1 John 4:13-16 - By This We Know That We Abide In Him
Our text this morning is found in 1 John 4:13-16. We read,
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
Our text gives us four ways that a believer can be assured that they know God and that they are enjoying fellowship with the LORD. He does this in the following ways:
A believer can have assurance because God has given us His Holy Spirit. We see this in verse 13, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
A believer can have assurance because by the Spirit they have come to believe the apostolic witness concerning Christ. We see this in verse 14, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.”
A believer can know that they are enjoying fellowship with God because of the Holy Spirit enables them to confess Christ. We read in verse 15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”
A believer can have assurance because they have come to know the love that God has for them. We read in verse 16, “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Since Mindy and I have been married we have had six cats (Rudy and Sabrina; Buster and Purity; Chester and Mel). We picked out our first two cats, Rudy and Sabrina, from the pet store. They appeared to be really young and we were told that we could take the cats home in a couple weeks.
We reluctantly left without the cats but often returned to see them. None of the cats seemed to be improving in health and one day we received a call from the pet store. They told us that the cats were not doing well so we went and saw the cats. They looked sickly and in poor health. We were told that we could decide not to take the cats that we had bought if we wanted to back out but we decided to take them home with us anyways. Over the next few weeks the cats got stronger and more healthy and we were pleased with their progress.
One night we went back to the pet store to check on the other cats who were part of that litter and discovered that they had all passed away. As we considered these things it seemed to us that our cats became more healthy because they were being loved and cared for.
If our first cats became healthy because they were loved and cared for then how much more does God want His children to thrive and be healthy because they know that He loves them? How much more does God want us to know that we are enjoying fellowship with Him? The Christian who does not know that they are loved by God is not going to experience the health that God desires for them.
God wants His people to know that they are enjoying a special relationship with Him. God is not content to simply have a people who know Him from a distance; rather, He wants His people to know that they have a special relationship with Him. He wants them to trust Him and to respond to Him because they know that God will never mislead them or hurt them.
Spurgeon speaks of this type of relationship when he says, “We may not merely come to the palace of mercy, and the throne of grace, but to the very heart of God. Confidences such as ours surpass all the familiarity of friendship, and yet they are permitted, and even commanded, between the all-glorious Lord and our poor sinful selves. There is as much deity in the favor which He displays to the undeserving as in the matchless splendors of His celestial courts. Happy are the people who have such a God; shall they not accept with rapture the goodness which He sets before them?”
Contemplating such things made Spurgeon pray, “O my most tender God and Father, I can never fully estimate the stoop of your majesty in condescending to love me, nor the greatness of your generosity in inviting me to have fellowship with you. Give me, I pray, grace to value such priceless goodness, and every day to live in habitual fellowship with you. Since you make me free of your courts, teach me how to be a resident courtier, going no more out forever.”
Having considered the fellowship that God has extended, and having prayed for the grace to value the fellowship that Spurgeon had with the LORD, he may have turned to our text today, 1 John 4:13-16, to be taught how to enjoy this fellowship and to never wander from the LORD in thought or in deed.
God’s people often struggle with uncertainty and they can lack assurance. Many can be so overwhelmed by the spiritual trial or by their circumstances that they ask, ‘How can I be sure that God lives in me? How can I be sure that I am not deceiving myself? How can I know that God loves me? How can I know that I am enjoying close fellowship with God even while I am experiencing these things?’
John penned our text so that we can ‘know’ we abide in Him and that we have fellowship with the LORD.
Our text gives us four biblical truths, or four biblical realities, to consider; so that we can know that we abide in Him and He abides in us. Abiding in the LORD is the theme that is seen throughout this text.
v.13 – “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us”
v.15 – “God abides in him, and he in God”
v.16 – “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in Him”
When John speaks of ‘knowing’ that we abide in Him he uses a word that speaks of the fact that believers can know by personal knowledge and through personal experience that they have a relationship with God and that they are enjoying fellowship with Him.
Biblical Reality #1 – The Reality of the Holy Spirit
“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit.” (13)
As I sit here and contemplate this part of the text I find my heart incredibly grieved by tonight’s news concerning Afghanistan. In a such a short time the country has been overrun by the Taliban forces and there seems to be no help planned by anyone to intervene. In the news they spoke of cities being overrun and executions being carried out upon the inhabitants of the captured cities.
At one point there was an interview with the spokesperson from the Pentagon who said something that struck me as quite foolish. He said, “We are doing everything we can do for the people of Afghanistan.” What did he mean when he said that they were doing everything that they could do?
Does that mean that we will go help them? Will we offer air support? Will we offer ground support? Then he said, “The people of Afghanistan have been given everything that they need to help themselves in this situation and now they need to stand up and fight for themselves.” The reporter went on to talk about the 2 trillion dollars the US has spent in Afghanistan and how we have been there for 20 years. The conclusion was that it is now time to get out.
