This passage is part of a larger unit dealing with the relationship between righteousness, love and belief. In 4:7-12 John makes the point that God's dealings with us in Christ express the nature of divine love. We who are touched by such love should therefore love as he loves. Now, in the passage before us, John identifies five pieces of evidence to support the proposition that God abides in us and his love is brought to perfection in us.
v13. The first confirmation of God's indwelling presence is the assurance of the Spirit. We know that we are in fellowship with God, that we are in a relationship with him in Christ, that we abide in his love, that "we live in him and he in us", because of the evidence of the Spirit's presence in our lives. John doesn't spell out this evidence, but we can find it in the fruits of the Spirit, in the fruit of faith, hope and love. For John, the fruit of love, the fruit that abides, takes pride of place.
v14. The second confirmation is the evidence of the apostles' testimony. One evidence, certainly for the original apostles of Jesus, was that they saw the man Jesus, but in seeing him they saw not just the man but the Son of God, the saviour of the world. The apostles certainly knew that Jesus was the saviour of the world, and their witness is a valued evidence of our standing in Christ.
v15. The third confirmation is the evidence of a firm ascent in the person of our God. The old form of words, "confesses", did not convey the true meaning of this verse. It is not saying that a person who confesses their faith in Christ becomes a Christian. The verse is often used this way, but it is not what it is saying. The point John is making is that the person who lives in God and in whom God lives, is a person who "acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God". The person who is "born of God" acknowledges the truth about God. They have a doctrinally sound view of his person based on revealed truth. John is critical of those in his church who thought they could be spiritual Christians while denying the basic tenets of the Christian faith.
v16-18. The fourth confirmation is the evidence of a confidence in God's continued love. Speaking for himself and his fellow apostles, John is able to testify that they have come to fully recognize God's love for them expressed in the death and resurrection of Jesus, cf., 4:9. A person who abides in God's love, who is united to the living God in Christ, is confident of their approval before God, on the basis of Jesus' death, and therefore are not afraid of judgement.
v19-21. The fifth confirmation is the evidence of our love for the brotherhood. A person who is touched by God's love finds within themselves the capacity to love; not perfect love, since only God is perfect, but love none-the-less. A person devoid of compassion for their brothers and sisters is self-deceived if they claim that they share in God's love.
Discuss how the Spirit serves as a down payment of eternity.
The evidence of the Spirit
In the opening verse of this section, John speaks of the Spirit's presence in the life of a person. The Spirit is an evidence that "we live in him and he in us". Two questions immediately come to mind. In what sense is the Spirit present in us, and what is it that demonstrates his presence such that it is an evidence of our standing in Christ?
First, let us consider the sense in which the Spirit is present. There is much debate on this issue. The phrase in v13, "he has given us of his Spirit", is an interesting one. It could be rightly translated, "he has given us part of His Spirit". Immediately we would protest, surely it is not possible for the Spirit to be divided? Surely he is a person, indivisible? Yet there is a sense where the Spirit apportions his gifts, and he does so in great diversity. This is probably what John means. In that sense love is such a gift, or fruit, a gift apportioned with variety and diversity. The factors determining such diversity would depend on God's sovereign will, our Christian standing, the stage of our Christian walk, faith, etc. In v14 John goes on to talk about the revelation the apostles received in the days they walked with Christ throughout Palestine. Revelation, or more particularly knowledge, or wisdom, is similarly a gift of the Spirit of God apportioned as he wills.
Second, let us consider the sense in which the Spirit evidences our standing in Christ. We need to ask, by what means are we aware of the Spirit's presence? The answer of course is that his presence makes a marked difference to our lives. His gifts show themselves and so display his intimate involvement in our lives. For John, the gifts are righteousness, love and belief. Righteousness in the sense of a striving to fulfill God's basic requirements - always imperfectly, of course. Love in the sense of an active compassion toward the brotherhood directed by revealed truth. Belief in the sense of a reliance on the revealed Word of God. We might want to say that such are "fruits of the Spirit", and so they are. Yet they are also gifts in the sense that we cannot obey unless the Spirit gives us the means to obey. We cannot love unless the Spirit gives us the means to love. We cannot hold firmly to our Lord in the time of testing unless the Spirit gives us the strength to keep on keeping on. Such are a gift of God to his children.
There will be times when we doubt whether God abides in us. John has actually provided us with a number of ways we can confirm the validity of our standing before God in Christ Jesus. Today, we have just looked at one piece of evidence, the gift of the Spirit and his work of renewal, sowing within us the fruit of love. Yes, of course, our love is imperfect, our actions fall well short of our compassionate motivations, but day by day we feel the compelling indwelling of Christ's love. So, be assured of your standing in Christ.
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