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Ted Schroder
March 22, 2009

David Whyte wrote in a poem entitled, SELF PORTRAIT

I want to know if you belong or feel


if you can know despair or see it in others.

I want to know if you are prepared to live in the world

with its harsh need

to change you. If you can look back

with firm eyes,

saying this is where I stand.

"I want to know if you belong or feel abandoned." The need to belong is strong in us. We want to feel valued, not abandoned. We want to feel loved, not unloved. We long for a sense of identity that gives us worth. We search for it in all kinds of places - in our work, in our families, in our children, in our friendships, in our creativity, in our achievements, in our wealth. What do you want to know? Do you want to know that you belong?

St. Paul addresses this need in Romans 8. He wants to assure us about God's provision for us. He wants us to know that we belong to God, that God does not abandon us - that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ. (8:39)

The Spirit has a special role to play in that reassurance. "The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children." (Romans 8:16) The Spirit gives an absolute certainty and assurance of our loving and intimate relationship to God. The image is that of an expert witness in a trial. This witness can be relied upon because of his particular expertise. The Spirit should know about the nature of our relationship with God, since this is the Spirit of God who testifies about our belonging to God.

This is a theme in Paul's writings. He uses different images to convey the same truth, e.g. the sealing and the deposit of the Spirit.

"Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come." (2 Cor.1:21,22)

"Having believed, you were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance." (Eph.1:13,14)

* The sealing of the Spirit is that which assures me that I am a child of God, and therefore an heir of God. A seal is a sign of belonging. The Holy Spirit identifies us as belonging to Jesus, just as the seal on a letter or the stamp on a sheep identifies its ownership. Baptism is the outward sign of the seal of the Spirit, by which we are marked as Christ's own forever.

* The deposit of the Spirit gives me an installment of my inheritance, a first down-payment of what I am later to receive in its fullness. The Spirit assures us of our inheritance in the future. He gives us a pledge of the fuller life that is to come. The word is used of an engagement ring - the promise of love that makes a commitment to us of life together.

The Spirit, by a direct operation on our minds and hearts and spirits gives us an absolute certainty and assurance that we are God's children. God gives us an overwhelming convincing experience of the indwelling Spirit so that we will have confidence about God's unending love for us. There may be suffering and doubts in this life, for the relationship is not yet consummated. We live between the engagement and the wedding, between the promise and the hope, between the present experience of love and the future realization of it. Yet despite questioning and the pain of this life, the Spirit gives us a testimony, a witness, that we can trust, that we can rely upon, that we belong to God even when we feel abandoned.

How does the Spirit give us this witness, this testimony? Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes:

"How does it come? Sometimes it comes when a Christian is alone, reading the Scriptures quietly; perhaps reading a passage which he has read many times before. Suddenly the passage seems to come out of the Book and speak to him directly in this particular way. It does not give him some general knowledge, but it stands out and meets him, and impresses on his mind and heart and spirit in an unmistakable manner this personal message. It is as if it were written only for him, that he is a child of God. That is the commonest way in which it comes - through a word or a passage of Scripture. Sometimes this experience happens to a man when he is not reading. Suddenly a word of Scripture that he has read before is brought into his mind . He is not thinking about it - he may actually be thinking about something quite different - but suddenly it is impressed upon his inner mind, and he becomes convinced that God loves him, and that he is a child of God.

The Spirit takes a word and brings it to him and impresses it upon him in an absolutely unmistakable manner. It may happen in a religious service....The preacher says something which means nothing to the vast majority of the people, but to one soul that had been unhappy, uncertain and doubting, and attacked by the devil, it is the very voice of God speaking and telling him that he is a child of God, and that God loves him (or her) in particular. But this assurance does not always come through the Scripture. It has happened to many without any words at all; it is just an inner consciousness in the spirit given by the Spirit of God himself, apart from Scripture." (Romans, The Sons of God, p.306f.)

Many great men and women have recorded their experience of the witness of the Spirit in their spirit. Sarah Edwards, the wife of Jonathan Edwards, president of Princeton, was distinguished by her graceful and expressive features, her vigorous mind, fine culture, and fervent piety. She wrote about what happened to her in 1742:

"I cannot find language to express how certain [the everlasting love of God] appeared, the everlasting mountains and hills were but shadows to it. My safety and happiness and eternal enjoyment of God's immutable love, seemed as durable and unchangeable as God himself. The presence of God was so near and so real that I seemed scarcely conscious of anything else. All night I continued in a constant, clear and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ's excellent and transcendent love, of his nearness to me and of my nearness to Him with an inexpressibly sweet calmness of soul in an entire rest in him. I think that what I felt each minute during the continuance of the whole time was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure which I had enjoyed in my whole life put together. This exaltation of soul subsided into a heavenly calm and rest of soul in God which was even sweeter than what preceded it." (p.347)

Seek the witness of the Spirit in your life. Seek to experience the assurance which the Spirit wants you to enjoy. God offers you this witness, this sealing, this deposit of the Spirit. By receiving this witness you are assured of belonging to God as his child. The Spirit testifies with your spirit that you are God's children. Jesus promised: "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" (Luke 11:11-13)


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