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Rodman Williams: The Gift of the Holy Spirit Today: Effects, Part 2

Now let us look further into the matter of the gift of the Spirit as internal witness. Paul writes to the Romans: “You have received the Spirit18 of sonship. When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are the children of God” (Romans 8:15-16). A beautiful effect of having “received the Spirit of sonship”—that is, the Spirit given to those who are sons by “adoption”19—is the internal witness that we are now the children of God. The assurance of being the children of God occurs in the cry of “Father! Father!”20 which breaks out with great force and meaning.21  It is the result of the Holy Spirit’s bearing witness with our spirit.

Here, it should be added, is something not unlike “speaking in (other) tongues.” As we have earlier noted,22 the immediate response to the gift of the Holy Spirit is praise, and this praise frequently takes the transcendent form of “tongues” as the Holy Spirit enables. “They … began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4) is quite similar to “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness” (Romans 8:15-16). Speaking with tongues and crying, “Abba! Father!” both signalize a tremendous outbreak from deep within; both represent cries of persons in a profound relationship with God; both are cries that come from the activity of the Holy Spirit who has been given; both are addressed not to men but to God.23

In this matter of internal witness we should also note the words of Paul in Galatians 4:6: “To prove that you are Sons, God has sent into our hearts the Spirit of his Son, crying ‘Abba! Father!'”24  This again is not an external witness, of proof, but a profoundly internal one, for the Spirit cries from within the heart. In this very cry25 of “Abba! Father!”—which is the cry through the Holy Spirit—we know we are the sons of God. For though it is a cry from within our hearts we are aware it does not originate from us: it is from the Holy Spirit.

One other quotation from Paul, earlier given, is now particularly relevant: “our gospel came to you [the Thessalonians] not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). This “full conviction,” or “full assurance,”26 is obviously connected, in Paul’s statement, with the Holy Spirit; hence, it can be said to be an effect of the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Thessalonians not only heard the word of the gospel and believed but also received through the Holy Spirit the full assurance of their salvation.

Returning to our contemporary situation, it is highly significant that many people are experiencing afresh the inner witness, or confirmation, of sonship and salvation. What Paul speaks of in Romans 8:15-16, Galatians 4:6, and 1 Thessalonians 1:5 is becoming a profound fact. When the Holy Spirit is received, there is unmistakable inward assurance. Testimonies are frequently to be heard, such as, “I believed before, but now faith has taken on a deep inner certitude,” or “I never really had much assurance about matters connected with salvation, but now I know I belong to Christ.” It is a movement not from faith to sight but in faith to an assurance that was lacking before. It is a “I know whom I have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).

It is important to recognize that not all believers have this assurance—but it is possible and highly desirable. In the case of the Thessalonians Paul could write, as we have seen, about how they had “full assurance” through the Holy Spirit from the day they heard the gospel preached. However, he also writes the Colossians of his desire that they may “have all the riches of the full assurance of understanding27 and the knowledge of God’s mystery” (Colossians 2:2). Hence the “full assurance” which the Thessalonians had from the beginning Paul yearns for the Colossians to experience. We might also observe how the letter to the Hebrews expresses a similar desire for them to realize a “full assurance of hope”: “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness in realizing the full assurance28 of faith” (Hebrews 10:22). It is interesting to observe that, based on the three passages just quoted, there is the possibility of a full assurance of understanding, of hope, and of faith.29  But, to repeat, the important thing is to recognize that not all believers have such full assurance, that its realization is from and by the Holy Spirit, and that it is much to be desired. For in such a realization there is the inner certainty of being a child of God and an heir of all that is to come.30

We have quoted Paul a number of times on the matter of certainty and assurance. It is now in order to mention a few like references in the First Letter of John. The basic purpose of this letter is stated near the conclusion: “I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).31  John is similarly concerned that faith becomes knowledge, assurance, certainty. And how does this knowledge come about? The answer: by the anointing of the Holy One, “You have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know” (1 John 2:20). The word for “anointing”32 is the same as that used in Acts 10:38—”God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power”—and refers likewise to the gift of the Holy Spirit. This they have received, and by this anointing they know all things33 pertaining to the spiritual life. As concrete illustration of this knowledge by the Holy Spirit, John also writes: “By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us” (1 John 3:24), and “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit” (1 John 4:13). By the gift of the Holy Spirit “we know” all spiritual things: that we have eternal life, that Christ abides in us and we in Him, and whatever else pertains to matters of faith.

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Category: Spirit, Summer 2004

About the Author: J. Rodman Williams (1918-2008), Ph.D., is considered to be the father of renewal theology. He served as a chaplain in the Second World War, he was a church pastor, college professor, and key figure in the charismatic movement of the 1960s. Beginning in 1982, he taught theology at Regent University School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, Virginia, and became Professor of Renewal Theology Emeritus there in 2002. Author of numerous books, he is perhaps best known for his three volume Renewal Theology (Zondervan, 1996).

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