What Grieves the Holy Spirit?

When it comes to grieving the Holy Spirit, where do we start? We are so disappointing to God at times. Let’s take a look at these grieving actions, starting in Psalm 78:

Forgetting God: “They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them” (Psalm 78:11). God freed the Israelites from captivity, parted the Red Sea, provided bread in the desert, and led His people to a prosperous land. “In spite of all this, they kept on sinning” (Psalm 78:32). God lamented, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). But “you deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18).

Grumbling: “They spoke against God” (Psalm 78:19). Daily, God provided the Israelites with the “bread of angels,” but they weren’t satisfied and whined for more. Their complaints made God “exceedingly angry” (Numbers 11:10).

  • Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses, God’s appointed leader. “The anger of the LORD burned against them, and he left them,” and Miriam became leprous (Numbers 12:9).
  • When God allowed the Israelites to glimpse the glory of the promised land, they grumbled about the great size of the people instead of being grateful for the great size of the grapes. God sighed, “How long will this wicked community grumble against me?” (Numbers 14:27).

Disobedience: “They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by his law” (Psalm 78:10). “Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel” (Psalm 78:41). The Israelites’ repeated disobedience saddened God. “How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions?” He asked (Exodus 16:28).

Disbelief: “They did not believe in God or trust in his deliverance” (Psalm 78:22). Ten times God is described in Psalm 78 as being angry, grieved, or vexed. Disturbed by their lack of faith, God cried, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14:11).

God’s Old Testament warning, “do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” is repeated in the New Testament in Ephesians 4:30, but the emphasis is different. In the Old Testament, grieving the Spirit was connected to the people’s response to God. In the New Testament, grieving the Spirit also includes our response to one another in the Body of Christ. Paul explains this in Ephesians 4:29–32 when he illustrates how we can keep from grieving the Spirit:

  • Avoid unwholesome talk
  • Build others up rather than yourself
  • Share
  • Rid yourself of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander
  • Be compassionate

The consistent goal of the Spirit in the New Testament is that we achieve unity by maintaining right relationships with one another and using our gifts to serve the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12–13, John 17:23). Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:3, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit.”

But the church in Jesus’ day lacked both service and unity, due in large measure to the ruling religious sect, the Pharisees (literally meaning “the separated ones”). By Jesus’ day it appeared that the Pharisees had set themselves apart because they secretly believed they were spiritually superior to others. Jesus called them vipers, fools, and blind guides. Stephen included them in his description of those who “always resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51).

Why was God so upset with these leaders? The reasons should be of concern to us because we grieve the Holy Spirit if we are guilty of these same sins.

Pride: The Pharisees demanded seats of honor at public events. They loved the esteem of the people and being called “Rabbi.” They expected to be served, rather than to serve. Jesus exposed their arrogance in a parable that portrayed a Pharisee as boasting, “God, I thank you that I am not like all other men” (Luke 18:11).

Self-effort: The Pharisees trusted in their good works to make them righteous, rather than in God. They erroneously believed they could achieve spiritual blessing through the effort of the flesh.

  • Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” (John 3:6).
  • “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength” (Jeremiah 17:5).
  • “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

Scripture condemns all self-effort and warns us to beware of our tendency to act independently of God. “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” (Galatians 3:3).

Resistance to the Spirit: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt” (1 Thessalonians 5:19–20). Guilty on both counts, the Pharisees doused the flames of the Spirit by attributing Jesus’ works to Satan (Matthew 12:25–32) and thumbing their noses at the Scriptures concerning Christ.

Hypocrisy: The Pharisees were spiritual leaders with no Spirit. They professed to know God yet they failed to recognize His own Son. They put demands upon others they were unwilling to accept themselves.

  • Jesus warned, “Do not do what [the Pharisees] do, for they do not practice what they preach” (Matthew 23:3).
  • “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs . . . on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:27–28).
  • Jesus’ final analysis was sad: “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Mark 7:6).

Legalism: Intellectualism was the god of the Pharisees. Consumed with order, tradition, and doctrine, they so immersed themselves in the study of God’s Law and the explanation of it that they ended up missing God Himself! When the Pharisees scolded Jesus’ disciples for failing to wash their hands before eating, Jesus rebuked them, “You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:6).

In their zeal for theological correctness, the Pharisees reduced religion to a purely intellectual exercise, effectively squelching the Spirit and eliminating responses of the heart.

