God has given us an additional, and even more powerful, witness to our salvation – God’s own Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:16. Yet in spite of this witness being more certain, it is the one we understand the least, and are very often the beneficiaries of without our even being aware.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” Romans 8:16.
“Am I a Christian?” and “How can I be sure?” are two of the most important questions that we can ever ask ourselves. Our eternities are at stake over this matter, and, to heighten its importance still further, we all will have histories of getting some things wrong, even when we are convinced that we are right.
Thankfully (and graciously), God has given us some help in regard to the assurance of our saving faith in Jesus Christ:
Firstly, throughout the Bible we are given a variety of genuine marks of a Christian that we can use to test ourselves with. We might look at the fruits of the Spirit, or read how a humble, self-sacrificing spirit is characteristic of a follower of Christ, and see whether we manifest any of these marks in our own lives and characters (even if in just small ways). We could even use many of these marks together which could then, potentially, leave us with a fairly strong argument either for or against our salvation.
Secondly, God has given us an additional, and even more powerful, witness to our salvation – God’s own Holy Spirit, who bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, as Paul tells us in Romans 8:16. Yet in spite of this witness being more certain, it is the one we understand the least, and are very often the beneficiaries of without our even being aware.
A favourite illustration of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones (itself being borrowed from the Puritan Thomas Goodwin), that he used a number of times throughout his Romans preaching series, was the experience of a young child. This child was able to objectively assure himself of his father’s love by bringing to remembrance the loving things that the father had said and done to and for him. The Holy Spirit’s witness, however, is akin to the father swooping down, picking up the child in a loving embrace, and showering him with kisses. Both tell of the father’s love for the child, but the second witness is a deeper, felt experience. This is, as Paul describes in Romans 5:5, “The love of God [being] poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
How is it, then, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are children of God, that we might recognise it and benefit from it still further than just a mere experiential feeling?
By testifying to our being the Father’s children
Any parents, I am sure, will be familiar with seeing their children act in a way reminiscent of themselves, and concluding, “Yes, they are definitely my child!”
Likewise, the Holy Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God when we reflect the character and heart of our heavenly Father.
This can be summarized as being a love of holiness and a hatred of sin; or a heart that loves what the Father loves and hates what the Father hates. Of course, this will always be imperfectly on our part whilst we remain in this world, but it is when we obey the Spirit’s leading in choosing those things that the Father loves, and overcoming the temptation to choose those things which the Father hates, that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.
Is it any wonder that we feel least certain of our salvation when we are embracing sin? This is, understandably, when the Holy Spirit’s witness with our spirits is at its quietest. We will also find that the opposite is true: we enjoy an assurance of our salvation at its strongest when we are embracing God’s righteousness.
By testifying to our being children of the Father
It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can ever cry out to God, “Abba, Father” with an assurance that what we are saying is true. Firstly, we have seen that it is in our obedience that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Secondly, and as yet a further act of grace toward us, the Holy Spirit also bears witness to our spirits that we are children of God, albeit in a different manner, even when we sin.
The preference must always be obedience to the Spirit’s leading and to the will and law of God, but, sadly, we fail, and we fail often.
As a Christian, then, how do you fall down before God in repentance of your sins?
Is it as falling down before a harsh taskmaster, where you cry out in fear for yourself, “God, I am so sorry for committing this sin… please don’t hurt me; please don’t strike out at me; please don’t destroy me!”?
Or are your cries more in line with, “Oh, my God and heavenly Father, I am so sorry for doing this wickedness against You; I am so sorry for letting You down again! How You still embrace me in love I will never know, but I know that You do, and I am so thankful, Father, that You love me so much!”?
You can only pray like the latter because the Holy Spirit is bearing witness with your spirit that you are a child of God.
By testifying to our union to Jesus Christ
If we are children of God, then heirs – heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (v.17).
We are children of God because of our relation to the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Through mystical, spiritual union to Jesus we are adopted into God’s family, being made legitimate children to a Father who loves us.
As a married man of seventeen years, there have never been any times during those seventeen years when I have been married to my wife any less or any more than at other times. However, it is when I am in a loving embrace with my wife that I feel that marriage the most.
It is when we are in our loving embraces with our spouse, Jesus Christ, that we feel our union to Him the most: when we pray, praise, read of, hear of, serve and worship Him with love-filled hearts. In these things the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirits that we are united to Jesus in spiritual marriage, and if united to Jesus, then children of God! We cannot be surprised to see that Romans 8, which is one of the most loved and precious chapters of Scripture, closes by stating that the love of God is found in Jesus Christ Himself. As children of God, we find all of the love of God in Jesus Christ, and it is all given to us through Him.
For the past year I have been a father to a gorgeous, naughty, anxiety-riddled little beagle dog, Lilo. When she is afraid, she has a tendency to face away from me, but scoot herself backwards until there is firm contact between herself and myself. This works quite nicely, as it enables me to wrap my arms around her in a loving embrace and whisper to her, “It’s okay, little Lilo. You’re family now. I’ll always be here for you.”
When we are feeling most anxious about our salvations, we would do well to learn from her, bringing ourselves into contact with our heavenly Father through whole-hearted worship, casting ourselves entirely upon Him, where, when we know what to listen out for, we can hear, and feel, the Holy Spirit witness with our spirits that we are children of God – that we would be assured that we are truly loved, and we are truly His, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Matthew Prydden is an itinerant preacher from Wales, Reformed, Calvinistic, and Evangelical. This article is used with permission.