Grieve Not the Holy Spirit by Martyn Lloyd Jones
All the passages below are taken from Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ book “The Assurance of our Salvation.” The sermons were preached at Westminister Chapel, London, from 1952 to 1953. It was originally published in four volumes: Seed in Eternity, Safe in the World, Sanctified through the Truth, and Growing in the Spirit. It was published in one volume in 2000
Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God (Ephesians 4:30).
We are in the process of considering what is meant by the command, `Be filled with the Spirit.’ Having seen that it means to be controlled by the Person of the Spirit, who is at work in all Christians, we tried, in chapter 8, to rid our minds of the confusion which so often exists in the matter of how we reconcile our wills with the will of the Spirit. We saw that we can easily slip into a false passivity and fail to give due weight to the various exhortations of the Bible. Now clearly the Scriptures do not tell us that we have nothing to do, indeed they address many negative injunctions to us. The Apostle tells the Ephesians, for instance, that they are not to steal any longer, that no corrupt communication is to proceed out of their mouth, that they are to cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and of the mind, and that they are to avoid fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, or foolish talking and jesting. All these things we are told to refrain from; but at the same time the Scriptures teach that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling because God works in us, and we illustrated this by a number of analogies.
So, having considered this in general, let us now round off this matter by coming down to a more practical aspect; because it is not enough merely to grasp the principles, we must know something of what this means in detail—how am I to be filled with the Spirit? We have already got rid of the idea of just being filled in the sense that a vessel is filled by liquid being poured into it. As we saw, it is not merely receiving a force, or a power, or energy, but rather a question of being controlled and led by this Person, the Holy Spirit. That is the key to the understanding of the practical aspect of this matter, and I suggested, at the end of the last study, that we must bear in mind the two main things which are taught in the Scriptures themselves. The first is that there are certain things which we must avoid. Now the Bible is very careful to call our attention to this. Three different terms are used in this connection. First, we are told that when Stephen preached to the people, he said, `You do always resist the Holy Ghost…’ (Acts 7:51). Then you find in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 the injunction: `Quench not the Spirit’; and, thirdly, in Ephesians 4:30 Paul says, `Grieve not the holy Spirit of God.’
Those are the three great negative injunctions with regard to this matter, but it seems to me that for practical purposes the only one we need to concern ourselves with is the third. The first about `resisting’ the Spirit was addressed to unbelievers, and I think that it is a term that is always more applicable to an unbeliever than it is to a believer. The one who resists the operation of the Spirit is the unbeliever, and I would say that a believer cannot resist the Holy Spirit in that sense. Then the second term about `quenching’ the Spirit has reference not so much to the individual and his not being filled with the Spirit, but rather to the conduct of public services. If you read the context in 1 Thessalonians 5, you willfind that it has reference to what Christian people do to other Christians. Its whole context concerns prophecy and manifesting the various gifts of the Spirit, and the Christians in Thessalonica are exhorted not to quench the Spirit in his operations and manifestations in a public service in the church of God. So, strictly speaking, I think it is wrong to appropriate that term about quenching the Spirit to this whole matter of Christians individually being filled with the
Spirit, although, of course, there is a sense in which it does come in.
But the third injunction really includes everything. So that if we are thinking of being filled with the Spirit, the negative term that we must bear in mind is that we are exhorted not to grieve him. Now Paul puts that statement right in the midst of a great ethical exhortation to the Ephesians: `Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.’ Then immediately—`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.’
What, then, does this mean in practice? How are we to avoid grieving the Spirit? Now the very terms, it seems to me, suggest the answer. Take the very word `grieve’, for instance, a word which at once conveys to us the sensitive character of the Spirit. He is compared to a dove and he came more than once in the semblance of a dove, suggesting again his gentle, sensitive character. The Holy Spirit, if one may speak with reverence, never forces himself upon us. He is a Person and one who has those particular characteristics. If, therefore, we are anxious to be filled with the Spirit—which means being controlled and directed by him—then obviously the first thing which we must bear in mind is that in view of his character we must be careful not to grieve or offend him in any way. Still more, we must remember what his object is and what his desires are. We must never lose sight of the fact that the Holy Spirit is primarily concerned about our sanctification. He is in us, and, as James reminds us, he is `lusting even unto envy’ for our sanctification. He wants to draw us from the world and to separate us unto God. He is working in us to do that. Therefore, if we want him to have his way, we must be very careful not to grieve him.