  • As a result, their hearts were hardened (Mark 3:5).
  • Jesus said angrily, “Woe to you . . . you have neglected the more important matters of the law —justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23).
  • Paul, himself a Pharisee, recognized the dangers of legalism and rightly warned, “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Grieving the Spirit carries serious consequences:

  • The actions of the Israelites grieved the Spirit, and God withdrew His protection and fought against them (Isaiah 63:10, Acts 7:42–43).
  • The attitudes of the Pharisees grieved the Spirit and they were condemned to hell (Matthew 23:13, 23:33).
  • The most common result of grieving the Spirit in the Old Testament was simply that He left. Prior to Pentecost, the Spirit was given to selected individuals for a temporary period of time. That is why David, who experienced the coming and going of the Spirit in his own life, pleaded in Psalm 51:11, “Do not . . . take your Holy Spirit from me.”

Today, the Spirit works differently. When we mean business with God, the moment a person comes to Christ, he is immediately sealed by the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13–14, John 14:16). We don’t question our eternal destiny or doubt God’s intentions toward us (1 John 4:16). The Spirit does not leave us, but if we grieve Him, He may temporarily withdraw fellowship for a time until we come back on track.

God prefers that we are continually aware of the Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence and sensitive to how deeply sin affects Him, and us. It is good to understand the biblical theology of grieving the Spirit. It helps when we are able to feel God’s sorrow over sin, but the surest way to avoid grieving the Spirit is to know Him and walk in a moment-by-moment, love relationship with Him.

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People’s Hearts are Carnal

When you take a look at the American church today, it appears that those inside the church have a lifestyle quite similar to those outside the church. The question arises about how to be in the world but not of it (John 18:36, 17:14, Philippians 3:20, James 4:14, 1 Peter 5:10).

So, the age old debate goes on, can a true Christian be carnal? We first define the term “carnal” which is translated from the Greek word sarkikos, which literally means “fleshly.” Check out this passage:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

According to Paul, there are three classifications of believers:

  1. The Natural Man: has not received Christ.
  2. The Spiritual Man: is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
  3. The Carnal Man (or man of flesh): is supposedly saved, but shows no evidence of life transformation.

Notice Paul is addressing the readers as “brethren,” a term he uses almost exclusively to refer to other Christians (male or female). We can assume then that Christians can be carnal. The Bible is clear that no one is sinless (1 John 1:8), so every time we sin, we are acting carnally. The goal of the believer is to sin less this week than we did last week.

The key here is to understand that while a Christian can for a time, be carnal, a true Christian will not remain carnal for a lifetime. We are all sinners, no one is perfect. Think about how many church people today have abused the idea of a “carnal Christian” by saying that it is possible to be saved and then go on to live the rest of their lives in a completely carnal manner? They reason that since they have their “fire insurance” they can live as they please, after all, “once saved, always saved.” But how can there be no evidence of being born again or being a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Such a concept is completely unbiblical. We are to be changed, not living our lives the same old way we did before Christ.

  1. James 2:14, 26 make it clear that genuine faith will always result in good works.
  2. Ephesians 2:8-10 declares that while we are saved by grace alone through faith alone, that salvation will result in works.

So, can a Christian, in a time of failure or rebellion, appear to be carnal? Yes. Will a true Christian remain carnal? No (Hebrews 10:26).

Since eternal security is found Scripture, the carnal Christian is still saved. Salvation cannot be lost, because salvation is a gift of God that He will not take away (see John 10:28; Romans 8:37-39; 1 John 5:13). No one wakes in the morning wondering if he is saved or not, like salvation slipped away in the night. We can be secure and assured of our salvation. Paul reminds us that the even carnal Christian can be assured of salvation:

If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15)

The question is not whether a person who claims to be a Christian and lives carnally has lost his salvation, but whether that person was truly saved in the first place (1 John 2:19). W. A. Crisswell once said that “the faith that fizzles at the finish was faulty at the first.” It makes sense.

Christians who become carnal in their behavior can expect God to discipline them (Hebrews 12:5-11) so they can be restored to close fellowship with Him. God’s desire in saving us is that we:

  1. Become progressively grow closer to the image of Christ (Romans 12:1-2, 8:29).
  2. Become increasingly spiritual and decreasingly carnal, which is a lifelong process known as sanctification.

What about bearing fruit? Beliefs determine actions. So, we can determine if someone is of the faith by looking at the results of faith in their lives (not just those who claim to have faith). What we have to ask ourselves when judging something is whether it bears good fruit or not. It’s not about how popular, socially acceptable or how politically correct the person is. Actions speak louder than words. These questions can be helpful when judging fruit. When properly applied, does it lead to:

  1. More good or more evil?
  2. More closeness or distance from Jesus Christ?
  3. More light or more darkness?
  4. More truth or more error?
  5. More peace or more confusion?
  6. More happiness or more misery?
  7. More friendship or more animosity?
  8. More love or more hate?

