By Bob Wilkin
*This article first appeared in the March 1993 issue of Grace in Focus. It has been slightly edited.
According to the Westminster Confession of Faith, there are three pillars of assurance of salvation: the promises of God’s Word, the works which the Holy Spirit produces through us, and the inner witness of the Spirit to the believer.1 All three of these witnesses are considered necessary for one to be reasonably confident of his salvation.
According to the GES Affirmations of Belief, there is only one pillar of assurance: the promises of God’s Word.
Since the GES Affirmations do not even mention the so-called inner witness of the Spirit, I thought it might be helpful to address that issue here.
DOES HE WITNESS TO US OR WITH US?
Most people misread Rom 8:16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God.” But the text says, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.”
The Greek makes this clear. One Greek verb (summartureō) conveys the meaning “bears witness along with.” It is a compound verb that has a preposition prefixed to it. The preposition clearly means along with, not to.
Romans 8:16 speaks of two witnesses: the Holy Spirit and our human spirit. They both bear witness together. This is in keeping with the OT principle that all matters need to be verified by at least two witnesses.
TO WHOM DOES HE BEAR WITNESS?
The Holy Spirit bears witness along with our human spirit that we are children of God. But to whom does He bear witness? The answer is clear in the context. Verse 15 indicates that we (i.e., our human spirits) cry out, “Abba, Father.” In other words, our witness is to God the Father. If the Spirit is bearing witness with our human spirits, then He, too, must bear witness to God the Father. This conclusion is confirmed by v 26, which asserts that whenever we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us. Clearly the Person with whom He is interceding for us is God the Father.
God the Father is the One to whom our human spirits, and the Holy Spirit, bear witness.
IT HAPPENS AS WE PRAY
The Holy Spirit’s witness does not occur constantly. Rather, it happens as we pray. Whenever our human spirits cry out to God saying, “Abba, Father” (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6; see also the Lord’s Prayer, Luke 11:2, “Our Father. . .”), the Holy Spirit witnesses to God the Father that we are indeed His children.
To call God our Father is a way of reminding Him that we are His children. Whenever that greeting is true—that is, whenever a genuine child of God is praying—the Holy Spirit confirms its validity.
THE SPIRIT’S WITNESS IS UNDETECTABLE
While we are aware of when our human spirits cry out to God in prayer, calling Him our Father, we are unable to monitor the Holy Spirit’s confirming witness. We cannot infallibly feel, see, hear, or in any way tune in to the Holy Spirit’s witness to God the Father that we are His children—even though we might, in our experience of prayer, have a general sense that the Holy Spirit is at work. The only sure way we know that He does this is because the Bible tells us that He does.
GOD DELIGHTS IN THESE REMINDERS
God takes pleasure in this twofold testimony of our status as His children. This should motivate us to do our part.
And what is our part? Our part is to pray. As we say, “Our Father,” the Holy Spirit says, “Yes, this is a child of God.”
What a joy it is to realize that God delights in being reminded by us, and by the Holy Spirit, that we are His children.
GOD’S PROMISES ARE ALL WE NEED
According to the Apostle John, if we accept the testimony of God concerning His Son, then we know that we have eternal life (1 John 5:13). Assurance is objective. It is sourced in the Gospel. If we accept Jesus’ claim that “He who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47), then we know that we have everlasting life!
It goes without saying that if we can know we have eternal life simply by accepting the testimony of God, then nothing else is needed.
I have a birth certificate that says I was born in Los Angeles in 1952. That objectively testifies to me that I am a citizen of the United States. I need not evaluate how I feel in order to determine whether I am really a U.S. citizen. My birth certificate is all I need.
The birth certificate of the believer is God’s Word. It objectively testifies to us that we are citizens of heaven.
ASSURANCE IS THE BACKBONE OF CONFIDENT PRAYER
Those who search for the so-called inner witness of the Spirit do so in vain since that is His witness to God the Father, not to us.
Feelings can be deceptive. Liver quivers are unreliable.
Look to the Biblical promise that he who accepts the testimony of God concerning His Son has everlasting life. That and that alone is the only way to know for sure that you are a child of God. The Scriptures are the Holy Spirit’s actual witness to us. The Spirit’s work in assurance is through the Word, not through feelings.
Only on the basis of the promises of God as found in His infallible and inerrant Word can we know for sure that we are His children. And only with such assurance can we confidently call God our Father.2
Bob Wilkin is Executive Director of Grace Evangelical Society. He and Sharon live in Highland Village, TX. He has racewalked ten marathons.
1 Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 18, “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation,” Sections 1-4 (esp. Section 2).
2 Editor’s note: Until we believe in Jesus for the promise of everlasting life, we remain unregenerate. Once we believe His promise of life, we are secure forever, even if we later stop believing the promise and lose assurance. Everlasting life is guaranteed. Assurance of everlasting life, however, can be lost if we take our eyes off Christ.