What Not to Do in Your Relationship with the Holy Spirit
When it comes to our ongoing friendship with God the Holy Spirit, his role is to comfort us in all our troubles. But a relationship is a two-way street; that means that there is a role for us to play in the process. All that is left for us now is to think about what we need to do in order to enjoy and live out our communion. When the Bible gets specific on the topic, it actually tells us more about what not to do. So here are three things that we should avoid as we seek to enjoy communion with the Holy Spirit.
Do Not Grieve the Spirit
First, because he dwells in us, we should not grieve the Spirit. The reference here is to the apostle Paul’s words in the book of Ephesians: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30; cf. Isa. 63:10). As we think about what Paul is saying to the church, we need to step carefully so that we do not badly misunderstand him. The word grieve has the sense of causing someone to be sorrowful, so it seems that the apostle is telling the church not to make the Holy Spirit sad.
Friendship with God
What does it mean to be friends with God? Each chapter of this book takes a key insight from John Owen’s Communion with God and clarifies it for modern readers.
But we must insist that there is an important sense in which it is impossible for us (or anything) to cause the Spirit of God to be sorrowful. Because he is divine and lacking in nothing, he cannot be robbed of his happiness and joy. He is in no way influenced or disappointed by our actions, for that would imply weakness and changeability on his part. Simply put, you and I do not have the power to make the Spirit sad. But if that’s true, then what is Paul warning us against? Why is he telling us not to do something that is, in the end, impossible? Owen sees two truths at work in what Paul says.
On one hand, we know that the Spirit loves us and wants what is best for us. He cares deeply about us as a good, tender, and kind friend. And like any friend, he is not pleased when we make foolish choices and engage in self-destructive behaviors. That’s the opposite of what he wants for us. On the other hand, whatever Paul means by grieving the Spirit, it must be related to his work of making us holy. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul urges the church both to put off certain sinful behaviors that characterized their life before Christ and to put on attitudes and actions that are consistent with their new spiritual life. It is in that context that the command comes to us, so we can best understand that what Paul means by grieving the Spirit is not making him sad, but living a life devoted to something other than the holiness he brings to his people. Not grieving the Spirit requires us to live holy lives, both avoiding sin and cultivating godly virtues. When you take time to ponder the love and kindness of the Spirit, and when that consideration motivates you to avoid sin and walk in holiness, you are in that moment living out and enjoying friendship with God the Spirit.
When we fail to shape our lives around the love and care of the Spirit, we lose the power for and joy in obedience that we were meant to have. When his kindness and comfort mean little to us, then obedience will either be a burden or absent altogether. Owen suggests that we have a conversation like this with our souls:
The Holy Ghost, in his infinite love and kindness toward me, has condescended to be my comforter; he does it willingly, freely, powerfully. What have I received from him! In the multitude of my perplexities [struggles] how has he refreshed my soul! Can I live one day without his consolations? And shall I be regardless of him in that wherein he is concerned? Shall I grieve him by negligence, sin, and folly? Shall not his love constrain me to walk before him to all well-pleasing?1
When we strive to avoid grieving the Spirit, we are enjoying fellowship with him.
Do Not Quench the Spirit
Second, because the Holy Spirit is powerfully at work in us, we should not quench (or extinguish) the Spirit. Here the emphasis is less on how we treat and respect the Holy Spirit himself and more on how we treat his work. We might grieve the Spirit as he is a person living in us, but when we quench the Spirit, we are stifling his activity in us.
When we fail to shape our lives around the love and care of the Spirit, we lose the power for and joy in obedience that we were meant to have.
Think of all the ways we have seen that the Spirit is at work in our lives. He strives to produce the fruit of godliness (Gal. 5:22–25), to convince us of God’s love (Rom. 5:5), and to empower us to serve and build up the church (1 Cor. 12:7). He stirs up the grace of Christ in us and brings us fresh supplies of grace in our time of need. All this work of the Spirit is like a burning fire in our soul, which we want to continue growing throughout our lives.
Quenching the Spirit, then, is like throwing a soaking wet log onto the fire of his work in us. But that raises the question, What does it look like to quench the Spirit? Surely we want to be wary of doing any such thing, so it makes sense to be clear about what we should be avoiding. Owen summarizes the meaning of Paul’s warning in this way: “Take heed . . . lest, by the power of your lusts and temptations, you attend [pay attention] not to his workings, but hinder him in his goodwill towards you.”2 When we live our lives without any awareness of the Spirit’s work in us, or when we care infinitely more about the things of our daily lives than what he wants to produce in us, or when we do things we know are exactly the opposite of what the Spirit desires for us, then we are quenching his work. Again, it’s like throwing a wet log onto a fire; it won’t put it out, but it will reduce the blaze.
Instead of quenching the Spirit through sin or failure to pay careful attention, we should “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Tim. 1:6). We do this by something the Puritans called “improving” the Spirit’s work and gifts. The idea is not that there is something wrong with the Spirit’s work so that we need to make it better, but rather that we ought carefully and watchfully to put his gifts to work in order to bear the good fruit for which they were given. By valuing the Spirit’s love and being diligent to fight sin, live righteously, and serve faithfully, we can make that fire burn stronger and stronger in our hearts. This is another crucial way that we experience communion with the Spirit.
Do Not Resist the Spirit
Third, because the Spirit works through the preaching of his word, we should not resist him. In Acts 7, Stephen condemned his hearers, saying, “You always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51). They were guilty of resisting the Spirit because they had joined their fathers in persecuting and even killing the prophets (Acts 7:52). The Spirit’s work is closely tied up in the proclamation of God’s truth. Luke tells us that Stephen’s opponents could not get the best of him because of the wisdom given to him by the Spirit to speak and proclaim the truth of Christ (Acts 6:10). In a similar way, Paul reminded the Corinthians that his proclamation of the gospel among them was attended by a “demonstration of the Spirit and of power” (1 Cor. 2:4), as evidenced by their conversion.
The prophets and apostles are no longer with us, but we have their words written down for us, and they are every bit as authoritative today as they were when they were first written or spoken. In our times, the work of the Spirit is in part to empower pastors and teachers to proclaim the word that he has inspired for the benefit and building up of believers in the church. This means that one of the key ways we live out our relationship with the Spirit is to listen humbly and reverently to the word as it is preached week in and week out by Spirit-empowered preachers in our churches. When we are inattentive to, disinterested in, or critical of the Bible as it is preached to us, we are resisting the Spirit. But when we give due honor to the preaching of his word, we are communing with the Holy Spirit.
All three of these warnings represent sins that believers must be on guard against and also ways that we can pursue a closer walk with the Spirit—these are real dangers and real opportunities for fellowship with the Spirit. Because he is dwelling in us, we should honor and cherish his presence; we must not grieve him. Because he is powerfully at work in us, we should fan his gift into flame; we must not quench him. Because he works through the proclamation of his word, we must listen expectantly; we must not resist him.
- John Owen, Communion with the Triune God, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2007), 415.
- Owen, Communion, 416.
This article is adapted from Friendship with God: A Path to Deeper Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit by Mike McKinley.
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