10. The Witness of the Spirit

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16).

Many have mistaken the voice of their own imagination for the witness of the Holy Spirit and have fallen into countless errors leading to damnation. They considered themselves to be the servants of God, but in fact they were all the while doing the works of the devil. It is extremely difficult to bring such people to see they are not truly the children of God.

There are those who go to the other extreme and will not allow the Holy Spirit to speak in or through them. The fear of becoming fanatics has made them deaf to the voice of the Spirit. This is evident in those who declare that the Gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased at the close of the Apostolic age.

It is important for us to know what the Scriptures actually say regarding the witness of the Spirit.

The witness of our own spirit
The Holy Spirit convinces us that we are truly the children of God so that we can cry, “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15), but it is also our duty to believe all that the Scriptures teach regarding this same fact. The word of God describes to us the marks of the child of God, and by applying them we recognise our position in Christ. If we are “led by the Spirit of God” (Romans 8:14) then we can proclaim ourselves to be His children. Everyone who obeys His word (1 John 2:3,5), walks in righteousness (1 John 2:29), loves others (1 John 3:14) is a child of God. We can assure our hearts that we are born again if these reign in us … “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him” (1 John 3:19). Such assurance comes from the Holy Spirit … “And he that keepeth His commandments dwelleth in Him, and He in him. And hereby we know that He abideth in us, by the Spirit which He hath given us” (1 John 3:24; 4:13). The believer should be overwhelmed with the desire to more like Christ in thought, word and deed.

The witness of God’s Spirit
How does the Holy Spirit actually convince us that we are the children of God? Before we can be conscious of this fact we must aim to be holy in all aspects of our lives, we must truly love God, and we ought to be going on to perfection in Christ. Alongside this there must be a love for others also. Paul tells us that we can “know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). Where there is true love for God in the heart of a person, then the Holy Spirit will add that faith which encourages him to accept “the Spirit of adoption” (Romans 8:15), that is, he will never doubt that he belongs to God. He will delight and rejoice in the Lord for such wonderful salvation.

What about presumption?
The believer does not want to deceive his own heart with delusions from the devil. Many doubting, ungodly and disobedient people adhere to the notion that they are God’s children despite their wickedness. How can we then discern between what is the witness of the Spirit and presumption?

a) The natural mind puffs itself up by flattering itself. Such a person will think of himself as better, morally and spiritually, than others.

b) The natural mind disregards the plain teaching of God’s word. He thinks that it is possible to be a Christian without obeying the Scriptures.

c) The natural mind always gravitates towards the worldly rather than the heavenly (spiritual). The world with its opinions and fashions dominate his view.

d) The natural mind never changes. There is no evidence that any inward or outward change has taken place in his life since he professed Christ as Saviour.

e) The natural mind will not receive reproof. He ignores and rejects any attempt by concerned Christians to point him to Christ. He angrily opposes those who show him his error.

f) The born again believer presumes nothing, but simply believes that Jesus Christ delivered him from sin and damnation (Ephesians 2). He would never say that he was born a Christian, but needed to be born again by accepting Christ as Saviour.

g) The born again believer wants to love Christ more through obedience to His word … “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me” (John 14:21). A presumptuous pretender would never do this.

h) The born again believer knows the difference between the witness of the Spirit and presumption as simply as a sighted man can distinguish between night and day. His spiritual senses are rightly exercised (Hebrews 5:14). He has the inward and outward evidence of the fruit of the Spirit working in his life [love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9)]. The Lord Jesus Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:16).

i) The born again believer hates sin, and brings his flesh to the obedience of Christ.

It is only right that we should declare ourselves to be the children of God. It is only right that we should rejoice and be thankful for this unspeakable gift. We must remember though, that it should not just be our lips but our whole spirit, soul and body that offers such praise.

If we have such a hope (faith) then we should purify ourselves from “all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1), and “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is [our] reasonable service” (Romans 12:1).

Preached by John Wesley 11 August 1753