What does it mean to “grieve the Holy Spirit?” The Bible was written over two thousand years ago and for a long time the most popular English language version was the King James, translated in 1611 and using the words, phrases, and idioms of English speaking people four hundred years ago. Because we no longer speak like that, many of us grew up hearing and learning Bible verses that make no sense today. “Grieving the Holy Spirit” is one such phrase.
“And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)
“Do not quench the Spirit,” (I Thessalonians 5:19) is another such phrase. Together they admonish us to neither grieve, nor quench, the Spirit of God. But what does these verses actually mean?
We grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin—when we do wrong. To grieve means to make sad, and because God’s purpose for His redeemed people is holiness and Christ came to save us from our sins, God’s heart is that we live righteous lives in Christ. When we transgress, it grieves God, because we are deviating from His purpose for us and going back to the evil He expended so much to save us from. 2 Peter 2:1-22 gives an excellent word picture that illustrates what sinning after you know better is like:
“For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”
Sinning after you know better is like a dog returning to what it has vomited up—it is having something better in and through Christ yet choosing that which is dirty, ugly and wrong instead. This grieves the Spirit of Christ, and we are commanded to not do it.
Quenching the Holy Spirit is different. Not only are we commanded to avoid sin, we are also commanded to obey when God proactively leads us to do good. Because He is holy, because He is love and has a plan, His Spirit will motivate us at various times. Quenching the Spirit is refusing to obey when He urges us to do good. How many times have you had a feeling you should be doing something good, and simply ignored the thought? That’s quenching the Spirit. James 2:15-16 tells us, “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?” The book of James tells us that faith without works is dead. God’s will is found explicitly in Scripture; the Holy Spirit uses our understanding of God’s will to bring to our conscious mind that which we should be busy doing. Ignoring this is quenching the Spirit.
So we see that living a life of obedience to Christ involves both a negative and a positive aspect. We are to not grieve the Holy Spirit of God in us—we are not to sadden God by sinning. Yet we are also commanded to not quench the Spirit either—we must also obey as He motivates us to do God’s will.
Thank You that You reveal Yourself in Your Word. Help us neither grieve Your Spirit by sinning, nor quench Him as He moves us to do Your will. In Jesus’ name, Amen.