Witness of the Spirit

“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.” —Romans 8:16

CHRISTIANS sometimes have doubts arise in their minds about their relationship as children of God. If these thoughts are not dispelled, or worse yet, if they are allowed to grow, they can cause laxness in consecration and even eventual withering of the new creature. But if these doubts are met with the assurances found in the Word of God, then needed strength or faith can be found, and a deepening conviction of sonship will result.

The scripture cited as the theme text opens the door for study along these lines. However, to understand all that is implied in these words requires a recognition of God’s will for the church, and an appreciation of his plan of the ages. Without such knowledge, confusion can result. For instance, some church groups erroneously believe that a mark of God’s friendship is material prosperity. Those who are elevated to any position in their church organization must have evidence of earthly riches and good health as special evidences of divine favor. Once, during a nationwide drive for church membership, the following slogan was promoted: “Church builds character—character builds success. Join the church!”

However, when one understands the plan of God and knows what purpose is being accomplished in the call of the true church during the Gospel Age, it is at once clear that material prosperity and health are not marks of sonship. If these were true marks, how discouraging it would have been for the Apostle Paul. We can read his own testimony regarding his personal lot as far as material possessions are concerned, while serving God: “Even unto this present hour we hunger and thirst, and are naked and buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place.” (I Cor. 4:11) Yet, in this condition of privation and sorrow, he nevertheless said with assurance, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”—Rom. 8:28

Of Jesus, our principal example, we read, “It became him to make the captain of their salvation perfect [complete] through suffering.” (Heb. 2:10) And again we read, “Though he were a Son, yet learned he obedience by the things which he suffered.” (Heb. 5:8) Likewise the church is being developed to share the high honor, and glorious privileges of divine life with our Lord through stringent testing. Hence the need, as it was with him, to have our characters eternally set in righteousness.

Our Father, knowing that the necessary trials might bring discouragement, has given ample assurance of his faithfulness and love for his sons. Among these are the witnesses of the Spirit, which comfortingly say, “You are, indeed, my very own.” The word ‘spirit’ found in our text must be understood correctly if we are to receive the comfort it affords. It means the power or influence of God. By using our concordances we learn the Hebrew word ruwach and the Greek word pneuma simply mean ‘wind’. These words have been translated in the Bible by various English words such as ‘mind’, ‘power’, and ‘spirit’. We can easily understand what might have influenced early writers to first use such a simple word as wind to describe God’s power or influence. Historically, languages grew; known words were used to describe something entirely new, and in time their original meanings would be lost and the new definitions become accepted.

This was true of all living languages. In English, for instance, the word rostrum is defined as a place where one stands in giving a speech’. But originally this Latin word meant ‘a bird’s beak’, such as the beak of a hawk or sparrow. But now this meaning does not even enter one’s mind when he hears or reads the word. In the days when Rome was a world power naval vessels were constructed with long sharp prows for ramming enemy ships. Because of the appearance, it came to be known as ‘the bird’s beak’, and this portion of the vessel was considered a trophy of war. The captured rostrum was taken to the Coliseum at the time a victorious commander went there to receive the acclaim of the people, and he would stand in the rostrum to receive his trophy and to give his speech. Such evidences of changes in word meanings can be found in a high percentage of currently used, living languages.

The Hebrew word ruwach and the Greek word pneuma, simply meant, as we stated earlier, ‘wind’. Wind, of course, is quite invisible—but its power and movement can be felt but not seen. When men long ago sought a way to describe the unseen power of God, it was inevitable that the idea of an invisible, powerful force such as the wind, would be used

In our lesson text, however, we believe the word ‘mind’ would best be substituted for spirit. Our text would then read, “God’s mind itself beareth witness with our minds that we are the children of God.” Some might ask, In what way do we mean that it is God’s mind? The mind of anyone represents his thoughts, and the only place we can find the thoughts of God expressed is in his Word, the Bible. The Bible came to us through the influence, or power, of God directing those who wrote.

To illustrate how God’s thoughts, or his mind, bears witness with our minds, we might use the illustration of a doctors’ book. It was a practice in former years for many families to have such a book. It contained a compilation of various symptoms relating to a specific illness, such as measles or mumps, etc. It also suggested, in some instances, remedies which might be used. Parents having such a doctors’ book might observe their child becoming ill. Perhaps measles was suspected; so a quick check was made with the book concerning the symptoms and their order of appearance. If the child’s condition seemed to match the symptoms listed, a diagnosis could generally be made.

In our Father’s Word he has outlined for us certain identifying actions and experiences which will come to us as his children. If we find that ours match those noted in his Word, then we have assurance that God’s mind is bearing witness with ours that we are his children.

Let us note some of the words of the Bible concerning the witnesses of the Spirit. In John 6:44, we read the words of Jesus, “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him.” Here is explicit testimony that everyone who comes to Jesus must be drawn of God. Have we had such an experience? What does it mean to be drawn to Jesus? In answer to this question, the Bible gives ample proof that being drawn to Jesus implies an appreciation and comprehension of the Lord’s life and work.

