Post Series on 1 John 4:7-21:
- If God So Loved Us, We Also Ought to Love One Another (1 John 4:7-12)
- Whoever Abides in Love Abides in God, and God Abides in Him (1 John 4:13-16)
- But Perfect Love Casts Out Fear (1 John 4:17-21)
In 1 John 4:7-12, John laid out the obligation that we have as Christians to love one another: “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11). Based on the facts that God is the source of love, that God is Love Himself, and that God demonstrated his great love toward us by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, John insists that we also ought to love, because “Anyone who does not love does not know God” (1 John 4:8).
But how can we possibly live up to the task of loving one another as God has loved us? John explains in 4:13-16:
13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16So 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.
So, in order to become a people who love according to the example set by Love Himself is through an intimate, personal, living encounter with this God who is Love. Only by knowing Love close-up do we become lovers: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Abiding in God, though, is a theological issue. John writes that “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” John has already railed against those who deny that Jesus is the Son of God, as well as against those who deny that the Son became human.
In this phrase, John connects right doctrine with right living–that is, with love. Only in those who rightly confess Jesus as the Son of God who was sent to be the Savior of the world does God abide, and only those people abide in God. Therefore our ability to love–which requires abiding in God, and God’s abiding in us–depends on sound theology.
But if our ability to love depends on sound theology, then on what does our theology depend? In the answer to this question in v. 13, we see the main theme of this passage: “By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” Our ability to confess Christ–as well as our ability to love–require the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
On this, Colin Kruse writes:
Within this letter the role of the Spirit is always related to the truth about Jesus Christ. If we take note of the role of the Spirit in the rest of the letter, we have to conclude that it is neither the very presence of the Spirit nor the activity of the Spirit producing love for fellow believers that the author has in mind here, but rather the Spirit as witness to the truth about Jesus proclaimed by the eyewitnesses (cf. 2:18-27; 3:24b-4:6; 5:6-8)….What the author is implying in 4:13, then, is that because the Spirit teaches believers about the love of God expressed in the sending of the Son to be the Saviour of the world (4:14), and because they believe that teaching, they may be assured that they dwell in God and God in them. (Colin Kruse, The letters of John, Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000], 163.)
We believe not because we are smarter, more spiritually sensitive, or clearer thinkers than other people–we believe because the Spirit personally takes us as his pupils, and because he gently, graciously, and clearly teaches us about the love of God for us in Christ Jesus. And when we see that–genuinely see it–for what it is, our lives are transformed.
Though it seems so simple to look upon Christ Jesus for salvation, such an act actually requires a miracle of God in our hearts. But the gospel is that the same God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness!” has shone in our hearts to the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ–and this comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.