(Is It Possible to Do So?)

Question: Can we resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51)?

Answer: Yes, apparently we can. The example you cite comes in Stephen's stinging condemnation of the Jewish leaders of his day. He says:

"You stiffnecked [stubborn] and uncircumcised [acting like the heathen] in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers" (Acts 7:51-52).

The Bible in Basic English has, "You whose hearts are hard and whose ears are shut to me; you are ever working against the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." The word "resist" (antipipto, in Greek) means to oppose, or strive against. In particular, in the context, Stephen seems to be referring to their habitual and continuing rejection of the Spirit-inspired Word of God (notice the reference to ears, and the prophets).

The stubborn disobedience of the Israelites to God's commands is seen many times in the Old Testament (Exod. 33:3; Deut. 9:13; Isa. 63:9-10; Jer. 6:10, etc.). Now, the Jewish leaders are guilty of rejecting Christ, and rejecting God's message about Him. The old pattern is repeating itself (cf. Matt. 23:34).

Commentator Albert Barnes (1798-1870) puts it this way: "You [i.e. those to whom Stephen spoke] oppose the message which is brought to you by the authority of God, and the inspiration of His Spirit. The message brought by Moses, by the prophets, by the Saviour, and by the apostles–all by the infallible direction of the Holy Ghost" (Barnes' Notes, p. 427).

Warren Wiersbe says, "Their ears did not hear the truth, their hearts did not receive the truth, and their necks did not bow [in submission] to the truth" (The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. I, p. 432).

I'm not entirely clear on what you're asking. Are you wondering whether God can be resisted at all, since He's omnipotent and sovereign? Yes, "He does according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth no one can restrain His hand" (Dan. 4:35). It's quite true that nothing can alter the sovereign will of God. It will be fulfilled certainly and completely. However, that's not the only aspect of God's will to be considered.

God also has a moral will (a standard expressed in His Word) that is violated again and again. And He has heart desires that aren't always fulfilled. "The not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). Yet we know that many will be lost, because they've rejected Christ. Somehow, within God's sovereign will, He leaves room for personal choices and decisions. Otherwise, human beings would be mere puppets, or robots, unable to have a real, personal and loving relationship with Him.

So, yes, it is possible to "resist" the ministry of the Spirit of God, as He speaks through the Word of God. And the Bible uses two other terms that are related.

It's possible to "grieve" the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), and "quench" the Spirit (I Thess. 5:19). We grieve the Holy Spirit when we sin, when we disobey God's Word. The imagery behind "quenching" Him has to do with putting out a fire. In spiritual terms, we do that when we stifle the Spirit's promptings, coming to us through the Word. To put it simply: we grieve the Spirit by doing what we shouldn't be doing, and quench the Spirit by not doing what we should be doing!

Instead of these things, we should be daily walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16, 25). "Walking" refers to a life of consistent faith and obedience, faith and obedience, step by step, day by day. The Amplified Bible puts it this way: "Walk and live habitually in the (Holy) Spirit–responsive to and controlled and guided by the Spirit; then you will certainly not gratify the cravings and desires of the flesh–of human nature without God" (Gal. 5:16).

That is the path of blessing. And when we fail, as we sometimes do, we're to confess our sins (I Jn. 1:9), thanking God for His forgiveness and cleansing, then take up our walk in the Spirit once again.