When the disciples noted that Jesus explained his parables to them, but not to others, they inquired concerning the matter. They asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (Matt. 13:10) His answer makes it clear that those drawn of God are given special understanding. His words were, because “It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.”

How can we determine if we have been drawn to Christ? Did circumstances arise that drew our attention to the Bible? Did we begin to understand that Jesus became a man and died for all? Have we learned to appreciate his nobility of heart, and a desire to serve him grew because of this? Do we find ourselves loving him because he did so much for the world and for us? If our answer is ‘Yes’ to these questions, it means we have been drawn to Jesus because, by his own testimony, we are informed that no man comes to him unless the Father, God, which sent Jesus draw him.

However, this knowledge and appreciation of our Lord, which indicates we have been drawn to him, does not in itself mean we are children of God. According to God’s Word this is a first step, which must be followed by others. In Matthew 16:24,25 we read, “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.”

This statement of our Lord clearly describes the step we call consecration. To deny oneself means giving up one’s will. To those who become disciples of Jesus, this is a vital step, because we must be willing to have God’s will as our guide. This was true of Jesus also—a fact noted prophetically of him in Psalm 40:7,8: “Then said I, Lo, I come: in the volume of the Book it is written of me, I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.”

The next part of Jesus’ stated requirement was, “and take up his cross and follow me.” What a background of truth is contained in these few words. The phrase, ‘take up his cross’, was a figure of speech indicating that one was involved in walking unto death. How literally true this became of Jesus a short time later. His words suggested to his disciples that it was necessary he must die, and in addition they expressed the great truth of the Messiah which is that the Messiah is composed of Jesus and his faithful disciples. And all must die before the reign of the Messiah begins. Note the Apostle Paul’s words, “The body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ [Messiah].”—I Cor. 12:13

Considering our Lord’s words, can we look back to that point in time when we recognized the terms of discipleship and saw that our human will was to be surrendered, and henceforth we were to do the will of God as found in his Word? Did we realize the will of God meant that we were to sacrifice our lives as Jesus did, and that, if faithful, we would be with him in glory as a part of the Messiah? If so, we can say God’s Word bears testimony with our minds that we are children of his.

Again the testimony of God’s Word speaks concerning the experience of his children, saying in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Have ‘old’ things passed away? And how did all things become ‘new’? With most of us, prior to our knowledge of the truth, we had limited horizons. At most we might have had some plans concerning a work or profession we desired to pursue. We may have tried to follow some principles or qualities of character we admired and held in high esteem, but almost all were limited to this present short span of life. But when the witness of God’s Word came, it lifted our horizons—we could see far beyond the limits of our lifetime on earth, into eternity! We perceived new goals toward which to strive. We began to observe the character of our God and Lord, and attempted to change our thoughts and lives accordingly. The truth gave new point and objectivity to our existence. Old things passed away; behold, all things became new! This important witness of the Spirit must be maintained until we have finished our course.

There are also other witnesses of the Spirit which stimulate us to faithfulness. One which falls into this class is noted in John 15:2, which reads, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” In this parable, God is pictured as the husbandman, or caretaker, of the vine. Jesus is the stalk, and we are the branches. The fruitage would illustrate the character of love we are to attain—not merely a passive conformity to Jesus’ disposition, but rather a demonstration of love by self-sacrificing devotion, similar to his.

Note how this is brought to the fore in verses twelve and thirteen, “This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The particular point in the parable to note in relation to the witness of the Spirit is contained in the statement, “every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” An unattended grapevine has a natural tendency to produce wood, and not fruit. So with us. No matter how high our resolve, our natural human frailties will assert themselves unless we receive pruning by our Father. The pruning of the Lord would be those experiences brought to us which, if met correctly, will bring forth an abundance of the fruitage of righteousness. Sometimes these are very circumscribing to our natural tendencies; often humiliating to our flesh, and we may question the need of giving up so much of this world. If we recognize they are ‘from the Lord’, then such prunings will prove beneficial.

We may be unduly concerned with the approval of others, so that if it is not forthcoming we are distressed. Such approbativeness could cause one to seek approval at the expense of principle and truth. With such tendency toward wood making, the Lord may permit experiences and misunderstandings which could cause us to receive special criticism and disapproval. If such experiences would be met correctly, so that there comes a recognition within of the need to have only God’s approval, then rich fruitage has been produced.

Can we see in our Christian experiences where God allowed circumstances which for the moment thwarted natural tendencies of attaining our will, be it in our jobs, our families, our classes, or other instances? If so, and we met them correctly bowing to the will of the Father, then we have testimony in his Word that we are being led of him as his children.

Another witness of the Spirit is found in John 15:19, which reads, If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” But one might ask, how does the world manifest its hatred toward us? Actually, very few of us ever receive abuse from the world. For that matter, neither did our Lord. His abuse and suffering came mainly from the incitement of the people by the religious leaders of Israel.

