by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 8 Paragraph # 2 Study # 4 March 5, 2017 Humble, Texas
16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:
17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified together.
1901 ASV Translation:
16 The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God:
17 and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified with [him].
I. The Issue of "Spirit to spirit" Witness.
A. Clearly, "knowing" one is a child of God is problematic.
1. Paul acknowledges this inherent reality by his claim that God's Spirit is the One Who clears up the issue. John, in 1 John 3:24 and 4:13, also makes this same claim within the scope of the same problematic issues. Then, he actually claims that what he has written was written so that his readers could "know" that they are the children of God (1 John 5:13 and 5:20). These statements have a root: Jesus' words in places like Matthew 7:22. Those words clearly indicate that people who thought they were qualified to enter the Kingdom are rejected by the King. This is the alternative issue: people thinking they are the children of God but are not. Paul is addressing the opposite: people who want to be the children of God but think that maybe they are not.
2. Even though there are these kinds of issues, even Paul's "solution" leaves some levels of uncertainty: what constitutes the "Spirit's" "witness" to our spirit? There are many who claim the Spirit of God in their lives whose doctrine is salvation by performance (a clear impossibility). Additionally, there are those whose "actual" beliefs are hidden under layers of misunderstanding and false doctrines. Also there are those whose "faith" is only of the size of a mustard seed which is a level of conviction that barely passes muster as "confidence". Can a person with this minimal level of confidence "know" that he/she is a child of God because of the problems involved with "Spirit to spirit" witness?
B. But, just as clearly, Paul is unconcerned about those who "convince themselves" that they have the witness of The Spirit; his concern is his readers' and their fledgling "faith".
1. Paul uses this "witness together" concept three times in this letter and John uses it once in his record of the Revelation of Jesus Christ (22:18).
2. In every use of this word, there is something significant "at stake". In Romans 2:15, the issue is the impact that God's law, written upon the heart, and the simultaneous "witness together" of the conscience. The two witnesses, working together, create behaviors that are "by nature the things contained in the Law" (of Moses). This means that the witnesses, working together, make a significant impact upon the thoughts of men and their consequent choices. In 9:1 Paul uses the word to attempt to get his readers to "believe" a rather "unbelievable" declaration. The declaration is that Paul would be willing to be accursed from Christ for the sake of his Jewish brethren. For anyone to say that he/she would be willing to "go to Hell" for someone else's sake is a claim to a degree of "Love" that is "witnessed" in the Scriptures only in extreme cases...and is, frankly, more "unbelievable" than "believable". So, Paul calls upon both his "conscience" and the "Holy Spirit" to be his "dual witnesses" working together to insure that he is not overstating his selflessness. And, then, there is our text before us where the issue of whether, or not, a person is a child of God. This is no small matter since eternal destiny lurks in the wings with a very real Heaven and a very real Hell in the future.
3. As we have already pointed out, the letter of First John was written with multiple references to the idea that it is "by this" that "we know" that we are the children of God. It is a complicated matter; so much so that the "Big Gun" (the Holy Spirit Himself) has to be called into the mix to settle the matter.
4. So, what is this "witness together of God's Spirit"? At its root, it must have some likeness to the "witness together" of one's conscience. The nature of this "likeness" is "a settled knowledge and conviction of the truth of a matter." When Paul says that the nations "do by nature things contained in the Law" of Moses, he is saying that there is a settled knowledge and conviction of the "rightness" and/or "wrongness" of certain considered actions. One may not be able to tell "whence" or "why" they "believe" that a thing is "right" or "wrong", but they do so believe. Likewise, when all is said and done, it is God's Spirit Who makes the case for the "believer" that he/she has an eternal Abba in the heavens.
II. At Issue: The Identity of a Person as a "Child" of God.
A. Paul carefully eliminates the issue of "sonship" at this point because it, itself, is problematic since only those "led" by the Spirit (and, thus, "follow" His leadership) are true "sons". The Spirit's "witness" to sonship is not the same thing as His witness to the identity of the "children".
B. God has designed history to bring men and women into His family as "children" (i.e., "newborn babes"), and then "edify" them into eventual maturity as "sons". It is no small undertaking. Paul's "ye are yet carnal" declaration to the Corinthians reveals the nature of immature children and, at the same time, indicates the commitment of God to bring us past that.
C. The initial "Abba" cry of the Spirit as He comes to indwell the believer is a "child/daddy" reality that begins the long process of moving toward "the adoption of a son".