October 20, 2020

The Spirit of Knowing


So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children.

• Romans 8:15-16, NLT

• • •

Sunday morning we had the privilege of going to our friend Randy Thompson’s church in Concord, NH to worship, meet his congregation, and hear him proclaim God’s Word. It was a good one, too. He spoke on a portion of Romans, chapter 8.

Romans 8 is the Mt. Everest of Scripture and I never tire of coming back to it for the profound encouragement it gives. From the declaration of “no condemnation” of 8:1 to the “no separation” of 8:35-39, this chapter provides vista after vista of breathtaking, Christ-centered gospel truth.

Randy made an important distinction for those of us in the congregation on Sunday. He, like I and so many others, have studied and learned parts of the Bible like Romans 8 as the high grounds of Christian doctrine. These texts thrill our minds, expand our intellectual horizons, and test those of us who preach and teach with the immense challenge of expounding hearty, nutritious theological content.

But read the text above once more.

The Apostle is speaking to friends, and he is encouraging them to not live fearfully in the presence of the God who loves them.

He reminds them that Jesus didn’t die and rise again in order to make us slaves. That is not our identity and it is not the way we ought to go about thinking of ourselves before God.

He calls them to remember that God adopted us to be his own beloved children, his heirs, those who receive his closest attention and dearest treasures.

God’s very Spirit has come to indwell us.

And the Spirit causes a profound sense of filial endearment to well up from our innermost being. This overflows from our lips as we cry out to God in prayer — child to Parent — exhibiting a deep reflex that reflects our living bond and the affection which accompanies it.

This is no mere “doctrine,” this is love.

• • •

Such teaching is true evangelical encouragement at its best.

Certain Christian traditions try hard to “safeguard the doctrine” and emphasize the objective truths of the gospel that come to us from God, from outside of us, so as not to give any place whatsoever to works-righteousness or human contribution in the process of salvation.

Other Christian traditions promote feelings and experience in a way that emphasizes having immediate, ecstatic encounters with God that instantly transform a person, raising him or her up to a new level of spiritual progress.

Paul’s teaching here counters both with something much more organic. God makes us his beloved children. God’s life is within us and our life is in God. We bond through a shared Spirit. We are not slaves, attached to the household, treated as servants and judged according to how well we perform our functions. We are God’s own flesh and blood, connected personally to him via a living connection of love.

This is something we feel and know by family instinct, not just because the pastor has preached on it, or because we passed our confirmation exam or went to seminary. It is not first of all a matter of intellectual understanding, any more than a baby’s response to her mother is rooted in having been taught.

I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.

• Psalm 131:2, NRSV

Such language describes “knowing” in the deepest sense, the kind of personal knowing that includes certain facts and propositions that may be stated, but which ultimately transcends them with an embrace.

With this kind of knowing, Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord . . .” (Hosea 6:3, NRSV)


  1. Robert F says

    I certainly understand what you are saying, and I can agree with the substance of it. But things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to. I’m not very good at feeling loved the way the text says that I’m loved by God, I don’t have the instinct. I need to be told, again and again, about this strange and uncompromising love of God, to be assured about it, the way a mother assures her little child in sweet, soft tones that, despite the sound of violent thunder nearby, everything will be okay. Without this assurance, which for me includes a doctrinal element, a promise of God’s strong faithfulness that transcends my weak faith, I become swamped by my own fears and feelings, my sense of alienation and doubt. For me, some of the love is expressed as doctrine, which is like the calming and assuring whisper of a mother to her child in the midst of the frightening storm.

    • I’m not very good at feeling loved the way the text says that I’m loved by God, I don’t have the instinct. I need to be told, again and again, about this strange and uncompromising love of God, to be assured about it

      This, This, THIS. Which, BTW, is another reason why I need weekly Communion the way a drunk needs a drink. 😉

      • MikeInIowa says

        Agree. I’ve learned through much frustration and heartache to hear the gospel preached then take the meal and see it as a covenant meal. It is done….finished. Let us sit, eat and celebrate. If the affection comes, amen. If it doesn’t or is weak, AMEN!

      • Robert F says

        Yes, Holy Communion offers the assurance of the Word, and the doctrine that comes with the Word, in edible form, and then I’m like a baby being nursed, and quieted, on his mother’s breast.

        • So you worry that you don’t know God, or what Christ has done and you trusted in, without it?

          • Dana Ames says

            Define “know”….

            What RobertF, Eeyore and Mike are talking about is less “fact” and more “trust” – based on the “knowing” one has in participating in relationship. This does not exclude cognition (i.e. understanding of doctrine), but is way more than cognition.

            If a person does not have the cognitive capacity to understand facts or doctrine, can that one still be a participant in a relationship? It is because of the organic nature of the relationship (“begun” with baptism – quotes because of course God has a relationship with people before they are baptized, but that’s of a different nature than his relationship to the Church) which is the basis for Communion, not the cognitive understanding – though again, that is not excluded (with regard to those who have that ability).


          • A relationship with a Being. I am not talking about exhaustive doctrine, nor am I dismissing the importance of Communion. I see Communion as a means of grace, and an instrument that deepens (or helps restore) one’s faith. But I question its place as necessary, or the sole place, for assurance (if that was what Robert F. was referring to), unless the individual is struggling with other means.

          • Dr. Fundystan, Proctologist says

            Communion offers assurance in that it is God’s promise to us (“for the remission of sins”). Other evangelicals more often look to other physical means for assurance, such as the date they “said the sinner’s prayer” (which is also tied to God’s promises), or when they were baptized, or some such. The difference is that communion can be experienced again and again, while the others cannot.

