Grieving, Quenching, and Insulting the Holy Spirit
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit . . . Do not quench the Spirit . . . Insulting the Spirit of grace (Ephesians 4:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:19, Hebrews 10:29).
If the filling of the Holy Spirit yields conviction of sin, conversion, and sanctification;1 if the believer can expect his words to bring forth Holy Spirit fruit, then this begs at least two questions – how do we tap into this power and what can prevent his power in our lives and ministries? I took up the first question earlier2 so I will only briefly address it now. If you are in Christ Jesus then the Holy Spirit resides in you, but you can live without his felt presence and power. Therefore you must consciously ask for the Holy Spirit (Luke 11:1-13). You must believe he can fill you and work through you. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him’ (Luke 11:13). When you are filled with the Holy Spirit you should expect people to come under conviction of sin as you preach or share Jesus with them. You should expect people to call on the name of the Lord to be saved. And you should expect believers to be challenged and moved to greater holiness by your words and exhortations from Scripture.
Each morning, in my personal devotional time, I pray something like this, ‘Good morning, Holy Spirit. I ask You to fill me today. I ask that You direct my path and bring me into contact with someone who needs Jesus. If You open the door for gospel conversation, then I will go through it. And when I preach today, I ask, Holy Spirit, that You fill me, empower me. I need Your anointing, Your unction on my preaching, on my life and ministry. I have nothing to offer in my flesh. I can do nothing apart from You. So please come upon me and empower me for Your glory. Open my mouth and fill it with Your word.’ And I find myself praying this repeatedly throughout the day.
Do you lack power in your life? Are you ineffective in telling people about Jesus? Does your preaching or teaching seem to lack supernatural power? Do people seem ambivalent, rarely moved to action by your teaching or preaching? Do people continue in their sin, rarely being convicted to repent and run to Jesus for the refuge of salvation or sanctification? If so, consider this – is it possible that do not really believe anything can happen in and through you? Maybe you say you believe in the Spirit but are you actually trusting in your own experience, ability, gifts, or training? Maybe you have fallen into the trap of rationalism, a scourge of modernity – that mere dissemination of information is all that is necessary. So begin here – do you really believe in the Holy Spirit?
But let’s assume you, in fact, do believe in the Spirit, that you do expect him to work in and through you, but you know you are still seeing very little happen. What then? I suggest you ask yourself – ‘Is it possible that I have grieved, quenched, or even insulted the Holy Spirit?’
What does this mean? Literally the Greek text of Ephesians 4:30 reads, ‘Grieve not the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God.’ This is quite emphatic. This is a present tense command, meaning we are always, everyday commanded by God not to grieve the Holy Spirit. So, how do you know if you are grieving the Spirit? The context of this verse gives us the answer. In verses 17-32 Paul lays out a series of commands on how the believers in Ephesus are to live. He begins in verse 17 by saying, ‘So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their minds, being darkened in their understanding, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their hearts . . .’ From there Paul commands them to put off the old man, to be renewed in the spirit of their minds, to put on the new man, to lay aside falsehood and to speak truth to one another, to be angry and not sin, to not give the devil an opportunity, to not steal, to not speak unwholesome words, to put aside bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, slander, and malice. So to grieve the Holy Spirit is to disobey God in these specific commands. You can be sure that any sin grieves the Holy Spirit. Martyn Lloyd-Jones also says that grieving the Holy Spirit is to disappoint him, to not listen to his promptings that come to your heart and mind.3 This is like a wife who publicly embarrasses her husband. He is grieved. The Holy Spirit can be embarrassed by your actions. And while you still belong to God, the result of grieving the Spirit, besides short-circuiting power in ministry, is losing his gracious influences. The more you sin the less sure you are of God’s love for you, the less joy you have, the less faith you have to believe God will answer your prayers.
But you can also quench the Holy Spirit (1 Thess. 5:19). What does this mean? The context, again, gives us a clue to its meaning. Verses 20-22 say, ‘Do not treat prophecies with contempt, but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.’ Prophetic utterance has the idea of speaking forth the word of God. So one is quenching the Spirit when he resists the preaching of God’s word, when he mocks it, criticizing the preacher who is doing his best to preach accurately and faithfully the biblical text. By all means, we are to make sure the preaching is biblical and theologically sound, but to reject, mock, or criticize true preaching just because you do not like the delivery style is a serious matter indeed. To not hold onto the good word that is preached, to disobey the preacher’s clear exhortation to reject every kind of evil in the biblical text he is preaching, is to quench the Spirit. You see, the Spirit is seeking to work in and through the preacher to promote holiness in you, and your taking lightly the speaking forth of God’s Word is throwing water on the fire the Holy Spirit is seeking to burn in you.
And then you are not to insult the Spirit of grace (Heb. 10:29). The writer here is putting forth a severe warning to second generation believers who have continued sinning wilfully, blatantly, and consciously without the slightest desire to repent and return to the Lord. He says they have rejected the person of Christ (trampling under foot the Son of God), rejected the work of Christ (regarding as unclean the blood of the covenant by which they are sanctified), and insulted, mocked, and ignored the Spirit (God’s gracious source of power and ability to obey him).4 The Holy Spirit is the One who brings to us regenerating grace, who applies the fulness of Christ’s redemptive work (regeneration, justification, reconciliation, adoption expiation, propitiation, and sanctification) to every believer. To reject consistently (if we go on sinning wilfully, after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain, terrifying expectation of judgment, Heb. 10:26-27) the marvellous overtures of the Spirit’s gracious work is the height of rebellion and folly. When the Spirit is prompting you to put away a specific sin, and you continue in it, unabated, unrepentant, then you are in danger of insulting the Spirit. We love to hear of the mercy and grace of God, but we also must remember the severity of his judgment and wrath upon the unrepentant.
So, if you lack power in your ministry, ask yourself – have I grieved the Spirit, have I quenched the Spirit, am I in danger of insulting the Spirit? If so, then repent, running back to Jesus in true confession and contrition. He will meet you, fill you, and send you out renewed to do battle for his kingdom in the world. The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses (2 Cor. 10:4).
- See my devotional entitled ‘Conviction, Conversion, and Sanctification’.
- See my February 13, 2014 devotional ‘Ask for the Holy Spirit’.
- Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17, pages 264-277.
- Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Hebrews, page 295.
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. His weekly devotional, ‘Forget None of His Benefits’, can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.
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