Isn’t There an Inward Assurance of the Holy Spirit?
Question: Is the certainty of the Christian faith confined to the fulfillment of prophecy as demonstrated in verifiable facts of history, archaeology, and science, or is there a spiritual confirmation as well? What about spiritual experiences? Isn’t there an inward assurance of the Holy Spirit?
Response: “Faith cometh by hearing . . . the Word of God” (Romans:10:17). On the one hand, the Word of God stands on its own and needs no outside confirmation, for it is “quick [living] and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword . . . a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews:4:12). On the other hand, God has given us outside confirmation so that the Word of God proves itself to us in two ways: by the convicting and convincing power of the Holy Spirit, who inspires and speaks to our hearts through His Word, and by the confirmation available to us from outside verification through archaeology, history, and science. When all are in full agreement, we have an unshakable basis for complete assurance.
Of course, outside confirmation is not essential, for even without it the Holy Spirit speaks powerfully to hearts willing to hear: “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God” (Romans:8:16). Subjective convictions, however, can be misleading. Consider the multitudes who have been led astray by what they thought was the “leading of the Holy Spirit,” but it turned out to be wishful thinking or some other delusion.
There is no deficiency on the part of the Holy Spirit but rather on our part. It is therefore helpful to have some independent confirmation. Human frailty leaves us subject to the deceitfulness of our own hearts: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? I the Lord search the heart” (Jeremiah:17:9-10). We need to be on guard and pray as did David:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my thoughts,
and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm:139:23-24)
Furthermore, if we had only what we thought was the inward confidence of the Holy Spirit, but the archaeological and historical evidence contradicted what the Bible said, we could be left in confusion. Remember, of course, that human efforts to gather data through archaeological and historical and scientific research are subject to error. We do not cast aside our confidence in God’s Word when the critics claim to have contradictory evidence. They have been proven wrong every time they disputed what the Bible says. It is helpful, however, to know the evidence that backs up the Bible.
There is, nevertheless, a knowing that goes beyond the intellect and the capacity for human understanding. Paul prayed for the Ephesian believers that they might “know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge,” that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians:3:19). There is a fullness of the Holy Spirit that is available to believers and removes every possible doubt, empowering the believer to pass on the message of God in convincing assurance without any outside support.
The greatest experiences of life are all beyond our finite comprehension. Love cannot be explained or analyzed, nor can beauty or goodness or joy. One could have a Ph.D. in all the subjects that this world’s universities offer and not be able to explain why a sunset is beautiful. Yet the simplest child can exult in the joy and exquisite beauty of God’s creation.
So it is with knowing God. The psalmist likened his desire to know God to the thirst for water of a deer pursued by a hunter (Psalm:42:1). Paul cried out, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians:3:10). This should be the passion of our hearts. Could anything else be more desirable?
Such knowledge of God and assurance of one’s salvation goes beyond intellectual understanding and therefore cannot be shaken by intellectual arguments, no matter how seemingly convincing. Jesus said, “This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John:17:3). God has told us that we will find Him (i.e., have that intimate knowledge of Him that goes beyond the intellect and can only be experienced in the heart by the Holy Spirit) when we seek for Him with our whole heart (Jeremiah:29:13). He has promised to reward with the intimate knowledge of Himself those who “diligently seek him” (Hebrews:11:6). Spend time with Him in prayer and in His Word, and your knowing Him and love for Him will grow, and your assurance of His love and guidance will increase accordingly.