The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…
In our last lesson we learned that saving faith assures us that our sins have been forgiven through Christ. If faith by its very nature brings us assurance, then why do we need anything else? It would seem that the evidence of faith is all we would ever need. But the world in which we live is more perilous, and our natural weaknesses much greater, than we sometimes realize. Our faith, and with it our assurance, can be battered from many directions. For this reason God graciously gives us other ways to be assured of our salvation. These added means of assurance confirm the evidence of our faith.
Many souls live in sin, but sincerely believe they are children of God. In James 2:19 James warned his readers against having “demon faith.” He writes, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” Others live moral lives, believe the historical and theological facts of Christianity but have never been born again. In fact, the large minority of people on the planet, about 2 billion of them, imagine they are Christians. They believe this in spite of the fact that Jesus warned that many deluded souls will be condemned on Judgment Day though they call him Lord (Mat. 7:21-23).
One who has strong saving faith will be assured that he has been forgiven and reconciled to God. But this does not mean that all who are confident they have been forgiven and reconciled to God have saving faith. It is possible for people to delude themselves into imagining they are the children of God when they are still alienated from God. Since this is undeniable, the honest child of God will feel compelled to look for confirmation to the evidence of his faith.
Saving Faith is not Perfect Faith
Another way in which the evidence of faith is shown to need additional confirmation is by the fact that saving faith is not perfect faith. Otherwise there would be no need to be “strengthened in faith” (Acts 16:5).
Even those that are not deceived go through seasons of doubt due to the imperfection of our faith and the trials we face on a daily basis. When the storms of life come sometimes it seems like not only the world and the devil are against us, but God Himself. It is at these times that we need divine confirmation that our faith is not misguided and that though clouds hide the face of the Son, he is still shining acceptingly in our direction.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’ Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This wonderful passage was written for just the trials of life we are speaking of. We know and accept that Christ called us to suffer persecution and trials for his name. But when these seasons of trial come upon us we are often tempted to cry out like the disciples in the storm, “Lord, save us, we are going to die” (Mat. 8:25). It is in these moments of life that we need him to graciously and comfortingly rebuke us saying, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith” (Mat. 8:26).
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God…
And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”
When one becomes a child of God through faith God gives him direct confirmation from His Holy Spirit that he has indeed become God’s child. Though faith immediately leads to adoption into God’s family and divine confirmation usually happens in the same instant, it is important that we make a distinction between them. We are only accepted as children when we believe. And we are only confirmed as God’s children after we have already become His children.
Confirmation of our salvation is not salvation, it is confirmation of our salvation. Faith and salvation can exist where clear confirmation is lacking, but true divine confirmation cannot exist where faith and salvation are lacking. It is important that we keep this in mind when leading disciples. Though God commonly confirms a soul immediately when they become a child of God, we cannot limit God. When dealing with God we are not dealing with a mathematic formula, we are dealing with the all-wise and absolutely sovereign God of the universe.
If a disciple has faith, but no direct confirmation from God, we must not try to convince him that he is saved; his faith should convince him. If his faith does not convince him and God does not confirm him, we would be in dangerous territory if we try to convince him. But if he is convinced by his faith though he has not received divine confirmation, we should not tell him he is not saved. That would be to confuse confirmation with salvation itself and to talk someone out of trusting in Christ. We must tell him to keep trusting in Christ and keep seeking God for confirmation of his faith. But, of course if we see that the person has clearly not repented, and their faith is obviously a delusion, we should urge them to abandon false hopes and come to true faith and repentance.
Dealing with souls is a weighty matter. As we can see in the previous paragraph we can easily err to the right or the left. This is why we must seek to grow in wisdom and knowledge of God’s ways. Much wisdom can only be gained by experience, so it is best to work alongside an experienced mentor when first dealing with souls. When dealing with eternal souls, trial and error is not a good method. But, if we have no one to train us through the intricate process of birthing souls into the kingdom, we must do our best. When a woman is ready to have a baby, she hopes that a well-trained doctor is nearby and ready to help. But if no such doctor is present, she would rather have anybody than nobody. In the same way, we must do all we can to win souls and lead them into discipleship, even if we are sure that we don’t really know what we are doing.