The reason we do not often receive the world’s scorn is because times are very different today, and the people are considerably more liberal-minded toward those of religious persuasions other than their own. However, in those instances where our principles run counter to the world’s, we sometimes see scorn and ridicule. This can happen during the stress of war, when our views of service run counter to theirs. Also, we sometimes see the world’s frown when we refrain from engaging in politics. To many, the present time is the time when the ills of governments should be corrected. By such, our attitude might be contested because it appears that we are unconcerned about reform. Yes, we will see the world’s frown from time-to-time if we are faithful, and will experience their contempt for our understanding of things which we know must wait until the kingdom. This peculiar witness of the Spirit will come to us only if we are faithful in witnessing and letting our light shine.

Note many of the assurances of sonship which depend upon our continued love of the brethren. This is stated in I John 3:14: “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”

The first requisite is to recognize that we are a family of God. This truth was very dramatically presented to the church by Jesus. In the Gospel of Matthew we read of an instance where our Lord’s mother and his brethren sought to speak with him. At the time, he was inside a home, tightly packed with listeners, and the crowding prevented free access for his mother and brothers who were outside. An observant person saw the problem and interrupted Jesus with the announcement, “Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee.” This interruption caused our Lord to stop speaking, and we can imagine that his hearers waited for the reply to this particular statement. The Master, always watching for the seasonable time to sow a seed of truth, realized the appropriateness of this occasion for his hearers to receive a lesson. He asked what appears to be a strange question: “Who is my mother? Who are my brethren?” Imagine the first reaction of the disciples as they heard this! What a strange question! After a pause, during which a variety of thoughts must have entered the minds of his listeners, came the wonderful statement of Jesus as he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, “Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”—Matt. 12:46-50

Imagine the reaction to this statement. The simple folk who saw in Jesus such perfection and beauty of character, realized that he tenderly considered them as his own family. They knew his words were not shallow, spoken only for effect. They told of his deep conviction of heart. We can well imagine the special warmth they felt for him that day when the goodbyes were said! We, too, as disciples, are part of the family of God, and the full meaning of this truth should be imbedded deeply in our hearts. The tie that binds our hearts transcends any earthly tie of family or affection. The realization of this truth should cause us to dearly love our brethren. That love must not come merely because we are told that should be the case. Our love for each other comes from our mutual relationship and love for the Heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus. As our appreciation and love of God grows, so does our concern and tenderness toward those whom he has named as our brethren. If he has drawn and begotten a member of the family, leading them daily, hearing their prayers, should not we, too, view them in this special way? Perhaps we can, after a fashion, measure our love for God by our love for the brethren.

The intermingling of our lives with the brethren requires the exercise of great patience. Our Father has called us from varying childhood backgrounds where we acquired different casts of mind, unmatching human frailties, and uneven economic levels. The need of adjusting to each other will ever be present. It is as though our Father, as part of our development, drew together those who are naturally diverse, and said, “Now, my children, live together in love. Cherish and serve each other.” If we maintain a strong love for God and our Lord, keeping in focus his plan and our relationship thereto, then the knitting together in love between us and our brethren will be sure and firm. If we can say we have seen and appreciated the family relationship of the brethren, then this witness of the Spirit is real and vital in our lives. If we find in our hearts a desire to be with and serve the interests of the brethren, then we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. I John 3:14 then becomes a witness of the Spirit that we are children of God.

One strong evidence of sonship is our knowledge of the mysteries of God. In the first chapter of Ephesians the Apostle Paul discusses the fact that the church has been a special recipient of knowledge. In verses twelve and thirteen he states, “We should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation: in whom also after ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise.”

The phrase, ‘sealed with the Spirit of promise’, refers to the possession of special knowledge which identifies us as being the sons of the king. Paul apparently took this figure of speech from a practice used by rulers of old to identify their representatives. When a person representing a ruler went to a far place, he had with him a letter of identification which carried the seal of the potentate. Our text indicates that our identification is the fact that we are filled with the Holy Spirit of promise. Look carefully—the text does not say ‘by’, but ‘with’ the Holy Spirit of promise. Thus stated, it would mean that the seal itself is the possession of the Spirit of promise.

Just what does this mean? The matter is made clear by the same apostle in I Corinthians, where we read: “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory. (I Cor. 2:7) Subsequent to this text it is made clear that this wisdom is yet hidden from the world. Then the apostle makes the point that we know these hidden things only by the Spirit of God—God has revealed them to us by his Spirit, for the Spirit searches the deep things of God.—vs. 10

Then, continuing in verse twelve, he says, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things freely given to us of God.” This is the Spirit of promise, or influence of God revealing to our minds those deep truths of his plan which outline the inheritance of the new creation. The Spirit of promise, then, is the enlightenment which comes to us by the Spirit of God.

Note how emphatically the apostle states that such knowledge cannot be appreciated now by those not Spirit begotten. He says, in verse fourteen, “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: … neither can he know them.” If we see the deep things of God, which, simply stated, is his plan of the ages, and if this prompted our consecration and walk of discipleship, then, again, his Spirit is bearing witness to ours that we are children of God.

A child of God has many experiences in the Word to bolster faith in his sonship. As we have noted, some of these are recognition of occurrences which drew us to God, our consecration; and God’s pruning. Our witness of the Spirit depends very much on our present faithfulness in witnessing, sacrificing, and serving the brethren. But in all these, past or present, we are especially aware of the warmth of God’s smile and his tender leading.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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