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

From our knowledge of the Triune God, we know that each person of the Triune God delights in that which the other persons are doing. To that end, there is a mutual indwelling among the persons of the Godhead—the Father in the Son and the Holy Spirit; the Son in the Father and the Holy Spirit in the Father and the Son. When we put on Christ, we put on the Father and the Holy Spirit to live out the new life in Christ according to the pattern the Scriptures prescribe so that God’s people may live in a manner that pleases the Triune Creator. When Christians violate the standards given to disciples of Jesus, not only is the Son of God grieved but so also the Father and the Holy Spirit.

In our passage today, Ephesians 4:30, Paul makes this very point when he warns Christians not to “Grieve the Holy Spirit of God.” When Christians sin, the Holy Spirit experiences grief in a manner appropriate to His deity. The Holy Spirit cannot stand the presence of sin and hates it when God’s people, His dwelling place, entertain transgression (Hab. 1:13). Even though the reality of His grief proves the Holy Spirit’s personhood, this particular grief is not the same as ours. The Holy Spirit cannot be paralyzed by grief for His grief, unlike ours, is always holy, undefiled by sin, ungodly jealousy, and all the other flaws that attend our grief.

The Holy Spirit’s grief is ultimately a mystery as John Calvin comments, “No language can adequately express this solemn truth, that the Holy Spirit rejoices and is glad on our account, when we are obedient to him in all things, and neither think nor speak anything, but what is pure and holy; and, on the other hand, is grieved when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling.”

The Holy Spirit is sensitive to sin because of His close relationship with His people, those who have been saved, set apart, and defined as the Lord’s holy people because of Christ alone (1 Peter 1:13-16). The Holy Spirit seals God’s people “for the day of redemption” (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30). The Holy Spirit dwells within the people of God the moment they trust in the Lord Jesus, marking them as the people of God who will be spared divine wrath on the day of judgment. Through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, Christians are daily being conformed into the image of the Lord Jesus. A return to a pattern of life wholly dominated by sin for Christians is impossible for all those whom the Holy Spirit has sealed (Romans 8:29-30). Even though Christians may fall into significant sin, which grieves the Holy Spirit, introducing a distance between Him and His people in relation not to their security in Christ, but to their fellowship and communion with Christ.

Before listing the various attitudes and actions that spring from being forgiving, the apostle says, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30). These words challenge our theology as much as they encourage our hearts. We are not accustomed to thinking of our thoughts and actions affecting God’s heart. There are even aspects of our theology that make us question whether it is proper to think this way. The apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, speaks with incredible intimacy about the nature of our God and his heart for us. Just as Christ can be touched by the feelings of our infirmities (Heb. 4:15), his Spirit grieves over our failure to love as we should in the Christian community. There is some poignancy in the consideration that the Holy Spirit, the One who is our Comforter (John 14–16), is himself grieved by our sin. The thought is meant to arrest us and correct us. The same Spirit who convicts my heart of sin, generates in me love for God, gives me new birth, provides my apprehension of the beauty of grace in the world, and seals my redemption until the coming of my Lord—this same Spirit who loves me so intimately and perfectly, I can cause to grieve. Not wanting to hurt him is a strong motivation for not intending the harm of his people or purpose.

The purpose of the Holy Spirit informs us most specifically why antagonisms that disrupt the church disturb him. What is the Holy Spirit’s purpose? It is to testify of Christ. The Spirit’s witness in my heart of the truth of the gospel is the seal on my heart that I am his for the day of redemption. Jesus said, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me” (John 15:26 KJV). When we are indwelt by the Spirit but possess attitudes or actions that are not reflective of Jesus, we undermine the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Thus, the progression and witness of the gospel require not grieving the Spirit by any form of malice that creates disturbances within our heart or his church.

When God’s people sense a distance in their relationship to God, it’s wise to ask ourselves if we are engaged in some persistent, sin that grieves the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit may withdraw for a time so we might recognize that our sin has grieved Him and that we need to deal with it. When Christians do sin, we are to turn from sin to Christ alone who offers forgiveness for sin (1 John 1:9), since He is our Advocate (1 John 2:1), so that they may not grieve the Holy Spirit and live according to the pattern God has prescribed for His people in His Word.