The Expository Files

The Spirit Himself Bears Witness

Romans 8:14-16

"For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God... The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God." (Romans 8:14,16).

One thing we need as disciples is the assurance that we are right with God. We need to know that we are on the right course. We need to have the confidence such assurance brings especially during difficult times. The Lord does offer such assurance, and does so through the Holy Spirit.

What form does this assurance take? Is it a small voice whispering to us in the back of our minds? Is it a special feeling of warmth and security? Is it a receiving of a spiritual gift, such as the ability to speak in a foreign language we have never known before? Will we stumble upon a bush on fire but not consumed and the voice of God will assure us from the bush?

According to the New testament, the Holy Spirit's witness does not take the form of any of these. Understand this: There is not a single person in the Bible that, when offering proof or evidence that he or she is saved from sins and in a right relationship with God, offered any of these things as evidence. So then, what is this witness the Spirit gives us? It is solid and reliable. It is unmistakable. We can appeal to this testimony of the Spirit and be assured.

The Spirit's Witness has been Written
First, we understand that all Scripture is given by "inspiration" (2 Timothy 3:16,17). That which has been written is adequate to answer all of our spiritual need for guidance, including the giving of assurance that we are right with God.

"Inspiration" is the method by which God led the writers of Scripture to record the things they did. This ensured that the things they wrote were what God intended, and was accomplished by the Holy Spirit guiding them in the things they wrote. The recorded words are from and by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13).

The things written are there by God's decree, not man's and give us everything pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:21,3). When we read these words, the words of the Bible, we are told that we "can understand" that which had been revealed "to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit." (Ephesians 3:4,5).

Jesus' Promise to Send the Holy Spirit
Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide those who had accompanied Him "from the beginning" of His ministry (John 15:26,27). This particular promise concerning the Holy Spirit was given just to the apostles, the ones who had accompanied Him (many do not understand this, but even a quick look at verse 27 as well as the context shows this is so). It was not spoken to all disciples in general. Jesus explains this is necessary so the apostles could be taught "all things" and be led to a perfect "remembrance of all that I said to you." (John 14:26). Simply put, this means that nothing has been left out of the inspired record. "All things" necessary have been revealed and recalled to apostolic memory, and recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament. By the time of the death of John, the last surviving apostle who had been with Jesus, the inspired writings of the New Covenant were complete. Then the only remaining task was to assemble them into one book, the New Testament.

It is too bad that not everyone has faith in God's power and Jesus' promise concerning this, insisting instead that we must have some sort of extra-biblical guidance. Some say we must have modern day prophets to reveal additional truths. Others say religious leaders should occasionally update the Biblical teachings through creed making. Why is their faith in God so small? John, speaking in behalf of all the inspired apostles, said, "We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error." (1 John 4:6). It is the keeping the commandments given us by the Spirit that the Scriptures link to how we know the Spirit is in us. "And the one who keeps the commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us." (1 John 3:24).

The Spirit on Becoming God's Child
The Spirit bears witness that we have become God's children by informing us what is involved in becoming such. If you have done what the Spirit says, then the Spirit says you are a child of God.

The Spirit tells us that we become children of God by faith. We are told this entails being baptized to put on Christ (Galatians 3:26,27). This has to be so because it is the Holy Spirit's testimony. If I, in my spirit, can say, "I have done that." then the Holy Spirit bears witness with my Spirit that I am a child of God.

But if I must say, "I have not done that" then I have the Spirit's testimony that I am not a child of God (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Colossians 2:12, etc.).

The Spirit on Remaining Right With God
What does it take to continue to be in fellowship with God? We are told to live as obedient children; "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy in all your behavior." (1 Peter 1:14,15). We are told to be "servants of righteousness" (Romans 6:16,23). We are told about the characteristics of those who are being "led by the Spirit" as well as the characteristics of those who are not (Galatians 5:16-23) .

Again, the Holy Spirit bears witness through His written testimony, which, as we have seen, He has assured us is adequate for the job.

We can be absolutely sure of the reliability of the Spirit's witness. We are urged to settle for "that which has been written" and not to go beyond it (1 Corinthians 4:6). And, we do not need to go beyond it, because it equips us "for every good work."

By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 6.11; November 1999