The inner witness

November 19, 2016


Can you know you will always be kept safe and secure?

At some point in our lives it is probable that we all ask this question.  Sadly many quickly dismiss it.  They think the answer must be: No!

John did not think that way.  He knew that Christians can know they will always be kept safe and secure.To show you how I shall take you to the First Letter of John.  In it the apostle says: Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself (1 John v.10).

The testimony of which John speaks is sometimes called the inner witness.  It is derived from the infallible testimony of three witnesses.  I say infallible because John says that the three agree (1 John v.7-8).

On what do they agree?  Their testimony is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  They also agree that everyone who accepts that testimony, and believe that Jesus is the Son of God, receive from God a gift; the gift of eternal life (1 John v.11).

The three giving the same testimony, says John, are the Spirit, the water and the blood.  How are we to understand what he says?First, he speaks about the witness of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit.  In heaven, God the Father, by the Holy Spirit, testifies that the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is true.  But here on earth, it is the Spirit, the water and the blood that testify Jesus is the Son of God.  The Spirit does so by enabling an individual to (1) see, and (2) accept that truth.

That such a work by the Spirit is needed is because of what we all are by nature.  We are inclined to defy and disobey God.  We do so because we are hostile to God.  There is nothing that we can do to alter those facts.  That is why Paul, the apostle, tells us that mankind is dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians ii.1).

The dead cannot make themselves alive.  Only God can change their natural state.  He does so by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.  A consequence of regeneration, in those who experience it, is that they are enabled to see and accept the truthfulness of the gospel of God.  Seeing and accepting the truth about Jesus is evidence that the Holy Spirit has effected an inner change.The second witness is the water.  This term has been understood in two ways.  First, it is said to refer to the baptism of Jesus.  When he was baptised the Spirit of God came upon him to anoint him for his public ministry.  At that time a voice from heaven said, This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased (Matthew iii.17).  In other words, the testimony is that when Jesus was baptised with water those present were told that He really is from God.

Secondly, the term the water is said to refer to what Christ does by the Spirit in the life of a believer.  He assures us that we are accounted washed clean from the guilt of our sins when we believe.   Why is that so?  Because Christ died that we may live.  On the cross upon which he died the sins of sinners were reckoned as His.  And, on the cross, He satisfied the justice of God.  How?  By bearing in full the wrath of God that we deserve to endure for ever for our sins.

Linked to the washing clean of the conscience is the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.  He works within believers to make them more like Christ.  The refreshing influences of the Spirit are poured upon them.  As a result they know the Spirit enabling them to resist and have victory over the impure motives and deeds we are inclined to follow.

The third witness is the blood.  It is clear that John used this term to refer to the death of Jesus on a cross.  There He shed His blood to save His people from their sins (Matthew i.21).  Such blood-shedding was necessary.  Why?  Because the just penalty for sinning is death (Ezekiel xviii.4 & 20).  That is why we are told that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews ix.22).

The Spirit, the water, and the blood testify and agree.  What God has joined together we are not to separate.  This threefold testimony is the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 John v.9).

Having established that truth, John then goes on to say that all who believe in the Son of God have that testimony within them (1 John v.10).  The use of the preposition in is significant, as is John’s use of the present tense.  He does not refer to those who have or will believe.  Instead he speaks of those who are believing.  In so doing he informs us that true faith (believing) is active.

To believe is to experience within a living conviction that the good news of what God has provided in Jesus Christ is true.  This belief is more than an intellectual acceptance of or assent to the truth about who Jesus is and what he did.  It is possible to read the Bible or hear its message explained and simply agree that it consists of certain facts.  Facts such as the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, His baptism at the River Jordan, that He performed miracles, and that He travelled Galilee and Judea teaching about the Kingdom of God.

Faith does include assent and knowledge.  But the faith of which the Bible speaks, which we are urged to exercise, is a faith that also includes trust.  That is why we are called to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ rather than just believe facts about him.  Those who believe rely upon Jesus Christ.  They know that such faith is necessary if they are to be accepted by God.

Some people think that the inner witness of the Spirit is a mystical impulse or persuasion that is beyond rational explanation.  Others argue that it is the product of a particular text of Scripture being impressed upon us in a powerful way.  And others argue that it is always accompanied by a lively sense of assurance and comfort.

It is not to be doubted that those born again by God’s Spirit can have deep spiritual experiences.  Nor is it to be doubted that Christians can find themselves forcefully struck by the truthfulness of a particular Scripture.  The inner witness of the Spirit, according to John, is to have within  the testimony that Jesus Christ truly is the Son of God and only Saviour of sinners.  A believer is a person who sees and accepts the truth of the gospel of God.

He or she has received the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood.   He  or  she  knows  that  it isundoubtedly true.  It is impossible to contradict it.  It is not false, nor does it lead a person into false ways.  It is unique.  It cannot be copied.  It can not be changed.  It stands.  It is to be trusted.

A believer sees that Jesus Christ is a suitable and all-sufficient Saviour.  Those who know how serious sin is would be driven to despair if they did not see how Jesus Christ alone can meet our spiritual needs.  He is the one by whom God has finally spoken (He is a prophet).  He is the one who alone satisfies God’s justice by being the propitiatory sacrifice for sin (He is a great High Priest).  And He is the one who rules and reigns and will judge us all (He is the King of kings).

All who come to see that there is nothing they can do to make themselves right with God, by the testimony of the Spirit, the water and the blood, find that it is Christ alone who can heal the spiritually needy.  He gives the weary rest.  In so doing they find that they are safe and secure.  He will never leave them.  In him their eternal happiness is sure.

EPC  16 October 2016