13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 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. – 1 John 4:13-16
In verse 13, John says “By this” we know that we abide in him… By what? I believe he is referring back to what he has just said here, in verse 12, where he says, “…if we love one another, God abides in us…” So in verse 13 he is saying, “By loving one another we know that we abide in him…” And then, in the second half of verse 13 and the following few verses that we will look at today, John sort of does some more explaining as to why it is that we can have assurance by loving one another. He explains further why and how we can know, that we abide in him. And really, in these verses, John does a lot of recapping of the things that he has already said, just taking a slightly different angle.
One of the themes that we will see throughout this passage today is that of the work of the Trinity in the salvation and life of the believer. John has a rich trinitarian theology and it flows out of his pen. Indeed, he has shown the trinitarian work in the life of the believer throughout his letter already in many ways, but I have not explicitly brought it out as I want to bring before you today. We won’t really spend time talking about the Trinity itself, but we will be seeing different ways in which God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit work in our lives and all work perfectly harmonious in doing so.
Let us not forget that we are still in this great section on the love of God, and love in the life of the believer. Thus, one of the things we see in our passage today is how that great love of God is worked in us by all three persons of the trinity. Of the many things that that teaches us, one is that we cannot really know and experience the love of God apart from the triune God. Knowing the three-in-oneness of God is essential in knowing the love of God. Last week we saw how you cannot really know the love of God apart from the wrath of God, as we talked about how the love of God sent Christ to be our propitiation for sins. This week we see that the work of the three persons of God is essential to knowing and experiencing the love of God. And just thinking logically, since God is love and since love comes from God, then it would help to know God as well as He gives us grace to know him. And we don’t know him apart from the three. For he is three in one.
Our three guiding thoughts for our passage today are thus: 1) The Father has given us His Spirit, 2) The Father has given us His Son, and 3) The Father has given us His love.
The Father has Given us His Spirit (v. 13)
As we consider verse 13, let us remember the connection to verse 12. “If we love one another, then we know that we abide in him…” John says. Now why is that? Why does loving one another give us assurance that we abide in him? Well, John tells us, verse 13, “…because he has given us of his Spirit.” Loving one another gives us assurance because when we are loving one another, God’s Spirit abides in us, which is the explanation for our loving one another. Indeed, it is the only way we could ever truly love one another. Why? Because love is a fruit of the Spirit, not a work of the flesh. So when we are loving one another, it does not come from us, and thus it is evidence that God’s Spirit abides in us.
Thus, when we look at our lives for assurance, we are not looking to ourselves. I don’t want you to think that. We are not looking for things that we have done. We are looking for things that God’s Spirit has and is doing in our lives. Not what we are doing, what He is doing. So we are not looking to ourselves, but to the work of God within us.
Even in this way, it is God who gives us assurance. He does so here by giving us of His Spirit. Not only has God manifested His love toward us by giving us of his Son – God’s love wasn’t simply manifested as a one time gift, but those who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ receive the gift of the Spirit. God is continually making his love manifest to us by His Spirit who abides in us, and grants fruit, and love in our lives. We’ve talked about how the love of God is not an abstract idea, but that it was made manifest in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even here, God continuing to love is not merely an abstract emotional feeling, but rather, God’s never-ending, forever-remaining love for us is made manifest in His Spirit, who indwells the believer. He abides in us, he remains and stays and continues on in us, completing the work which he has begun.
Think of how loving it is of God to give us His Spirit to abide in us as we journey on our pilgrim way in this life. God hasn’t just sent His Son to die for us and then he tells us, “okay, no go live your life on your own.” No! He has given us His Spirit, who comes into our lives, and works in our hearts, and applies to us the work of Christ and what he accomplished on our behalf. He teaches us all things, teaches us how to love and live by faith in the Son of God. We are not left alone to our own devices in this life. God is with us, and truly and actually with us, by His Spirit. So it is, the Father has given us of His Spirit.
So when you are at the end of your love and your love has all but run out and dried up, are you mindful of this reality, that as a Child of God, you are not asked to love from the well of your own strength, but you have been given of God’s very Spirit to supply you with divine love, to love, though your flesh is weak and empty? Often that is the way that God works – he lets us run our fleshly efforts down to empty, that we may be shown we have a great need for His Spirit to fill us with love from above, for we have none. Let us depend upon the Spirit early and always that we may ever love one another by the power of God and not by our own flesh.
The Father has Given us His Son (v. 14, 15)
In verse 14, John again makes reference to the apostolic witness that he possessed. He personally walked and talked and learned from Jesus. He witnessed his life, death, and resurrection along with the other disciples.
Though, unlike the Apostles, we haven’t, didn’t, and don’t see with our physical eyes that Jesus came, we see with the eyes of faith that Jesus is the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
Jesus was sent to be the Savior of the world.
