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“Grieving the Holy Spirit,” Ephesians 4:30


Ephesians 4:30, “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

This is a difficult verse because it is unclear where it is connected: To the previous verses or the verses which follow. Grammatically it could be either. Thematically it definitely is connected to both ideas: Grieving the Holy Spirit is connected BOTH with our non-grace-filled words AND with rotten unforgiveness.

I will limit my comments to the first half of the verse since we already talked about the idea of “sealing” in Ephesians 1:13.

The idea of “grieving the Holy Spirit” is clearly a biblical thought but it is also littered with landmines – NOT because of the weakness of God’s Word but because of our own frailty.

For example: Parents, Christian leaders and other authorities have used the idea of a “grieved relationship” in a manipulative way to solicit obedience in their children, followers or disciples. Grief, then, becomes a relational threat (at best) and sometimes intimates relational destruction.

If we spiritually apply our frail understanding of grief, or if we misunderstand how God the Spirit is grieved by sin, we risk distorting the gospel into (as Tim Keller writes) “advice” rather than news. In other words, the gospel becomes a burden or pressure on US to maintain a standard of life or risk losing the relationship – when the gospel is news announcing that the relationship with HAS BEEN SECURED through Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1-2).

God delights in his children – God’s love is unchangeable because it flows from his unchangeable character (immutable love as in Romans 8). God is not fickle – neither is his love. The very same verse which references grief also references the fact that we are “sealed until the day of redemption.” Holy Spirit grief is not a threat to the relationship.

How are we to understand “grieving the Holy Spirit” then?

Grief is best understood not as relational BROKENNESS (i.e. disowning or even distancing himself from his children; or “removing the Spirit”) but as relational SADNESS (like being hurt by someone you love or who has professed love for you). In the original language, this English word “grief” means “to make sad.”

Biblical scholar Clinton Arnold emphasizes this truth well, “What is interesting in this context that deals with the problem of ongoing sinful practices in the lives of believers is that Paul does not threaten them with the potential loss of the Spirit if they persist in their sin. Rather, he stresses that they continue to belong to God and bear his mark of ownership until their final redemption. Under the new covenant, the Spirit does not depart when sin is committed. Instead, the Spirit deeply grieves over it. Paul presents this as a truth that should motivate believers not to indulge their sinful desires” (Ephesians. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (306–307). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).

When the Triune God is attacked, affronted, violated and offended, he responds with grief. And, ultimately forgiveness which is where Paul turns next.