Dr. Sinclair Ferguson of Ligonier Ministries notes that many regard the Holy Spirit as “the forgotten person of the Trinity.” But he further observes that the Holy Spirit is less forgotten than understood. Many Christians, he says, don’t really know who the Holy Spirit is.
This is perhaps brought to light when we examine the somewhat unsettling topic of sins against the Holy Spirit. Why are there specific sins against the third person of the Trinity? What is the significance of these sins? How is the truth of God revealed in an understanding of these sins?
We’ll look at these and other questions of the course of this short series.
The sins against the Holy Spirit
There are five sins against the Holy Spirit given in Scripture:
- The Holy Spirit can be quenched
1Thessalonians 5:19 says, Do not quench the Spirit.”
- The Holy Spirit can be grieved
Ephesians 4:30 says, “Grieve not the Holy Spirit.”
- The Holy Spirit can be resisted
Acts 7:51 says, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit.”
- The Holy Spirit can be blasphemed
Matthew 12:24-32, Jesus condemns the Pharisaical leaders of Jerusalem because they blasphemed the Holy Spirit.
- The Holy Spirit can be insulted
Hebrews 10:29 says, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”
Now a quick categorizing of those sins shows that:
a) unbelievers can blaspheme, insult and resist the Holy Spirit; and
b) believers can quench the Holy Spirit and grieve the Holy Spirit.
Let’s first examine the sins of believers against the Holy Spirit.
Grieving and Quenching: The sins of believers against the Holy Spirit
What is the difference between quenching and grieving? Quenching is what you do to the Spirit; grieving is how He responds to what you did.
Grieving speaks of the personal anguish of the Holy Spirit when a believer quenches the holy fire that He has kindled in the heart. You do not quench the Holy Spirit without grieving the Holy Spirit, and you will not grieve the Holy Spirit unless you quench the Holy Spirit. These are simply two sides of the same problem; one describes what you do, the other describes what He does. You quench, He grieves. He grieves because you quench. So as sheep wanting to be rightly related to the Great Shepherd, we must not quench the Holy Spirit.
John MacArthur in his book on Our Sufficiency in Christ, says, “I believe the Holy Spirit is being seriously, significantly quenched today, and therefore is deeply grieved by what is going on in the church.”
What does the Holy Spirit want to do in you that you can quench? Very simply, He wants to move you along a path to ever-increasing holiness.
What does holy mean? Separate. He wants to separate you further and further from sin, and the further you get away from sin, the closer you get to God. It’s just a process of separation. He wants to produce in you the decreasing frequency of sin, the decreasing power of temptation, the decreasing preoccupation with the world, the decreasing victimization to the flesh, and increase your longings for God. That’s the progress of sanctification. That’s a movement toward holiness. That is the Spirit’s work.
English theologian John Owen had some rich insight. He said this:
“Sanctification is an immediate work of the Spirit of God on the souls of believers, purifying and cleansing of their natures from the pollution and uncleanness of sin, renewing in them the image of God, and thereby enabling them, from a spiritual and habitual principle of grace, to yield obedience unto God according unto the tenor and terms of the New Covenant, by virtue of the life and death of Jesus Christ.”
Now, that’s what the Spirit desires to do. Psychology can’t do that. Human wisdom can’t do that. Nothing can do that but the Holy Spirit. The only agency that can do it is the Holy Spirit.
You can quench the Spirit in the progress of that sanctification by substituting ecstatic experiences, emotions, feelings, methodology, therapeutic exercises, gimmickry, formulas, whatever — pragmatism, mystical, intuitive, self authenticating experience, psychology, emotions, feelings. All of that will never do what the Spirit is to do, and alone can do.
Now, in this holy progress, there’s a handful of things the Spirit is doing in you, and you need to know. They’re the components of this process.