July /August 2016
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:16).
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In a court trial, a matter of truth is established through the testimony of witnesses. Each one is carefully examined so the particular truths of each one’s testimony is demonstrated. Without such witnesses, no conviction can be reached. Consequently, the value of bearing witness is evident.
The church of Christ is called to a heavenly hope. In preparation for that destiny, each called one is begotten of the holy Spirit to sonship. In order to fortify the faith of each one and their conviction of being in God’s family, they are given a witness of that reality as indicated by our theme text.
This is a powerful promise. It is the same holy Spirit of begettal that witnesses to the sonship of each member of Christ’s body. The previous verse links the thought to this: “For you did not receive a slavish spirit back again for fear; but you received a Spirit of sonship by which we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ ” (Romans 8:15, Wilson’s Diaglott). The translation “sonship” here is more powerful than the King James Version, “adoption.” The Greek word literally means to “set as a son,” whether to “adopt” or to “install a matured son to a responsible position in the family.”1 Here it is the latter.
(1) Uioyesian is a compound word consisting of huios, “son,” and thesias, from tithimi, variously translated “to place,” “lay,” “set.” “In Galatians 4:5 they are said to receive ‘the adoption of sons,’ i.e. sonship bestowed in distinction from a relationship consequent merely upon birth” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary, page 32, under “Adoption”).
But what are we to look for? What forms does this witness take?
From the standpoint of our Heavenly Father, it has to be something we can discern. Our God is too loving and kind to make His calls obscure. Also important is our own peace of mind on the matter. We could never have peace if we were in continual uncertainty and confusion regarding our relationship with God. On this point Paul tells us: “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). So we may be confident and sure that our Father will provide abundant and clear witnesses to our sonship.
However, much of what we see depends upon our love for God and our character. It is common in Christendom to equate the call of God with some euphoric, joyful feelings or other ecstatic emotions. But is that expectation scriptural? While feelings play a part in our consecrated experiences, they should never dictate what God’s will is, for the simple reason that feelings are changeable and generally unreliable. If not by feelings, how does one recognize the witness of the Spirit?
God Must First Draw Us
Let us begin by considering our feeling for God. Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
This is a principle we can use to examine our life. Has the Father drawn us? Do we have experiences which manifest Christ and his teaching to us? All who have consecrated their lives in the service of God have had this experience. It is a necessary beginning to our walking with God. It is impossible for anyone to come to Christ in faith without this drawing from the Father. This early drawing is a good place to start, as we evaluate the witness of the Spirit in our lives.
That initial drawing could be subtle over a long period of time or something distinct. Many of us were raised in a consecrated home. The truth has been a part of our lives since our first memories. Still, there would have been a time when the import of God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice made the impression upon our hearts and moved us to commit our lives to our Father. Others of us came out of the world. In this case, there is usually a more pointed, often pivotal, experience that directed our attention to the Truth.
No matter how our Father arranges it, we can look backwards and see this drawing power. It is not a matter of emotional interpretation, but rather a clear indicator of God’s love and an early witness of the Spirit. By faith, we accepted this indication of a drawing to sonship with the Father. Of course, this drawing is accompanied by emotions. But these emotions are a by-product of a real life experience and the conviction that comes out of that experience leads us to consecration.
We may rest, fully assured of His faithfulness in carrying out what He promised. The decision to consecrate is more a matter of faith than of emotion, that not only brings great joy to us, but also to our Heavenly Father.
When the time came for us to demonstrate to others our consecration, faith in God and our love for Him, with the symbol of baptism, we could now answer “Yes” to these three questions.
(1) Do you recognize you are condemned in Adam? (1 Corinthians 15:22).
(2) Do you accept Jesus as the ransom for your fallen state and the propitiation for your sins and the sins of the whole world? (1 Timothy 2:6).
(3) Have you given your heart in full, unreserved consecration to God? (Romans 12:1).
Of course, as we began to serve God, our performance was not perfect, nor could it be — with both successes and failures. Perhaps our failures have made us wonder how we could be serving God. How could He accept such imperfect service? This may have caused some to doubt sonship.
God understands we are dust (Psalm 103: 14). He knows that our service to Him will be checkered with failures because of our imperfection. But we must remember that this is the course of every servant of God. Furthermore, God will allow us to experience trying situations.
But that trial is, in fact, a witness of our sonship! We have the testimony of both Jesus and Paul: “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit” (John 15:2). “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons” (Hebrews 12:6-8).
