For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him, as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
1 John 4:13-21
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. 17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
The Assurance of Love
Last year, the pastoral staff began preaching from 1 John on weekends Pastor John Piper was out of the pulpit. We did so because as part of an ongoing sense that God was calling us to a more relational culture and because 1 John emphasizes love for one another. Since we continue to sense the Spirit calling us to grow relationally, what I plan to do is finish 1 John in the next six or seven sermons that I bring.
So our text this morning picks up where we left in 1 John. My aim in this message is to give you a sense of assurance and confidence of your salvation and in the process remind you of some glorious aspects of it.
The Apostle John’s First Letter
Briefly, let me remind you of a two things about 1 John.
- The apostle John states the aim of the letter in 1 John 5:13, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” The letter is to believers, not that unbelievers cannot hear it and benefit from it. But it is addressed to believers in the churches of Asia Minor (modern Turkey).
- The occasion for the letter was to reassure the church in the wake of some false teachers who had arisen within the church. The false teachers had departed (cf. 1 John 2:19-26). John writes to preserve the truth about Christ and heal any remaining conflict.
Our text, beginning in verse 13, flows out of the call to love one another in 1 John 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” And verse 13 reads, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us.”
Abide in Him
John aims to assure believers that they abide in God and he in us. What does it mean “to abide”? The word translated “abide” is a word that means to “remain” or “stay.” It’s used literally sometimes, as in Mark 6:10, “Stay there until you leave that place.” In our text it is used figuratively of a spiritual reality.
Jesus speaks of abiding in the Gospel of John. Positively, Jesus says in John 6:56, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” In other words, if you receive Jesus Christ who died for you—not into your mouth but into your heart by faith—then you abide in him and he abides in you. Negatively, Jesus says in John 15:6, “If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” In other words, if you don’t abide in Christ, your future is to be “thrown into the fire, and burned.”
The Apostle John writes what it means to “abide” in 1 John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” In other words, those abide are those who confess Jesus as the Son of God by faith abide. So, what does it mean to “abide”? We can say to abide in Christ means to confess faith in Christ. Those who abide are saved. Those who do not abide perish.
My aim in this message, then, is to give you a sense of assurance, or confidence, of your salvation—a sense of assurance that you abide in God and he abides in you.
Four Statements of Assurance
I have paraphrased what I see as the flow of verses 13-21 in four statements of assurance.
- We know we abide in him, and he in us, because God has given us his Spirit (v.13).
- We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we heard the gospel and confessed faith in Jesus Christ (v.14-15).
- We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we know and believe God’s love (v.16).
- We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we love one another (v.19-21).
1. God has Given His Spirit
We know we abide in him, and he in us, because God has given us his Spirit (v.13). Verse 13 reads, “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” Similarly, look back to 1 John 3:24, where John wrote, “And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” In other words, we have assurance that he abides in us, and we in him, because we have received his Spirit.
One of the unique blessings of Christ in establishing a new covenant, a gospel covenant, with us is this gift of the presence of the Holy Spirit upon those who are in Christ—believers. God spoke of this through the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 36:26-27, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”
God also spoke of this through the prophet Joel in Joel 2:28-32, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit… And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
In Acts 2, after the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Apostle Peter preached the first public gospel sermon declaring that Jesus was the Christ. He closed that sermon by calling the crowd to faith in Christ and promising the gift of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our I calls to himself.’”
So I could say in Romans 8:9, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.”
I want to stress that this gift of the Holy Spirit is for all believers. It is not “two stage Christianity.” It is not a particular gift that shows that you have the Holy Spirit. It is a gift that is given to all of us Christians freely.
So here is the question: Is the Spirit of God in you? You are not a Christian unless you have received the Holy Spirit. To have the Spirit within is for God to “dwell” in you—or “abide in you”—by his Spirit.
2. We Heard and Confessed
We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we heard the gospel and confessed faith in Jesus Christ (14-15). I get this from verse 14 and 15 put together. Verse 14 says, “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”
Who Has Seen & Testified?
Who is the “we”? I think it is the “we” of chapter one. Those who had “seen” the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and who have “testified” are the apostles. Like John said in 1:1. Notice the stress on the same two things, seeing and testifying. 1 John 1:1-3,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—2 the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us—3 that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Verse 15 of chapter 4 flows out of the apostolic testimony referred to in verse 14, and adds, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” Putting verses 14 and 15 together we can say, “We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we heard the gospel (i.e., the witness of the apostles) and confessed our faith in Jesus Christ.” Do you have an ear to hear the apostolic testimony, to hear the gospel, to hear the Word of God?