We live in a world that exchanges the truth for a lie and says evil is good and dark is light (Isaiah 5:20). Until we are delivered from our sinful flesh, there will be outbreaks of carnality. For a genuine believer in Christ, though, these outbreaks of carnality will be the exception, not the rule. We are not to judge others, but we can encourage others to move toward higher levels of commitment to Christ and his church.

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Careful Disobedience

Solomon and his workers carefully followed God’s instructions (1 Kings 9:4-5). As a result, the temple work was blessed by God and completed in every detail. Here are a few examples of people in the Bible who did not carefully follow one of God’s instructions, and the resulting consequences. It is not enough to partially obey God. Good intentions, honest mistakes and half-hearted obedience is still disobedience.

Adam and Eve:

  1. Don’t eat fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:16-17)
  2. Satan tempted them, and they ate (Genesis 3:1-6)
  3. They were banished from the Garden of Eden; pain and death were inflicted on all mankind (Genesis 3:24; Romans 5:12)

Nadab and Abihu:

  1. Fire for the sacrifice must come from the proper source (Leviticus 6:12-13)
  2. They used unauthorized fire for their sacrifice (Leviticus 10:1)
  3. They were struck dead (Leviticus 10:2)


  1. “Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water” (Numbers 20:8)
  2. He spoke to the rock, but also struck it with his staff (Numbers 20:11)
  3. He was not allowed to enter the promised land (Numbers 20:12)

King Saul:

  1. Completely destroy the evil Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3)
  2. He spared the king and kept some of the plunder (1 Samuel 15:8-9)
  3. God promised to end his reign (1 Samuel 15:16-26)


  1. Only a priest can touch the holy furnishings and articles (Numbers 4:15)
  2. He touched the ark of the covenant (2 Samuel 6:6)
  3. He died instantly (2 Samuel 6:7)


  1. Only the priests could offer incense in the temple or tabernacle sanctuary (Numbers 16:39, 40, 18:7)
  2. He entered the Holy Place in the temple where only priests were allowed to go (2 Chronicles 26:16-18)
  3. He became a leper (2 Chronicles 26:19)

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Creative Ways to Disobey God

This is a message that I preached at King’s Grant Baptist Church. As children, we often look for ways to be disobedient, and dealing with God there is often no difference. From the life of Pharaoh, we can learn six creative ways to disobey God…

Postponed Obedience – Exodus 8:1-15 – Put it off until tomorrow.

  1. Water into blood did not work, so here comes plague #2
  2. Frogs are everywhere – (Exodus 8:3) – in your house, your bedroom, your bed, the houses of your servants, on your people, in your ovens and kneading bowls; covering the land of Egypt (Exodus 8:6).
    1. Magicians’ response – (Exodus 8:7) – more of the same, status quo
    2. Moses’ response – (Exodus 8:9) – empowering others to make decisions
    3. Monarch’s response – (Exodus 8:10) – “tomorrow” = procrastination
  3. Knowing what to do and waiting until some other day is the same as disobedience; just as deciding later is really a decision not to.

Practical Obedience – Exodus 8:25 – We rationalize in order to do what we want.

  1. What we want to do is more practical and doable than what God wants us to do, sacrifice within the land…
    1. There are dangers outside of Egypt, and I can’t protect you.
    2. There are logistical problems in moving so many people so far away.
    3. There are old people and infants, it will be a hard trip on all the people, I care about them.
  2. We often desire to walk by sight rather than by faith
  3. Another example is King Saul:
    1. 1 Sam 13:8-13 – performing the sacrifice when Samuel was late.
    2. 1 Sam 15:9-11, 19-22 – sparing King Agag, the people taking the spoil to sacrifice to God. To obey is better than sacrifice!
  4. Doing what is practical may be nothing more than disobedience. Obedience may not be doing what is practical, but doing the will of God!