How, then, do we grieve him? I am coming right down to the practical aspects of this question because every single item is of extreme importance. This will not be an exhaustive list, but here are some of the most important aspects of the matter. We grieve the Spirit, first of all, by forgetting him altogether and entirely ignoring his existence. Here we are confronted by the extraordinary fact that through Christ God has given us the gift of the Spirit. When our Lord had finished his work on earth, when he had gone through death and had borne our sins, when he had vanquished death and the grave, and had ascended to heaven and there taken his seat at the right hand of God, in view of all that he had done, God gave him the gift of the Spirit to give to his people and he has given us that gift. Yet we are so often entirely oblivious of that fact. We do not realise it, we do not stop to consider it. We fail to realise as we should the fact that the Holy Spirit is within us.
Now some of those members of the church at Corinth, to whom we have already referred, those people who had believed that Christ had died for them, clearly did not realise that they were guilty of sins; and Paul says to them, `Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit which is in you?’ (1 Corinthians 6:19). You are grieving him, acting and behaving as if this were not a fact, says Paul, and that is why you are in trouble. There is nothing more insulting to a person than to forget or ignore him. To pretend that you have not seen people is the supreme way of insulting them. You are walking along the street and you do not want to see someone, so you just pass him or her by—you cannot insult anybody more than by behaving like that. And yet, my friends, is not that the way we all of us tend to treat the Holy Spirit? To forget him for a moment is to grieve and insult him, and we are called upon to avoid doing this above everything else. The thing is unthinkable, and yet how frequently we behave in that way. Whatever you and I may do, the Holy Spirit is within us and he knows it all. He who is the guest within us is with us in every action and every thought, and nothing is more terrible than to forget and ignore him entirely.
Next, we ignore the Spirit by neglecting his word. The Bible, the word of God, is the work of the Holy Spirit—we have agreed about that. It is his book, written not merely by men, but
by men who were inspired and moved, borne and carried along, by the Holy Spirit: `Holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Pet 1:21). The Bible is the special work of the Holy Spirit. He is really the author of the book, and he has given it to us in order that we may learn what to avoid and what to do: so that we may be sanctified—`Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.’ Thus, if there is one thing of which we can always be absolutely certain, it is that the Holy Spirit is always guiding us to this book. It is his way of leading and directing us. He does not only lead us directly, but indirectly also, and particularly through this word. Obviously, therefore, we are grieving the Spirit if we do not study the Bible as he means us to, if we are not regular in our reading of it, or if we do not grow in our knowledge of it. Now there are many people in that position. You will often find it in discussions. You talk about a certain subject and ask how a certain problem can be solved, and you find that there are large numbers of people who regard themselves as entirely scriptural and yet say that they pray to the Spirit to guide them. But that should be quite unnecessary, because if they went to the Bible, they would find the answer to their question! It is not honouring him to ignore the word and to go directly to him, because he has already given us the answer there. The Bible is the word of the Spirit and he works in it and through it. Indeed, there are some who would say he only guides us in that way, but that, I think, is going too far. However, I would go so far as to say that his normal way of working is to guide and direct us through the word.
Once more I would commend to you a study of this matter as it is to be found in the history of the Puritans of the seventeenth century; such a study is most instructive. The great division that took place within the Puritan movement, with the Quakers on the one side, and men like Dr John Owen on the other, was on this very subject. The tendency of the Quaker was to say that he did not need the word but that the Spirit did everything for him in the `inner light’, by operating directly upon his mind. So they tended to depreciate the word, which is clearly wrong. But we must not go as far as the Puritans went and say it is the only way. The true balance is to realise that this is the normal way. Thank God that that is so, because if we are without the word because of circumstances, the Spirit can deal with us directly and he does so.