Upon hearing those words I bowed my head and prayed for the people of Afghanistan and for God to forgive us for any sin that we have committed in this situation. We claim to be the mightiest country in the world; and yet, in this moment we are doing so little to help. We have given the people of Afghanistan things but we have stopped giving them our presence and so they will soon be overrun and defeated.
Contrast what I just described to you with what John reveals to us. He says, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us His Spirit.” God has not given us a few things and then left us to fend for ourselves. God, who reigns over all things, has not given us a few supplies, a little training, a little encouragement, and then departed. He has not shown up for a short time and then changed his mind about His level of commitment to the plan and then decided to back out. He has not built an embassy that can easily be abandoned.
No, He has given us His continual and abiding presence. He has given us His Spirit to be with us and in us. And with this comes all of the grace, the limitless provisions, all His bountiful wisdom, the limitless power, the refuge that we will need for everything that we will encounter in this dark world. John has already said to us in 1 John 4:4, “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world.”
Consider the phrase, ‘...because He has given us His Spirit.’ The word ‘given’ is in the perfect tense which means that when we believed upon Christ we were given the Holy Spirit, He remains with us to this very day. The Holy Spirit will abide with us forever. He has invested more power in saving us than he exerted when He created the world. He has given us more grace than we can comprehend. And there will never be a day when He will say that His grace has run out, or that His power has been exhausted, or that His patience has come to an end and now He will leave us.
We struggle to believe that God would continue to abide with us but He does. We fail to understand how God could be so patient with us when we sin and as we grow so slowly, but He is forgiving and patient. The LORD has given us as a gift the Holy Spirit. And there will never be a single moment when God will retreat from us. In fact daily He provides all good graces for us to enjoy and to profit from.
One commentator emphasized something seen in the words, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us…”. He pointed out that not only is the Holy Spirit’s support evident in an individual believer but that His presence is seen in the life of the church where we gather. His presence is seen in this embassy where we as exiles and pilgrims take refuge. The Holy Spirit abides in us and is here this morning as we gather.
I found what Dr. John Hannah said concerning the Holy Spirit interesting. He says, ‘The unseen (Holy Spirit) gives us confidence...The fact of the Spirit, not so much the effects of the Spirit, is the basis of assurance. It is not the ongoing witness of the Spirit to us; it is the fact of His presence with us.’ This seems to be important to consider so that we always come to the Holy Spirit with a heart of thankfulness for His presence. If we only trust His presence is with us when we see some visible grace then we will lack assurance. We may become like the lepers who did not return to Christ to give thanks after receiving their healing. (Luke 17:17-19 - “So Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But where are the nine? Were there not any found who returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?” And He said to him, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well.”)
Biblical Reality #2 – The Reality of the apostolic witness concerning Jesus
“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” (14)
A believer is given assurance by the Holy Spirit who dwells unseen in their heart. And Jesus has been made visible to the believer so that he can also have assurance. Said another way, the Spirit is the love of God expressed in us, Christ is the love of God made manifest to us by the Spirit and the Word of God. (Dr. Hannah)
It is the Scriptures that testify that Christ has been sent by the Father to be the Savior of the world. Believers have assurance because the Holy Spirit enables them to love and treasure the Scriptures, to believe the scriptures, to cling to the promises of the scriptures, and to respond in faith and obedience to the scriptures.
In the phrase, ‘And we have seen and testify…’, the ‘we’ is emphatic and refers to the apostolic teaching regarding their eyewitness testimony concerning Christ. The apostles were witnesses to the fact that the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. They dared to testify to these facts even unto death. And yet, even in that moment they would be assured of their salvation and of their intimate fellowship with the LORD.
Paul experienced this many times. He wrote to Timothy saying, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth.” (2 Timothy 4:16-17)
The apostles testified about Christ and as a result they experienced great trials and challenges; but they also experienced the strength of God. Even in difficult times they knew that they were enjoying a close and personal relationship with the LORD – “the LORD stood with me and strengthened me”.
Biblical Reality #3 – The Reality of our confession concerning Christ
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (v.15)
Just as the apostle Paul testified of these things in his ministry, a true believer will also confess that Jesus is the Son of God. Many may abandon us but the LORD will not. The LORD will be with us in a special way as He was for Paul. The LORD will stand with us and give us strength and courage before the lions.
The letter of 1 John demands that every individual comes to terms with who Jesus Christ is because this is the key to fellowship with God. Though our concession brings the ire of the world against us it also brings a special comfort and fellowship with the LORD. In John’s mind, if one is to confess Christ accurately they will speak of Christ in the same way that the scriptures speak of Him. For example, in this letter we have been told several things that a true believer confesses about Christ.
A true believer will confess that Jesus is the Christ. 1 John 2:22
A true believer will confess that Jesus came in the flesh. 1 John 4:2
A true believer will confess that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 4:15
Biblical Reality #4 – The Reality of God’s love
“So (and) we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (16)
The two verbs ‘know’ and ‘believe’ are to be taken as compound verbs which lie at the foundation of experiencing the love of God. The order of these words are also significant. We must ‘know’ before we can ‘believe’. We must ‘understand’ before we can ‘rely’ upon God and rest in His love.