Partial Obedience – Exodus 8:28 – I’ll go so far and that’s good enough

  1. We must go three days into the wilderness (Exodus 8:27)
  2. “I will let you go, just don’t go far away” (Exodus 8:28)
  3. Moses says it’s not good enough and sends the plague of flies (Exodus 8:29)
  4. What has God called you to do and you tell him that you will go so far and no more?
    1. I’ll give to your kingdom, but not sacrificial giving
    2. I’ll go to a Sunday school class, but not teach anywhere
    3. I’ll hand out bulletins on Sunday but not hand out meals at the shelter
    4. I’ll teach an adult class but I won’t serve in the preschool or children’s areas
    5. I’ll pray for missions but not give to missions
    6. I’ll give to missions but will not go on a mission trip
    7. I’ll invite people to church but not share my faith with people
    8. I’ll sing in the congregation but not in the choir
  5. How do you define where to draw the line – to obey or not?

Pivotal Obedience – Exodus 9:34-35 – I surrender all, and then change my mind and take it all back

  1. The hail came down until Pharaoh admitted that his people were the wicked ones (Exodus 9:27)
  2. Pharaoh was in a tough spot; “Pray to the Lord for the hail to stop and I’ll let your people go” (Exodus 9:28)
  3. Moses said he would stop the hail as soon as he was out of the city (Exodus 9:29)
  4. The thunder and hail stopped, and Pharaoh changed his mind (Exodus 9:34-35)
  5. How many times has this happened in life?
    1. I forgot I had a test today, God help me to pass, and I’ll do anything you want…
    2. We promise God all sorts of things if only I can get that promotion: If you get me the promotion… I’ll start tithing, I’ll be more faithful in church attendance, I’ll serve on a few committees.
    3. We make a vow when we pray for a family member to be healed
    4. Please God get me out of this mess and I’ll serve you faithfully
  6. This method of disobedience is basically lying to God!

Parental Obedience – Exodus 10:10 – the men and parents may go to serve the Lord but not the children

  1. Some time after Pharaoh goes back on his offer to let them go, Moses is asked, “Who are the ones going? (Exodus 10:8)
  2. With our young and old, our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds! (Exodus 10:9)
  3. Pharaoh said to take only the men (Exodus 10:11) which is unacceptable to Moses
  4. God wants all of us involved in his mission in the world.
    1. It’s not just for men, all people are called to salvation and service
    2. It’s not just for the women, so often men feel that Christians follow a wimpy Jesus always talking about love, rather than a manly Jesus who was a skilled craftsman & carpenter, with strong morals, firm convictions, strong social skills.
    3. He attracted people to his message and held them with a charismatic personality where men wanted to follow him, and eventually gave their lives for his mission.
    4. Children and youth may very well say that Christian service is for my parents, not me. I have too much to do right now, I’ll serve him later. God can’t use me, I’m just a youth Think about the call of Jeremiah – Jeremiah 1:5 or Timothy – 1 Timothy 4:12 – let no one look down on your youthfulness…
      1. Be an example to others, perhaps older people (1 Timothy 4:13)
      2. Read and teach the Scripture (1 Timothy 4:13)
      3. Exercise your spiritual gift (1 Timothy 4:14)
      4. Live out loud where people see your progress (1 Timothy 4:15)
      5. Persevere is sharing the message of salvation (1 Timothy 4:16)
  5. How often do young people feel that it is the older generation’s responsibility to serve the Lord?

Phony Obedience – Exodus 10:17 – Going to church with no real conviction, and a false sense of security

  1. After the locusts Pharaoh had enough, he declares to Moses and Aaron that he has sinned against God and them (16)
  2. He begs forgiveness (just this once) and their prayers, to remove this death from him (17)
  3. Pharaoh makes some sort of phony confession with intent of not following through; he hardens his own heart in 10:20.
  4. It may look good on the outside but God is not fool with such phony foolishness.
    1. A youth wants to date a Christian girl so he makes his confession
    2. A woman does not want to loose her potential finance’ so she attends church with him
    3. A prisoner before his parole board claims to now be a believer
    4. A businessman wants to increase his business through church people so he joins the church to make contacts
    5. A husband has a brush with death and he vows to be in church from now on
  5. Jesus said…
    1. That a tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 7:16)
    2. If you love me you will keep my commandments (John 14:15)
    3. Not everyone who calls him Lord will enter the kingdom (Matthew 7:21) EVEN those who served him and performed miracles; depart from me I never knew you (Matthew 7:22-23)
  6. Remember that Samuel told Saul that to “obey is better than sacrifice.” We cannot go through religious motions, playing games with God. “A call to come to Christ is a call to come and die” (Dietrich Bonheoffer). That’s not a popular message, but Jesus is the Lord and is to be obeyed or he may very well say to us, “I never knew you.”
  7. Look over the list of creative ways to disobey God. What is your favorite excuse? How are you going to get right with God? Don’t wait until tomorrow!

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