room? Is there anything more humiliating? As Christians then, we are never to forget that the Holy Spirit of God is in us and with us. Do we honour Him? To fail to do so is to grieve Him!
And then another way in which we grieve the Spirit lies in our failure to respond to His promptings and His leadings and His influences, and all that He does in us and to us and upon us in order to further the work of sanctification within us. The Holy Spirit has been given to apply the redemption that has been purchased and worked out for us by the blessed Son of God. It is He that works in us both to will and to do, says Paul, of His good pleasure. And we then work out what the Holy Spirit works in us constantly, as He dwells within us. `The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh’! He is within us in order to do that. It is He who prompts us, who leads us, who creates desires within us. You suddenly find yourself desiring to read the Word: the Spirit is at work! He suddenly will stimulate you perhaps to prayer, or to meditation. He will tell you to leave something, and to do something; it is all the Spirit, it is all a part of His great work of sanctification. Not to respond, or to postpone, or to say, Well, I cannot do that now, I am doing something else; or to fail to give yourself and to be led by Him —oh! these are the ways in which we grieve Him. `As many as are led by the Spirit of God’, says Paul to the Christians in Rome, `they are the sons of God.’ If you do not follow His leadings, or if you try to thwart them, or if you try to postpone them, it is to grieve Him. Fall back upon the human analogy—the parent and the child—and you will see how the Spirit can be grieved by any disinclination on our part, by any tendency to say, I will do it later on, putting Him off, as it were; how grieving to the Spirit that we should not immediately respond and recognise His working and be grateful to Him for condescending to dwell within us and to be concerned about our sanctification!
So you see these are some of the ways in which we do and can grieve the Spirit. Why should we not grieve the Spirit? Why must we pay heed to this exhortation of the Apostle: `Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption’? The words are an appeal both to our hearts and to our understanding. It is not only the understanding, it is, as I have been emphasising, very much the heart and the sensibilities. Why should we not grieve Him? In a sense I have already been answering the question. We must not grieve Him because He is who and what He is. And that ought to be enough! He is the third Person in the blessed, Holy Trinity, and He is dwelling as a guest within us, in our very bodies, `a gracious, willing Guest’. The very greatness of His Person ought to be enough for us. We all know what this is in practice, do we not? There are certain things that we may normally do, but if we happen to have some distinguished guest staying in the house we refrain from doing them; we feel instinctively we should be on our best behaviour when we have got some honourable person with us. If there are little children in the house they are told to keep quiet, not to make too much noise in the morning, or at any other time, because so-and-so is staying here. Quite right! It is a mark of respect and of honour. People take great trouble to read books of etiquette in order that they may behave properly in certain high social circles. Think of the punctiliousness with which people study the rules if they should have the privilege of being presented to the Queen. How careful we would be of our speech in Buckingham Palace! We should be infinitely more careful of our speech wherever we are, because of the Guest who dwells within us. Our thoughts, our imaginations—He is there, He knows about them! It is comparable to swearing in the presence of a saint, or using unworthy language in the presence of some holy person. This is Christian sanctification—a realization that He is within us! Not, how can I get rid of this sin or that? Instead, we must think of HIM; that is incentive enough. We do not need some magical experience, we must just realise the truth which is given to us in the Word of God! If we but realised that He is always within us, our whole conduct and deportment would be entirely different.
Again, think of the base ingratitude that we are guilty of when we grieve Him in any way. Think of all that has been done for us; think of the planning of God in eternity; think of the subordination of the Son to the Father, and of the Spirit to the Son and the Father. Think of the Spirit as co-equal, co-eternal, the third Person in the blessed, Holy Trinity, and yet for our redemption He subordinated Himself, and He has even condescended to dwell within us. It is base ingratitude not to realise the Person and not always to do everything that is well pleasing in His sight. To grieve Him is to be a cad, it is to be guilty of a base ingratitude for all He has done for us.
Another thing that grieves the Spirit, as the Apostle reminds us here, is a complete failure on our part to understand the final object of salvation. What is the final object of salvation? that my sins may be forgiven? that I may be happy all the day? that I may get rid of all the problems in my life? Not at all! These are incidentals. What is the end and object in view? It is the day of redemption! `Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until . . .’— that is the end!Oh, these lesser things, thank God for them, while we are passing through this world of time; but they are the temporaries. The grand end lies ahead. What is it? It is the day of the Lord that is coming, it is the day when Christ will come back and judge the world in righteousness, and destroy His every enemy, and when He will remove every vestige of evil out of the whole cosmos, and usher in His everlasting kingdom. And we, as believers, shall be in it, in glorified bodies, perfect, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, a part of this glorious Church, the bride of Christ, with everything which is unworthy and evil removed. That is the end, the day of redemption, the coming in of the full and final and perfect salvation!
