The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Rom. 8:16). It’s one thing to know that the Holy Spirit performs this work both to and through our spirits, but it’s quite another to really experience it. Some have said this speaks of direct revelation or spiritual experiences like the “confirmation” some claim as proof that God wants them to marry someone. But this assuring work of the Holy Spirit comes not by any revelation contrary to or independent of God’s Word. In the words of one hymn:
I ask no dream, no prophet ecstasies,
No sudden rending of the veil of clay,
No angel visitant, no opening skies;
But take the dimness of my soul away.
The Scriptures teach that we experience the Spirit’s witness in three key ways:
First, we experience His witness as we grow in faith in the promises of God. As the Spirit of Christ (Rom. 8:9), He was sent to us in order to cause us to remember and believe what Jesus said (John 14:26). As He dwells within us (Rom. 8:9), He causes us more and more to understand how the promises of God are fulfilled by Jesus Christ. His ministry is like a flashlight; it points to Christ in the darkness of our sins: “But when the Helper comes he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26).
Second, we experience His witness as we develop a life of prayer. It is because we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons that we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15). The reverse is also the case: the more we cry out to God in prayer, the more we come to know that we have received the Spirit and that we have been adopted by God Himself into His family.
Third, we experience His witness as we cultivate a life of godliness. As we see that our fruits of holiness are directly linked to the root of our faith, the Spirit assures and reassures us. It is because we have been “cleansed from [our] former sins” that Peter exhorts us to “make every effort to supplement [our] faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.”
He then states, “If these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5–10). And by keeping us from being ineffective and unfruitful, they create in us the effectual and fruitful result of assurance that our roots are in Christ.