The one who abides in God’s love will reflect the love of God more and more. They will increasingly love God, love the scriptures, love God’s church, love God’s mission, love God’s people. None of these things are innate to us. This type of love is the fruit of our union with the LORD by His Spirit which He has given to us.
Dr. Thompson says, “The love of God is not silly, it is not sentimental, it is not sloppy, it is not sexual, it is not social. The love of God is a supernatural love that is produced by the Holy Spirit who lives within us.”
Consider for a moment how important it is for us to grow in our understanding of, and the expression of, this type of supernatural love at this time in our world. The world can love with a silly love, a sentimental love, a sloppy love, a sexual love and a social love; but they need to encounter this supernatural love. And perhaps this is the best moment for this to happen because of the chaos in our generation. Our generation needs to know, now more than ever, the four realities that John has spoken of today.
Let me take you back almost 400 years ago to a time during the English Civil War (1642-1651). At this time normal social, political and religious boundaries were being swept away just as they are in our day. Tried and true religious beliefs no longer seemed to matter to most people. Out of this many people began to abandon scriptural teachings and sought a new work of God that would bring peace to their souls in the midst of the massive upheaval and chaos that they were experiencing in their culture. These people became known as the ‘Seekers’. These ‘Seekers’ abandoned their churches and waited for a new dispensation in which God would move in a more charismatic way. This moment came with the advent of the Quakers and their message.
Their leader John Fox claimed to have found wisdom ‘without the help of any man, book or writing.’ The Quakers claimed to esteem the Scriptures as ‘sweet and precious’, but they were adamant that the indwelling Spirit was to be regarded as the supreme authority when it came to direction for Christian living and thinking. The Quakers eventually claimed that the ‘light in their consciences was the rule they desired to walk by,’ not the Scriptures. As a result, Quakerism tended to exalt the Spirit at the expense of the Word of God. They claimed to be guided by the light within; rather than the objective truth of the written Word of God.
We are in a chaotic time in our history as well. We too have seen political, social and religious boundaries being removed all around the world. As a result, you will often see people seeking to find peace, not in the objective truth of God’s Word, but by the light or truth that is within them. Instead of heading John’s words in 1 John 4:13-16 concerning the reality of the Holy Spirit, the reality of the Word of God, the reality of the true confession we are to speak, and the reality of the love of God we are to know and believe; many are turning to other things that will not produce the love and peace that they desire.
How are believers to respond to this? John Owen was one of the men who had to confront the ‘Seekers’ in his generation. One of the ways that he did this was to focus upon the doctrine of the Trinity. He wrote, “Convince any of them (the Seekers) of the doctrine of the Trinity and all the rest of their imaginations vanish into smoke.” He argued that the Father sent the Spirit in love to make the Son ‘glorious, honorable, and of high esteem in the hearts of believers,’ and to shed the love of God in our hearts. He argued, as John has in our text, that the Holy Spirit does this with the Scriptures.
I wonder if you picked up on the Trinitarian nature of our text today. The Trinity is seen in verses 13-14, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
The ‘Seekers’ in Owens day replaced the importance of the Word of God with the inner-light. They disliked the exposition of the Scriptures and often discouraged the use of commentaries and other books that would be helpful in interpreting the Scriptures accurately. Therefore John Owen defended the Scriptures and their proper exposition to be preached from the pulpit which the Holy Spirit uses to convert sinners and grow believers in sanctification. (story taken from A Puritan Theology, 431-441)
In our text today we have seen John also argue for this as well. He spoke of the importance of the Spirit. He spoke of the importance of scripture and the apostolic message saying, ‘And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.’ And he has stressed the importance of a believers reliance upon the Holy Spirit and the Word of God in guiding their confession and faith saying, ‘Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.’
The people to whom John wrote were struggling. Their world had become chaotic but this instruction grounded them in the love of God and in their fellowship with Him. As a result, they would not seek a new teaching or a new light to follow.
John Owens spoke up in his generation so that they could be grounded in the work of the Spirit through the Word of God which results in them knowing the love of God. He, himself, had experience the love of God after hearing an unknown preacher preaching on Matthew 8:26, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith.” Upon hearing this exposition on Matthew 8:26 John felt the Holy Spirit prick his heart. This sermon was applied powerfully to his heart and for the first time Owen was certain that God loved him. (Puritan Heros; John Owen)
It is now our turn to do this in our generation. We are to preserve the truth for the next generation. We are in a moment of crisis, chaos and calamity; and as individuals and as a body of believers we are to be a faithful witness to our generation because ‘we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us’.
In this moment, now more than ever, we need to remember this text and not wander off ‘Seeking’ other things. We are to remember...
We have been given the Spirit
We are to receive the Scriptures
Our confession of Christ should be the same as the Scriptures
We will grow in the supernatural love of God