A lot of people are thinking about Jesus this time of year, whether they like it or not. They are confronted with him. There are still scores of nativity scenes set up around town, representing the birth of Christ, and telling of how Jesus came into this world as a baby in a manger. That is fine and that is great, but that is just scratching the surface. Jesus was not just sent into this world to be a baby. He was not just sent into this world to be a great moral example, or a great teacher, or some kind of revolutionary figure. No, he was sent into this world to be the Savior of the world. That’s why he came into the world as a baby, so that he could become the Savior. And that is why people hate the real Jesus – because he didn’t stay a cute little baby in a manger – he became a dying Savior and a conquering King who demands repentance from every man and is Lord of all, to whom all will bow the knee in glad salvation, or humble defeat. That is why people want to leave him in the manger. Because the gospel message, which in one sense could be summarized right here in saying, “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world…” – that message tells every man and woman, boy and girl, that they are a sinner. They are not good, no not one. It tells you that your way is foolish and leads to death. It tells you that you need Jesus to save you, or you will perish in your sins. Oh how that angers the lost man or woman. But oh, for those of us who believe, who are being saved, how sweet and glorious that message is that Jesus Christ was sent into the world by his Father to be the Savior of the world. That is why we are here today, because the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
John has talked a lot about how we ought to live our lives as Christians. It is of great concern and importance to him. And rightly so. It is very important. But he makes it clear that Christianity is not simply a way toward moral improvement, or an ethical way of living, but it is about being saved by Jesus. And this saving saves us from sin and to righteousness. We cannot say that we are righteous and moral people without being saved from sin by Jesus. And we cannot say that we have been saved from sin by Jesus if we are not abiding in the Spirit, bearing the fruit of His presence in our lives.
Being saved by Jesus is the most wonderful joy in all the world, and yet it is a humbling thing – to be saved by Jesus. That is why many refuse to be saved by him. Because it is exclusive, because it is wholistic – it demands change in their life, not just a free pass to heaven. Being saved by Jesus demands that you lay down your arms, cease your fighting and be conquered by Christ. Being saved by Jesus means that you must lay down your crown, step off your throne, and give up any self-perceived autonomy you think you have, and gladly submit to the Lordship of Christ. But there is nothing better than being conquered, ruled, and saved by Jesus. There is nothing better than being Christ’s reward from the cross. Being saved by Jesus, the Savior of the world means to be forgiven of every sin, being reconciled to God, being clothed in His righteousness, having fellowship with God and others and abiding in love as God’s Spirit abides in us.
The most precious crown jewel of heaven was given to dirty rotten sinners, to be rejected, spit upon, and crucified so that precious jewel that is Christ would be the Savior of the world – all types of people and all types of sinners. This is truly the greatest and most costly and valuable gift that could ever be given, that the Father would give to us his dear precious son – and in the way that he did, as an atoning sacrifice for sins.
John again, in verse 15, gives us the Christological test. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” You cannot say that you know and abide in God if you do not confess that Jesus is the Christ. As John is in the midst of talking about the love of God, John Calvin reminds us that, “The paternal love of God is found in Christ.” As we’ve said before Christ is the cornerstone for His people, and He is the stumbling block for the reprobate. Jesus Christ is the hinge upon which everything turns, rises, and falls. For those who confess that He is who He says He is, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, there is the evidence that they know and abide in God, and God is in them – because one cannot truly know and believe that apart from God himself revealing it to them. So if Christ is the prize possession of your life, if you love him for being the Son of God who is the Savior of the world, and your Savior, what great assurance that is. Indeed this is the greatest assurance – are you believing and trusting in Jesus to be Savior – are you confessing him as Lord in your life? You have no reason to believe you are saved apart from that, and you have great reason to believe you are with that. And so it is, the Father has given us His Son, the centerpiece of our salvation and assurance. Salvation or assurance that does not center on Christ cannot be salvation or assurance.
The Father has Given us His Love (v. 16)
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us…” In verse 14, John made on objectively true statement, historically and theologically. Verse 15 is kind of a transition verse, and then in verse 16 here, he is getting at the subjective and experiential knowledge and belief in God and his love, as revealed to us in Christ. John roots the subjective and personal experience of verse 16 in the objective truth of verse 14. So it is in our faith as we come to know and believe God’s love. It’s a personal experience, but it is not subjective, for God’s love is not ambiguous, but is defined and manifested to us in the objective Christ who was sent out of love by the Father to be the Savior of the world. If we have come to know and believe the love that God has for us, then it is because we have come to know and believe in his Son whom he has sent to be our propitiation and Savior. You cannot have God’s love apart from receiving it in the way that God has given it – in his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ and his wrath-satisfying, sinner-saving, bloody death.
