Does our sin cause pain to the indwelling Spirit of God?

Q. We read in Romans that the Holy Spirit “groans” and elsewhere that He “grieves” for us. When we sin, does the indwelling Spirit of God actually suffer pain for us? Is this something that will end when He’s taken out of the world in the future?

Paul writes in Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” I think we can indeed conclude from this that the actions of committed followers of Jesus can cause genuine pain to the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of them. In this context we are told that it is specifically actions that break the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” as Paul puts it at the beginning of this section, that are particularly grievous—actions that destroy relationships instead of healing and strengthening them. But I think we can also conclude from the broader context that dishonest and immoral actions are also very disappointing and hurtful to the indwelling Spirit.

Paul’s comments in Romans about the Spirit “groaning” are actually a reference to the Spirit’s ministry of intercessory prayer for the whole creation. Paul describes how “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth,” waiting to be set free from the effects of the Fall. He then notes that “we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” And finally he adds that “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Since these groans are compared with the pains of childbirth, they certainly express an intense and desperate longing. The Spirit knows what redemption will look like and keenly feels the difference between that and the present state of creation. But this is not pain caused by the current sins of believers, though it is due to the effects of original sin.

In general we may say that because the Holy Spirit is not a mere force, but rather a genuine person, the Spirit can and does experience emotions, including hurt and disappointment at human disobedience. We see a further example of this in Isaiah. The prophet first relates what God did for Israel: “In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.” Unfortunately Isaiah must then say about the people of Israel, “Yet they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit.”

So not wanting to cause pain to the Spirit, who is supposed to be our Paraclete—translated variously as Comforter, Helper, Counselor, Advocate, and Friend—should be a strong incentive for us not to commit sins.

As for whether the Spirit will no longer have to suffer this kind of pain “when He’s taken out of the world in the future,” I think I know where you get the idea that He will be removed from the world, but I don’t believe that’s something we can be certain will actually happen.

In his second letter to the Thessalonians, speaking of the “man of lawlessness” (often believed to be the Antichrist), Paul says, “For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.” Some interpreters take this to be a reference to the Holy Spirit and an indication that at some point in the future, as the end times approach, He will be “taken out of the way.”

That is a possible interpretation, but personally I find it hard to believe that God would ever remove the Holy Spirit from the earth. The Bible describes how the Spirit has an essential role in maintaining creation (Psalm 104, for example, speaks of the Spirit regularly refreshing creation and “renewing the ground“), and beyond that, the Spirit’s influence is crucial in bringing people to salvation. I don’t believe that God would withdraw that influence as long as people were living on earth and in need of a Savior.

So we have a double incentive for a life of obedience and holiness: Our sins do cause pain to the Spirit, and that pain may last as long as there are people on earth who ought to obey but don’t.

Author: Christopher R Smith

The Rev. Dr. Christopher R. Smith is an an ordained minister, a writer, and a biblical scholar. He was active in parish and student ministry for twenty-five years. He was a consulting editor to the International Bible Society (now Biblica) for The Books of the Bible, an edition of the New International Version (NIV) that presents the biblical books according to their natural literary outlines, without chapters and verses. His Understanding the Books of the Bible study guide series is keyed to this format. He was also a consultant to Tyndale House for the Immerse Bible, an edition of the New Living Translation (NLT) that similarly presents the Scriptures in their natural literary forms, without chapters and verses or section headings. He has a B.A. from Harvard in English and American Literature and Language, a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Gordon-Conwell, and a Ph.D. in the History of Christian Life and Thought, with a minor concentration in Bible, from Boston College, in the joint program with Andover Newton Theological School.

4 thoughts on “Does our sin cause pain to the indwelling Spirit of God?”

  1. When will the Holy Spirit no longer suffer on our behalf? Will this suffering end with the Lake of Fire?

    Andy

    > WordPress.com

    1. Actually, since it’s a matter of the Holy Spirit suffering grief and pain because of the sins and disobedience of believers, that would end when believers see God face to face, are glorified in His presence, and never sin again.

  2. I agree with what you said that “we can indeed conclude from this that the actions of committed followers of Jesus can cause genuine pain to the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of them.” So my next question is when is the Holy Spirit finally free from the pain and suffering we cause Him? After the Lake of fire? Surely in the endless ages of eternity there is no more sin and therefore no more pain to the Godhead.

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