Subjective Certainty and the Holy Spirit

This morning we learned from Romans 8:16 that “the Holy Spirit testifies with our Spirit that we are children of God.” I made the point that this “testifying” is not formulaic or scientific… in a very personal, almost mystical way, the Spirit of God confirms within our spirit that we are God’s children. The Holy Spirit creates an inner sense of confidence that cannot be manufactured; it is essentially a sort of “subjective certainty” about my status as God’s son or daughter.

Some perceptive listeners asked the question: what about times of doubt or uncertainty? Is there not also an objective certainty about our salvation? Isn’t it possible that, in periods when I don’t feel the Holy Spirit’s subjective affirmation, I can still be confident of my salvation based on the promises of the gospel?

The Bible’s answer is: YES. (And thanks to these friends for asking me to clarify). Not only does the Holy Spirit testify with our spirit that we are God’s children (Romans 8:16 – subjective assurance), but God has also given us “his very great and precious promises, so that through them [we] may participate in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4 – objective assurance).

At various times in our Christian experience, we may lean more heavily on one or the other. In times of doubt about God’s revealed truth, we may lean heavily on the internal witness of the Holy Spirit. In times of doubt about God’s personal presence in our lives, we may lean heavily on the promises of Scripture.

When we are most fully experiencing the gospel, however, these two facets of assurance should be working together. The objective promises of the gospel work to assure me that “he who has begun a good work in [me] (i.e. the Holy Spirit) will be faithful to complete it” (Phil 1:6). And the subjective confirmation wrought by the Holy Spirit is not just some random feeling, but rather a settled confidence that the promises of God are true for ME personally, so that I may say with the Apostle, “Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy… the grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly” (1 Tim. 1:14).

Thanks for bearing with my weaknesses in communicating God’s truth. You guys rock. (And thank God for blogs, since they allow preachers to clarify things which were left ambiguous.)

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