Trial, with its pruning and chastisement, is a definite indicator of sonship. God is interested in the outcome of that trial, but equally in our attitude toward it. He watches to see how that trial — no matter the outcome — affects our desire to be more faithful sons and more devoted to his service.
Personal Communication with Jehovah
Another area we may look to for the witness of God’s Spirit, is prayer. God’s children have the privilege of communication with their Father. God delights to hear the petitions of His children. As sons of God, we ought to have a rich prayer life. Our prayers should consist of thankfulness and praise, of requests for direction in the matters of life, and of petitions on behalf of our brethren.
God manifests His love and care in His answers to our prayers. This is a most delightful witness to our sonship. When we ask our loving Father for something which is good and right and which we have been told He will supply, then when the answer comes, it is most faith-strengthening. The condition is that we must ask “according to his will” (1 John 5:14). If we ask not according to His will, we may not get an answer. But we must ask in faith (James 1:6) and believe He will answer (Mark 11:24).
We must also understand that God’s answers to prayer are tailored to our new creature development. God will answer our prayers in one of three ways: no, not now, or yes. Each of these may be considered a manifestation of our sonship because each will be very specific to our spiritual needs.
Consider the answer, “No.” The Apostle Paul prayed to God to relieve “a thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). We don’t know for sure what it was, but many commentators think it had to do with his poor eyesight — perhaps the result of being blinded by Jesus at the beginning of his Christian walk. Whatever it was, he asked it be alleviated on three separate occasions. But the answer each time was, “No.”About it he writes:
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).
It was in Paul’s interest that this “thorn” remain. Thus God’s grace could show its power, in that even with this handicap, Paul could be perfected and accomplish everything that God wanted. Paul learned the lesson well. But notice how even a “No” answer to prayer is a powerful manifestation of one’s sonship. It shows that God has our eternal interests in mind and will arrange our experiences, even dreadful ones, to develop in us the character of Christ.
The second answer to prayer, “Not now,” or “wait,” is an answer just the same! The disciples gathered in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension to “wait” for that which was promised (Acts 1:4). Waiting is a marvelous way to develop faith. We believe that God will deliver what He has promised, in His due time. We wait for the full establishment of the Kingdom. We wait for answers to prayers. We wait for deliverance from trials. In every case we know that the answer will come because our Father has promised it. During this time, experiences come our way to prepare us for the answer. How wonderful and awesome it is when the answer finally comes!
The third answer to prayer is, “Yes.” When God says “Yes” and we see the prompt answer to a petition, we are thrilled! This answer is not uncommon in our walk with Jesus. How it builds faith! This “Yes” answer is often couched in special circumstances that make it very clear it is from our loving Father. The Spirit bears witness to our sonship in another awesome way.
As we walk in the footsteps of Christ, we grow in knowledge. This growth in knowledge is another witness of the Spirit. The apostle Paul marks this growth: “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:13,14).
If you have progressed in a knowledge of the Truth, then that progression is a manifestation of your sonship. Strong meat is not apprehended by those not called of God. But for His sons it is a natural consequence of their love for the truth and interest in God’s word. As you grow in knowledge, you will see deeper truths and connections between the many elements of God’s word. And it will thrill you! This is the holy Spirit working in your mind and heart to appreciate the deeper aspects of the Father’s will.
The last area we will consider is providential overruling in our life. For this, let us consider a familiar text: “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
In the realm of chance, there is a probability of certain things happening and an improbability of other things happening. When we have experiences of the most improbable kind, experiences that are timely and needful in a way we would not expect, then we have seen the hand of our Father working things out for us and for our brethren.
All of the Lord’s people who have been walking the narrow way for some time have seen these outworkings of God’s Spirit. Often, the timing of the experience is the improbable factor — something happens just when it is needed. Or perhaps we have an unexpected encounter which permits us to be a blessing or receive a blessing.
This is God causing all things to work together for our good. It is a special blessing for “them that love God” and “are the called according to his purpose.” It is another witness of the Spirit to our sonship.
We began this article with reference to a court trial. Let us return to that trial.
When all of the evidence has been gathered, then we may come to a conclusion based on the facts of the case. When one who has been Spirit-begotten looks at the evidence in their lives, they will be compelled to conclude that God is working with them as sons.
This is an objective analysis where emotion, though present, is not a major factor. If we have any of these witnesses to any degree, we can rejoice at the blessing of our sonship. And as sons, we may look forward to the transformation that God ordains and is working out in us, to His own beautiful and perfect character and image.
“But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18).