The next way we should avoid grieving the Spirit is that we must never be in any doubt or unbelief concerning the purposes and the desires of the Holy Spirit within us; and still less must we ever doubt his ability to help us. I take it that we all know what I mean by that. It is one thing to believe these things theoretically, it is quite another to believe them in actual practice. Do we really rely upon the power of the Spirit within us, or do we doubt it? Do we still harbour a certain amount of unbelief? Are we all perfectly certain that God has given us his Spirit, in order that his great purpose of sanctification in us may be brought to pass? Are we quite sure that the power of the Spirit is really sufficient and that it matters not at all what the problem is, nor how powerful the enemy, for the Spirit that is in us is greater than that which is in them? The apostle John says to his young followers, You need not be afraid. I know all about the world, the flesh and the devil. I know its subtlety, but I assure you, `Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world’ (1 John 4:4). The power that is in us is greater, and let us never forget it. We must be grieving the Holy Spirit terribly when we doubt his sufficiency. Furthermore—I am going to say something now that can be misunderstood, but it is the teaching of the Scriptures—as Christians, we must not be afraid of ourselves. That does not mean we are self-confident; because self-confidence is not a fruit of the Spirit. But we are told not to be frightened of the devil in the sense of being afraid of temptations. Rather, we are told to resist him in the faith. I must have this element of confidence in the ability and the power of the Holy Spirit within me.
But that leads me on to another terrible way of grieving the Spirit, and I can sum it up in one word: ‘self’. I suppose this is the way in which we grieve him most of all—when we elevate self in the place of the Spirit. I cannot think of a better way of illustrating this than to go back again to what I have reminded you concerning our Lord in his earthly life. Paul puts it in that great sentence: `Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 2:5). What sort of a mind was that? We are told that he was one who `made himself of no reputation’ (v. 7). In other words, he did not think of himself, but submitted himself. He always submitted to the will of his Father, to the will of the Spirit, and you and I are to do the same. Self-will in a Christian means grieving the Spirit. He wants us to submit our wills to his, to co-operate with him and to be led by him. Not that we become passive machines but, rather, we put our wills into his, and, having submitted ourselves, we then exercise our wills because they now conform to his. My illustration of the man in business applies here again. He is working as hard as he can, yes, but for a new management, not for himself. So any manifestation of self is grieving to the Spirit. If I want my way, my rights, my will, if I am sensitive about myself and my reputation, I must be grieving the Spirit, for all manifestations of self are grieving to him.
Then I go on to the next point, which is sin in all forms. It does not matter what form it takes—thoughts, imaginations, desires, lusts, passions and all wrong actions—sin is always grieving to the Spirit. We can sum this up by saying that anything which is not Christian, or which is opposed to the fruit of the Spirit, is a grief to the Spirit. Paul has put it so clearly in Galatians 5, in his contrast between the works of the flesh, and the fruit of the Spirit. Anything, in any shape or form, that belongs to the category of the works of the flesh is grieving to the Spirit—`the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh'(Ga1atians 5:17). He is sensitive, tender and gentle, and if you and I could only begin to think of sins in terms of grieving the Spirit, I am sure we would sin much less than we do. As I have often said, the mistake we all make is to think of a particular sin as `a sin’, whereas we should be thinking of it as something that is incompatible with the Spirit within us. It is not so much a matter of doing wrong, as of hurting a Person, and once we begin to think of it in that way, we are 75% on the way to victory over it.
The next thing I would emphasise is that any hesitation about doing the will of the Spirit is obviously very grieving to him. You know what I mean. The Spirit enlightens our conscience, so that when we are tempted we know exactly that any hesitation about doing the will of the Spirit is a source of grief to him. Or, to take it positively, if he has indicated through his word, or in some other way, that you and I are to do something, and we do not want to do it because it hurts our pride or our flesh or our self-esteem, and we hesitate because we want to do something else instead, can anything be more grieving than that? Can anything be more insulting than to question what is clearly the will of the Spirit? We grieve him by so doing.
