The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18 speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29; 2 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.

The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.

There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.

First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness. The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.

Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures. The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.

Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).

This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.

Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ. The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.

Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.'”

Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.

Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.

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21 thoughts on “Three Surprising Ways to Grieve the Holy Spirit”

  1. Phillip says:

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2)

    Take a moment, by grace,to “hover over” that.

  2. a. says:

    what love, one to another: Father Son Spirit
    Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.Matt 12:32

  3. J. Solomon says:

    Pastor DeYoung,

    Re the Spirit and the Scriptures. What are your thoughts on the situation when those who are committed to “exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God” but come to different conclusions about the Spirit and His works? How do we “discern” right from wrong, truth from error? Or could we possibly consider these secondary matters for us not to divide over and see that from the Lord’s standpoint he works among us according to the measure of our faith?

  4. Clayton says:

    “We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation.”

    Apparently, the apostle Paul passed on some of his teaching by word of mouth (2 Thess. 2:15), and not only in writing. I’m not sure that this idea of “not needing to go beyond the Bible” has much Biblical merit. Isn’t it just an assumption?

  5. David Betz says:

    Clayton:

    What you have just said is addressed in any good lecture/sermon on the doctrine of Sola Scriptura: What Paul taught was not inspired, only part of what he wrote (the part that is in Scripture); his grocery list is not inspired. What Peter taught and did is not inspired, only part of what he wrote (again, Peter’s grocery list is not inspired).

    Paul surely wrote and taught more than is in Scripture, but that content is not inspired. Paul could have written other letters to the Corinthians, but if they are not in scripture, then they are not inspired (most likely “the lost letters” have been appended to the boks to the Corinthians– thus the multiple endings in the books). There are no “inspired men”, but inspired Scripture.

    If Paul spoke a great sermon that Luke wrote down (which is probably the best theory on the book of Hebrews around), the sermon is NOT inspired, but the book of Hebrews is.

    If Jesus spoke words that the Apostles remembered, their retelling of the words is not inspired, but the product of a fallen mind with a fallen memory. It is only when the Holy Spirit brought about the inspiration (or expiration– that is, breathing out) in the inscripturation that the words were inspired that we have to day.

    Again, this is just standard part of any good lecture/sermon on Sola Scriptura; nothing novel here at all, we’ve known this for many, many centuries.

    Given the important nature of Scripture, you should expect that these issues have been worked out centuries ago. We do, in fact, have as strong a formulation of the doctrine Scripture as the doctrine of the Trinity.

  6. Clayton says:

    David,

    I understand many Christians believe in Sola Scriptura, but I don’t really know why. Paul doesn’t seem to differentiate between the authority of the teachings he passed down verbally vs. in writing – he instructed the Church in Thessalonica to hold to both. To assume that some of his writings are inspired and others along with his verbal teachings are not seems to be an arbitrary assumption and not one that I can find support for within the Bible.

  7. Isn’t it better to think of the symbol of the church as the empty tomb instead of the cross? Yes, in some sense Christ triumphed through the cross by nailing the certificate of indebtedness to it on our behalf (Col.2.14), but the resurrection bodily by Christ gives me a greater hope.
    Baptism depicts a believer’s testimony of their identity with Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection (in my view), if the church needs a symbol, I would think some aspect of our union with the resurrected Christ to be more appropriate than Constantine’s cross.
    I know this is a side point and not the main thing you were stating, yet the almost magical way in which the cross is used by some really disturbs me and I find no warrant for it in scripture.

  8. Hugh McCann says:

    “He [the Spirit] shall glorify me [Jesus].” ~ John 16:14.

    That’s what we’re to be about, too. We grieve the Spirit when we fail to glory in the Lord. And lift up him!

    The debate over continuationism & cessationism HAS to include the vital, indispensible topic of the glory of Christ. This is best laid out in the TULIP scheme and solas scenario.

  9. Kent says:

    David, as some one who lies within the Reformed circles, I respectfully but strongly disagree with your statements that what Paul and Peter verbally taught were not inspired. They were inspired. We do need to recognize that before the Scriptures were written, men spoke. Or have you not read this:

    knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20, 21 ESV)

    Men *SPOKE* from God. The instructions of Jesus were taught verbally before they were ever put into writing, and this verbal teaching was PRIMARY in the life of the early church. Yes, everything taught was in line with the *verbal* words of Jesus and the written words of Scripture (the Old Testament when Paul was writing). But all of the epistles serve the purpose of telling people to adhere to the *verbal* instructions of the apostles and elders, which are to be in line with the written words of Scripture (again, the Old Testament at that time), and the verbal instructions of Jesus as passed along verbally by the apostles. Remember that when the epistles were first written, not even the Gospels had been put into writing yet.

    Men are inspired, not words. Men are inspired to speak and to write. We are not people of the letter but of the Spirit, who fills men’s hearts. If by sola scriptura we mean that God does not work through men, then we undermine the centrality of teaching and evangelism.

    This is not to say that “Tradition” is on equal footing with Scripture. Scripture is primary precisely because it is a record of what God has said through His people, whom He inspired. And we depend on Scripture precisely because human beings, though inspired by God, are fallible, and we are convinced that many of the traditions of the Catholic and Orthodox churches do not line up with Scripture, which is an infallible record of what God has said and done. Even God spoke apart from the written word.

  10. Jared says:

    the Apostles were inspired in everything they taught concerning the Scriptures and Jesus. so, their grocery list isn’t inspired, but their interpretations of the OT are. this inspiration was only given to those who had the office of Apostle in the early church.

  11. Richard UK says:

    Kevin continues to speak in Erasmian language of free will – as if we have a power from God to obey, but also a lingering power from the old man to disobey, but that there is some sort of far removed ‘I’ who has the ability to choose which power to go with. This is a Stoic or even Gnostic but not a Hebraic notion and will always make a mess (a ‘work’) of christian living.

  12. Paul said all things are lawful for me but all things are not expedient. Jeremy Camp put it well as a Christian song artist “Your Grace covers all I do.” Doesn’t matter what you are doing as long as you are in Christ and doing all to the glory of God. I rather disagree with the slant of some of these ideas. True we could miss some things God wants to teach us, but what does that have to do with grieving the Holy Spirit?

  13. Scott D. Burley says:

    i believe very good idea about it, don’t get grieve against the Holy spirit. i was teach deaf indian methodist church as i told them dont get grieve against the Holy Spirit . since i grew up deaf hood. here is Leviticus 19:14, say, “Do not insult the deaf or cause the blind to stumble. You must fear your God; I am the LORD.” dear brothers and sisters in Christ, please just careful. just love them than strict to them. thank you, Scott d. Burley

  14. Janet Turner says:

    Thank you for this message. I especially liked the opening and the image of light shining in the dark. I was praying for the Lord’s guidance in dealing with my double-minded son-in-law who professes to be a Christian but is blind to his attachments to the world.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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