Grieving the Holy Spirit

A very common mis-interpretation of a familiar Bible verse. It is not taught in seminary, but widely preached and accepted by many Christians. What is the impact of this interpretation on a Christian’s relationship with God? Is it in harmony with the rest of Scriptures? Let us explore.

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Where is this verse which states such theology?

Where is this verse, if there really is one, in the Bible: "The Holy Spirit will leave you if you grieve Him," or "You will lose your salvation if you grieve the Holy Spirit." Or something to that effect. What if you can't find it anywhere in the Bible? No, it cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, and yet, it is automatically assumed to be a fundamental truth which profoundly affects the lives of many Christians, which always puts them on edge as they relate to God, because none among them ever ceases to grieve the Spirit of God.

Ephesians 4:30 — what does it really say?

Well, there is actually one verse that has the phrase “grieve the Holy Spirit” in it - Ephesians 4:30:

—And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption (New Living Translation).
—And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (NIV).
—And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption (KJV).

This verse, in all three different translations, obviously admonishes us that we should not grieve the Holy Spirit, but I cannot from reading it find the part where it says if you do grieve Him, you will either lose your salvation or the Holy Spirit will leave you.

On the contrary, the verse in any of the translations above shows the Holy Spirit is given to you as a permanent seal for that wonderful day of redemption.

This verse might be paraphrased for better clarity as follows:

Since God has given you the great seal of the Holy Spirit to guarantee your entry into God’s Kingdom, do not grieve Him.

Let us check this point of theology against other foundational truths to see if it will stand up against the test of sound biblical exegesis -a study of the Bible in context.

  • It’s fairly easy to show that this verse doesn’t say you will lose your salvation if you grieve the Holy Spirit
  • To take this further, the real unforgivable sin is the blaspheming, or slandering, of the Holy Spirit.

Grieving the Holy Spirit is NOT unforgivable

Let us first define what grieves the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to go much further to find out what grieves Him. The very following two verses give us clear hints of what they are:

31 You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. 32 Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

These are sins we commit daily in the course of our lives. A sin is not simply the bad things we do, but also the good things we don’t do. Jesus shows us sin for what really is: you don’t need to actually commit adultary to sin against God, just the mere fact you have lustful thoughts, you already sinned (Matthew 5:28); you don’t need to take somebody’s life to sin against God, the fact that you hate that person already makes you a murderer (I John 3:15). And what about the things we should have done that we didn’t? How many times have we neglected to stop and help someone in need? I remember our church turned away a homeless man who wanted to take shelter in our church building. Did we try to be good Samaritans every chance we could?

James 2:10 writes “For the one who obeys the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.” So who among us is not guilty of all of the law? Who among us never sinned, even the most insignificant of sins? Wouldn’t this make us all guilty of grieving the Holy Spirit all the time?

And if grieving the Holy Spirit leads to damnation, who among us can be saved? And if this is true, then did Jesus die in vain, because we all will end up in hell? No, Jesus didn’t die in vain, because the belief that grieving the Holy Spirit is an unpardonable sin is a false doctrine.

Realistically we don’t have to work so hard to prove the fallacy of this belief. The root of the problem is we only read the a small part of the verse where the phrase “grieve the Holy Spirit” jumps out and automatically assumes it is unforgivable; and then the faulty assumption takes on a life of its own since the very beginning of Christendom. And no one dared to ask its authenticity.

The REAL Unforgivable Sin

Consider what Jesus said about the unforgivable sin:

31 For this reason I tell you, people will be forgiven for every sin and blasphemy (NIV: slander), but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven. But whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12:31-32 - NET Bible

If grieving the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, then ALL sins are unforgivable, because all sins grieve the Holy Spirit. But according to Matthew 12:31-32, all sins are forgivable except one. What do you think this sin is? Murder? Adultary? Lustful thoughts? Remaining angry past sunset? Not keeping the Sabbath? Greed? No, none of the above, because Jesus said that every sin is forgivable, except of course the ONLY one. It’s eternally important that we know what this unforgivable sin is.

Here’s an excerpt from the HELPS Word-studies: Blasphemy (988 /blasphēmía) “switches” right for wrong (wrong for right), i.e. calls what God disapproves, “right” which “exchanges the truth of God for a lie” (Ro 1:25) (source: Strong’s Greek: 988. βλασφημία (blasphémia) – slander)

We must keep in mind that blasphemy in itself is not unforgivable -read verse 31 above, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is. The NIV’s translation uses the word slander in place of blasphemy which may give a more accurate contextual meaning. The HELPS Word-studies gives us “switches right for wrong, or conversely wrong for right.” All in relation to the Holy Spirit. There is something the Holy Spirit says or does which gets slandered, distorted, its meaning turned upside down, most likely with the intention of rendering it void.

If blasphemy is simply irreverance, calling names, disrespect, or foul language, it surely will grieve the Holy Spirit but affect no one else except the trespasser. But if blasphemy is a slander, a distortion of the Holy Spirit’s message of salvation, it may have eternal consequences on others.

What Is The PURPOSE Of The Holy Spirit When He Comes?