Hearing & Confessing Not Separate From the Gift of the Spirit
John doesn’t see this as a separate evidence of our abiding in God, or his abiding in us, from the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Look back to verse 6 of chapter 4. There we see the link made between our first two observations. First John 4:6, “We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
In other words, John says, “We, the apostles who were eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ, are from God.” When they bear witness, and a person listens to their testimony, it is an indication that that listener knows God. If the person doesn’t listen to the apostles, they do not know God. In that way, by whether a person listens to the apostolic witness or not, we can know “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.”
John is not saying that you have to believe perfectly. He says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). I don’t want any form of perfectionism to come in and kill your assurance of salvation. If you are filled with the Spirit, then you pray, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
3. We Know and Believe God’s Love
We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we know and believe God’s love. 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.”
When verse 16 says, “We have come to know…the love of God,” it is not merely referring to knowing facts about the love of God, but experiencing the love of God. Likewise, when verse 16 says, “We have come to believe the love of God,” it is not merely referring to believing as a fact—or historical detail—but to experiencing the love of God by faith.
Then in the middle of verse 16, John says that this experiencing of the love of God by faith is abiding in God, and he in us, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
So the third point, is this: we know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we experience the love of God by faith. By faith we experience the love of God and therefore we abide in the love of God and God abides in us. Have you come to know and believe the love God has for you in Christ?
One example of this steadfast assurance of God’s love is Mary Pearson. My wife and I saw her on Thursday, the day before she passed away. She had had cancer for fifteen months and had gone through the roller coaster of the cancer journey. We prayed with her and I saw this abiding in the love of God. I prayed, “A bruised reed, he will not break.” And she said, “That’s right!” And I prayed, “Never will I leave; never will I forsake you.” And she said, “Amen.” It is just a picture of resting in the love of Christ just hours before her death. She was abiding in the love of God.
4. We Love One Another
We know that we abide in him, and he in us, because we love one another. Verses 19–21, “We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
These verses, 19-21, restate verse 4:12 above, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.” And even further back, verses 19-21 restate the verses beginning this section on love, 1 John 4:7-8, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
As a word of caution, love for one another is an evidence of our abiding, not the means by which we come to abide. Being told, “Beloved, let us love one another” (1 John 4:7) is not unlike when my mother told me to show love to my biological brother or sister. Generally speaking, you don’t need to be told to love your biological brother or sister—you just do. You have the same father, mother, household…and so on. Yes, when my brother and I were in conflict, my mother or father would call us to love. But that wasn’t an imposition for something new. It was already there by birth.
The point over and over again in 1 John is not that the way to belong to the family of God is to love the children of God. Rather, the point is your love for fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is evidence that you are in the family already. We come to abide in God by the power of the Spirit enabling our faith in the gospel truth.
Overview of the Evidences
Each of these evidences of abiding in God, and he in us, hangs together. We know we abide in God, and he in us, because…
- God has given us his Spirit (v.13),
- We heard the gospel and confessed faith in Jesus Christ (v.14-15),
- We know and believe God’s love (v.16),
- And we love one another (v. 19-21).
If this unsettles you because you don’t have a sense of abiding in God, pray. If you have no sense of the indwelling Holy Spirit, no inclination to hear and believe the gospel—the word of God—no sense of the love God has for you in Christ, you ought to be unsettled. I would urge you to pray that the Spirit would be given to you, that you might believe in Christ, come to know the God of love, and that he would pour out the love of God into your heart.
If you are a believer, if you have a sense of abiding in God through Christ, let me make one suggestion from this text about our yearning to grow in our love for one another as a church. Our struggles to show the love of God to one another may well be evidences of our deficiencies in knowing and believing the love God has for us in Christ. As leaders, we are doing several things to help Bethlehem grow in our love for one another: restructuring the elders, restructuring the pastoral staff, rethinking how we do small group ministries, etc.
All of that needs to be done, but this text will not let me put my hope in those structural plans. My hope for growth in one-another love is that it increases as a spiritual fruit from our deeper experience of the incomprehensible love of God for us in Christ. What we need is to grow deep in our knowing and believing the love God has for us in Christ. Join me in praying toward that end, would you?