Grieving and Resisting the Spirit
The Holy Spirit has the unique ability to lead sinners to an awareness of their true sinful states. He also awakens in us a desire to accept Jesus and His forgiveness of our sins. The Holy Spirit possesses a matchless power to make us overcomers and to enable us to reflect the beautiful character of Jesus.
At the same time, this powerful and mighty Holy Spirit can be resisted by feeble sinners. He does not force Himself upon us.
Sin is very alluring, very appealing. Yet, it is highly deceptive and leads to death. It is diametrically opposed to God and His pure holiness and goodness. Reflecting this divine holiness, the Holy Spirit is opposed to sin in every form, and He is grieved when we sin and are unwilling to give it up. As powerful as the Holy Spirit is, His positive impact can be quenched, and we can resist Him when we continue in our sinful lives. The Gospels even tell us that there is one sin that cannot be forgiven: blasphemy against the Spirit (Matt. 12:31, 32).
This week we will study biblical aspects that deal with grieving, quenching, and resisting the Holy Spirit, and with the sin that will not be forgiven.
* Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, March 18.
There are a number of sins specifically mentioned in Scripture as sins against the Holy Spirit. Many of those sins are on the individual level. However, there is also a corporate dimension involved, as we can conclude from Acts 7:51. Stephen points out that his accusers are stiff-necked, as were the rebellious Israelites when they worshiped the golden calf (Exod. 33:3). They resisted the Holy Spirit because they refused to listen to what the Holy Spirit would impress through God’s prophets upon their hearts. This pattern of opposition to God and His plan ultimately led some to reject the claims of the Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of following Jesus, they made external worship a substitute for obedience to the living Word of God.
It is an amazing thought that frail human beings, created by God and dependent on Him, are able to resist the work of the Holy Spirit and ultimately the grace of God. As powerful as God is, He does not force Himself upon our free will. He respects our choices.
After all, if God wanted to force us to obey Him, why didn’t He do it in Eden with Adam and Eve and thus spare the whole world the crisis of sin? God has made us free beings, with the power to make moral choices, either for life or for death, either for good or for evil. What a sacred—and costly—gift we have each been given!
While everyone is responsible for his or her own decisions, we also have a corporate responsibility: we should encourage one another to be faithful, to obey God’s Word, and to stay close to Jesus (Heb. 10:24, 25). We resist the Holy Spirit today when we resist the Word of God and when we do not heed the message of His prophets.
It’s so easy to look back at ancient Israel and judge and criticize them for all their mistakes. But what about our own poor choices? How would you feel if they were made as public as were the mistakes of ancient Israel?
The Holy Spirit is a personal being, not just a divine force. That is why He can be grieved. But how do we grieve the Holy Spirit? Perhaps we should remember that one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit is to open our eyes to sin (John 16:8). He leads us to Jesus, who forgives our sins and sanctifies us. After all, God’s Spirit is called “holy.” This means that He hates sin. But He rejoices when we are obedient to God in all things, and think and speak what is pure and holy. On the other hand, this also means that He is grieved when we cherish anything that is unworthy of our divine calling. Any determination on our part to hold on to sin or to downplay the seriousness of sin grieves Him. Grieving the Holy Spirit is a serious thing.
The context of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:30, about the grieving of the Holy Spirit, deals with the lifestyle one lived before being converted by Christ, and what came after that conversion. As new creatures in Christ, we should be patient and gentle with each other, forbearing one another in love, and diligently preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:2, 3). Being renewed by the Spirit (Eph. 4:23), we are now following Christ, our new head (Eph. 4:15), and so we do not walk in the vanity of our minds, as the Gentiles do (Eph. 4:17). Instead, we live a life that is pleasing to God (Eph. 4:24–31).
Whenever we allow any of the negative things mentioned in these verses in chapter 4 to find room in our hearts, and when they manifest themselves in our words and deeds, then the Spirit is sad and grieved. Grieving the Holy Spirit means to spurn His sanctifying presence and His life-transforming power because we continue to willfully sin.
That the Holy Spirit can be grieved tells us that God is not indifferent to us and what we do. God is affected by what we decide and how we live.
In positive terms: we delight the Holy Spirit when we speak the truth in love; when we are angry about sin, but do not sin in our anger; when we work with our own hands and use the product of our labor to do good for the needy; when we speak in an edifying manner and impart grace to our hearers; and when we are kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving.
If we claim to be Christians, yet live as though Christ had never come and our lives are not affected by His leading and His love, then we grieve the Holy Spirit. When we confess that we believe in the Truth but contradict that confession by how we act and behave, we grieve the Holy Spirit. Lack of moral integrity also grieves the Spirit. Our outreach efforts must not be divorced from our ethical behavior. If we live in such a way that others realize that we truly are His children and reflect Jesus, we bring joy to the heart of God.
