Previous article in this series: December 15, p. 134.
Lying to the Holy Spirit, and Conclusion Having earlier examined the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit—a sin that God preserves His children from committing—we turned our attention in our last article to various sins that God’s children could commit, and must guard against.
One such sin is that of grieving, or vexing, the Spirit. We grieve the Spirit when, rather than living as the sanctified children of God ought, we violate God’s law.
Another is that of resisting the Spirit. This we do when we reject the Spirit’s testimony to Christ in the gospel. Of this sin the unbelieving element in the church is guilty. But for a time, until he is brought to repentance, also the child of God is capable of resisting the Spirit.
To resist the Spirit continually is to quench the Spirit. This is the sin of despising the gospel and the work of Christ in His church, to the point that the Spirit no longer works in a particular congregation. The congregation that has quenched the Spirit has become apostate. But because quenching the Spirit is a process, God’s people are warned against it. Let us love the gospel, and its faithful proclamation!
The Scriptures refer to yet one more sin against the Holy Spirit: that of lying to Him.
Lying to the Spirit: Acts 5:3-9
Even children know that Ananias and Sapphira lied to the apostle Peter. Not to be overlooked is that theirs was the sin of lying to God, and thus to His Spirit.
Lying to the Spirit, Peter emphasized, was their sin. In the authority of his apostolic office, Peter said: “Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:3-4). And in verse 9, he asked Sapphira: “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord?”
Ananias and Sapphira lied against the Holy Spirit by lying to the apostles, God’s officebearers, whom the Holy Spirit called to office and through whom the Holy Spirit worked in the early New Testament church.
In lying to the apostles, Ananias and Sapphira “tempted,” or tested, the Holy Spirit (v. 9). By their lie, they tested whether there really was a Holy Spirit, whether He really worked through the apostles, and whether He really had any power in the church. Almost certainly, it was not their conscious purpose to test the Spirit. However, the apostle Peter indicates that their lie amounted to such a test, when he says that they “agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord” (v. 9).
The test results came in soon. Indeed, the Spirit worked through the apostles! Indeed, the Spirit sanctified the church of which they were outwardly members! The Spirit so worked, to the condemnation of all whose hearts were filled with Satan rather than the Holy Spirit, including Ananias and Sapphira themselves.
That Satan, rather than the Spirit, filled Ananias’ heart (Acts 5:3) indicates that Ananias himself was not a child of God. However, just as was true of the sins of resisting and quenching the Spirit, God’s children must guard against lying to the Spirit.
We would be guilty of this sin if we were to lie to the officebearers of the church, as they go about the work to which God has called them. How necessary that, when questioned or investigated by the pastor, elders, and deacons as these seek to carry out their office in the church, we speak the truth!
Again, we would be guilty of this sin if we were to lie to the church as a whole, in which the Spirit works. Think of the vows that we make at baptism, confession of faith, installation into office: promises made to God, in the hearing of the church. Do we make these vows sincerely? If we make the vow simply because this is what is expected of us, but have not the smallest inclination to keep it, we have lied to the Holy Spirit.
Guarding against this sin, we will pray for grace both to love the truth and to speak it uprightly at all times, particularly before those whom God has called to labor in His church on behalf of His covenant.
The heinous character of these sins
All these sins against the Spirit—vexing, grieving, resisting, quenching, and lying to the Spirit—God considers heinous, reprehensible, and abominable. Scripture clearly indicates this by the judgments that were pronounced on, and fell upon, those who committed them.
The judgment that fell on the reprobate in the sphere of the covenant was particularly severe, consisting of everlasting punishment. Not so much the fact that Ananias and Sapphira fell down immediately in the presence of all, but the fact that Satan filled their hearts, indicates that they were spiritually and everlastingly dead. And Jesus promised the just judgment of God on those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit: “it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come” (Matt. 12:32). In the case of the reprobate unbeliever, God’s just judgment is the continual experience of God’s hatred and wrath in this life, and the everlasting punishment of body and soul in hell after this life. What happened in this life to Ananias and Sapphira—public, final, fear-working justice—will happen again in the day of judgment.
