We need to remember that the Holy Spirit is not a distant, abstract deity and certainly not an impersonal force. No, the Holy Spirit is a person, for only a genuine and personable being is capable of this kind of thinking, feeling, and emotion. In fact, when we understand that the Spirit is a person it should surprise us only if he would not or could not feel grief in the face of our sin.
One mark of a successful sermon is that it satisfactorily answers some questions while provoking still others. On Sunday I visited a little church in an eastern-Ontario village and heard just such a sermon. The pastor preached on Ephesians 4 as part of a series on the Christian’s identity in Christ, but as he continued through the text he was only barely able to speak to verse 30: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” I later found myself asking, What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? My initial reaction to the word grieve in reference to the Holy Spirit was a negative one: Surely the Spirit of God does not actually grieve, does he? Perhaps this is a poor translation. Isn’t sorrow a too-human reaction to ascribe to the holy God? Doesn’t it diminish the Spirit to suggest that my sin can make him feel genuine sorrow?
Thankfully I take my entire theological library on the road with me thanks to the magic of Logos, so I was able to first meditate on the text and then to research it a little bit. What I found is that grieve is actually a very faithful rendering. It is, in fact, the preferred rendering of the word for every major translation, new or old, with the exception of the NLT which prefers the synonymous bring sorrow to. The Bible dictionaries agree: the Greek word λυπέω indicates grief, sorrow, and distress. So somehow our sin really can bring grief to God and, according to the immediate context, this is especially true for the sins of the mouth that cause disunity between believers.