Assuring Signs Along the Way – 1 John 4:13

7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
8 The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
9 By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.
10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
12 No one has beheld God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
(1 John 4:7-13, NASB).

Signposts

Have you ever been driving along, perhaps on a road trip, and you are fairly certain that you are on the right road, but you have a niggling little fear that you may not be on the right road? Or that perhaps you’ve gotten turned around after stopping at that gas station, and you might be going the wrong direction? You begin to watch for signs along the road to assure you that you really are on the right road going the right direction. 1 John is full of these little spiritual road signs, small assurances that you are on the right road going the right direction. It is full of “By this we know” statements, full of tests for authenticity. He says, if you notice that you have “X” going on, you can be assured that you are a real Christian. Here is a cursory list:

“By this you know” type verses

3 And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
27 And as for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.
10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;
6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
13 By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.
20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
(1 John 2:3, 20, 27; 3:10, 21; 4:2, 6, 13, 20; 5:2, 19, 20, NASB).

I think it is important to notice that in every case in all of these statements, there is not one imperative. These are not imperatives or directives, but signposts. He simply says, here is how you know who is who and what is what. It implies that somewhere in the believer’s heart, the claims and gifts we have been given seem too good to be true, and we know our sinfulness and our shortcomings. We crave signs of assurance that we really do belong to God, because we really do still sin (1 John 1:8,10). So John keeps giving us these encouragements, and that is what they are. He says, you may doubt yourself, but consider this: here is how you know that you’re the real thing. We need the assurances, and there is nothing wrong with it. We are under threat from inside and out that we are all a sham, all fake. Yet we have certain particular signs along the way. Remember that John is writing to people that he is assured are real believers (1 John 2:14, 21). These statements are not intended as imperatives to get us to conform, but rather as observations and encouragements, as signposts along the way that we can be assured that despite our sins and inconsistencies we are real Christians. We really belong to Jesus, we have true signs in our lives of genuine faith.

I believe that in many cases these signpost verses are pulled out and pressed as imperatives, and it does violence to the context and overall intent of the message. Things that are intended as promises and comforts become rules and condemnations. It is crucial to understanding the whole book of 1 John that we observe the purpose and intent of these statements.

Abiding

“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us…” It isn’t just that we obey Him. It isn’t just that we manifest His presence in a big meeting. There is a mutual abiding. There is a unity of indwelling, we in Him and He in us. We are yet individuals with individual will and thought, but there is also this mutual indwelling. We abide in Him. The propitiation and the blood of Jesus, the sacrificial and redeeming love of God for us, is the air we breathe, the ocean we swim in. Every thought, every desire, every emotion, every tear shed and every joy, is experienced in the context of the precious blood of Jesus spilled for us, the blood which cries out for mercy and not for judgment. Every action of God on this earth is carried out for the welfare and benefit of the community of believers, to make all things work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). So, it is an inward indwelling, living waters in our innermost being (John 7:38). It is also the spiritual dynamic under which we carry out our relationships with each other.

Gift of the Spirit

Here is an interesting observation: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit would seem to be the most ethereal and subjective thing imaginable. Yet John says that the giving of the Spirit is on of the main signposts for us that God abides in us and that we abide in God. The presence of the Spirit is thought to be so obvious and so clear that this is a comfort and a clear sign that we are real believers. The work of the Spirit in the Johannine conception is a giver of comfort and knowledge (John 14:26, 1 John 2:20). So the revelation we have of the power of Christ’s blood, the incredible depth of knowledge we are granted, and the comfort we have in the various circumstances of life, by the Holy Spirit, are meant to be obvious and clear signposts that God is really with me. Far from being a weird mystical ethereal strange presence, the Holy Spirit is meant to be a clear and obvious presence in our lives as believers.

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