          • Robert F says

            RDavid, you are divorcing Word and Incarnation. The Word became flesh, and has never stopped being flesh. In Holy Communion, that flesh is given to me by the Word and through the Spirit. Grace is not a disembodied energy, some sort of spiritual plasma with which I am infused, but the Incarnate Jesus Christ himself, present to me and in me through Word and Sacraments.

          • Dr. Fundystan- Communion allows us to further deepen and appreciate that assurance, but the assurance is already there.

            Robert F- The flesh was given to you at His death and resurrection. Our faith is deepened through Communion. I am all for appreciating the Incarnational aspects and how they strengthen our walk with Him. But that is different from needing it for “assurance”. What He did is already accomplished. He is not re-sacrificed.

          • Robert F says

            RDavid, I repeat: the Incarnation is not over, and the Incarnation/Resurrection is not a head game. Christ in his totality as Person, spiritual and physical, comes to us in Word, Baptism and Eucharist, and the Eucharist is a foretaste and proleptic embodiment of his Parousia.

            No one here has said anything about re-sacrificing.

  2. Whoa! This is the same sermon our new priest preached this weekend. I think God must be trying to tell us something . . . .

  3. Be still; Go. Being still and going don’t always mean what one thinks. You don’t have to be gazing at your navel or off to some foreign country. The spirit of knowing to me seems involved with what Lisa Dye described as unholy busyness, and therefore has been on the Internet Monker”s radar as a topic from different angles. Making disciples doesn’t appear as part of this topic, but I include it because it seems to me as part of the parallel of the virtue involved in the peace that goes with being a part of the family of God.

  4. David Cornwell says

    Several things come to mind:

    1. “the sufferings of this present time” are confined to the “present time” and will give way when the creation itself is set free from its bondage to decay. Our present reality is temporal. and as such we and creation await a great “revealing.”

    2. Creation and “we ourselves” await the redemption of our bodies. The implications are astounding and far beyond my understanding, but brings wondrous hope.

    3. The list of those things that would tend to separate us from God’s love, but yet have been robbed of power: Hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, all very much on the human level. And on another level he lsts death, life, angels, rulers, things present, things to come, powers, height, depth, along with anything else in all creation.

    A good way to start Monday in a week where evil seems to be raising its ugly head in so many ways.

    • Dana Ames says

      Yes. Wisdom – let us attend.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “the sufferings of this present time” are confined to the “present time” and will give way when the creation itself is set free from its bondage to decay. Our present reality is temporal. and as such we and creation await a great “revealing.”

      How do you keep this from being contaminated by Gnostic dualism (temporal vs spiritual) and curdling into “sweet by and by/pie in the sky when you die”?

      • David Cornwell says

        Good question that must always be considered because it is a temptation. I think Paul is clear, if we let him be, that it is the present Creation and our present bodies that will be redeemed and transformed. I’m sure that many oppressed peoples may have considered it in other ways. Slaves for examples probably had a difficult time thinking about anything good happening on this earth. A lot of Christian practice seems to have become Gnostic. Preachers and teachers have a lot to do.

  5. Rick Ro. says

    Good stuff.

    I’m helping pull together our church’s men’s retreat in September and the direction we’re feeling led is the theme “In Christ Alone, Find Joy.” We’ll be exploring verses in which Jesus speaks and acts, and asking the question, “Jesus, what are you trying to tell me about yourself?” Following that, we’ll then discuss “Where’s the joy in what Jesus is telling us about himself?” Related to this article, we’re hoping that people will see that our walk with him should not be a burden and we shouldn’t feel like slaves. Burdens and slave-like feelings are what people and churches place on TOP of Jesus and his followers: expectations, guilty, shame, etc. I wrote a blurb for our church bulletin that says the men’s retreat will NOT be one in which we discuss how to be a better man, a better father, a better husband, a better Christian. It is strictly to look at who Jesus is telling us he is, and finding the comfort and joy in that.

    (If you feel like it, toss up a prayer for me and my fellow retreat planners! Thanks!!)

  6. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    I remember a booklet from the Seventies titled “The Calvary Road” that went HARD in the opposite direction, how filthy we are because of SIN (filthy rags AKA used tampons) and how “God Hates Sin With Such A Perfect Hatred” and how at best We Are Nothing More Than God’s Worthless Slaves. (After 40 years, I don’t remember the author or source, just the message. And the cover, a stark black-and-white of a tiny Sinner groveling before a huge Cross.)

    This type of worm theology is the last thing you want to preach to a kicked-around Omega Male.
    Even after 40 years, echoes of the damage are still there.

    • Roy Hession? Google it, and you’ll find a link to download it. Not that you’ll want too 😛

    • Mule Is Confused says

      HUG – I read that book as well. It was required reading in Operation Mobilization. I dug my old copy out and dusted it off. I didn’t get the man-hating vibes out of it that you did.

      What I saw, intermixed with a lot of Prot-talk about “Revival”, was just the very, very Orthodox concept of continual repentance and simple trust in the work of the Savior. Since we don’t have “revival”s in the Orthodox church, it was easy enough to sift the chaff from the very abundant and very edible grain.

      I also thank God that when I sin, as I sin very often and with little compunction, there is objective forgiveness in the sacrament of confession. I don’t have to worry about the depth or the sincerity of my repentance. It would be imperfect anyway. I know that, Father knows it, and our Lord knows it, but He forgives us anyway. A good case could be made that the Prodigal had less true repentance than a six year old caught with his hand in his mother’s purse, but the Father was waiting for him anyway.

      Your wounds must go very deep indeed if a little Wesleyan salve burnt your eyes. I’m sorry. Please don’t go anywhere near the Puritans.

  7. “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. […] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-10,12

  8. Yay Randy! He may be tall, but he brings it.