Just before His ascension Jesus promised His disciples that upon His sending the Holy Spirit, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me” (Acts 1:8). But have you noticed in reading the epistles of Paul how often he mentions God being his witness? This is the “flip side” of receiving the Holy Spirit and thereby being made one of Jesus’ witnesses. Here are a few instances:
In his epistle to the Philippians: “For God is my record [witness], how greatly I long after you all in the bowels [tender mercies] of Jesus Christ” (Phi 1:9).
Also to the Thessalonians: “For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloak of covetousness; God is witness…” (1 Thes 2:5). And a few lines further on: “Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe…” (1 Thes 2:10). You mean, Paul, you had a conscious awareness of God witnessing your activities, your behaviour, 24/7?
And to the Corinthians, where Paul as it were called God to the witness stand to vouch for his motive in delaying to come to Corinth: “Moreover I call God for a record [witness] upon my soul, that to spare you I came not as yet unto Corinth” (2 Cor 1:23).
And here, to the Romans: “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost…” (Rom 9:1). Here Paul is speaking of the witness of the Spirit. This is one and the same as the witness of God.
Again to the Romans he writes of this witness of the Spirit: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God…” (Rom 8:15,16).
Now this one, again to the Romans, in which we discover that God bore witness to Paul’s prayers; this is what we want to focus on just now:
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. (Rom 1:8-10)
Here again, as Paul clarifies in verse 13, he wanted the Romans to know his motives—that he had not been unmindful of them, in fact had often wanted to come to them but had been hindered from coming. And who better to vouch for one’s motives than God Himself? And so he writes, “For God is my witness…” The question is, how did he know that God bore witness that he continually brought up the Roman saints in his prayers, asking that he might now “at last” have a prosperous journey in the will of God to come to them? As if God were saying, Yes, that’s right, Paul does that continually.
It was because Paul in all things—and especially as he prayed—was conscious of God. He knew God was hearing him.
It was two or three years from the writing of the epistle to the Romans before God answered Paul’s prayer, and it appears he had been praying about this even earlier. Nevertheless all that time he had the assurance that God would indeed answer his prayer in His time. He had the witness of God about it.
UK Bible teacher Ron Bailey says, “The first criterion of prayer is not need consciousness but God consciousness.” This accords with what Samuel Chadwick has written about prayer: “God is in secret. Let the first act [of prayer] be to affirm the fact of the Holy Presence” (The Path of Prayer, Samuel Chadwick). Later in that same book Chadwick again emphasizes, “Never leave without a conscious season of real communion.”
How vitally important. This is what Paul enjoyed and practiced, this is what enabled him to say that God was his witness to his prayers. He was conscious of God when he prayed; this—God consciousness—was the beachhead that with the help of the grace of God he established in prayer and maintained as he advanced throughout the day.
But know this. Paul, man of great stature that he was, had no other access to the Father than you and I. Let me say that a different way. You and I have the same access to the Father—faith in the blood of Jesus Christ—that Paul did. And so you and I may also enjoy the same witness of God not only in our prayers but in all we say and do.
You mean… God watching us with His eye continually upon us so that He is witness to all we say and do and think? Who could bear that, who could live under such scrutiny? I recall from years ago the testimony of an old man who said that when he was young he saw an Eye in the sky, and fled to hide from it. Well might he flee, and well might we all, and find no hiding place—that is, if we have not received the witness of God that He bore concerning His Son. This is what happened to the youth who saw the Eye in the sky. Somehow he knew it was a portent of a Day to come, and it led to his earnestly seeking God, and discovering the one and only Hiding Place that God Himself has provided—His Son Jesus Christ. For, when the eyes of God bear witness to what Jesus Christ the Son of God accomplished at Calvary on behalf of sinners, those who receive this witness enjoy that most happy and blessed state of a heart cleansed from all sin. Yes. All. No lesser purity than the very purity of God did the Son of God accomplish for sinful man, who washed us from our sins in His own blood. God Himself bears witness to this, as Peter confirmed regarding the Gentiles of Cornelius’ house who had come to faith in Jesus: “And the heart-knowing God did bare them testimony [witness], having given to them the Holy Spirit, even as also to us, and did put no difference also between us and them, by the faith having purified their hearts” (Acts 15:8,9 YLT).
And so since God bears witness to this, what is the result but a conscience that bears witness to this, a conscience that now has no awareness of sin. Far from it being unbearable, who wants to live without this?
