And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. – Ephesians 4:30-32 ESV
The Holy Spirit lives within each and every believer. At the point of conversion, He takes up permanent residence, indwelling them, baptizing them into the family of God, and filling them with the power they need to live the life they have been called to live. Both His indwelling and baptizing are one-time events, never to happen again. But His filling is to be an ongoing, often-replicated event. In fact, the tense of the Greek word Paul uses in Ephesians 5:18, carries with it the idea of continuous, ongoing action – “keep on being filled”. The indwelling of the Spirit does not guarantee the filling of the Spirit. He does fill us at salvation, but that can quickly change. In telling the believer to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul uses the comparison of being drunk with wine. To be intoxicated with wine is to allow oneself to come under the influence of the alcohol. It takes over control of the individual’s speech and conduct. It alters thinking patterns and drastically influences behavior. Paul’s point is that, when under the control of the Spirit, the same things should happen. His presence in us should result in His control over us. That is what it means to be filled. We end up under his influence, His control. And He changes our speech, behavior, and thinking.
But Paul reminds us that we can grieve the Spirit. How do we do that? Through sinful behavior that is not in keeping with His agenda for our lives. It happens each and every time we take back control of our lives and live them according to our old sinful nature. Placing our faith in Christ did not immediately eradicate our sin nature. It remains alive and well, a constant and pervasive presence in our lives. Paul described it this way: “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me” (Romans 7:17 ESV). Sin dwells in the believer in the form of our flesh or sin nature. And it craves to live in disobedience to God, satisfying its own selfish and sensual desires. It tempts us to do those things that are not in keeping with God’s will for our lives. “For this is God’s will: that you become holy” (1 Thessalonians 4:3 NET). Our sin nature despises holiness. It prefers self-love, self-reliance, self-indulgence, self-protection, self-centeredness and a host of other self-related sins. That’s why Paul says we are to avoid bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice. Notice that these are all other-oriented sins. They are directed at others – specifically at fellow believers. And when we commit them, we grieve the Spirit. In actuality, we offend Him. He has been commissioned by God to bring about our sanctification, our transformation into the likeness of His Son. So when we sin, particularly against our brothers and sisters in Christ, we offend the Spirit. We prevent Him from doing what He was sent to do.
Earlier in chapter four, Paul warned his readers, “you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds” (Ephesians 4:17 ESV). He describes these unbelieving Gentiles in very clear terms. “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!” (Ephesians 4:19-20 ESV). Notice the phrase, “given themselves up to”. They were under the influence of sin. But Paul says that is not to be the way with us. We are to be under the influence of the Spirit. We didn’t learn Christ or become aware of His salvation through selfishness and sensuality. And we will not become more holy through those things either. Paul tells us to put off our old selves “which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22 ESV). Instead, he reminds us “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:24-25 NLT).
This is a daily, ongoing choice we must make. We can choose to be led by the Spirit in every part of our lives, or we can choose to listen to our selfish, sensual old nature. We can make it all about us or we can make it all about God’s will for us – our holiness. That is why Paul warns us, “Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another” (Galatians 5:26 NLT). As soon as self enters into the scene, things begin to get dicey. The self and the Spirit can’t both be in control at the same time. When self raises its ugly head, the Holy Spirit takes a back seat. He doesn’t leave us, but we lose His influence over us. And when we do, nothing good comes out of it. Not only do we end up grieving and offending the Spirit within us, we do harm to all of those around us. On top of that, we stall and stagnate our own sanctification process. We must constantly remain aware of our potential for doing great damage to the cause of Christ and the Spirit’s commission to transform us into the image of Christ. As soon as self raises its ugly head, we must confess it and ask the Spirit to take over control of our lives again. We must constantly submit ourselves to His control. That will require giving up our control. It will demand that we release the grip we have on our own agendas for our lives. We can’t make ourselves more holy – only the Spirit can do that. Let’s learn to rely on Him, lean on Him, listen to Him and relinquish control of our lives over to Him.