23 ¶ And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
24 And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.
John is very frank in this letter that we as believers are constantly wondering whether or not we are the real deal. We are walking by faith, and we need daily assurance that we are on the right path and that our faith is authentic. I think we can learn from this that it is OK to need assurance, it is OK to have doubts and to need comfort and edification in our faith. Whereas it is tempting to read these kinds of statements as a test or a line in the sand, he actually means them as a comfort and an assurance.
So we have this wonderful comfort and reassurance in the book.
Notice that to John, it seems that it might be difficult to tell whether or not we are keeping His commandments and whether or not we are abiding in Him. There could be a question for the little children and young men and fathers, as to whether they are legitimately believing in Christ and loving the brethren. So he gives us something which in his mind is more tangible and obvious to be reassured by: we have the Spirit.
This is incredibly profound and wonderful isn’t it? He expects that the work and presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is so tangible that it trumps our own self-assessment as to whether we believe in Christ and love the brethren! Isn’t that crazy? We often think of the work or moving of the Spirit of God in our lives as hazy and mysterious and hidden, but the sure sign of belonging to Him is the increasing success of our sanctified behavior. That may be true, but here is another sign: the presence of the Spirit whom He has given us.
Notice that we abide in Him when we “keep” His commandments. His commandment is belief in Christ and love for the brethren. As we walk through life, with our weaknesses and sins, we keep His commandments by confession and by recognizing in prayer and transparent admission that His blood which forgives all sin also forgives this present sin for which our conscience afflicts us. So by constantly keeping His commandments at the forefront of our experience as true and needful even when we fall short of them, we keep them, and so abide in Him.
He abides in us, on the other hand by the gift of His Spirit. It is a gift. Ironically, if we think that by our success in the effort of sanctification we earn the presence of His Spirit, we bypass the nature of the Spirit’s presence as gift. The Spirit’s presence is not earned. Look at this little story from Acts:
18 Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was bestowed through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money,
19 saying, “Give this authority to me as well, so that everyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”
20 But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!
21 “You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.
22 “Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you.
(Acts 8:18-22, NASB).
When we think that our own efforts or merit earns the right to receive the manifest presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, instead of being so costly that we could never receive something so valuable except as a gift, we offend in the same way that Simon did. The Holy Spirit is given as a gift.
The way God abides in us is through His Spirit, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is meant to be a tangible and normal part of the Christian experience.