And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
What Paul describes here is our deepest level of assurance. Beyond the emotions, beyond the feelings, is a deep conviction that is born of the Spirit of God himself, an underlying awareness that we cannot deny that we are part of God’s family. We are the children of God. I think this is the basic revelation to which our emotions respond with the cry, “Abba, Father.” That is our love to him, but even more this is his love to us. It is what Paul refers to in Romans 5 when he speaks of the love of God “which is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit which is given unto us,” (Romans 5:5 KJV).
As I look back on my own life, I can understand how this is true. I became a Christian when I was about eleven years old, in a Methodist brush arbor meeting. I responded to the invitation, and, with others, came and knelt down in front and received the Lord. I had a wonderful time of fellowship with the Lord that summer and the next winter, and there were occasions when I just would be overwhelmed with the sense of the nearness and dearness of God. I used to sing hymns until tears would come to my eyes as the meaning of those old words reflected on the relationship that I had with God. Then I used to preach to the cows when I would bring them home. Those cows were a very good audience too, by the way — they never went to sleep on me. But that fall we moved from this town where I had Christian fellowship to a town in Montana that didn’t even have a church. Gradually, because of that lack of fellowship, I drifted away from that relationship with God, drifted into all kinds of ugly and shameful things — habits of thought and activity that I am ashamed of. I even developed some liberal attitudes toward the Scriptures. I didn’t believe in the inspiration of the Bible. I argued against it, and during high school and college I was known as a skeptic. But all through those seven years there was a relationship with God I could not deny. Somehow I knew, deep down inside, that I still belonged to him; and there were things I could not do, even though I was tempted. I could not do them because I felt that I had a tie with God. This is that witness of the Spirit. Calvin called it “the testimonial of the Spirit,” which we cannot deny and which is especially discernible in times of gross sin and despair. First John 3:20 says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart,” (1 John 3:20a KJV). He knows all things. There is a witness born of the Spirit which you can’t shake, which is there along with the ultimate testimony that we belong with the children of God.
This is where to begin when you get into trouble. Go back to this relationship. Remind yourself of who you are. You can see it in your experience as you look around. You are led by the Spirit of God. You can feel it in your heart. There are times when your emotions are stirred by the Spirit, and you can sense at the level of your spirit that you belong to God.
Father, help me to understand these things. Thank you for the work of the Spirit. What a wonderful thing it is that you have called me a child of the living God. Help me never to forget it, and to walk worthy of such a calling.
Our adoption as God’s children is far from simply theoretical — so what response does it evoke from us? Do our lives bear witness to our shared inheritance with Christ? How do we share in His sufferings?