For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 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!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:13–17)
“The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit . . . .”
A witness tells what has been seen. In this verse, the witness is the Holy Spirit and His telling is into my mind. He says to me what He knows is true — that I am a child of God. This knowledge is not based on how I behave or how I feel. It is based on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and on the grace of God which God has given to me by faith.
The witness of the Holy Spirit is powerful. He speaks to me about who I am when I most need it, such as in the middle of those choices between the deeds of the flesh and the commands of the Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks to me when I am fearful, when I need to remember that the Father is my Father. He reminds me of our relationship, even that I can call Him ‘Abba’ (the Aramaic for ‘Daddy’). He speaks to me when I stumble, when I doubt my identity, when trials come and I suffer as Jesus suffered. The Holy Spirit is my assurance of eternal life and of my identity in the kingdom and family of God.
Chambers makes much of my role in obtaining this witness, that it will not come unless my attitude is right, again putting me in charge of what God will or will not do. But if my resistance, reasoning and arguments kept the Holy Spirit from speaking to me, then I would never have been saved in the first place. The grace of God is just that: grace = undeserved favor, goodness given by God not based on my worth or my goodness.
External circumstances often challenge my assurance of salvation. Satan’s lies will certainly cause me to question who I am. Others might look at me during my dismal worst and question that I am a Christian. When I sin I might question my identity as God’s child, yet despite those attacks and denials, the Holy Spirit is faithful to reassure me. It is His reassurance that gives me hope against those circumstances and lies.
Truth is truth. The witness of the Holy Spirit is to tell me what is true, not to reward me for my performance. Actually, when I fail, that is when I most need to be pointed back to redemption, and the Holy Spirit is faithful to do that. He wants me to obey but true obedience is impossible when my eyes are on my performance or on any kind of back-patting.
That said, performing well as a child of God is a blessing but also a danger. As a little child, I love the praise that comes when I do my best. As a little child, I swell with pride, take my eyes off Jesus and fall on my nose.
As a more mature child of God (hopefully), the Holy Spirit reminds me who I am so that when I do well, it is clear that the doing was by the grace of God and I turn all praise toward Him. Instead of pride and that internal pat on the back, humility and gratitude fill my heart. I know I am a sinner, but I also know that God is my Father because of Jesus. The Holy Spirit keeps my eyes on Jesus and assures me that all of what He has done put me into the family of God and keeps me there.
To God be the glory!