2016-3-06 Grieve Not the Spirit

Cornerstone EPC                                                                                          Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                                      March 6, 2016

“Grieve Not the Spirit”
Text: Ephesians 4:30

We continue today through our punctuated sermon series through Ephesians, and we remain once again in that letter’s ethical section—as we have since the first of this year.  We continue in this paragraph which depicts our new life in Christ—especially in contrast to the old life we had before meeting Him.  We arrive today at Ephesians 4:30 (ESV): “And do not grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, by Whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”  Let us hear the Word of God written—which, once again and as ever, testifies to the Word living, the Lord Jesus Christ.


The Apostle Paul, led by the Spirit of God, Scripture’s ultimate Author, begins today’s sentence with a negative injunction: Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God.  That is, we are not to make God sad, sorrowful, or distressed.[1]  Yet at least some thoughtful Christians—including the authors of one of our subordinate standards, the Westminster Confession of Faith (in ii.1)—wonder if God feels emotion as we do; the doctrine is known as the impassibility of God.  Yet we read that God, in each of His persons, expresses emotion—and sometimes He expresses Himself with great force.[2]  How can these be?  The best explanation I know concerning this difficulty comes from Dr. Carl Trueman, in his blogspot Mortification of Spin.  Here is the explanation: God feels emotions analogous to ours, but he neither suffers emotionally as we do nor is overcome emotionally.[3]  Isn’t that a good thing?  For, were He to react to us in an uncontrolled, capricious way—as, alas, we occasionally do—could we bear His reaction?  A great succinct statement of the doctrine here noted, from Dr. Rob Lester’s book title of the same name, is this: God Is Impassible and Impassioned.[4]  He is not overwhelmed by any emotion He feels analogous to ours, but He is indeed impassioned for His glory, His holiness, and His redeemed people—the likes of you and me.

This somewhat academic question now aside, let’s ask a highly penetrating question, “How may we grieve the Holy Spirit?”  The obvious way is our sin—sin both of omission and commission.  We see that this verse follows hard after the verse forbidding corrupting speech, and some commentators tie today’s verse tightly to last week’s verse.  Others see this paragraph, of this whole ethical section of Ephesians, condensed to our verse today.  In any case, we see that sin of omission and commission grieves the Spirit of God.

We also grieve the Spirit by halves.  We grieve Him when our worship is half-hearted or lukewarm.  This is different from the weakened worship of the bruised soul.  What grieves the Lord is worship activities offered without accompanying God-ward affection.  The same is true for half-minded attention to the words and actions that constitute public worship.  We also grieve the Spirit by tepid affection for our neighbor—especially for our fellow Christian.  There are other ways to grieve Him, I am sure, but these representative examples shall suffice for now.

In thinking along this line, you may be tempted in another way to grieve Him—for you may be tempted to despair concerning your sinful state.  Rejoice, beloved Christian: Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God, hath died in your place and mine to atone for all our sins.  With Christ our penal substitute, we stand entire and complete before the Lord—clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Himself.  He loves you as He loves His Son, for we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).  Dr. Steve Brown, Presbyterian pastor, seminary professor, and host of the Key Life radio program, often says that God loves us who are in Christ—and He likes us too.  Steve is right—period.

The Spirit, we are told in today’s text, seals us for the day of redemption.  This means several wonderful things; let’s examine them each in turn.  First, we are kept safe from ultimately straying away from Him.  We are safely in His hand and under His rod.  Though we stray, stagger, and straggle a bit, we cannot separate ourselves from the love of God in Christ Jesus—in fact, nothing can (Romans 8:39).  Second, we are kept safe from the ultimate designs of the evil one.  The thief, after all, comes but for to steal and to kill and to destroy (John 10:9), but he shall succeed against any Christian in any ultimate sense.  Though the evil one may assail us for a time, and appear for a time to have the upper hand against us, nevertheless we abide under the impenetrable protection of the sealing Spirit, who keeps us safe forevermore.

Third, we who are in Christ are marked as His.  We are, as it were, His signet ring, bearing His identity in our persons.  Even the unbeliever knows that there is something different about us—and many a Christian can recognize another Christian even before they have exchanged a single word.  The Spirit bears witness not only concerning ourselves, but also concerning certain others, that we belong to God.  Fourth, we are empowered because we belong to Jesus.  This applies readily to our ambassadorship in Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:20).  The Lord commissions us to represent Him everywhere and to make His appear through our mouths, our hands, and the like.  What is true of ambassadorship also applies to any ministry that the Lord gives to us.  We use that ministry to make the Lord known and to press His sweet appeals to the souls of men, women, boys, and girls.

The Spirit seals us, moreover, for the day of redemption (some older authors well may have said against the day of redemption).  The best sense of this Greek phrase is the day of being set free.  The Lord sets us free from sin, and sins, and desire to sin.  He also frees us from sin’s effects in this world.  He does this increasingly over time in the believer’s ever-lengthening walk with God, but we are set free finally in Glory—at physical death to great measure and at the ushering in of the new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21:1).  This is a glorious prospect indeed; let us fortify ourselves for this life by continual meditation upon it.

Remember that putting off the old man is not enough.  We must also put on the new man.  Therefore, let us not only not grieve the Spirit, but let us seek to please God in every way.  We please Him when we hate, resist, and forsake sin.  We please Him when we worship God to our utmost, both privately and publicly.  We please Him when we love our neighbor, especially our fellow Christian, ardently.  Furthermore, rejoice—for we, who belong to the Lord by grace, through Spirit-given faith in Jesus Christ, are sealed infallibly and eternally for the day of redemption.


[1] These glosses of the Greek lupeo (lupew) rise from Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament

[2] For the Spirit, see today’s text.  For the Son (especially as to His humanity), see His agony in Gethesemane (Mark 14:34) and His compassion at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35).  For the Father (or the three-in-one God without respect to Persons), see God’s reaction to Moses’ recalcitrance at the burning bush (Exodus 4:14).


[3] Dr. Trueman’s blogspot, Mortification of Spin, is available at the website of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (alliancenet.org).  Dr. Trueman is both professor of Church history at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and the pastor of Cornerstone Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Ambler, Pennsylvania.


[4] Rob Lister, God Is Impassible and Impassioned: Toward a Theology of Divine Emotion (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013).