But let us now consider two final points, to which I attach very great significance. Surely, to be more interested in the power of the Spirit, or in the experiences and gifts which are given by the Spirit than in the Spirit himself, is to grieve and to insult him? I do not think that that needs any elaboration, since obvious illustrations come to the mind. You can never insult people more than by giving them the impression that you are not really interested in them but merely in what they can do for you. Is there anything more hurtful than to feel that we, as people, are not wanted for ourselves, but only for what we can provide? Yet we can very easily drop into that condition with regard to the Holy Spirit. If we desire experiences and gifts and manifestations rather than the Spirit himself, we are insulting him. Oh, how often we are guilty of that! We are anxious for power in preaching, power in our lives, anxious to be able to show certain spectacular things in our experience, but in the meantime the Spirit himself is forgotten, and so we are guilty, oftentimes, of grieving the sensitive, holy, delicate Spirit of God.
But, lastly, I will put it like this: what is the supreme ambition of the Holy Spirit? There can be no doubt of that, we have it so clearly in the Scriptures. The supreme desire and object and ambition of the Holy Spirit is to reveal, to manifest and to glorify, the Lord Jesus Christ. `He shall not speak of himself… he shall glorify me,’ says Christ (1 John 16:13-14), and he has come in order to do that. His supreme work, as we have seen, is to make the Lord Jesus Christ real to us. Therefore, my friends, if we are interested in anything other than a more intimate knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, we are grieving the Spirit. The supreme ambition and object of the Christian should be to know Christ, and how often we forget that, because we are interested in these other things. The peculiar temptation of any preacher is to want power in his preaching, and yet his supreme ambition should not be to become a powerful preacher, but to know the Lord Jesus Christ so intimately that, like the nineteenth-century American missionary George Bowen, he should be able to stand before a congregation of people, and say that the Lord Jesus Christ is more real to him spiritually `than you people who are sitting on those seats in front of me’. That is it! Of course we need gifts, and power, and victory, of course we need power in preaching, but all those things are means to an end. The supreme desire should be `that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings’ (Philippians 3:10). What we need to know about each other is not what gifts we have, nor what experiences we get, but how well we know the Lord Jesus Christ. How real is he to us? How intimate are we with him? How deep is our personal consciousness of his presence? That is the supreme test of the fullness of the Spirit.
We now turn from the negative aspect, which I have emphasised because it is so important on the practical level. Let me give you some headings on the positive side. For if I do all that to avoid grieving the Spirit, what do I do positively? Again, the directions are simple: I must walk in the Spirit, I must be led by the Spirit. That is how Paul puts it to us in Galatians 5:16: `Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh’; and again he says in verse 25: `If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.’ The other term is `being led by the Spirit’ which means exactly the same thing. How, then, am I to walk in the Spirit? And the answer to that really does come down to two things. If I want to be filled with the Spirit I need not go to tarrying meetings and agonise and fast. No—what I have to do is to realise that he is within me. I must not grieve him, and I must walk in the Spirit and be led by him.
Now, obviously, this means avoiding everything which we have already been considering together, but I do not want to leave it negatively, I want to put it positively as well. Walking in the Spirit means, first of all, that once again I must always remember that the Holy Spirit is a Person, and I must always recognise the fact that this Person is within me. I have ventured in earlier studies to put a simple rule for life to you in this way: it is a very good thing for Christians, the moment they wake up in the morning, to say to themselves, `I am a child of God’; but I will give you another way of saying that: `If the Holy Spirit is within me, my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; I have this gracious guest within me. Wherever I am today, and whatever I may be doing, the Holy Spirit will be with me. I am not alone, I do not live an isolated life. There is nothing that I can do or that can happen to me but that the Holy Spirit is a sharer in it.’ If we but walked with that realisation uppermost in our minds, it would transform everything. That is why we must not commit these sins, says Paul, because of the fact that we have this `gracious, willing guest’ within us. Let us concentrate on this, let us take time to do this, especially first thing in the morning, before the world, the flesh and the devil get in. We have to do this because it will not be done for us. We have seen that we must `take time to be holy’, and that is the first thing we must do: remind ourselves that he is within us and that he is a holy Person.
Then the next thing is that we must deliberately desire to be controlled by him. You say to yourself, `Well, I know from past experience how easy it is to be controlled by my flesh, and by the world. Therefore I desire that this day I am going to be controlled by the Spirit.’ For if you do not do that, you will find that before you have gone many minutes into the day, the flesh will be controlling you. You will become irritable with yourself or with somebody else, and the Holy Spirit is being grieved. So we have deliberately to submit ourselves to him and his control. The moment you read that newspaper the world will take control of you unless you are already being controlled by the Holy Spirit. If your life and flesh determine what you read in the newspaper, it is quite certain that you will go down and you will suffer for it, but if the Spirit is really controlling you, you will not read much of it, nor will you waste much of your time with it, because it is something outside and it has nothing to do with the spiritual life.
