Question: When the Holy Spirit forsakes someone, do their hearts automatically become dead to God? Is there any recovery from this lack of dread? Also, are wrath and anger the same things with God?
Answer: Greetings friend. That’s a tough question… and it’s tough on a couple of levels… but please realize that the Holy Spirit is not fragile — nor is he prone to leaving people. He hangs tough with those whom he has already saved — those he indwells — because these are God’s children. But he even persists with those who are not God’s children (… or not God’s children yet) by convicting them of sin (Jn. 16:8) and by drawing them to Jesus under the Father’s aegis (Jn. 6:44). As such, the Holy Spirit only rarely leaves anyone for good… and in fact, he is very busy doing just the opposite: He is out there in the world continually pressing upon the hearts of humankind, teaching about Jesus.
Now, the Bible does teach us that God’s patience has its limits (Gen. 6:3; Lk. 13:6-9), but you must understand that these limits are at the edges of his workings, not at the center of them. As such, we should not assume that a strained relationship with the Holy Spirit at a point in time translates to an eternal global disaster — automatically or otherwise. Both God’s decrees and his imminent actions in the world tend to work for us, not against us — and they are interwoven with our lives rather than being simple or discrete. But the result of these methods is that life can feel bumpier than it is… or at least… bumpier than the long view will show it to be.
To unpack all this, let us start with the most extreme example — blasphemy against the Holy Spirit — because blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is the only anti-salvific act under the sun. But take heart: no saved person can perform this act. And to best explain why not, I’ll reference another of my articles which explains how this works.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”
(Matthew 12:30–32, NIV)
The glories of this verse fly over most people’s heads because they focus on its minority aspect (the condemnation) instead of its majority aspect (the salvation)… I mean, just look at it — it says that all sins are forgivable! Well… all except one. So if we avoid that one particular sin, then there is continual hope for the forgiveness of all other sins… which is just another way of saying that there is continual hope for the salvation of the human soul.
But what exactly is that sin… because it sounds as though talking smack about the Holy Spirit could condemn us irrevocably to hell or more broadly that there is a particular unforgivable sin that we can commit at a point in time… and then it’s over for us! But this is not that. So how does one “speak against the Holy Spirit?” Just ask the Pharisees.
The religious establishment of Jesus’ time — and especially the Pharisees — beheld the miracles that Jesus performed (… and with very clear eyes! [John 3:2]) — yet they refused to respond to the Holy Spirit’s testimony that Jesus was indeed the Christ. That type of infraction is by its very nature continual; it is not something that occurs at a point in time. The hardhearted among the religious establishment continually ignored the ongoing testimony of God the Father (through the miracles Jesus performed) and of the Holy Spirit (who works in the hearts of all people to draw them); in doing so they proactively ignored God’s call to salvation. That is (and singularly so)… unforgivable — and non-forgiveness is the antipode of “being saved.” As such, a person’s “not coming to Christ” is what keeps them from regenerating — from becoming a new creature.
What this means for your question is that all persons who have responded to the Holy Spirit and have found redemption in Jesus Christ have removed themselves from the possibility of performing the only anti-salvific act under the sun — and that’s the 1-2 punch of eternal security: A Christian has been irreversibly changed, and the only sin that can condemn people is no longer available to the believer because of that change.
We need to establish right off the bat that grieving the Father and the Holy Spirit is almost never the end of the game. Just as you should expect your earthly father (or one of your family members, or a true friend or one of your better teachers….) to work with you through an occasional immature response to life, so does our heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. Now it is true that we are fully saved — and it is true that we are salvifically whole as we walk on this earth — and that as such, salvation is not the problem… immaturity is. But that’s how life works: we learn and grow in a continual process. So give yourself a break… God does… I mean, that’s how he set things up, so he must.
“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,” (Psalm 103:2–4, NIV)
“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13–14, NIV)
The above two verses show God’s attitude towards us. He is not in the forsaking business… he is in the restoring business — the business of redeeming people… the business of forgiving their sins. It is only when God’s maximal knowledge of future events reveals that an unsaved person will have crossed the line to become intractably non-repentant (Gen. 6:5) that he would withdraw his Spirit from the fight… but this only happens in extreme cases… and it will never happen to a believer.
With believers (and I feel that you are one), the Holy Spirit’s work is different. We are eternally secure in God’s family… one does not become un-born (again, Jn. 3:3). But we should not see this freedom to relax as a license to sin. Indeed, we believers can (and do) grieve the Holy Spirit… and when we do, we feel separated. That’s an appropriate feeling for believers who have separated themselves attitudinally from God… but it’s not permanent. God’s children often wind up “in the corner”… but God’s children-in-the-corner are God’s children none the less. They have a permanent home… and if I may borrow from Robert Frost, one of my regional poets:
“‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.’”
The Death of the Hired Man
That’s what it’s like to live with the God: when we act the part of the prodigal son, he has to take us in when we return (Lk. 15:11). To help clarify some of these issues, see Got Questions Ministries’ article on grieving the Holy Spirit.
See also the Mainsail Ministries article on the eternal security of the believer to get a better feel of how the Holy Spirit works in all this:
God’s program for wayward believers involves chastening them, not forsaking them. But as you can see, this makes eternal security a two-edged sword: God insists on keeping us around… but he has ways to make sure that we behave.
“because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
(Hebrews 12:6, NIV)
“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Revelation 3:19, NIV)
In closing, your question has a “punishment” theme — wondering about being forsaken by God and wondering about his anger and wrath… and I wish more people in the world you would consider these issues! But if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God’s wrath cannot fall upon you (Romans 8:1), he will never change his mind about your being his child, and his Spirit will never leave you. So the question of the moment is are you? Are you God’s child? Have you really been born again? Do you have that indwelling Holy Spirit?
I find the best way to understand issues such as God’s wrath and the role of the Holy Spirit is to understand the topic that makes them meaningful — the salvation of the believer. So please visit the the following link for more detail about becoming a child of God:
As to any differences between God’s anger and his wrath, those words are used hundreds of times in Scripture — but most often interchangeably. As such, I would not worry about any technical or interpretive language differences. Just trust the sentences; they tell their own meanings most clearly.
I pray that this information will help you sort through some of these difficulties. God bless you.