Sunday, April 22, 2018

Witness of the Spirit

We’re back in Romans chapter 8. And Paul is still teaching about the ministry of the Spirit in the life of a Christian. Today, we come to something that the Spirit does that we really need to understand. It’s bound up with a couple of questions that aren’t asked very much these days, a couple of questions that really should be considered more frequently. ‘Are you sure that you’re a Christian? If you think you are, how do you know that?’

Listen to what Paul wrote.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…  Romans 8.16

I’m pretty sure that we all have questions about what Paul means by this. I certainly had some myself before I began to study for this sermon. And while some questions still remain for me, the bigger aspects of what this is about have become much clearer. It has been my prayer this week that I would be able to do a good job passing on to you what the Spirit has shown me.

So, let’s start with this. Paul is teaching about what the Spirit does so that we can be sure that we really are children of God. This certainty is so very important when it comes to living as faithful disciples on the battlefield that we call life. When Satan hurls his attacks at us, our being able to respond well depends to such a great extent on being sure that God is our Father and we are His children. When that is in doubt, it gives our enemy an edge that he will take full advantage of. So, this being sure really is quite important. And that’s why Paul teaches about it here.

So, how does the Spirit do this? What does He do so that we can be sure?

Paul language is not complicated. Our spirit bears witness to ourselves that we are Christians. That is, we have this inner sense that Jesus is ours and we are His. What the Spirit of God does is add His own testimony to ours. He ‘bears witness with our spirit’ and in this way confirms that inner sense that we have.

That’s Paul’s basic point. But for this to be helpful we need to dig further.

So, let’s think this through. We hear the facts of the Gospel: the holiness of God, the sinfulness of humanity, Jesus as the only one to rescue us from that sinfulness. We come to agree that these facts are true. As a result, we give ourselves to Jesus. Out of this comes a sense in us that we are Christians. You might call it a feeling. We tell ourselves, ‘I know that I am a Christian. I believe the Gospel. I can feel that that is true of me.’ This subjective sense is the witness of our spirit.

Then, the Spirit acts. He confirms what we are thinking. He adds His witness to our own witness that we really are Christians. That’s what Paul is talking about. The Spirit does this thing within us so that we can have a subjective sense that we are God’s children.

However, I think that you can see that there must be more. And that’s because you know that there are those who profess the same Gospel and claim the same inner sense but who are not Christians. They are deceived about these things. And, sad to say, many of them will not come to see this deception until the day Jesus returns to tell them,

I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. Matthew 7:23

God forbid that this would include any of you!

That leads to this question. Is there anything more to help clarify the situation, to make it clearer to us that what we are feeling, that inner sense, really is the result of the Spirit’s witness? Yes, there is.

This work of the Spirit in a Christian’s life is not merely about a subjective sense. It most certainly is that, and we must hold on to that. But there is more than the subjective. There are some things that are very objective, things that we can point to, that also show that we are children of God. And Paul teaches about this as another aspect of the work of the Spirit in our lives. He has already mentioned these objective things in chapter eight. He starts with this.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8:14

The Christian is led by the Spirit. This leading is more than some subjective sense.

Here, let me remind you of an important contrast in this chapter. This will help you to understand what it means to be led by the Spirit.

Paul talks about walking according to the flesh and walking according to the Spirit. In another place, it’s either setting one’s mind on the things of the flesh or setting one’s mind on the things of the Spirit. The contrast is between the flesh and the Spirit. And remember that by ‘the flesh’ Paul is referring to sin. Being led by the Spirit is living in a way that rejects following the impulses of sin. Instead, we live in a way that the Spirit lays out, holy living.

Now, that’s pretty abstract. But Paul gets very concrete in describing two particular ways that this holy living, this being led by the Spirit, shows in the life of honest to goodness Christians. This is where it gets objective, very concrete.

Here’s one way.

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but [notice the contrast!] if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Here, being led by the Spirit, walking according to the Spirit, shows as putting your sin to death.

I preached on this a few weeks back, but let me remind you of the three steps that I taught you about putting sin to death.

First, pray that you would be shown your sins. Second, meditate on the Scriptures. And then, third, when the Spirit uses the Scriptures to show you your sins, pray to repent of them. Three steps: prayer, meditation and prayer.

Putting your sins to death is not some subjective sense. It is something that is very objective, very concrete. It may well be that no one else will see you doing this, but you can see you doing this. Either you are working on those three steps, or you aren’t. It will be obvious, at least to you. Working at this is evidence, concrete evidence, that you are being led by the Spirit. And remember,

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

Let’s now consider a second way that being led by the Spirit shows. Listen to Paul.