For us, these terms, “knowing” and “believing” might seem a bit redundant here. But as we have seen throughout this letter, when John talks about knowing God, he is talking about more than just an intellectual knowledge of the facts. It is an experiential knowledge. It is one that we know by having received it into our lives for ourselves. So he is saying that we have a living experience of the love of God happening to us, and we believe it to be true – we believe it to be manifested in the sending of God’s Son to be our propitiation and Savior – we believe it to be given to us as God’s Spirit abides in us. We’ve experienced it – the scales have come off our eyes, the Spirit has given us life, and the new birth – and we believe it to be true.
“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us…” For those of us who are Christians here today, we have come to know the love of God in this way. That is why we are Christians, because we have had this experience in our lives. But sometimes this aspect of believing it to be true, on a daily, moment-by-moment basis in our lives is the hardest thing to do – to believe the love that God has for you. Some of you may struggle so much with truly believing this and knowing it intimately and experientially in your life on a daily walk with God basis. You know and believe it, truly, theologically, intellectually, and you’ve experienced the new birth, but practically, many times you don’t act like it, because you are not believing it in that moment of time with a conscious effort. Some of you may struggle with crucifying yourself over your sins and struggles. Some of you may give in to self-loathing and beating yourself up for things you’ve done, or for just not liking what you see in the mirror. But would you do that, if you, in that moment, were truly knowing and believing the love that God has for you? I think not. This is one of the great fights of faith – to believe, moment by moment, the love that God has for you. I want to press this into you. When you have struggles, when you self-loath, when you are sad, when you are hurt, when you are disappointed with the circumstances of your life and where you are at in life, when you are down, when you are lonely, do not wallow in those feelings – but press it into your heart that God loves you. He doesn’t hate you for all the reasons you may hate yourself. He loves you, knowing you are a sinner and a terrible one at that, he chooses to love you anyway – and if you do not believe it you are ignoring the the great extents He has gone to manifest His love to you, that we have seen the past few weeks here in 1 John. In those moments of self-despair, the fight of faith and the question is this: Which will you believe more – your own feelings or the love that God has for you and has manifested, namely in His Son? The answer to which you should choose, should be obvious.
Loved people live differently. Church, we are loved by the God of the universe, the creator of all; and I have given very feeble efforts in showing a little bit of that great love the past couple weeks. When we know and believe that we are loved by such a wonderful Heavenly Father, we live differently, not just in our own heads toward ourselves in our thought life, but as is John’s emphasis, we live differently toward others. We love them. We love others. Many times, those who are full of hatred or anger, or just lack love, are that way because they do not know or believe that they are loved – just speaking in general. But someone who truly believes that they are loved, and have great confidence and assurance in such a love, man oh man, are they freed up to love others. Loved people, love people.
I ask you today, is your life marked by an abiding in love? Children, I ask you today, can you honestly say that your life is full of love for others? Or is your life full by hatred, or anger, or bitterness, or discontent? Do you love your brothers and sisters? Do you love your parents? Or is there hate in your heart for them? The Bible says that if you abide in love, it is evidence that you are abiding in God and God in you. If your life is not marked by this love, it is evidence that you do not abide in God and that He is not in you.
Finally, John says that “whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” Here we are reminded again that Christian love is not like the world’s love. One of the distinctive marks of Christian love is that it abides. John has been saying this over and over again. So we cannot just do an act of love, here or there, and mark it off our checklist and think that we are good. There is not a quota for loving acts that we must meet each day. Rather, we must continue on in love, and persevere in love, and keep going in it, without keeping track of how much we have loved, or keeping a record of the loving deeds we have done. Abiding in love is not a mark off the checklist, it is a way of life for the believer. But you know what that also means? It means that when we have times and moments of failure, where we sin and do not love one another, it does not mean that we have proven we are reprobates. Abiding in love does not mean being perfect and without sin in love. It means continuing in it – even when we fail to love – we continue on in the fight. So this evidence of remaining or continuing in love implies to us that it will get difficult, as we know so well, but we continue. Let us remember that we are not gritting our teeth and white knuckling it by our own flesh – that is not what John means by abiding in love. We continue on in love, because God and his love continues on in and with us, as His Spirit abides in us, working our hearts over with his love, that we might be taught by His Spirit what it means to love one another and abide in Him.
Lately, at my home, we’ve been singing a beautiful little hymn, called “I Hear the Words of Love” by Horatius Bonar, and it goes so well with and captures the themes of 1 John so well. It says this:
“I hear the words of love, I gaze upon the blood
I see the mighty sacrifice and I have peace with God
‘Tis everlasting peace! Sure as Jehovah’s name
‘Tis stable as His steadfast throne, forevermore the same
The clouds may come and go and storms may sweep my sky
This blood-sealed friendship changes not, the cross is ever nigh
My love is oft-times low, my joy still ebbs and flows
But peace with Him remains the same, no change Jehovah knows
I change, He changes not, the Christ can never die
His love, not mine, the resting place, His truth, not mine, the tie.”