Promptings by the Spirit

In a book recently published by Hope Publishing Co., Edmund McDavid, III said it again. In answer to his own question, “Does God’s Spirit testify to me that I am a Christian?” he quoted Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Then, on the basis of this quotation, he went on to ask the reader, “Do you have promptings from the Holy Spirit that convince you that he indwells you—that you are a Christian?” Without further discussion or explanation of the verse (he assumes that one will agree that it teaches the Spirit not only prompts a Christian, but thereby assures him of his salvation) he goes on to another point, seemingly thinking that mere citation is sufficient to verify his view.

There are serious problems with this all-too-frequent misuse of Paul’s words. Let me mention two:

  1. Neither the term “prompt,” nor anything like it, ever occurs in the Scriptures as a means of assurance. The Bible allows for no such personal, individual revelation. People may have what they think are hunches, promptings, and the like, that originate from the Holy Spirit, but they have no biblical basis for interpreting these inner feelings as such. In particular, this verse teaches just the opposite, as I wish now to show you.
  2. The word translated “with” is the Greek term, sun, which means “together with.” It never has the meaning assigned to it that is required by McDavid’s understanding. The verse simply cannot mean that the Spirit “testifies to our spirit”—as his interpretation requires.

Paul is speaking of the well-known biblical requirement that testimony must be given by more than one witness in order to be accepted as valid. So, here, he says that not only does a believer have an inner conviction of one’s salvation (i.e., the testimony in his own spirit) but that, along with that inner assurance, the Spirit testifies as well. The inner testimony that belongs to a Christian comes from his faith in God’s biblical promises. The external testimony by means of which the Spirit testifies is those dependable Spirit-revealed biblical promises themselves.

It is time for people to stop misusing this passage. A Christian’s personal assurance is dependent upon the certain witness of the Spirit in the Word that we believe and to which we testify; not upon some subjective feeling in us which may or may not remain constant.