And with it we have boldness and confidence in prayer.
“It is the Spirit that beareth witness…”
Here is a passage of Scripture about the Witness of God. Many of us have found it enigmatic (especially verse 8, for which please see the endnote: [i]) But let’s highlight at least some of it. John is strongly affirming and bearing witness that Jesus is the Son of God in whom alone is the victory:
6 This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.
7 And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
8 For there are three who bear witness, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and the three agree in one. [ii] (A second endnote.)
9 If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for the witness of God is this, that he hath borne witness concerning his Son.
10 He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in him [in himself]: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he hath not believed in the witness that God hath borne concerning his Son.
11 And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12 He that hath the Son hath the life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not the life. (1 Jn 5:6-12 ASV)
John is saying that the witness of God is that which He bore concerning His Son—that is, of what the Son of God, being fully man, accomplished by His death on the cross of Calvary on behalf of sinful man. God in Heaven bears witness to that. So does the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who believe Him. That’s why the heart is cleansed, and the conscience; the Holy Spirit bears witness to that. In fact God could not send the Holy Spirit to abide in us without the Son of God having first become the propitiation for our sins. And so the Holy Spirit is Himself the witness of God, just as Jesus is Himself “the faithful and true witness“ (Rev 3:14). “And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth” (1 Jn 5:6 ASV). The Holy Spirit in you and me who believe in Jesus is the witness of God, the testimony of God, the evidence, that Christ has put away your sin and mine. The Holy Spirit in our heart is God’s witness, the witness that He has borne concerning His Son.
That Witness within is one and the same as having eternal life. For Christ has vanquished sin and death.
It is this Witness of God that the apostle Paul as a believer in Jesus enjoyed. We who believe Him may enjoy this same Witness. He is the provision and cleansing for any known sin that is confessed. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9). Moreover He is the provision for any lingering sense of a sin conscience:
18 My Little children, let us not love in word, neither with the tongue; but in deed and truth.
19 Hereby shall we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before him:
20 because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, we have boldness toward God;
22 and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.
23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he gave us commandment.
(1 Jn 3:18-23 ASV)
John is saying that if our heart (our conscience) condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things—knoweth that His Son has put away all sin so that we may be free of sin and enjoy a heart (conscience) that does not condemn us. Further to that He has given us commandments to obey—believing in His Name, and loving one another in deed and in truth—so that we may maintain that clear conscience. And with that, since our heart does not condemn us, what do we have? “We have boldness toward God and whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight.”
It is a boldness, an openness, a confidence, an assurance, brought about by the Witness of God in the conscience.
Here again is that same thought:
13 These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.
14 And this is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he heareth us:
15 and if we know that he heareth us whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. (1 Jn 5:13-15 ASV)
This is just what Paul said about God being his witness. He believed the Witness of God. He knew that God heard his prayers. He confidently anticipated the answer.
[i] I am inclined to agree with F.F.Bruce’s comment on 1 John. 5:8.
“The sequence ‘water and blood’ is not accidental, but corresponds to the historical sequence of our Lord’ baptism and passion. Cerinthus, we recall, taught that ‘the Christ’ (a spiritual being) came down on the man Jesus when He was baptized but left Him before He died. The Christ, that is to say, came through water (baptism) but not through blood (death). To this misrepresentation of the truth John replies that the One whom believers acknowledge to be the Son of God (verse 5) came ‘not with the water only but with the water and with the blood’: the One who died on the cross was as truly the Christ, the Son of God, as the One who was baptized in Jordan.” (The Epistles of John, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, 1970.)
Perhaps this false teaching of Cerinthus (AD circa 50-100) is also what John had in mind when he wrote his gospel in about AD 90 and reflected back on what he had witnessed 60 years earlier when the soldier pierced Jesus’ side, “and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe” (Jn. 19:34,35).
[ii] “The sentence which appears in the AV as 1 Jn 5:7 (‘For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one’) is no part of the original text of the letter. It appears in a treatise written by Priscillian (a Spanish Christian executed on a charge of heresy in AD 385) or by one of his followers…” (F.F. Bruce, The Epistles of John)
Bruce goes on to say that this statement was eventually incorporated into the text of the Vulgate in about AD 800, with the balancing words “in earth” added to the following sentence. Bruce explains further that Erasmus, upon whose 1516 Greek testament the King James Version is based, at the insistence of others included the spurious text against his own better judgement.