It is interesting that in Ephesians 4 there is also a distinct communal aspect. The idea of unity is mentioned several times. Paul is concerned that we maintain the unity of the Spirit because we live the life of God in the context of “one another” (Eph. 4:32). How we relate to one another in the church, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NKJV), is a crucial part of not grieving the Spirit. How we treat one another in the church, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16, 17), really does matter to God. How we consider one another in the body of Christ is of prime importance to God’s Spirit.
The word “quenching” suggests the idea of a fire. The same Greek root word is used in 1 Thessalonians 5:19 and in Ephesians 6:16. This suggests that something about the Holy Spirit is like a fire that we can extinguish. We should remember that the Holy Spirit does two significant things for us: He gives us knowledge of sin, and He gives us power to overcome sin. Both are related to sanctification.
Through the Word of God, the Spirit tells us what we need to know in order to live a holy life, and through His indwelling power He enables us to change our lives according to this knowledge. One way we can avoid quenching the Spirit is to “not despise prophetic utterances” (1 Thess. 5:20, NASB). Paul instructed the Thessalonian believers not to despise prophetic utterances, and yet he called for their discernment (1 Thess. 5:21). While we are to be open to the Spirit in our congregational life and should not quench the work of the Holy Spirit, we also need discernment, because false teachings and false prophets will continue to plague the church.
Not all spirits are benign. The Spirit-inspired Word of God, however, is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105). By it we have a standard to measure even new prophetic utterances. In biblical times such a lamp involved a burning wick that shed light before the feet of those who walked in the night. The Bible tells us how to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25). We do that by surrendering ourselves to the teachings of the Word of God and by obeying the promptings of the Holy Spirit as He points us in the ways that we should live.
Many who profess to believe that the Bible is the Word of God interpret it in ways that all but denude the Scriptures of any real authority, robbing them of any real power in their lives. Also, when we despise the Word of God and treat it with disrespect or neglect to apply it to ourselves, we are snuffing out this lamp that is given to lead us on our way and to stir our consciences toward good works.
Perhaps no other sin has caused greater uncertainty and anguish among Christians, and has been more misunderstood, than has the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Some think that Jesus has in mind some specific sins that are particularly grievous. We do well to remind ourselves, however, that all sins are heinous to God, even though some sins might have more drastic consequences than do others. But what did Jesus mean when He spoke about the unforgivable sin?
Actually none of these texts say that this sin cannot be forgiven; just that it will not be forgiven. Let’s remember: the work of the Holy Spirit is to lead sinners to an awareness of their sin and to awaken in them the desire to accept Jesus, who alone forgives sin. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, therefore, must be understood as the deliberate and persistent repudiation of Jesus’ saving work. It occurs when an individual willfully and obstinately resists the Spirit’s testimony of Christ and His salvation and grace.
Jesus isn’t talking about someone uttering a few slanderous words. Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is committed only in the context of an attitude of persistent unbelief and open hostility toward Jesus. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is not a single episode; it is a determined way of life.
“In the place of receiving the evidence offered them, in the place of recognizing in Christ’s works the endowment of heaven, they held right on to their wicked purposes, and said, He performed this wonderful work through the devil. This was the sin against the Holy Ghost.” —Ellen G. White, Loma Linda Messages, p. 156.
When the human heart is settled in stubborn opposition to God and, thus, consciously refuses to give Jesus His due—the heart is hardened and fails to acknowledge the truth of the Holy Spirit’s testimony to God’s saving sacrifice in Jesus Christ. This sin is beyond the possibility of forgiveness—not because God is powerless or unwilling to forgive, but because the person is not able to recognize his or her sin. Therefore, he or she does not accept forgiveness through Jesus. This attitude, of course, has eternal consequences.
Further Thought: The mere fact that people anxiously ask whether they have sinned the unforgivable sin reveals that they most surely haven’t. If they had committed it, they certainly wouldn’t be worrying about it. Their worry is all the evidence they need that, indeed, they are still open to the Spirit’s leading. What the person should do is claim the righteousness of Jesus, and, clinging to Jesus’ merits, press on ahead in faith and obedience. Only under the covering of Christ’s righteousness, which is the “righteousness of God” Himself (Rom. 10:3), can they have the peace and assurance that they so sorely lack now.
There is, really, only one person God cannot forgive, and that is the person who persistently refuses to come to Jesus for forgiveness. “The sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit does not lie in any sudden word or deed; it is the firm, determined resistance of truth and evidence.”—Ellen G. White Comments, The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 1093. “No one need look upon the sin against the Holy Ghost as something mysterious and indefinable. The sin against the Holy Ghost is the sin of persistent refusal to respond to the invitation to repent.” —Page 1093.