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Grieving the Spirit in the PCA

volume 19, number 11, March 12, 2020

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

Have you ever considered that our issues in the Presbyterian Church in America are actually grieving the Holy Spirit? And what are those issues? They are many but let’s take just one – Side B homosexuality (one can be attracted to someone of the same sex as long as he does not act upon it) as well as all the sexual perversion which flows from it. I suggest the recent debacle at Memorial Presbyterian Church (PCA), St. Louis is a practical example of grieving the Spirit. The present situation involves a ministry partner called The Chapel which hosts The Q Collective Theatre. This theatre describes its mission as exploring the spectrum of gender, sexuality, and romantic orientation. The Q Collective, meeting at The Chapel (The Chapel receives free use of space and utility expenses from Memorial Presbyterian Church), recently completed its Second Transluminate Arts Festival. Transluminate is a short-play festival and celebration of transgender, gender, non-binary, genderqueer, and gender fluid artists. One of the short plays, entitled Testosterone People, is about Andy, helping his husband Jack administer his first testosterone shot. They talk about their love, their marriage, and the oddities of being “testosterone people.” Another play, Transcodicil, is about a transgender man named Joe and Shawna, a transgender woman, who are married. Joe is carrying their child. Joe’s Aunt Tammy has recently died, and Joe was expected to be her sole heir. Tammy’s executor, Virginia, tells Joe and Shawna about a codicil Tammy added to her will, which may prevent Joe from inheriting the estate. It turns out that Joe’s transphobic mother, Loretta, and her church pressured Tammy into creating the codicil. Thanks to Shawna’s shrewd thinking, the codicil goes through its own transition, and Joe and Shawna stand up to the bullying. My friends, in the context of a church’s ministry, is this not grieving the Holy Spirit?

Paul, the Apostle, in the practical section of his epistle to the Ephesians, commands his hearers to not grieve the Holy Spirit. What does this mean and why is it important? The context of any Scriptural command is vital in helping us understand the meaning. After putting forth the glorious doctrine of the fullness of our salvation in Ephesians 1; and stating to his hearers in Ephesians 2, who were mostly pagan before their conversions, that the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile has been torn down, that all have access to the Father by the Spirit; and in Ephesians 3 declaring that the manifold wisdom of God has been made known through the church to the rulers in high places; Paul urges them in Ephesians 4 to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to be diligent to maintain peace in the church. From there Paul says that they are to grow up in all aspects into Christ. They are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. They are to put off the old man. They are to be renewed in the spirit of their minds. And they are to put on the new man. 

So Paul is giving a series of commands, based on the identity in Christ of his hearers. In the immediate context, verses 25 to 32, Paul tells them to lay aside falsehood and speak truth to one another, to be angry and yet not to sin, to not give the devil an opportunity, to not steal, to not use unwholesome speech, to not grieve the Spirit, to expunge all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and slander, and to forgive others as Christ has forgiven them. 

So, to grieve the Holy Spirit (the Greek text is very emphatic, literally it reads, “Grieve not the Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God”) is a serious matter. To grieve the Spirit means that we are living contrary to God’s word in general and these commands in verses 25 to 32 in particular. Grieving the Spirit is to sin against God. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Godhead. When we sin we are not sinning against a concept, a theory, or an influence. You cannot grieve a concept. You cannot grieve a theory or influence. When we sin against God then He is disappointed with us. We have hurt Him, grieved Him, angered Him. Paul later tells the Ephesians that they are to try and be pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:10). This is serious business, my friends. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it like this, “When a Christian sins, what he should be most conscious of is not so much that he has done that which is wrong, or even that he has broken God’s law; what should really trouble him is this, that he has offended against love.”[1] To be even more specific, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we do anything which is not holy, when we fail to realize His presence with us, when we use crass or godless speech, when we do not honor Him, when we fail to follow His promptings to pray, contact someone, or to speak to someone about his soul. 

So, if we can grieve the Holy Spirit as individuals, can we not also be charged as a denomination of grieving the Holy Spirit? We are united. We have the same Lord. We have the same doctrinal standards. We are in one church.

What happens when we grieve the Holy Spirit? Again, Lloyd-Jones greatly helps us, “. . . if you grieve Him it will inevitably lead to a loss of the manifestation of Himself. If you grieve the Spirit, you will not have a sense of God’s love to you, you will not have the joy of salvation, you will have no assurance, you will not have certainty, you will not have peace, you will not be able to say, ‘The Spirit bears witness with my spirit that I am a child of God.’ . . . If you grieve the Spirit and He withdraws His gracious influences, it means that He leaves you to the supremacy of the flesh; that is to say, you will be left with all the power of the flesh within you, and the devil making use of it to attack you. He will assault you, he will insinuate vile, foul, ugly, thoughts and desires into your mind and heart. . . And it is all because the Spirit, in order to teach you a lesson, is no longer, as it were, striving against the flesh.”[2]

I have wondered for some time why we lack conversions, why so many of us in the PCA seem to lack joy and boldness in our daily walks with Christ, why we seem to see so little victory over the sins of unbiblical divorce, porn addiction, and so many more sins. I have wondered why we are battling with the issue of homosexual identity in our denomination and why we seem to be so powerless to stand against the secularism of our culture. I know we are not alone. This is rampant throughout the evangelical church in America. Could it be, my friends, that we have grieved the Holy Spirit, that we have offended Him and that He has, in turn, left us to our own paltry devices?

What is the solution? We must repent. We must confess. We must run afresh and anew to the Lord Jesus and bathe in His blood and once again receive the fullness of the Spirit in gospel holiness and power for ministry. 

1  Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17-5:17, page 271.
2  Ibid. pages 274, 275.

One thought on “Grieving the Spirit in the PCA

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  1. You may be right. And Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a man of great insight. Nonetheless, your conclusion the church is powerless against these sins is because it has grieved the Spirit, while plausible, would be more credible if you actually backed it up with Scripture. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was wise, but He was not an Apostle nor did he deliver any new scripture from God.


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