The heinous character of all these sins against the Holy Spirit is not minimized by the fact that some who commit these sins are God’s people, who are regenerated, sanctified, and brought to heaven. For God saves us from sin, including sins against the Holy Spirit, on the basis of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, bearing the wrath of God against all sin. Christ endured the agonies of hell, so that we who sinned against the Holy Spirit might have everlasting life with the triune God against whom we have sinned!
Marvelous, this work of the Spirit: though we have sinned against Him, He continues to sanctify us, and at last to glorify us, on the basis of the atoning work of Christ, and realizing God’s decree of election!
Though God’s children are spared the agonies of hell, they still experience God’s judgment in this life when they sin against the Holy Spirit. Quenching the Spirit, or grieving the Spirit, may bring upon us the loss of the assurance of God’s favor for a time. Grieving the Spirit by living an ungodly life may bring God’s judgment upon us in the form of disease or other earthly afflictions, daily reminders that Satan lies when he whispers in our ear that sin brings happiness. No child of God with a holy hatred for sin will minimize the severity of such judgments. Certainly those children of God who have experienced them will not minimize their severity.
These sins are heinous because they are sins against God Himself. Sin against the Holy Spirit is sin against the first table of God’s law. Certainly such sin involves transgressions of the second commandment of the law as well as the first, but the point is that to sin against the Holy Spirit is to fail to love Jehovah perfectly, with our whole being, at all times.
Emphasizing this heinousness helps us guard against a certain indifference or callousness to these sins. Fact is, not everyone—indeed, not most people—who lie to the Spirit will fall dead immediately, as did Ananias. Nor will a faithful preacher pronounce an immediate death sentence on one who sins against the Holy Spirit, as the apostle Peter pronounced on Ananias. That God delays His judgment for a time might embolden the unbeliever to continue in his sin, and leave the erring child of God with the impression that the sin was not so bad after all.
But, although God delays His judgment for a time, He does not delay it indefinitely, nor cancel it altogether. He has appointed a time for judgment, and in that day He will judge righteously.
How thankful we are that Christ died to remove the guilt of our sin, and rose again to work His new life in us by His Spirit! On the basis of Christ’s death, God does not see us as guilty of sins against the Spirit, even though our conscience testifies that we have committed these sins. And in the power of that Spirit, we begin anew to hate sin sincerely and to love God truly.
The implication for our lives
Every child of God must guard against and avoid these sins. By nature prone to such, every child of God must fight against them, diligently using the means of grace, and living godly lives in obedience to God’s law.
Our officebearers play a role in this regard. Our pastor must warn us against such sins. Our elders may also bring pastoral warnings, and must be ready to discipline any who continue impenitently in them.
Our knowledge of the positive doctrine of the Holy Spirit, and our confession of the truth about Him, will help us avoid such. When we say the words “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we do so with knowledge and understanding? Do we meditate on the glory of the triune Godhead, including the Holy Spirit?
To avoid these sins requires us to be true and living members of a faithfully Reformed or Presbyterian church in which the Holy Spirit is honored and worshiped rightly. This implication for church membership follows from the fact that the Spirit of truth guides the church into all truth (John 16:13).
To honor the Spirit, we must worship in the Spirit. This means that in our worship we receive from Him the knowledge and revelation of God that He imparts spiritually through the preaching of the gospel. To honor the Spirit requires us to hear the true gospel of salvation, and to hear and believe that which Christ did for us, for the Spirit testifies of Christ (John 15:26) and speaks not of Himself (John 16:13).
To honor the Spirit, we seek fellowship with God. The Spirit’s work is to bring us into such holy fellowship; our enjoyment of this fellowship is our honoring of the Spirit’s work of sanctification in us.
Those who honor the Spirit are given a great blessing, both in this life and the next. The inspired apostle pronounced this blessing upon the church in Corinth (II Cor. 13:14), and faithful pastors often use the same words when pronouncing the blessing on the church of Jesus Christ today: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”