THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY (17)
The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit and Assurance
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:” (Romans 8:14-16)
This study leads us into the mysterious depths of the Holy Ghost’s workings within and upon the hearts of God’s elect. Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones in his book “The Sons of God” has 250 pages expounding and illustrating the truths that are contained in these verses. Dr Lloyd Jones in the course of these messages, delivered in London, during the post war years, bemoans the increasing shallowness of 20th Century Christians; a sad trend that has continued unabated into the 21st Century. I must confess, on reading through once again these sermons on the depth and mystery of the Holy Ghost’s power in the lives of His people, I have felt myself to be paddling in the shallows.
This passage shows us that there are three aspects to the assurance supplied by the Holy Ghost: (a) “For as many as are led by the Spirit” (b) “Ye have received the Spirit of Adoption” (c) “The Spirit itself beareth witness”
There are degrees in, and an intensification of the Spirit’s work in providing assurance. Not all believers have the same experience of assurance, as a consequence of maturity or temperament. Some as a result of sin lose their assurance because they grieve the Holy Ghost, yet their salvation is not lost. In times of revival the awareness of God’s people of the Holy Ghost and the power of salvation is heightened to ways that we in these days of coldness and lethargy do not understand. For these reasons, I emphasise that the work of the Holy Ghost is mysterious yet powerful and dynamic. There is an infinite depth to His workings that we ought always and continually to be seeking after. Certainly this study ought to create within our hearts a thirst to experience more of the Holy Ghost, that our understanding and appreciation of salvation would be increased and that our joy might be full.
1: The Authorship by the Spirit
The Holy Ghost is the author of assurance. This experience of knowing that we have eternal life does not come from within our own hearts. Such a spiritual comprehension is foreign to mankind. We need the Holy Ghost to graciously impart assurance to us. The emphasis in these verses is upon the sovereign operations of the Spirit of God; He leads, He is the Spirit of Adoption and He bears witness with our spirits. There is no sense that this assurance is a product of human will and natural activity. Just as our salvation depends upon God’s grace so our assurance depends upon grace likewise. To the believer troubled by assurance I always emphasise the divine element. Our salvation does not depend upon our assurance. The Holy Ghost regenerates and then He grants this awareness of sins forgiven. We are not converted because we have assurance. We are converted ultimately because of Christ and His redemption which the Holy Ghost has applied savingly to our lives. Assurance is a feeling, a sense of peace, which is brought about by the functioning of the Spirit of God. This relationship with the Spirit fluctuates, it ebbs and flows. But the grace that saves us never changes; that is a constant. Therefore the one who is troubled by a lack of assurance needs to understand that doubts do not mean that there is no salvation. Our feelings neither save us nor do they damn us. Our dependency is fixed upon Christ and Christ alone. Church History shows illustrates that some of the greatest spiritual leaders had struggles with assurance. Martin Luther, John Bunyan and CH Spurgeon are notable examples. The paths of despondency that they were led along, however, gave these men such an insight into the overwhelming grace and goodness of God that they were prepared for the great work of blessing the Church.
The first and fundamental aspect of the Spirit’s role in granting us assurance is the manner in which He leads us. All Christians universally have the Holy Ghost indwelling. All Christians therefore possess the Spirit of God because they are the Sons of God, this is the logic of the 14th verse. Dr Lloyd Jones very helpfully produced ten tests that the Christian ought to look for within, his or her soul, which are proofs of the leading of the Holy Ghost:
(a) The Spirit determines a spiritual outlook to the world.
(b) The Spirit induces a desire to live for the glory of God.
(c) The Spirit produces a greater knowledge of God and of Christ.
(d) The Spirit produces a desire for Christian companions.
(e) The Spirit makes the Christian aware of his own sin.
(f) The Spirit creates a desire to resist temptation.
(g) The Spirit promotes a desire for holiness.
(h) The Spirit will inspire actions of mortification.
(I) The Spirit will cause one to look for the development of spiritual fruit in the life and character.
(J) The Spirit produces an instinctive desire to relate to God through prayer.
2: The Adoption through the Spirit
V15 proceeds to describe the next stage of the Holy Ghost’s provision of assurance to the sons and daughters of God. As the Spirit of Adoption He accomplishes two tasks.
Firstly, He creates within our hearts bondage and fear. There appears to be a paradox yet Paul is describing the same Spirit. All of those people who possess the Spirit of Adoption were once in receipt of the Spirit of bondage. Yet they will never “again” be afflicted by this fearful Spirit. Therefore the Spirit of bondage to preparatory to the Spirit of Adoption. The word that we commonly use to describe the “spirit of bondage” is ‘conviction.’ While conviction in some cases may be more severe and more acutely felt, than in others, there must be this burden of guilt, in order that the individual might know the peace of the Gospel. George Whitefield explained this very simply:
“First we hear Moses’ voice, we hear the voice of the law. There is no going to Mount Zion but by Mount Sinai…you must hear the voice of the law before you can be savingly called unto God.”
Subsequent to regeneration, therefore, the Holy Spirit grants this assurance of adoption. He does not adopt us, this what God the Father does when we are justified but He assures us of our justification. It is the Spirit who causes us to “cry”, “Abba, Father”. The word “cry” means to cry aloud, to even scream. It is the word of passion that we would associate with a child calling out for the parent. This certainly ties in with the Aramaic word “Abba” which is an affectionate title corresponding to the English ‘daddy’. The lesson is clear; in assuring us the Holy Ghost brings us to the place where we have an affectionate intimate relationship with our Heavenly Father, learning to cry out for His presence and to rely upon Him utterly.
3: The Affirmation from the Spirit
At the pinnacle of the Holy Ghost’s work in relation to our assurance is His bearing witness. To bear witness has a legal connotation. A witness provides the court with a credible and authentic testimony of an event that has occurred. In the court of the human soul the Spirit is recorded as speaking. He speaks to the spirit that is in man. He bears witness to the fact that we have been joined to Christ, justified by grace, adopted into the family of God and born again with new life.
When He speaks, He does so through the evidence that is supplied by the Word of God. Therefore to doubting souls we can point to the many Scriptures which demonstrate that God ever accepts the repentant and the seeking soul. The Spirit will never deny Scripture, only authenticate it.
Ultimate we should pray for assurance and for an increasing of this grace in our lives that we would rejoice increasingly in this grace wherein we stand.
“Tell me thou art mine, O Saviour, Grant me an assurance clear; Banish all my dark misgivings, Still my doubting, calm my fear.” (William Williams)