By Dr. Robert R Seyda



4:13 And He has put His Holy Spirit into our hearts as proof that we live in Him and He with us.

Hiebert notes that John first mentioned the reality of this interrelationship here in chapter three, verse twenty-four. There the mutual indwelling was presented as the experience of the individual believer. Still, the use of the plural pronouns, “we/us,” underlines this relationship as the experience of the Christian community. In this verse, John asserts the community wide scope of this connection between God and His people.[1] So, not only is this enlightening verse expressive, but it is self-explanatory. There are many such verses in the Bible, notes Hiebert, but we don’t take the time to look at them for an explanation.

Simon J. Kistemaker (1930-2017) notes that the New International Version has “we know,” but the Greek text says, “By this we know.” The words “by this” refers to the context where John tells us that God lives in us if we love one another. Therefore, the Apostle John’s discussion of the subject of love is the backdrop for the confidence John expresses in God. But what is that confidence? First, John says, “we know that we live in Him and He in us.” Because of God’s presence in our lives, we know that we are in union with Him, and He in us. However, there must be more than that. How do we know that we are in partnership with God? “Because He gave us His Spirit to live in us.” Earlier in his narrative, John makes a slightly different point. He says, “We know it by the Spirit, He furnished us,[2] and that divine blessing flows to us through the work of the Holy Spirit.[3] Herein verse thirteen, John writes, “He has given us of His Spirit.” Thus, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are God’s gift to us, and we are the recipients.[4]

Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) sees three truths about the nature of God’s agápē in verses seven to twelve, where the Apostle John presented these as “inducements to brotherly love.” First, we are to love one another as a condition for living as the Father’s children[5] because God is love and the source of agápē. Secondly, because God loved us first. And thirdly, if we love others, spiritual benefits follow. The first of these results, the fact that God indwells the believer, is now taken up and developed here in verse thirteen.[6] This certainly gives those who think that singing or saying, “I love you, God,” or “I adore you, Lord,” express their love to Him. But according to John, it is of no value when it is not practiced.

Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) says that it would seem that John lists additional characteristics of the faithful Christian, by which he differs from those who rest their claims simply on charismatic experiences. The test for the reality of spiritual gifts is whether those who possess them also hold to the apostolic faith. So, John goes on to state that he and his readers have seen and now bear witness that the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. Although the wording is close to that of 1 John 1:1ff., it seems likely that we have the church’s testimony as a whole rather than merely of the original eyewitnesses of the earthly ministry of Jesus. The confession is similar to the statements made in 1 John 4:9ff. But where the previous comments described Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sins, here He is called the “Savior of the world.” The confession should remind us of the words of the Samaritans, who discovered for themselves that Jesus “really is the world’s Savior.”[7] [8]

John Painter (1935) believes that the reason God gave or has given us His Spirit is to provide evidence that He abides with us and of our mutual abiding. It is noteworthy that these two tests are embedded in affirmations that broaden the basis of evidence. First, it asserts that “the person keeping His commandments abides in Him and He in them” (mutual abiding).[9] Then it declares that “if we love one another, God abides in us.”[10] Keeping the commandments and loving one another broaden the base of the evidence. We must note that John says the only basis for our mutual abiding is “that He abides in us.”[11] Meanwhile, there is evidence that God abides in us, and we in Him.[12] It suggests that there is only mutual abiding in John’s thinking, which can at times be spoken of from one side only. Thus, God’s Spirit abides in those who enjoy union with God. If we remain in contact with Him, He will remain in fellowship with us.

Muncia Walls (1937) says that by the Anointed One dwelling in us by His Spirit, we know He is within us because of the witness of His Spirit. His Spirit brings agápē into our life that the Apostle John has just written about. The coming of His Spirit into our hearts is an actual activity that is undeniable and convincing to all who receive the Spirit. The evidence that accompanies the Spirit coming into one’s life is compelling. The individual loses control of their vocal cords, and the Spirit begins to speak through them in His language. Yes. Those filled with the Spirit know that the Spirit dwells within![13]

For Michael Eaton (1942-2017) the Greek verb ginōskō (“know”) does not refer to deductive logic but to conscious enjoyment of God’s working in our lives in a way that we can understand. Some expositors take ginōskō to mean to “deduce” or “prove,” but there are objections to this approach. This is the Apostle John’s picture of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a witness to our being in God and God in us. The bi-directional flow of love and communication between God and us occurs through His working within us. On our side, our prayers to God are directed by the Holy Spirit. He causes our spirit to stir and bubble up within us on God’s side. They include His guidance, prompting, illumination, encouragement, empowering, and impartation of Gifts. By this same Spirit, we remain in union with God.[14]

