The Witness of the Spirit

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This year, we have been seeking to set forth a balanced (not exhaustive) and thoroughly biblical answer to the two most important questions any human being can ever ask. They are: “What must I do to be saved?” and “How may I know for certain that I am saved?”

I have asserted that any teaching on this subject would be irresponsibly truncated if it did not draw upon the scriptural answer to the second question as given to us in the answer to question 80 in the Westminster Larger Catechism. The catechism affirms that such assurance is possible, and its answer is easily understood as a response to two questions: (1) Who can attain a certain conviction of his or her salvation? and (2) On what basis does this certain conviction rest?

The answer to the first question in the catechism is that any true believer in Christ who is walking in sincere obedience to Christ, may, without any direct or further revelation from God, be certain of his or her salvation. The answer to the second question includes three elements. The first is that assurance arises from resting upon the truth of God’s promises. The second is that this assurance is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s ministry in enabling us to discern in our hearts and lives the marks of the true believer.

The third component of a biblically based assurance is described as “the Spirit . . . bearing witness with their spirits that they are the children of God.” This language is drawn directly from Romans 8:16.

In his book Faith and Life, B.B. Warfield gives a very helpful exposition of this text and its parallel, Galatians 4:4–6. He demonstrates that this witness of the Holy Spirit “to or with” our spirits is never separated from the other two components of a biblically based assurance. On the one hand, for someone to claim he has an infallible assurance given by the Holy Spirit while not trusting in the promises of God and manifesting the “birthmarks” of the true child of God, is to be guilty of the grossest form of damning self-delusion. Warfield quotes with approval the words of George Gillespie:

If the witness of our conscience be blank and can testify nothing of sincerity, hatred of sin, love to the brethren, or the like, then the Spirit of God witnesses no peace nor comfort to that soul; and the voice that speaketh peace to a person who hath no gracious mark or qualification in him, doth not speak according to the Word, but contrary to the Word, and is, therefore, a spirit of delusion.

May God be pleased to use these meditations so that each reader will attain an assurance of his salvation grounded in the certain promises of God, manifested in a transformed life and by the ministry of the Holy Spirit giving His testimony to the genuineness of that assurance.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.