People are motivated by different things. It may be money, love, fear, or a desire to accomplish some goal in their mind. This is also true for following Christ. Some people are motivated by fear. They are afraid that if they do not do the right things, God will “get” them (kind like Santa Claus with a naughty and nice list). Others believe doing Christian things will earn points that we can cash in when we need it later for blessings (kind of like turning in your tickets for a prize at a carnival).
Some strive to follow Christ because they believe in so doing they can make the world a better place. Others strive to live a “godly life” so they can fit in with their group of Christian friends. They know “Christians don’t do certain things” (like cuss, lie, cheat, or hang out with certain kinds of people) so they try not to do those things (at least around those Christian friends).
This morning Paul gives us the best motivation for godly living,
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (4:30)
We must be careful with this verse. We need to grasp the tone of what is being said. It is easy to conclude that Paul is trying to guilt us into following the Lord. It’s a trick that parents use all the time. “If you don’t behave I will die and you’ll be sent to an orphanage”. Or you may hear it like a school administrator who says, “Behave yourself or we will call your parents.”
I hope to show you that is not what Paul is trying to communicate. Paul wants us to understand that God is deeply committed to us. His love is not distant, it is personal. God’s Spirit lives inside of us. What we do and where we go, He goes with us. That partnership is a powerful motivation for pursuing the life of holiness.
What does it mean to Grieve the Spirit?
We have to think carefully about the answer to the question: in what sense does God grieve? God is not emotional in the same way that we are. He does not respond emotionally to circumstances or to people. God does not make decisions because of emotions. He does not do things in reaction to other things. Our emotions are fickle. They are often tainted by sinful desires and thoughts. God always does what is right and what is true regardless of the situation. So God is not emotional in the same sense that we are.
However, this does not mean that God is emotion-less. Paul tells us that God does feel. God loves us passionately. It brings pain to the Spirit of God when we do not follow the right and true path that God has set before us. It pains Him to see us hurting ourselves or hurting others.
Perhaps the best way to understand this passion is to think about it in terms of parents and their children. As a parent you grieve when you see your child heading down a wrong path. You grieve when they ignore advice, make poor choices, and even when they have to live with the consequences that come because of their poor choices.
This is kind of like how God feels about us. He wants what is best for us. He wants us to know His joy. He wants us to guide us in a path that will allow us to experience His blessing and His love most fully. When we turn from that path He aches FOR us.
The Message, a Bible paraphrase (which means it is a very “free” translation) captures the essence of this verse well,
Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.
Paul is saying we should strive to live holy lives because we have a real relationship with God. He is not simply “out there somewhere”, He is close, personal, and vital in our lives. We know God’s heart! He wants to bless us, not make us miserable. He wants to lead us out of the darkness of sin and into life as it was meant to be.
God cares! He is not like an unfeeling employer who is only concerned about the bottom line. He is not like the “friend” who only likes you when you do what they want. He cares about us as individuals.
Love is a powerful motivator. You will never forget the person who risked their life to save you (by donating an organ, rescuing you on the battlefield, pulling you out of a burning building, or maybe even standing at your side when the whole world is against you). When someone has stood by you through everything you want to show them love in return.
The Lord made us. He came to rescue us in the person of Christ. He gave us His Word as a roadmap for life. He remains faithful when everyone else turns away. He sees the best in us even when we cannot see it in ourselves. This love, this relationship, should be the motivation for our new way of living. Our desire to walk with Him in fullest harmony should spur our diligence in eliminating all ungodly behavior.
In What Ways do we Grieve the Spirit?
Paul has been giving us a list of some of the ways we can grieve the Spirit
- When we are not unified as His body (v 13)
- When we fall into error (v 14)
- When we lie (15, 25) or don’t speak to each other in love
- When we live only for the moment (19)
- When we let anger consume us and make us mean (26)
- When we steal or take what we have not worked for and become a burden on society and each other instead of contributing. (27)
- When we tear others down instead of building them up. (28-29)
Paul is not finished with his list. It continues through the rest of the book. We will see that we grieve the Spirit when we
- Lack gratitude and appreciation for God’s gifts
- When we fail to extend forgiveness as we have been forgiven
- When we use each other instead of serve each other (especially in family relationships)
- When we fight supernatural battles in our strength rather than in his.