The next thing, therefore, is to trust him and to rely upon his work and power within us. This, again, is a deliberate action of our wills. It is not enough to believe in theory that the Holy Spirit is going to use and control me, I have to rely upon that fact, and in all I do and say I must be conscious of the fact that the Holy Spirit is empowering me. If I have submitted myself to him, he will enable me. He it is who enhances my will and power and I must remind myself of that.
I can give you a simple illustration to prove what I mean. Any man who preaches the gospel must start by saying to himself, `I can never convert anybody, no man can convert another. If men and women are spiritually dead in trespasses and sins, I cannot convert them by preaching, by eloquence, by argument, by logic, or by demonstration. I cannot do it, it is the Spirit alone who can do this.’ But yet, at the same time, of course, we know that the Spirit uses all the things I have just mentioned. The Spirit can use eloquence, as he did in the case of the great George Whitefield, the greatest orator this country has ever known. He used his oratory, yes, but Whitefield did not rely upon his oratory; Whitefield relied upon the Spirit, and the moment he did so the Spirit used his oratory. In the same way, the Spirit used the logic of John Wesley, but he could only use John Wesley’s logic after Wesley had submitted himself to him and we, too, must do that with the whole of our life.
The next obvious thing to do is to spend much time with the Scriptures. You cannot be reading the word truly without walking in the Spirit. Then I would put prayer, which really means seeking fellowship with God and with the Lord Jesus Christ. To be led of the Spirit, to walk in the Spirit, means that we spend our time seeking that fellowship. `This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’ (John 17:3). And if you read the lives of all the men throughout the centuries who have been filled with the Spirit, you will find that they spent a great deal of their time in prayer. The Spirit obviously leads us to God and to Christ. He wants us to have this fellowship and communion. He himself, as it were, has this aspect of communion with the blessed eternal Trinity and he brings us into the fellowship and into the communion.
Then I would enforce all this by saying that we must constantly remind ourselves of these things. The trouble with us, as I have already said, is that we do not talk enough to ourselves. We do not preach enough to ourselves; we all ought to be preachers preaching to that congregation that consists of self. Indeed, half the battle is to talk to ourselves about these things. Address yourself, as the psalmist did. He turns to himself and says, `Why art thou cast down, 0 my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God’ (Psalm 42:11). He is preaching to himself, and we must do the same. We must take time during the day, indeed many times, to recollect these things, to detach ourselves from business affairs and to say, `Now I am still this person in whom the Holy Spirit resides and I am using my body and mind in the realisation that it is all the temple of the Holy Spirit.’
So let us remind ourselves, let us refresh our memory, and meditate upon all these things, and, above everything else, let us ever keep ourselves in a sensitive condition. You know what I mean by that. You know what it is to feel yourself becoming hard and insensitive. The moment we discover that, we must be drastic. We must keep ourselves sensitive to the movements and the promptings and the guiding of the Holy Spirit. It will mean repentance, it will mean going back to God and confessing our sin, it will mean humbling ourselves—it does not matter what it may mean, but we must keep ourselves in this sensitive spiritual condition so that we may be conscious of his slightest movement, and we are encouraged to do all this by this great assurance of the Apostle: `Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’
Thank God it is a positive gospel! The way to avoid sin is to be walking in the Spirit. The way to avoid going down in life and to live on the high level is to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit, to meditate upon these things, to be controlled entirely by him. Are we filled with the Spirit? Are we manifesting the fruit of the Spirit? Do we know the joy and the happiness and the peace that the Holy Spirit alone can give? Are we attractive Christians? Do we give people the impression that the most marvellous thing in the world is to be a Christian and to have the Spirit of God within us? This is the thing to which we are called and the way to do that is positively to avoid grieving the Spirit, and to walk in him, to dwell in him as he dwells in us, and to be led by him in all things. `Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.’ [605-617]