How to Avoid Grieving the Holy Spirit Who Seals Us

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“And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” (Ephesians 4:30)

The Holy Spirit plays a key role in the life of every believer. At the moment of our conversion we are simultaneously born of the Spirit (John 3:5), baptized by the Spirit into one body, the Church (1 Cor. 13:12), made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 13:12), sealed with the Spirit (Eph. 1:13; 4:30), indwelt by the Spirit (Rom. 8:9), and initially sanctified by the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2).

Subsequent to the new birth, we are commanded to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25), demonstrate our Sonship by being led by the Spirit (Rom. 8:14), and be filled with the Spirit and maintain that fullness (Eph. 5:18).1

The focus of this message is twofold:

  1. the significance of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and
  2. how to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit who seals us unto the day of redemption.

As we attempt to understand the significance of being “sealed” by the Holy Spirit, let us examine first the placement of the seal of the Spirit in the believer’s life.

The Placement of the Seal (Eph. 1:13)

According to Paul in Ephesians 1:13, it is the hearing of faith that brings salvation and the sealing with the Spirit. The Ephesians believers first heard the Gospel. Then they believed or put their faith in the Gospel. As a result they were sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise. Hearing, believing, and sealing are the steps Paul enumerates for every Christian. The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal.

The Holy Spirit Himself is the seal.

The dative case “with the Spirit” (to pneumati) suggests that the Holy Spirit is the means or instrument by which a believer is sealed (Eph. 1:13). In Ephesians 4:30, Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the one “in whom” (en ho) they were sealed. It would be a mistake, therefore, to see the sealing to be anything else but the presence of the Spirit Himself in our lives.

The Person Who Does the Sealing (2 Cor. 1:21,22)

The seal of the Spirit is applied by God the Father (2 Cor. 1:21, 22). Each of the four Greek participles in 2 Corinthians 1:21 and 22 has God (in the emphatic position) as its subject. God “establishes” us, “anointed” us, “sealed” us and “gave” us the Spirit in our hearts as a pledge or a deposit, thereby guaranteeing what is to come.

The first participle, “establishes,” is present tense and “refers to God’s continuous strengthening of believers in their faith in Christ and His progressive enriching of their knowledge of Christ.

The other three participles are in the aorist tense, indicating what took place at the time of conversion and baptism…. God ‘set his seal of ownership [sphragisamenos] on us’ in that he ‘put [dous] his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’” 2

The Purpose of the Seal (Eph. 1:14)

In Scripture, a seal was used for various purposes, both literally and metaphorically. Two examples of the literal use of a seal are: A. A seal served as a mark of authority

A seal served as a mark of authority. When Jezebel “wrote letters in Ahab’s name, and sealed them with his seal” (1 Kings 21:8), the seal served as a mark of authenticity and kingly authority. The written commands of King Ahasuerus were sealed “with the king’s ring, for the writing which is written in the king’s name, and sealed with the king’s ring, may no man reverse” (Esther 8:8,10; 3:12).

Allied to this is the formal ratification of a transaction or covenant. Jeremiah sealed the deeds of the field which he bought from Hanamel (Jer. 32:10-14; compare 32:44). Nehemiah and many others affixed their seals to the written covenant between God and His people (Neh. 9:38; 10:1ff).

A seal served as a mark of identity or ownership. In the ancient world, a seal was used as an official mark of identity or ownership. Archaeologists have found many examples of clay stoppers of wine jars on which seal impressions of ownership were stamped by rolling a cylinder with the seal along the surface of the clay when it was still soft (compare Job. 38:14). A seal is also used in Scripture with a metaphorical use. For example,

A seal served as a means of ratification. The believer in Christ is said to “set his seal to this, that God is true” (John 3:33). In other words, the believer testifies to the veracity of God and metaphorically places his personal stamp of endorsement and confirmation upon this truth. The Father has sealed the Son. This means He authenticated Jesus as the bestower of life-giving bread (John 6:27). The circumcision of Abraham was a “sign” and “seal,” an outward ratification, of the righteousness of faith which he had already received while uncircumcised (Rom. 4:11).

A seal served as a promise of things to come. According to Ephesians 1:14, the seal of the Spirit “is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession.” The term “earnest” means a “deposit” or “down-payment” guaranteeing our inheritance until the final redemption of those who are God’s possession. “Paul is saying that God’s gift to us of the Holy Spirit here and now is an installment, a guarantee, an advance foretaste of the life which the Christian will someday live when he lives in the presence of God.” 3

Some people wish to push the metaphor of “sealing” too far. Typically, some wish to read into it unconditional eternal security. In other words, “once sealed always sealed.” The phrase in Ephesians 4:30, “sealed unto the day of redemption” is taken to mean that once a person is sealed with the Holy Spirit, he is secure until the day of final redemption.

I wish this were true. The problem with such an interpretation is that the interpreter is forgetting that the “seal” is not a “thing,” but rather the seal is the third Person of the Trinity. A believer is “sealed” as long as the Holy Spirit, as the agent of the new birth, remains in his or her life. The Holy Spirit, however, will not remain in the heart of the person who practices deliberate sin.

A believer is “sealed” as long as the Holy Spirit, as the agent of the new birth, remains in his or her life.