7 But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I am going away. For if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment - 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned. John 16:8-11

The Advocate in verse 7 above is the Holy Spirit. Jesus explains what He does when He comes, that He will do 3 things, all of which may give us clues as to what actions against his purpose may be considered an unforgivable sins.

Concerning sin

How is the world wrong concerning sin? How are you dealing with sin? In general, Christians or unbelievers alike, we do our best not to sin, not to do the things we shouldn’t do, and do the things we should. In the event we fail, we pay for our failures through some sacrifices, confessions, offerings, show remorse, etc. But Jesus said this is the wrong way to deal with sin, because it will be a never-ending treadmill of failures and contrition only to be repeated over and over again.

Jesus pointed out that one of the principal thing the Holy Spirit does is He shows mankind the true definition of sin: not believing in Jesus.

Why is this the truth about sin? Not only men cannot stop sinning, they cannot stop being sinful. Even if they manage to not committing any sin known to man, they cannot rid themselves of their sin nature. If we continue to deal with the problem of sin the way the world does, we’d remain in sin, but if we believe what Jesus said about the Holy Spirit and simply believe in Him, sin will no longer be our master.

Let us look again at John 3:16: “So that whoever BELIEVES in Him will not perish …” Note that it didn’t say: so that whoever can stop sinning, or whoever can stop grieving the Spirit, etc., but it said: whoever BELIEVES in Him. This is where the world is wrong about sin. This is where so many in Christianity are wrong about sin.

Concerning righteousness

The Bible defines sin as a state of lacking God’s righteousness. We all are in need of this righteousness before we can be reconciled to God.

Jesus pointed out the second objective of the Holy Spirit is to correct another wrong idea about how we can get right (righteousness) with God: We get right with God becaused Jesus went to the Father as our Attorney at Law to plead for us that all payment had been paid for. Whatever relationship He has with the Father -and we know it is a Trinity relationship where Jesus and the Father are one- we also inherit that because we are in Christ.

How is the world, including a large percentage of Christianity, wrong about righteousness? With the world, it’s easy to spot that the foundation of their faith is the works of their flesh. Reincarnation reinforces this concept of work based righteousness.

It is much more difficult in Christianity to identify and purge the Pharasaical yeast from the outworking of the faith that is otherwise pure. Paul wrote his major epistles to steer the believers from the mistaken notion that they could get that righteousness by the works of the law. We can see the manifestation of this yeast in many Bible based religions where they all proclaim the cross of Christ as means for men’s redemption, but in the working out of this faith it’s anything but. This is why many faithful churchgoers can recite the apostles’ creed by heart, but when asked about their standing before God at any moment, they expressed an uncertainty because deep within their spirit they still try to attain this righteousness through their works -in the case of this article, they still feel their daily grieving of the Holy Spirit will prevent them from entering God’s Kingdom.

Concerning judgment

All of mankind awaits the day of reckoning when they must meet the Creator. This is why we came to the foot of the cross in order to face that day not as condemned sinners, but as children of God. And God has provided for us a way out by giving His own Son as a payment for our sin.

Jesus pointed out the third objective of the Holy Spirit is to show us that the dreadful judgement is reserved only for the “ruler of this world,” and of course for those who belong to him. And we all know that we belong to Christ, therefore judgement is never intended for us.

This is where many of us are wrong concerning judgement. Dare we believe that judgement will never be applied to those who are in Christ no matter how imperfect they are? I venture to say that a huge majority of believers and handlers of Scriptures teach, and are taught, that there is a judgement reserved for them whether they’re in Christ or not. And I believe if there is a judgement it’s criteria is not based on fleshly works, but on the purity of their faith which is the true work of God (John 6:29).

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

Conclusion

The goal of the Holy Spirit when He comes is -He’s already come in the hearts of all who are in Christ- to make sure we understand:

  • Sin is: not believing in Jesus
  • Righteousness is ours: because Jesus is pleading for us at the right hand of God
  • Judgment is not for believers, but for the prince of this world and those who belong to him

Those who blaspheme, or slander, the Holy Spirit are those who distort the Holy Spirit’s main objective, or minimize the effectiveness of His message. Those are folks who commit the unpardonable sin.

The belief that the grieving of the Holy Spirit is an unforgivable sin is not found in the Bible, and goes against all foundational truths scattered throughout Scriptures. As we have already discussed earlier, if grieving God is truly unforgivable, no one will be saved.

Those who hold such belief may in fact still live under the law, while Galatians 5:4 says that those who rely on the law will have fallen from grace, and be disconnected from Christ:

You who are trying to be declared righteous by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace!

It logically follows that those who live by the law, will break the entire law all the time, because as long as you still live in the flesh, you will break some law some time, and based on James 2:10, you are a continual lawbreaker, and you are a Spirit griever all the time.

What a dreadful way to relate to God!

To live under grace is the only way to secure our salvation, the only way to move forward. It is the only way to live for a child of God. To think that there is anything that can render useless the power of the cross of Christ is to live in unbelief, and that is sin.

17Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. Hebrews 10:17-18

Nghi Nguyen

- Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: This is my own opinion on the topic, which does not necessarily reflect the church's theology, or beliefs of the individuals in it — Nghi Nguyen

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