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…”
2 Corinthians 1:12
For this is our confidence: The testimony of our conscience is that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you, with God- given sincerity and purity, not by fleshly wisdom but by God’s grace.
These passages tell us that God by His Holy Spirit confirms what we believe in our spirit, namely that we are His children. The witness of our spirit is that we truly and sincerely hope in Christ alone for our salvation. Our conscience bears witness in the genuineness of our faith and repentance.
John Wesley gave this definition for the witness of the Holy Spirit: “The testimony of the Spirit is an inward impression on the soul, whereby the Spirit of God directly witnesses to my spirit, that I am a child of God; that Jesus Christ has loved me, and given himself for me; and that all my sins are blotted out, and I, even I, am reconciled to God.”
The Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit; that is, the Spirit of God confirms our faith and supports it with an outside testimony. Faith is the evidence that Christ is our Savior. By faith we behold the Lamb of God that takes away our sins on the Cross. And this assures our hearts that we are forgiven for Christ’s sake. The Holy Spirit comes to confirm the evidence our faith has already produced.
A Work of Sanctification
“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
This divine witness is not properly classified as a work of justification, though it usually experienced at or around the time of justification. The witness of the Holy Spirit confirms that we have already been justified, so it cannot properly be called part of justification.
It is a work of sanctification, not of justification. By knowing with more certainty the love God has for us, we are able to love God more fully in return. By faith we love God because we see the sacrifice He made for us through His Son. But with this added divine confirmation of His love we grow in greater depth of love for Him. This leads us to obeying him more whole heartedly.
False assurance of God’s acceptance is extremely dangerous, but a lack of assurance is detrimental to our growth in Christ. Though people can enter into eternal life with a less than perfect assurance of their salvation, no one can go onto maturity in Christ without being confident of their right-standing with God.
The Bible declares, “One turns from evil by the fear of the Lord” (Prov. 16:6). That is to say that the fear of God motivates us to turn away from sin. When we know that God “judges impartially based on each one’s work,” we will avoid things that will lead to His wrath (1 Pet. 1:17). The fear of the Lord is the “beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7).
Although the fear of the Lord is essential, it is not all that we need to go onto maturity. As believers we fear God knowing that “God is not mocked” and that “whatever a man sows he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). But the Bible challenges us “by the mercies of God” to dedicate ourselves completely to Him (Rom. 12:1). The fear of punishment can keep us from evil, but only love for God can cause us to devote ourselves to Him body and soul.
1 John 4:19 declares, “We love [God] because He first loved us.” Our love to Him is our response to His love for us. If we are not certain that He loves, accepts and forgives us, we cannot fully love Him. And without loving Him we cannot go onto maturity as Christians. Assurance of our salvation is the first step in the process of our sanctification.
The First Confirmation
Throughout our Christian walk we will need direct confirmation from God of our continued right-standing with Him. The storms of life have a way of testing our faith. But there is no time we need the witness of God’s Spirit more than at the beginning of our Christian journey.
After walking with Christ for some time we begin to bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit which confirms our faith. And by the acceptance of the Body of Christ at the time of our baptism and through the continual partaking of the Holy Communion meal, we are encouraged that we are still walking with God. But at the moment of our salvation we have no evidence of long-term spiritual fruit nor the acceptance of Christ’s people; we have nothing but the witness of our own spirit to assure us. For this reason God steps in and confirms directly what our faith and conscience already tells us, we are accepted by God. Though further evidence must follow, our faith, and God’s witness, are enough to start us on the Christian journey with confidence.
The thief on the cross didn’t have time to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. He didn’t have time to prove that he had already, by God’s grace, been transformed into a “good tree.” Instead he relied wholly on the gracious words of Christ, “Assuredly I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).
By convicting grace God came to our lost hearts and personally testified that we were condemned for our sins. But when we come to saving faith He not only justifies us but also personally testifies to us that they have been forgiven. As He adopts us He “sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” (Gal. 4:6) By faith we are convinced we have been received by God. And God’s “Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Rom. 8:16). God wounds us through convicting grace so that he can heal us through accepting grace.