The following is a transcript of the audio.
A podcast listener named Ty writes in to ask: “What does it mean for the Spirit to bear witness that we are children of God in Romans 8:16?”
This is enormously important because what I have found over the years is that right up there with fear and lust and anger Christians everywhere at some time, all of us, deal with the problem of assurance, the assurance of salvation. Am I really a Christian? Every Christian deals with this at some point and some Christians all the time. And so I really would like to help here if I can. So this person is thinking about Romans 8:14–16. So let me read the verses, because the verses themselves provide the clue to what is being meant here. This is verse 14 of Romans eight. All who are led by the Spirit of God are the sons of God. So led by the Spirit of God are the sons of the God. The clue that you are the son of God is that you are being led by the Spirit.
Verse 15. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons by whom we cry: Abba, Father, a very intimate, warm, personal, affectionate cry to God as our Father. The Spirit is witnessing.
Now verse 16. The Spirit himself bears witness, is witnessing in that cry, Abba, Father, with our spirit that we are the children of God. So here is the first thing I would say. The witness of the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God is not a word whispered in your ear: You are my child. That is not the way he does it. That is external and the devil could do that to an unbeliever. And I don’t doubt that the devil does whisper that in people’s ears, because it says that at the end of the day there are going to be people who think they have called Jesus Lord and they really haven’t. What it means is two things and these are in the text. It is the work of the Spirit—so the witness of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit giving evidences in our lives that we are the sons of God. I get that from verse 14. All who are led by the Spirit are the sons of God. So the work of the Spirit leading us is the Spirit witnessing in our lives that we are God’s. His work provides evidences. And that is what witnesses do. They give evidences of reality. So we look for what it means to be led by the Spirit. And if you go to Galatians five being led by the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, living by the Spirit is the same as bearing the fruit of the Spirit. So we look for love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness. In other words, as we look at our lives, are there evidences that the Spirit is producing things that are contrary to a fallen, unbelieving, selfish human nature.
And I want to be real clear here. Never does the Bible say that the evidence is perfection. It is always a direction of life where we say: This, this and this was contrary to my selfish spirit and God worked that in me. I thank you, God, for giving me some measured evidence that I belong to God. That is number one. So verse 14 points to the fact that the witness of the Spirit is his giving evidences in our life that we are his. And here is the second one. It means a heart felt cry rises up in us to God as our Father and Christ as our Lord. So verse 15 and 16: You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons by whom you cry: Abba, Father, the Spirit himself bearing witness with your spirit. So when there rises in the believer’s heart a humble, authentic, dependent, thankful, happy: Father, Father, that is the Holy Spirit. Because a person who is without Christ cannot call out to God in a dependent, loving, thankful, humble way. They are too selfish. They are too self-reliant. They don’t treat God that way. And the reason I said it is also a heart cry to Jesus as Lord is because he says almost the same thing in 1 Corinthians 12:3. Therefore I want you to understand no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says: Jesus is cursed. And no one can say: Jesus is Lord, except in the Holy Spirit.
If your heart rises up not only to say: Father, Father, I need you. But also rises up to say: Jesus, my master, my lord, my God, my everything. If your heart rises up to say that, that is the Holy Spirit in you. That is the evidence of God in your life. That is part of his assuring work.
So here is one last counsel. The source of assurance finally is not found by focusing on our hearts and ourselves. It is found by focusing on that Lord and that Father, because Jesus said: When the Spirit of truth comes—this is John 16:13-14—when the Spirit of truth comes he will glorify me, which means if you want the Holy Spirit to be at work in you, awakening that authentic cry to Jesus: My Lord. And to God: My Father. You look to them. You look to them, because that is whom the Holy Spirit glorifies. If you look within and take your life. I mean your eyes off of Jesus, what is the Holy Spirit going to glorify? You know, there is nothing for him to magnify if you are not looking at Jesus and the Father.
So bottom line. The Holy Spirit’s witness is one, his work in us to create evidences that we are his child by producing the fruits of the Spirit and, number two, it is his awakening in us of a heart felt cry: Daddy, Father, I need you. And Jesus you are my Lord. You are my guide. You are my treasure. When our hearts are crying out with authentic dependence like that and our lives are giving some evidence of his presence then that is the work of the Holy Spirit witnessing.
Thank you Pastor John. And thank you for listening to this podcast. If you want more on this theme, visit us online at desiringgod.org to listen to a sermon from Pastor John on Romans 8:13–17, titled: “The Spirit-Led Are the Sons of God,” which was preached on April 14, 2002. And while you’re there, you can find thousands of free books, articles, sermons, and other resources from John Piper’s 32+ years of ministry. Tomorrow is July 4th, Independence Day as it’s known for those of us in the United States. And the day raises questions about national loyalty. How do we who are strangers, exiles, aliens, and pilgrims on earth think about patriotism? Pilgrims and Patriots, that’s the topic tomorrow morning. I’m your host, Tony Reinke. Thanks for listening to the Ask Pastor John podcast.