If a believer chooses to reject the faith and turns and goes back into a life of sin, the Holy Spirit does not remain in his life sealing him or her “unto the day of redemption.” The Spirit who is holy will not reside in an unholy heart that refuses to walk in the light of God’s Word. Let me give further explanation as we consider our next and last point.

The Pain We May Bring to the Seal (Eph. 4:30)

Paul warned, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

THE MEANING OF THE WORD “GRIEVE”

The word “grieve” is a strong term. It expresses how the Disciples felt when Jesus told them of His approaching death (Mat. 17:23).

  • It is how the rich young ruler felt when he learned he had to sell all that he had and give it to the poor in order to have eternal life (Mat. 19:22).
  • It is how the Disciples felt in the Upper Room when Jesus told them that one of them would betray him (Mat. 26:37).
  • It is how Jesus felt in the Garden of Gethsemane when he began to be “sorrowful” (Mat. 26:37).
  • It is how Peter felt when Jesus asked him for the third time, “Do you love me?” (John 21:17).

To “grieve” someone is to cause them great emotional pain and sorrow of heart. When Paul warns the believer not to grieve the Holy Spirit, he is informing us that we can cause the Holy Spirit great pain and sorrow of heart. What a terrible thought! That is no small or trivial matter. It should sober the heart and mind of every true Christian.

THE MEANS BY WHICH WE GRIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT

What causes the Holy Spirit to be grieved? The immediate context for the warning is Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.” Paul then follows with the warning, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30).

The coordinating conjunction “and” tells us that Paul is specifically warning about the danger of grieving the Holy Spirit through “corrupt communication,” which refers to any words that we speak that are not appropriate (“good”), that do not minister grace to the hearer, and that do not edify. I have devised the acronym “AGE” to help me remember the three elements:

  • A – appropriate
  • G – gracious
  • E – edifying

Further, since Ephesians 5:18-21 stresses the impact the fullness of the Holy Spirit will have on the spoken and sung words of the believer, we should set a guard at our lips lest we grieve the Holy Spirit. Any kind of careless talk, whether it be murmuring or complaining instead of the “giving of thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father” (Eph. 5:20), or words that are not kind and tenderhearted (Eph. 4:32), grieve the Holy Spirit.

Clearly, harsh or unkind words, and angry words that do not meet the Biblical criteria of having “AGE” cause the Holy Spirit to be grieved. Have you ever been convicted of grieving the Holy Spirit after you have finished criticizing another person behind his or her back, or after you have spoken words that hurt another person?

If so, I trust that you repented quickly as He convicted your heart and that you asked the Holy Spirit to forgive you.

THE SPIRITUAL DANGER WE FACE WHEN WE GRIEVE THE SPIRIT

When we grieve the Holy Spirit, we are in danger of losing the intimacy of our relationship (Phil. 2:1), and of losing the energizing work of His anointing ministry on our lives as Christians. If we have maintained a tender conscience that is ever ready to obey the Spirit’s promptings, we will sense that we have grieved the Spirit. When He deals with us, we need to repent or we will stand in jeopardy of losing the seal of the Spirit, for grieving the Spirit can lead to quenching the Spirit (1 Thes. 5:19).

The term “quench” (sbennute) is frequently used in Scripture for extinguishing fire. This term is especially relevant to the Holy Spirit who is likened to fire (Rev. 4:5). In faithfulness the grieved Holy Spirit convicts us and endeavors to lead us into greater Christlikeness. If we persist in rejecting His admonition and leadership, His activity in our lives is quenched and He departs. The loss of the Spirit means the removal of the seal.

The loss of the Spirit means the removal of the seal.

Further, and worse yet, quenching the Spirit can lead to despising the Spirit (Heb. 10:29) and instead of being our guide and helper, He becomes our enemy. We need to remember the words of the prophet Isaiah speaking of the people of God, “But they rebelled, and vexed His Holy Spirit; therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them” (Isa. 63:10).

The psalmist refers to the same fact in nearly the same words, “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! (Psa. 78:40). Each of us must take heed that we do not grieve the Spirit of God, lest God turn and become our enemy, and fight against us!

Let us not forget the lament of King Saul who testified, “God is departed from me, and answers me no more” (1 Sam. 28:15), and the fear of David, as he remembered God’s judgment on King Saul and prayed, “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me” (Psa. 51:11).

Conclusion

The seal of the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership upon our lives as Christians. The presence of the Spirit also brings the promise of a glorious future. However, we must take heed that we do not grieve the Spirit by allowing “corrupt communication” to pass from our lips. Our words must be appropriate, gracious, and edifying. Let us walk carefully, asking God to set a “watch” at our lips lest we bring pain and sorrow to the Holy Spirit.

Meditate and pray over the command, “Grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). By God’s grace it is possible to avoid grieving the Holy Spirit who seals us.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. The basic concept of being “filled” with the Spirit is for the believer to transfer full control of his or her life to the Holy Spirit.
  2. Murray J. Harris, 2 Corinthians in Expositor’s Bible Commentary on the New Testament, p.325.
  3. William Barclay, New Testament Words (London: SCM Press Ltd., 1964), p. 59
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.