The Apostle has really said it all in the fourth verse of the first chapter: `according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love’. The end of redemption and salvation is not so much the particular things that may be true of us here and now in this world, but that `we should be holy and without blame before him in love’—in this world, yes, but especially at that great day, the day of redemption! A man, therefore, who grieves the Spirit does not understand as he ought the whole object and purpose of redemption. Why did Christ die on the cross? Was it simply that you might not go to hell? No! Answer the question positively—that you might go to glory! Do not always look at the negative; do not say, I am delivered from this, that, and the other; of course you are, but you are delivered for, prepared for! It is that which matters. Is it not tragic when people preach sanctification in subjective, personal terms, instead of holding before us the vision of the day of redemption, the glory that awaits us, the perfection for which we are being prepared? That is the object of it all! Peter, putting in his own style and words the thing which Paul says here, tells us, `He that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins.’ `Add to your faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge’, and so on, says Peter, in his Second Epistle, for if you do these things you will have `an abundant entrance’ into that final state of the kingdom of God. The trouble, alas, in our lives is that we either do not know, or do not believe, or do not apply these Christian doctrines. And to display a final kind of ignorance at the very centre about the whole object of redemption, is to grieve the Spirit.
Thus I have given you the great things, and they ought to be enough, but in order to encourage and to help, let me become personal and, indeed, subjective. For your own sake, do not grieve the Spirit, because if you grieve Him it will inevitably lead to a loss of the gracious manifestations of His presence. Grieve Him and He will withdraw Himself. I mean by that, He will withdraw the manifestations of Himself. If you grieve the Spirit, you will not have a sense of God’s love to you, you will not have the joy of salvation, you will have no assurance, you will not have certainty, you will not have peace, you will not be able to say, The Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God. All that is implied in the sealing; and if you grieve the Spirit the evidences of your sealing will become faint, and indeed, may altogether disappear. Do not misunderstand me, I am not saying you are lost, but I am saying that you will miss and lose the comforts! The Christian is a man who is meant to know the joy of the Lord. `Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say, Rejoice’, says Paul to the Philippians. He is also saying it here to the Ephesians. The Christian is not a man who trudges his weary way through this world, moaning and bemoaning. When he looks within he sees nothing but sin, and he does moan; but he must not merely look inward, he must look out, and as he sees himself in Christ, he should be filled with joy unspeakable and full of glory; he should go singing as he marches to Zion. `Children of the heavenly King, as ye journey sweetly sing; sing your Saviour’s worthy praise, glorious in His works and ways.’ But you will not be able to do so, if you grieve the Spirit! All the tender visitations of His love, and the intimations of His rejoicing in you, will be withdrawn, and you will be left to yourself, and you will lose all the wonderful experiences of the times when He comes and embraces you and enfolds you in the arms of His love and lets you know that you belong to Him. So for your own sake grieve not the Spirit.
But then let me add to that. If you grieve the Spirit and He withdraws His gracious influences, it means that He leaves you to the supremacy of the flesh; that is to say, you will be left with all the power of the flesh within you, and the devil making use of it to attack you. He will assault you, he will insinuate vile, foul, ugly thoughts and desires into your mind and heart. You will feel that you are living in hell and that hell is within you. And it is all because the Spirit, in order to teach you a lesson, is no longer, as it were, striving against the flesh. You have grieved Him. So if you are being subjected to most terrible temptations, examine yourself; it may be that you are being delivered over to Satan, to correct you and to bring you to your senses, and to lead you not to grieve the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God.
Finally, if we grieve the Spirit and He withdraws His manifestations, this does not mean that He will abandon us. He will come back; He is there the whole time, He has just withdrawn His gracious manifestations, and He will convict us, He will thunder out the law again, He will make us feel we were never saved, that we are lost, that we are damned and reprobate; He will do it in order to bring us back again to where we ought to be. And if you do not want to know these mighty strivings and convictions of the Spirit within you, do not grieve Him. Let us be clear about this doctrine. The Spirit never abandons the child of God; the seal is a seal, and a seal is no seal which can be broken at any moment and then put back again and then broken again. You do not go in and out of salvation; you are not saved today and lost tomorrow and then saved again. That is not biblical teaching. A seal is a seal, it is God’s seal, and no man can break it. So that when I say the Spirit withdraws Himself, I do not mean He goes out of you; He still stays there, but the gracious manifestations are withdrawn. And then because He is still in you He will convict you, He will strike you down, He will prostrate you, He will make you feel helpless and hopeless. And then, when you feel that you are abandoned by Him, He will again reveal the Lord Jesus Christ to you as your Saviour who died for you and who still loves you, and He will wash away your sin again and He will smile upon you once more, and He will restore unto you the joy of salvation. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. He is in you and He will have you, and He will bring you to that glory of perfection; and if you will not be led by Him, be sure that He will chastise you! `He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ Do not grieve Him, I warn you, do not grieve Him! For if you do you will bring upon yourself grievous experiences and agonies of soul that you need never have had.
What then are we to do? Simply this!—remember that the Spirit is always in you. Start your day by saying, I am a child of God, and therefore the Holy Spirit of God dwells within me. Wherever I may be, whatever I may have to do, whatever may happen to me, He will be with me; my every thought, word and deed will be in His sight and in His presence. Oh, how I thank God for the privilege! how careful I should be in nothing to grieve Him or to disappoint Him! Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed until the day of redemption. Remember Him, remember what He is doing in you, think of the glory for which He is preparing you, and the things that grieve Him will become unthinkable. [264-277]