It is not only our behavior that grieves the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit when we ignore Him in our lives. Think about it, is anything more cutting than to be treated as if you don’t exist or don’t matter? Think about the hurt when someone refuses to have a relationship with you. They don’t take your calls, they refuse to speak when they see you, and they won’t even look you in the eye. They treat you as if you did not exist. You may want to be close to that person but they ignore you. Their actions (or inactions) break your heart.
When we ignore the directions God gives us, when we stray from the whispers of the Spirit that we often hear in our conscience, we are ignoring the Holy Spirit in the same way. When we neglect times of prayer or make it into a superficial exercise we are treating Him as if He doesn’t matter. When we ignore attentive Bible reading or merely view it as an academic exercise because we are effectively shutting our ears to God’s instruction. This grieves the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit also grieves when we are only interested in what God can give us rather than in who He is. Think about how you feel when someone uses you. They pretend to be your friend when they want something, and when they get it, they act like they don’t know you. They tell you how much they love you and need you until you give them what they want; then they grow tired of you. They try to learn everything they can from you until they get a promotion and then they treat you like you know nothing.
The phrase “Foxhole Christian” describes this kind of person as a believer. They find themselves in some kind of crisis (such as a fierce battle in war) and are afraid they will not survive. In their fear they promise all kinds of things to God if He will only “get them out of” the situation. Then when the crisis passes, the promises are forgotten.
I see this all the time in the church. Someone starts attending church during a crisis because they know they need God’s help. When the crisis passes their seat in church is vacated.
When we only seek God only in times of crisis we show that we are interested in His benefits rather than in Him personally. This grieves the Spirit because He wants a relationship with us.
Third the Spirit grieves when we refuse to respond to His Word or His promptings. God has given us these things to protect, enrich, and fulfill us. When we ignore them we show that we don’t really trust Him. He has pointed out the way of life, and we have rejected it. Like a parent who grieves when a child spurns wise counsel, so God grieves for those who ignore His leading. (Those same people often blame God when things go bad).
This is why the Holy Spirit grieves when we are absent from worship because He has given us the church to encourage and strengthen us in the battle of life. He has given us a day for rest and worship because He knows we need this to grow in our relationship with Him. Our absence is essentially refusing the means for growth and assistance that He has provided.
Fourth, we grieve the Spirit of God when we fail to understand the goal of our salvation. God wants to give us true life. He wants us to know the truth so it can set us free. He wants to prepare us for Heaven. He wants to build depth in us. But much of the time all we want is present relief and temporal treasures. We crave trinkets while God wants us to know a deep and abiding relationship with Him than transcends circumstances.
When we grieve the Spirit we put a strain on the relationship just like hurtful words strain a marriage relationship. When we push someone away long enough a barrier is erected. The same thing happens with the Holy Spirit. Every time we grieve the Spirit it is like we put another brick in a wall that stands between us. This wall (that we erect, not the Holy Spirit) causes us to miss out on the fellowship and the guidance He gives.
How Do we Guard Against Grieving the Spirit?
So how do we keep from grieving the Holy Spirit of God? First, we must remember God’s commitment to us. Paul tells us that we have been sealed by the Spirit for the day of redemption. In other words, God is committed to save those who have put their trust in Him. Even though our commitment may be fickle, the Holy Spirit is committed to us. It is important to remember that our relationship with the Spirit is not an adversarial relationship. It need not be a struggle for power. It is a relationship of love. The directives of the Lord are anchored in love. We should serve Him out of delight rather than compulsion.
