Arminian Today

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The Witness of the Spirit Through Sanctification

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.

– Romans 8:15-16

The assurance of salvation is a precious gift from God.  Cults base their “salvation” upon their works or the fact that they are in God’s elected group (the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society for example).  Roman Catholics base their assurance on the church and the foundation of the Catholic church.  Since the Reformation, Protestants have historically based their assurance upon the witness of the Spirit which John Calvin asserted was the witness of the holy Scriptures and the gift of faith given by God to His elect.  Calvin writes,

For we must ever hold fast this principle, — that we do not rightly pray to God, unless we are surely persuaded in our hearts, that he is our Father, when we so call him with our lips. To this there is a corresponding part, — that our faith has no true evidence, except we call upon God. It is not then without reason that Paul, bringing us to this test, shows that it then only appears how truly any one believes, when they who have embraced the promise of grace, exercise themselves in prayers.

Since Calvin, most orthodox believers have stood with him and stated that the testimony of God’s Word (1 Corinthians 2:12) and faith are what are our basis for assurance.

However, I fear that we can make too much about knowing facts as our basis for salvation instead of the witness of the Spirit.  One cannot read Romans 8 and not notice the contrast by Paul the Apostle between the flesh and the Spirit (Romans 8:1-9, 12-13).  It is clear that Paul wants true believers to be led by the Spirit and not follow the flesh.  His warning in Romans 8:12-13 is clear:

12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

His warning here is found in other places in the New Testament as well.  Notice Galatians 6:7-9:

7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Or James 5:19-20:

19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

1 John 2:15-17:

15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

The warning of Romans 8:12-13 cannot be ignored.  When a believer gives in to their flesh and begins to follow the flesh, the results are deadly.  We are not to return to a life of sin when we have been redeemed by grace (2 Peter 2:20-22).  The believer is under obligation to obey Jesus as Lord since He ransomed them by His own blood (Romans 6:1-23; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Our obligation is holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16).

With this comes the assurance of our salvation.  Dr. John MacArthur calls this, in the words of Puritan John Owen, “the mortification of the flesh.”  MacArthur writes that the believer is obligated to mortify the flesh.  We must not just hate sin.  We must seek to kill it.  Basing his words from 1 Samuel 15:32-33, we must hack Agag to pieces.  Sin must be destroyed.

The hope for the disciple of Jesus is not based on our own self-mortification.  We have no power to overcome our sins.  Our hope is the gospel.  Our hope is Christ who saves us (Matthew 1:21).  Jesus gives us the power to conquer sin (John 3:1-7).  Jesus delivers His people not just from the penalty of sin but also the power of sin.  But victory is not merely based on “reckoning” but in actual realization in our lives.  Galatians 5:16-26 is clear on this issue:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

As we walk in the Spirit, we find He helps us slay Agag (our flesh).  The mind set on the flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:8) but those in the Spirit can please God (Romans 8:9).

With this comes the assurance of our salvation.  One cannot merely hope in facts about Christ and still abide in sin.  This will not produce assurance and will only lead to despair and death.  The cure is to walk in the light (1 John 1:7).  We, in ourselves, cannot defeat sin.  We must place our faith in the Spirit of God who is working in us to help us to defeat sin but this mortification is not merely by intellectual acknowledgement of this fact but is actually allowing the Spirit to work in us to defeat sin.  Sanctification is not a monergistic work.  It is us working with the Spirit to defeat sin in our lives (Philippians 2:12-16).

This produces assurance.  Yes we rely on the gospel.  Yes our hope is in the Word.  Yes we have the direct witness of the Spirit with our spirit.  But likewise, our duty before God is to submit ourselves to Him (James 4:7-8).  Our duty is to be holy as He is holy and to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14).  Our duty is to allow the Spirit of God to convict us of sin and discipline us as His children (John 16:8-11; Hebrews 12:3-11).  Our duty is to mortify sin by the power of the Holy Spirit and this produces the assurance of our salvation.

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/18/2013 at 12:09 PM

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