How can we avoid grieving the Holy Spirit?
How comfortable are you with the practice of grieving?
That may sound like a strange question to ask, but I ask it because grief is one of the primary emotions I see many people avoid. Over the course of my life, I’ve seen grown men and women do the best they can to avoid acknowledging grief for fear that they won’t know what to do with the emotions when they surface. But grief will sneak out somewhere. If we try to ignore it or press it down, it’s just going to reappear in an unexpected or maladaptive way.
Our cultural discomfort with grief has started to appear in places I wouldn’t have expected, particularly in the funeral industry. You would think that if anyone might choose not to avoid the topic of grief, the funeral industry would very likely be the place, but if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed a change in wording that many funeral homes and obituaries are adopting. We’re gradually referring to funerals as “life celebrations” and funeral homes as “life celebration homes.” I completely understand the desire to do this, but when I die please give me a proper funeral, and please call it that. And please bury me in a cemetery, not a life memorial field or whatever we’ll be calling it by then.
Just the same, even though grief is something we typically find uncomfortable, we have to admit that at times, we have been the source of grief in the lives of others. I distinctly remember a few awkward moments during my growing up years when I caused genuine grief for my parents, grandparents, and siblings. From my current perspective as an adult, I feel troubled that I did that, but as a young person, I was often ignorant of the grief I was causing them.
No matter which season of life we’re at, we still have the power to cause grief. Not only do we have the capacity to grieve one another, we also possess the propensity to grieve our Creator. Scripture specifically cautions us not to “grieve the Holy Spirit of God.”
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." (Ephesians 4:29-32)
One of the most powerful demonstrations we possess of the power of Christ is the new way in which He has enabled us to interact with one another. In many ways, that interaction will be displayed in the ways in which we speak. On a personal level, I think about that concept frequently.
It has become obvious to me that the primary way the Lord has been opening doors for me to serve other people is through a microphone and a keyboard. I preach, teach, write, record, counsel, and pray. So when I read this passage of Scripture, my eyes are drawn to the invitation to "give grace to those who hear." That's precisely what's motivating me. As I have received the grace of Jesus, I want to generously share His grace through the words that come out of my mouth.
I look at it this way, I can either glorify the Lord with my words and the ways in which I interact with people, or I can grieve His Spirit. Glorify or grieve. Those are my options. I'm choosing to glorify. When presented with the same options, what’s your choice?
Does it surprise you to think that we can grieve the Holy Spirit? I think many people tend to think of God as unemotional and unfeeling, but that doesn't make sense. He created us in His image, and if I speak disrespectfully to someone, or fail to treat them with kindness, what kind of emotional response would they be likely to give? It's usually a response that demonstrates that their heart has been grieved. In Ephesians 4, Paul attempts to speak to us on an emotional level. He wants us to see the heart and face of God in our interactions with others.
I want to know if the way I speak to and interact with others is bringing a smile to God's face, or if I'm grieving His heart.
Paul tells us that we were sealed by the Holy Spirit for the day of redemption. What sense does it make for a believer in Christ to grieve the same Spirit with which we've been "sealed?"
What does it mean to be sealed by the Spirit? All believers are protected and preserved by the Spirit of God during this time while we await the day of our ultimate redemption and eternal glorification. He is actively working in our lives to see us through to the end. His presence in our lives certifies and confirms that we belong to God and are part of God's family. As part of that family, I don't want to misrepresent the head of the family, nor do I want to give our spiritual family a bad name by living like my Father might actually be the evil one. It reminds me of what Jesus said in John 8:42-44...
Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies." (John 8:42-44)
All that to say, mature Christians have a drastically different way of doing things. Through faith in Jesus Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we think, function, and interact in a brand new way.
It’s one thing to say that, and it’s another thing to demonstrate it. Thankfully, in the same chapter Paul speaks about grieving the Holy Spirit, he also shows us how to avoid doing so.
Grieving the Spirit involves forgetting the nature of our redemption. It’s living in ignorance of the price Jesus paid to rescue us from our sin and condemnation. It’s ignoring the new life we have in Christ, a life that’s empowered by the Holy Spirit, and choosing instead to live a life that resembles our former manner of living before we came to faith in Jesus.
If we’re going to avoid grieving the Spirit, we need to walk in the holiness of God, live in response to the love of Christ, and maintain a spirit of peace and unity with other believers. Consider some of the very specific examples Paul gives us in Ephesians 4.
We grieve the Spirit when we speak lies to each other. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Eph. 4:25)
We grieve the Spirit when we yield control of our lives to anger. “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (Eph. 4:26-27)
We grieve the Spirit when we steal from each other. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Eph. 4:28)
We grieve the Spirit when we use our words to poison each others’ minds or tear each other down. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Eph. 4:29)
We grieve the Spirit when we hold onto bitterness and everything that comes with it. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Eph. 4:31)
We grieve the Spirit when we fail to demonstrate Christlike kindness and forgiveness toward one another. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Eph. 4:32)
Grieving the Spirit often takes place when we have a small view of our new life in Christ, a small view of our role in His body, the church, and a small view of how our lives impact the lives of others around us. I like the way Charles Simpson once encouraged Christians to expand our understanding of the work God wants to do within us and the ways He desires us to grow in faith.
I met a young man not long ago who dives for exotic fish for aquariums. He said one of the most popular aquarium fish is the shark. He explained that if you catch a small shark and confine it, it will stay a size proportionate to the aquarium. Sharks can be six inches long yet fully matured. But if you turn them loose in the ocean, they grow to their normal length of eight feet.
That also happens to some Christians. I’ve seen some of the cutest little six-inch Christians who swim around in a little puddle. But if you put them into a larger arena—into the whole creation—only then can they become great. - Charles Simpson
The Holy Spirit is clearly concerned with and sensitive to our actions, attitudes, and behaviors. Thankfully, in addition to what Scripture encourages us to avoid, there are proactive steps of faith we can take if we want to position our lives not to grieve Him.
- We can cultivate a consistent prayer life and engage in genuine worship. This helps maintain a close relationship with God and places us in a posture that invites the Holy Spirit to work in our lives.
- We can regularly read and meditate on the teaching of God’s Word. It is through the Scriptures that God often speaks to us. Seeking to understand and obey God's Word is a key way to honor the Holy Spirit.
- When you recognize sin in your life, confess it to God and repent. This means not only asking for forgiveness but also turning away from the sinful behavior.
- Cultivate a heart of gratitude. Recognize and give thanks for the blessings in your life. This helps to foster a positive and thankful attitude, which is pleasing to God.
- Seek to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in your life - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). These qualities reflect the character of God.
- Strive to live a life that is aligned with God's commandments. Seek to obey the promptings and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This may involve stepping out in faith or making decisions that align with God's will.
- Guard your heart and mind. Be mindful of the influences that impact your thoughts and emotions. Guard against negative or sinful influences that may lead you astray.
- Surround yourself with a community of believers who can provide support, encouragement, and accountability.
- Be attentive to the promptings and convictions of the Holy Spirit. This requires sensitivity and a willingness to be obedient.
- Treat others with kindness, compassion, and respect. This reflects the love of God and honors the work of the Holy Spirit in your life.
Please remember that it is an ongoing process, and no one is perfect. When you stumble, don't be discouraged. Turn to God in repentance and seek His forgiveness. The Holy Spirit is here to guide, convict, and empower us. As we walk with Him and our faith matures, He will make our hearts sensitive to what His heart is sensitive to.
© John Stange, 2023