“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).
These Romans, to whom Paul wrote, were children of God. Such had nothing to do with race, ethnicity, or nationality (cf. Romans 1:16; Galatians 3:26-28; Colossians 3:11).
There were two witnesses to this. The Holy Spirit testified to this and so did their own spirit.
How did the Holy Spirit testify to their being the children of God? Did the Spirit give them a warm fuzzy feeling within their hearts? Did the Spirit whisper in their ears? I find no evidence of such confirmation in the New Testament. Moreover, I have never experienced such, and I have been baptized into Christ, and am therefore, a child of God” (Galatians 3:26-28).
God did bear witness to the message of salvation with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:1-4). Paul used both word and deed to convert the gentiles (Romans 15:18). The “deed” in context refers to mighty signs and wonders, which were done by the power of the Spirit of God (Romans 15:19 cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The Holy Spirit is said to be a witness (Acts 5:32). The context is speaking of miraculous evidence which came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:32 cf. 3:1-10; 4:8-10; 4:15-16; 4:33; 5:12; 5:15-16). The apostles were in court. They were setting forth the reason that they continue to preach in the name of Christ. They answered that they were doing so because it was God’s will (Acts 5:29). How did they know that it was God’s will? They answered that they witnessed the resurrection (Acts 5:30-32). Did they have anything to collaborate their testimony? Yes. The Holy Spirit also testified of the resurrection (Acts 5:30-32). Miracles have been worked in context and this was known by the court (Acts 4:15-16). Franklin Camp commented, “The miraculous manifestation of the Spirit, through the apostles were proof that they were obedient to God, for God would not give a miraculous manifestation to a false teacher” (Camp, The Work of The Holy Spirit in Redemption, p. 155). A non-miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit would have provided no additional evidence to the court.
“Abba, Father!” These words appear in the context of the text we are studying (Romans 8:15). These words also appear in Galatians (Galatians 4:6). Paul, in Galatians, defended his apostleship and the message he preached. He did so by appealing to miraculous evidence. Franklin Camp commented, “The statement in Galatians 4:6 is the answer to the questions that Paul had raised in Galatians 3:2. The statement in 4:6 is a further argument that develops from the previous chapter. Let us trace the argument backward instead of forward:
- The Galatians are son.
- The Judaizing teachers were denying that the Galatians were sons of God.
- Proof that they are sons of God: The Galatians had received miraculous gifts.
- From whom did the Galatians receive miraculous gifts? Answer: Paul (Galatians 3:5).
- Since the Galatians had received the Spirit from Paul, Paul was an apostle of Christ as he claimed in Galatians 1:1.
- Since Paul had proved his apostleship, the gospel he preached to the Galatians was a genuine gospel (Galatians 1:13).
- The Gospel of the Judaizing teachers was another gospel, which was not the gospel of Christ (Galatians 1:6… the statements about the spirit in 3:2, 3:5, and 4:6 are in support of Paul apostleship and the gospel he preached, this showing that the Galatians were sons of God and heirs of the promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:26-29). The miraculous operation of the Spirit in an apostle, and the imparting of spiritual gifts, are the very foundation of establishing apostleship” (Camp, The work of the Holy Spirit in redemption, p. 145).
The Holy Spirit also revealed a message. Marion Fox commented, “The Holy Spirit testifies how one becomes a son of God… The human spirit then testifies that it has obeyed God” (Fox, The Work of the Holy Spirit, Vol. 1, page 118). Robert Taylor Jr. commented, “In the gospel the Spirit has revealed how to become a child of God and how to remain one. The human spirit… determines whether one has done that which made him initially God’s child and whether he is continuing to do that which allows him to remain God’s child in an approved fashion” (Taylor, Studies in Romans, p.141). This is true (cf. Romans 2:15; Acts 2:37; 2 Corinthians 13:5). Similarly, Roy Deaver commented “The Holy Spirit does not bear witness to our spirit, but with our spirit. Regarding our sonship we have two witnesses (double testimony): the Holy Spirit and our spirit both bear testimony that we are sons of God. The Holy Spirit tells us what we must do and be in order to be children of God. Thus those led by the Spirit of God have the testimony of the Spirit that they are children of God. Our spirits (the attitude of serving as God’s children) bears testimony that we are God’s children. Hence, we have double testimony regarding sonship” (Deaver, Romans, God’s Plan For Man’s Righteousness, p.276). [Note: the word “our” is plural and the word “spirit” is singular. Thus, the word “spirit” is being used of the collective of disposition of sonship which existed among the brethren and which is mentioned in the previous verse. They were of one spirit.]
What about man today? Man can still know that he is a child of God. He has the word which was revealed and confirmed by the Spirit. In this way, the Spirit still testifies. Bill Lockwood has written, “Once the will of the Father was completed and all truth was revealed, the miraculous was withdrawn from the world. Today, the miraculous continues to sustain the truthfulness of Christianity, but it comes to us only by means of the historical record, the word of God” (Lockwood, Mistakes Regarding the Holy Spirit, Hammer and Tongs, March-April 1996). Moreover, the fact that these miracles are recorded builds confidence. Bill Lockwood again has written, “We have great assurance that the teaching of the New Testament is truly inspired of God… to know that in practically every single epistle the penmen reminded the recipients of their miraculous abilities gives us double assurance that they actually were so endowed” (Lockwood, The Holy Spirit in 1 John, Hammer and Tongs, March – April 1999). Remember that the New Testament record was not written in a vacuum. The epistles are written to real places and real people lived there.