Imagine this scenario. Someone comes up to you on the street on a warm spring day a few months from now, and asks you, How do you know that Christianity is true? What would you say? What evidence would you refer to? And if this asking person rejects the “evidence” provided by you, in an apparently intelligent way, even logical way, would you be shaken? Would you walk away from the exchange with doubts maybe about the truth of Christianity?
We are going to think about this scenario today. But first, we want to “win souls.” We want to introduce them to Jesus Christ, God come in human flesh, who took the just punishment for their sins and offers to forgive and transform them. We want to help them understand and accept God’s gracious offer to them. We call it salvation. First use of the word is found in the thirteenth century as late latin salvatio, and the meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, is “deliverance from the power and effects of sin.” That is an important and very specific meaning. It is not a general pardon merely releasing one from legal penalty.
So keep this in mind as we proceed: who you are, much more than what you say, is the determinative factor in the influence you will have drawing others toward Christ for salvation—for deliverance from the power and effects of sin. Loving God is to be the preoccupation of our lives. Everything else flows from that. Consider Deuteronomy 6:4-9:
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
That is the core thing for winning other hearts. That, and not our most persuasive arguments or most clever use of reason, not our feelings or desires. Loving God as the center of our lives, and radiating out from that, loving all others made in His image, is the secret sauce that makes men and women of God effective soul winners.
With that settled in our hearts, let us look at how WE know Christianity is true. I want to make a clear difference here between your KNOWING Christianity to be true and your SHOWING Christianity to be true. What we would think of more as an evidential approach has a stronger role in showing Christianity to be true. Our focus this morning is personal and largely internal. How can you and I know that Christianity is true? How do we know we are connected to Jesus?
When one accepts God, one is adopted by Him. Consider Galatians 3:26 and 4:6:
For you are all sons of God through faith in Jesus Christ. . . and because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father.’
Do you think of yourself this way? As a sanctuary full of orphans adopted by God? There is a new connection here, a connection because one has consciously accepted Jesus by faith. This creates you a son in Him, daughter in Him, and since your are His child now, God sends His Spirit into your heart. Does this sound subjective? Yes. But one can have the witness that one is standing in a connected faith relationship with Him. The believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
We accept that even as you cannot see air, you need to breath it to live, and we accept that even as we cannot see the Holy Spirit, He is sent forth into our hearts to testify to us the reality of this connection with God. This is a part of the salvation experience, and one often overlooked.
As a people we are very interested in the teachings of Scripture, and that is as it should be. But it is possible to have the rational aspect dominate while we pay less attention to other important elements, including subjective experience. Having a strong interest in doctrine does not mean we are to ignore the subjective. We need both parts.
Paul speaks of this connection and of our adoption not only in Galatians, but also in Romans. Listen:
As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:15-16).
If you are a Christian, you are led by the Spirit of God. You are adopted into the renewed human family. The Holy Spirit bears witness with us that we are children of God. We know that we know Him. We know that there is a God and that we have an experience of His Holy Spirit. He witnesses to us that we are children of God.
This inner witness is mentioned by John :
But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. . . the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (1 John 2:20, 27).
The source of this anointing is God, and it is given to the individual Christian. It gives an awareness. Awareness of what? A sense of knowing that one is connected with God. This anointing “teaches you concerning all things.” What things? In the immediate context, John is warning about antichrists and teachings that deny deity to Jesus. These antichrists previously have claimed to be Christians, but have separated from them (1 John 2:19). The truth of which John speaks here is not only the sense that one is connected with God, but also the truth of the fact that Jesus and the Father both are God. Those who contradicted this teaching were seen to be contradicting the work of God. It did take awhile for the early church to come to more clarity on this teaching and some others. But those who denied the deity of Jesus and the reality of His incarnation were viewed as bringing destructive, erroneous teaching.
These early Christians faced challenges. They were a relatively small group, standing outside approved society, and for awhile they lacked a well developed exposition for their beliefs and practices. The inner witness of the Holy Spirit was quite important to them. In times that try men’s souls, they needed a personal knowledge that God was with them.
Consider this statement from Ellen White’s The Desire of Ages:
“Truth must be received into the soul; it claims the homage of the will. If truth could be submitted to the reason alone, pride would be no hindrance in the way of its reception. But it is to be received through the work of grace in the heart; and its reception depends upon the renunciation of every sin that the Spirit of God reveals. . . To those who thus yield themselves to God, having an honest desire to know and to do His will, the truth is revealed as the power of God for their salvation” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 455-456).
The inner witness is not accomplished via our reason apart from other elements of human faculty. The engagement of the will is essential. This work of grace is a supernatural influence sourced externally to the believer, acting upon the believer. But this action is connected to the free will choice of the receiving agent. We choose to accept or reject the influence. The desire to know and do His will has to be and can be honest. Notice, this is no requirement of perfection, but it is simply the requirement that the interest must be actual, a desire owned by the individual, arising freely within the individual. To that person, “The truth is revealed as the power of God for salvation.”
“The truth revealed as the power of God for salvation” is a somewhat general thing. We should not think that the truth that the Holy Spirit teaches us in this sense includes the subtleties of Christian doctrine, but rather, what I am speaking of is the inner assurance the Holy Spirit gives of those truths that are very basic to the Christian faith. We can know from the inner witness that God is at work in us to save us. (The Holy Spirit also works for us as we acquire a much more specific doctrinal understanding via Bible study.)
Although we can use arguments and evidence to support our faith as believers, we should never regard these as the basis of that faith. We know God is God, and that Christianity is real because of the self-authenticating witness of God’s Spirit who lives in us.
Steps to Christ, p. 111: “There is an evidence open to all. . . the evidence of experience.”