David Jackman (1947) notes that with the living God abiding in His people, it will always produce the characteristics of His essence – holiness and righteousness, mercy and love. When a believer experiences that inner constraint to love others unselfishly, whereas before, they might have feared, ignored, or rejected them, that is evidence that the Holy Spirit is at work within. It is a real assurance of salvation. But we must not avoid the negative implications. Where someone claims to be a Christian but has no time for fellowship with others, criticizing the Church and writing it off, practicing a solitary devotion, should we not inquire whether that person is deluded and God really does live in them? Where the Spirit of God is at work, it sweetens bitterness, melts hardness, and multiplies love.[15]

Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) notes that here in verse thirteen, the Apostle John speaks of the Spirit’s role in the believers’ assurance that God is in their midst as they reach out to others with the divine love that has touched them. When it comes to the doctrine of salvation, John is not a proponent of “groupthink,” but this does not mean there is no cooperation between God and His people as He gives and they, receiving, respond. The Spirit is the link, even agent, who permits believers to see this interchange for what it is: a token of God’s very presence among them, assuring them of the integrity of the message they have received and the importance of the ethic they are called upon to embrace.

Here John encourages them, then, with the apostolic insight that divine presence and not merely human impulse move them to selfless regard for each other. Within John’s discourse, this is not simply an interesting theological observation; it rather raises the stakes of the earlier essentials[16] by implying that failure to love would be to grieve if not completely spurn the Spirit of God. In John’s sphere of reasoning, allowing for a divine being’s connection with humans would be to reject the Father, Son, and Spirit as well.[17]

Colin G. Kruse (1950) explains that it is difficult to know whether this verse should be read with what precedes or what follows it. This theme is found in both what precedes in verse twelve and what follows in verses fourteen and fifteen. The difference between what goes before and what comes after is that verse twelve emphasizes love for fellow believers. In contrast, in verses fourteen and fifteen, the testimony supported by eyewitness accounts that God’s agápē was expressed in sending Jesus to be the world’s Savior.

The question we are left with is: When John introduces the giving of the Spirit as the ground of assurance in verse thirteen, is he implying: (a) that the Spirit motivates love for fellow believers and the objective practice of love is the basis of their assurance or (b) that the Spirit teaches the truth about God’s sending Jesus as the Savior of the world and knowing this provides believers with the basis of assurance, or (c) that the very presence of the Spirit Himself in believers creates the sense of assurance?[18]

Judith M. Lieu (1951) imagines that just as the Apostle John’s readers may be getting complacent in their gentle caresses of self-affirming love, and are not awakened to the dangers that still lie ahead. Logically, this might expose the argument as flawed: how can the experience of God’s Spirit be any more secure than the experience of God’s indwelling or His residing in us? How can the former be the grounds for knowing the latter? The beginning of the chapter provided something of an answer: the experience of God’s Spirit is established by the confession of Jesus as God’s Son. Now it has become more apparent why all this should be so. The God who indwells us and is indwelt by us is the One whose fundamental nature of love was demonstrated and experienced by sending the Son.[19] That makes the formula clear. By confessing that Jesus is God’s Son, we also accept Him as a part of God’s agápē. So, unless you first accept Jesus, there can be none of God’s agápē in you.

[1] Hiebert, David E., Bibliotheca Sacra, op. cit., January-March 1990, p. 79

[2] 1 John 3:24

[3] Cf. Roman 5:5

[4] See John 20:22

[5] John 13:35

[6] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, op. cit., p. 249

[7] John 4:42

[8] Marshall, Ian Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament) op. cit., pp. 219-220

[9] 1 John 3:24

[10] Ibid. 4:24

[11] Ibid. 3:24

[12] Ibid. 4:12-13

[13] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John & Jude, op. cit., p. 75

[14] Eaton, Michael: Focus on the Bible, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., pp. 154-156

[15] Jackman, David: The Message of John’s Letters, op. cit., p. 126

[16] 1 John 4:7, 11

[17] Yarbrough, Robert W. 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (pp. 246-247). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

[18] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John (The Pillar New Testament Commentary (PNTC)), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[19] Lieu, Judith: The New Testament Commentary, op. cit., p. 187

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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