Our family has always liked to hike and over the years we’ve had the opportunity to do so in several states (almost always at state parks). The one thing none of us are blessed with is a great sense of direction, so we appreciate the fact that the trails are always color coded.
Most of the time, it’s clear where the trail goes, but sometimes it’s a little washed out or overgrown and you’re not absolutely sure. A splotch of paint on a tree or a rock reassures you that you’re on the right path. You were confident you were on the trail, but it was nice to have confirmation. In this way, the paint bore witness with our spirit that we were on the right path.
I think this is exactly how the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are sons of God (Romans 8:16). As we travel down the road of faith, we can see fruit develop in our lives. It’s not our fruit any more than any of the trails we hiked on were our trails. They were there because of someone else and so the fruit belongs not to us, but to the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). Nonetheless as we see patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control and the like coming into our lives, we know we’re on the right track because these are the trail markers of the Spirit’s activity in our lives (8:13-14).
And it’s good and healthy to experience such reassurance periodically. It’s the kind of thing John Newton spoke of when he noted that while he wasn’t everything he should or wanted to be, by God’s grace neither was he what he once was. It’s good to see growth and know that the growth we’ve experienced reflects the presence of God in our lives. It’s good to grow in His direction.
And we know all of this because the word of God tells us so. The word is what helps us make sense of our experiences. In our trail metaphor, it is the sign at the trail head that identifies the colors with the trails. It is that knowledge that helps us make sense of the trail later on. It is the word of God that enables us to decipher if the direction we are headed in is correct.
This isn’t just common sense, it’s biblical sense. In verse 7, we’re told that that the sinful mind “does not submit to God’s law.” We’re told just before this that disciples have their mind “set on what the Spirit desires,” (v. 5). What is it that the Spirit desires? It would be the opposite—we submit to God’s law. This is what it means to be led by the Spirit (v. 14).
When we base things upon God’s word (rather than our emotions, moods, or circumstances), we stand on something solid. In this manner, the Spirit of sonship enables us to speak to our Father in the most intimate, assured terms (v. 15-16).Experiences are fine; experiencing the word is better.