Is Ellen White lowering the place of experience here, or lifting it up? She is reminding us how important this avenue is. I want you to understand that we are not somehow flying by the seat of our pants outside the Bible here. We are in the Bible when we recognize that experience has a place, especially a place when it comes to the inner witness that we are children of God.
The Bible says more about the inner witness. We see this witness of God’s abiding presence with the believer at 1 John 3:24:
Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
We know He abides in us by the Holy Spirit. He has given us His Holy Spirit. This presence is connected with our being obedient to the commandments that God has revealed. If a person is playing loosely with God’s revealed will, he cannot receive this psychological reassurance from God, but if he is submitting to what God has revealed to him, here is the promise of His witnessing presence.
Here it is again at 1 John 4:13:
By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
God has something for us, something we can know. We can know we are living in connection with Him. There will be those who attempt to dispute with us the existence of God, and the authenticity of your supernatural connection with Him. If there is no God, then you cannot be experiencing any supernatural connection with Him. There will be occasions when we must remember that “The science of salvation cannot be explained; but it can be known by experience” (The Desire of Ages 495).
It is right to try to sort and better understand our beliefs, our experience, and how the elements of faith, repentance, God’s promises, conscience all work. At the same time there are things that are beyond explanation, beyond the strictly rational. Is this surprising? Why should it be? We are limited beings and God is an infinite being. In His Word He asks us to pursue an experiential relationship with Him. Through the Psalmist, the call is, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who trusts in Him” (Psalm 34:8). Tasting and trusting are important. The question is not rationality OR subjectivity, but rationality AND subjectivity.
God’s Witness to All People
We have looked at the book of Romans before, especially with relation to the unbeliever; but it points out something important for the believer as well. Consider again at this fascinating passage, Romans 1:18-21:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Many are engaged in suppressing God’s truth. Some, because they are committed rebels, but many because they are confused about what is right and they are still sorting things out. Don’t be too quick to be sure you know who is who. God is very patient, otherwise many of us would not be here.
Here is our main point of interest. What may be known of God is manifest in them. God is working for them, in the midst of the people, even in providential interventions and incidents in their lives. And God is not keeping His interventions secret. He shows people He is intervening for them, He wants them to know it. He is working for hearts every day and every hour through the long years of every life. No one is without excuse. But this is not God making sure everyone can be condemned; it is God doing all He can while He respects our exercise of the free will He has gifted us, so that we will be drawn to Him and turn to Him. It is about His working to save humans.
We wanted to consider what this passage means for us in terms of internal witness. What this passage is about is what we call God’s general witness. This witness that there is a God and that He is good (Romans 2:4) is for all humans. This is not quite the same as the internal witness we have been talking about up until now this morning, the witness of the Holy Spirit to the believer that He is a child of God. That witness is internal and limited to the believer. The witness here in Romans chapter one is the more general witness that there is a God. What you do about Him is up to you, but He refuses to leave humans in darkness. He shows every human being that He exists. Romans 1:28 warns that some people do “not want to retain God in their knowledge.” God does not force these. He let’s them go.
Add to this entire situation this statement:
The same divine mind that is working upon the things of nature is speaking to the hearts of men and creating an inexpressible craving for something they have not. The things of the world cannot satisfy their longing. The Spirit of God is pleading with them to seek for those things that alone can give peace and rest—the grace of Christ, the joy of holiness (Steps to Christ 28).
So we see that God is at work to win us. He knows what we need and He wants us to know we need it, but He chooses not to manipulate us. He puts the truth within our reach and calls us but He does not exercise our will for us. He even helps us desire it, but He does not require us to choose it. He does not eliminate competing desires sources in evil and self-serving. But He does aid us by adding a desire for truth alongside those awful and long-habituated desires for sin.
It is yet one more indicator of His love for us, that He refuses to force us. I wanted us to look at it because it may encourage you to remember also this general witness to God’s existence and reality that God is working for every single human heart. Even so, your salvation experience brings a much more specific witness, a witness to you as a believer that God loves, you, accepts you, embraces you, that He is working in you to transform you, and that He is on your side. You are His adopted child. His kingdom is your kingdom. You are added to His family; you are no longer an orphan. You belong to Jesus.
Let’s consider just two more statements from The Desire of Ages. First, from p. 347:
Our confession of His faithfulness is Heaven’s chosen agency for revealing Christ to the world. We are to acknowledge His grace as made known through the holy men of old; but that which will be most effectual is the testimony of our own experience. We are witnesses for God as we reveal in ourselves the working of a power that is divine. Every individual has a life distinct from all others, and an experience differing essentially from theirs. God desires that our praise shall ascend to Him, marked by our own individuality. These precious acknowledgments to the praise of the glory of His grace, when supported by a Christlike life, have an irresistible power that works for the salvation of souls.
You have a unique experience. This is by divine design. He wants us to learn how to have an experience and share our experience with others. Is His power working in us? Then we will reveal in ourselves the working of a power that is divine!
And lastly, this:
Nothing reaches so fully down to the deepest motives of conduct as a sense of the pardoning love of Christ. We are to come in touch with God, then we shall be imbued with His Holy Spirit, that enables us to come in touch with our fellow men (The Desire of Ages 493).
I want to encouraging you today to become more sensitive to the inner witness of the Holy Spirit. This will help us better know how we can share with others.
If someone come up to you on the sidewalk a few months from now on a warm spring day, and you find yourself engaged in a conversation about how you know that you are connected to God, I hope some of the things we have looked at in this hour will come to your mind. Our mission is to be learners but also evangelists. We should be able to know where we are in our relationship with God, have a sense of His real affection for us, His protection of us, and of our chosen destiny to receive from Him eternal life and transformation so we are ready for His soon appearing!
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