There are at least three ways Scripture offers a Christian assurance of entire sanctification.
The first and primary way is through biblical faith in God’s Word. Since the focus of biblical faith is God’s written Word, Paul calls it “the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8). When believed, God’s Word effectually works in the one exercising faith (1 Thes. 2:13). I developed this concept in my last sermon (part 1).
In this message, we focus on another way Scripture offers a Christian assurance of entire sanctification, namely, through the witness of the Holy Spirit. It is important to observe, however, that all of the Scriptures in the New Testament which address the subject of the witness of the Spirit are speaking of assurance of the new birth.
They do not address the topic of assurance of entire sanctification. However, since one is saved by faith, and subsequent to being born again, one is also entirely sanctified by faith, one can logically argue that if God provides a witness of His Spirit as a means of assurance of being saved, He will also provide a witness of His Spirit to the reality of being entirely sanctified.
With this logical premise in mind, let us examine what the Bible says about the witness of the Spirit to being a child of God. There are three key passages that speak of the witness of the Holy Spirit to one’s salvation:
- Romans 8:16,
- Hebrews 10:15-16, and
- 1 John 5:9-13.
Each of these passages are important for developing a balanced understanding of how the Holy Spirit witnesses.
Let’s begin with Romans 8:15-16 and weave the other two passages into our discussion.
The Witness of the Spirit to Our Salvation
Romans 8:15-16 says, “For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” As we examine this passage, we make three observations.
- First, there are two agents of witnessing: the Holy Spirit and the human spirit.
- Second, the testimony of the two agents of witnessing must agree that we are the children of God.
- Third, the activity of each agent of witnessing is different, but both are necessary for assurance.
There are two agents of witnessing: the Holy Spirit and the Human Spirit
“…the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.”
Almost every English translation of Romans 8:16 agrees that there are two agents of witnessing. Except for the New English Translation (NET), the majority of the translations understand the Greek to be teaching that the Holy Spirit bears witness, and our human spirit also bears witness that we are the children of God.
The two agents of witnessing bear witness together. The reason for this understanding is that the verb translated ‘witness’ is summarturei, which is a compound verb composed of (martureo) “to witness” and the preposition (sun) “with.”
Literally translated, the passage says the Holy Spirit witnesses with my spirit, not to my spirit (see KJV, NASB, NIV, NLT, NRS).
In other words, there are two distinctly different agents of witnessing involved.
The agreement of the two agents who witness
“the Holy Spirit” and “our spirit.”
Why does Paul tell us that two distinctly different agents bear witness together of the reality of our being the children of God? The most likely reason is the requirement of Scripture itself. God says in Deuteronomy 19:15, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses a matter shall be established.” Jesus reiterated the importance of at least two witnesses to verify truth when he said, “…truly, in the mouth of two or three witnesses a matter is established” (Matthew 18:16).
Therefore, in establishing the certainty of one’s relationship with God, Paul tells us that we have the two witnesses necessary for assurance: the witness of the Holy Spirit and the witness of our spirit.
These two witnesses testify to the same fact—that we are the children of God—thereby producing assurance.
The activity of each agent of witnessing: the Holy Spirit and the human spirit
The witness of our human spirit. How does the human spirit bear witness to the certainty of our relationship with God? Scripture tells us that the human spirit bears witness through the testimony of a continually clear conscience, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, that we are fully obeying God (1 Tim. 1:19-20; Acts 24:16; 2 Corinthians 1:12; 1 John 1:7).
In other words, with the help of the Holy Spirit we can sense within ourselves the truth about our own spiritual condition. 1 John 2:3 tells us that “we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.” To “know that we know him” brings inward assurance. But in addition to the testimony of our own human spirit, we must have the additional witness of the Holy Spirit.
The witness of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit witnesses to our relationship with God in two distinct ways. He witnesses “mediately” through Holy Scripture, and “immediately” by an inward perception.
Let’s first look at the passages that teach the Holy Spirit witnesses to our sonship mediately by means of the written Scriptures, and then we will discuss the immediate witness of the Spirit through feelings.
The mediate witness of the Holy Spirit
Hebrews 10:15-16 says, “The Holy Spirit also witnesses (marturei) to us about this.” First he [the Holy Spirit] says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:33 and then tells us that written Scripture is actually the Holy Spirit witnessing to us. This witness is mediated to us through Scripture. The author further tells us that one must receive the witness of the Holy Spirit to us through Scripture by faith in order for the truth of Scripture to effectively work in us (Heb. 4:2). He says, “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached [the Holy Spirit’s witness to them through the oral presentation of Scriptural truth] did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it.”
This means that although the witness of the Holy Spirit to the Israelites in the desert came through preaching (the oral Word of God), it was indeed God’s Word, and thus the witness of the Holy Spirit to the people of Israel was mediated through God’s Word. The Scripture writers regularly identify Scripture as the testimony of the Holy Spirit.
For example, the Hebrew writer quotes Psalm 95 and attributes it to the Holy Spirit: “Just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, As in the day of trial in the wilderness,” (Heb. 3:7-8).
In Acts, Peter quotes from Psalm 2 and attributes it to the Holy Spirit speaking through David: “who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples devise futile things?” (Acts. 4:25).
Other passages that make this identification include Matt. 22:43; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22; 14:13. The point is that to hear God speak in Scripture is to hear the testimony or witness of the Spirit. [In part 3, we will discuss the immediate witness of the Spirit]
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.