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!” Romans 8:15

Now, that ‘Abba! Father!’ is really interesting. But before we look at that, there’s another word here that we need to spend a little time on. It’s the word ‘cry’. Paul didn’t write, ‘say’ or even ‘pray’ “Abba! Father!”. He wrote ‘cry’.

Let me help you get a feel for this word. Here are some other places where it shows up.

But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Matthew 14.30

And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” Matthew 21.9

And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” Matthew 15.22

What do we have? A drowning man, an excited crowd, a pleading mother. And they are all crying out.

That’s the word that Paul used about our prayers. This is not a calm word. There is a certain intensity about it. Sometimes that intensity is expressed in volume. But there are other times when it is express in some other equally intense way. Paul teaches that being led by the Spirit results in intense prayer. Or to say that a little differently, this is about prayer that is real.

Now, why this intensity? On the one hand, there’s simply this. Life is hard. We live on a battlefield. Remember, it’s the seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman. It’s Satan and those with him against Jesus and those with Him. Daily life gives us plenty of opportunity to cry out with some serious prayer. Next week we’ll be looking at the call to suffer as Christians. Faithful suffering will produce lots of intense prayer.

There’s another reason why this prayer of a Christian is intense. And this is about who it is that we cry out to. As we deal with the woes and cares of this life we turn to someone who is able to do something about them. Our God is the Almighty. Can anything frustrate Him once He decides to act? But then, on top of that, we know that this Almighty God cares. We know that He deeply cares for us. So, every Christian can say with full assurance, ‘I know that He cares about me!’ And convinced of that we cry out to Him. ‘Abba! Father!’

So, do you see how powerfully the Spirit acts in our lives? For one thing, He confirms in us a sense, a sure sense, that we are the children of God. But then, He also works in us, on the one hand, a hatred of sin and the desire to kill its every instance, and, on the other hand, the confidence to cry out to our loving Father.

The inner certainty is a subjective sense, a feeling. But it will always express itself in things that are objective, things we can see in our lives: hating sin and putting it to death, loving our Father and crying out to Him. In these ways,

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God… 

That leaves a final question. Do you have this subjective witness of the Spirit that evidences itself in objective ways? If you do, rejoice and give thanks. The Spirit is at work in your life. And while life will still be hard, your future is bright. Continue to work at following the lead of the Spirit. There is more of His ministry in you for you to enjoy. Let me encourage you to pray that you would, in fact, enjoy Him more.

But there is the other side of the coin. What if you don’t sense this witness of the Spirit? What if you profess that you are a Christian but there is no inner certainty, or there aren’t the evidences of the hatred of your sin and serious prayer?

Here’s one possibility. Maybe you’re not a Christian at all. Maybe you’re among those who have been deceived. But if that’s the situation the solution is obvious. Repent and believe the Gospel. But doing that might be a bit unclear because that’s what you thought you were doing. However, if the Spirit is making it clear to you that you are not a Christian, then He has also been giving you reasons why it’s clear that you aren’t a Christian. And that’s where you start, by considering those reasons. And as you do that you will see the sins behind those reasons. And that’s where you begin your repentance. If this is you, then you and I should get together to sort this out.

There is another reason for a lack of what I’ve described as the witness of the Spirit. It just might be that you’ve been coasting. You have faith in the Gospel, but you haven’t been nurturing it. So, it hasn’t actually developed very much. You’re pretty much in the same place that you were some years ago. Not much has changed in your experience of being a believer. If this is you, the solution is equally obvious. Repent and believe the Gospel. Repent of your coasting. Remember that vow you took when you became a member.

Do you now resolve and promise, in humble reliance on the grace of the Holy Spirit, that you will endeavor to live as becomes the follower of Christ?

There are things for you to do, things to work on. I’d like to help you with that. So, if this is you, maybe we should get together.

But if this is you, please understand something. It just may be that this sermon is a warning to you from the Spirit. He does that, you know. Warnings and threats. There are those who comfort themselves with the thought that while they may be coasting, they believe well enough to make it into heaven. I sincerely hope that this is true of no one here. And I say that because no one coasts into heaven. It’s a lively faith that results in heaven. Anything less than that results in hell.

Let me return to those of you who see the evidence of the work of the Spirit in your life. You really are working at this. Let me remind you that none of us is doing this perfectly. We still sin. Don’t doubt because you aren’t perfect. Rather, consider it another opportunity to cry out ‘Abba! Father!’ He loves you, you know. By His Spirit, He will guide you, strengthen you and comfort you. Believe Him so that you will be encouraged and persevere in this battle called life.