Just as remembering your wedding vows will help you to resist temptation to sin against your spouse; so remembering our commitment to Christ (and His commitment to us) will help us to resist the things that bring grief to the Spirit. It is good to wake up every day and remind yourself that you have been “bought with a price” and because of that fact you are a “new creation”. This reality should motivate us to live in cooperation with His Spirit.
Second, we must deal with that which grieves the Spirit immediately. As in any relationship, wrong that is allowed to take root becomes much harder to overcome. The same is true in our relationship with God. The more we try to hide, justify, and rationalize the wrong, the more invested we become in the lie.
We are going to stumble. The Lord is not surprised by our failures. The challenge is to restore fellowship as quickly as possible. We do that by admitting our sin, asking for forgiveness, and then in repentance walking in His way.
Finally, we must remember God’s vision for our lives. Many companies emphasize the importance of a vision statement to remind people of what they are about and where they are going. In much the same way we must constantly remind ourselves that God desires a relationship with us that will last through eternity. God’s desire is not merely for us to escape Hell or have a more pleasant life; He wants us to become a member of His household. He is not concerned about making us “comfortable” God is concerned about making us holy. God is concerned about our character. The Lord is less concerned about our status on earth and more concerned about our fitness for eternity. We must see the bigger picture and live in light of that picture.
So why is all of this important to us? First, it impacts our focus for living. Suppose someone asked: What is it like to be a parent? You could say “Being a parent is about battles to be fought, diapers to change, and vomit to clean up. It means you will feel that you are never going to be able to find any financial breathing room because there will always be something your child needs or wants. You will seldom know peace and almost never get to watch what you want on television. Parenting is one battle after another.” Are you drawn to the joy of parenting by these words? Of course not. Do you think such a person would be a good parent? It is not likely.
However, let’s say the same question is asked of another person. They answer: “Parenting is a blessing beyond description. You will discover a capacity to love you didn’t know you had. You will be extended a love you do not deserve. You get to not only watch someone grow but you get to help them as they do so. You will share in their joys and walk with them through the struggles. You will experience incredible pride at each new milestone when it is reached. It is a bond that is unlike any other. Parenting isn’t always easy, but it is worth whatever effort is necessary.”
What is your response to this person? This person makes you want to become a parent. They make you want to be part of such wonderful things.
Let’s apply this to our walk with Christ. We can focus on the “burden” of sin, or the “sacrifice” of discipleship, or even the “struggle” against the enemy. Or we can focus on the “wonder of God’s grace”, the “privilege of sonship”, and the “anticipation” of an inheritance that will not rust, fade, or spoil. We can strive to serve Him out of duty or we can serve because of the cherished nature of the relationship. Focusing on relationship, rather than burden, will motivate us much more effectively. It will also serve as a magnet which will draw others to the Savior’s love. Paul is warning us to work hard for the right reasons.
Second, it reminds us that what we do and how we do it impacts more than just us. We live in a pretty selfish time. You hear people say, “I have to take care of my needs. I have to do what is best for ME.” Of course, such statements assume that we actually know what is best for us (we don’t). Selfishness not only grieves the Spirit – it also robs us of life and blessing.
Do you remember that day when you held your first child in your arms? At that moment your life took on a wider significance. It was no longer just about you. You realized that your actions now will impact your child either positively or negatively.
This is often the time when a couple will make out a will, buy life insurance, start saving money, and may even start to attend church because they want their children to grow up knowing God’s leading and blessing. There are some who have spent their lives partying hard who now give up that scene completely because there is so much at stake. They understand that they are no longer children, they are now responsible for the lives of others and that changes everything.
When we become a follower of Christ a similar thing should happen. We now belong to the royal family. We are children of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our privilege and honor should change the way we approach life. This relationship should impact everything because it is so precious to us.
Serving the Lord is not about “keeping God from getting mad at us”. It is not even about doing what we “should do”. Paul urges us to serve the Lord and follow His commands because we are so loved by God that we want to demonstrate to Him that we love Him in return.