Doubt isn’t unusual for the Christian. If we take a brief inventory of our spiritual pilgrimages, many of us will recall times when we’ve faced uncertainty, wrestling with whether our faith is genuine. Aware of this, John said that he wrote his first epistle “that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).
The basis of our certainty isn’t merely that we’re religious, that we joined a Christian club, or that we subscribe to the Ten Commandments. Believers know God personally and experientially. Central to the Christian claim is that God lives in us, and we abide in Him (John 1:12; 2 Cor. 5:17; 1 John 2). Indeed, we may summarize the message of 1 John in a statement: we are God’s children, and our Christian experience is real.
In 1 John 4:13–16, the apostle expounds this claim, providing three evidences of God’s presence in our lives.
We Are Given God’s Spirit
We can say that God lives in us, first, because He gives us His Spirit:
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13)
While it’s impossible for us to have only a portion of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for Him to have less than all of us.
A number of things happen to us when we’re born again of God’s Spirit. Not only does God wipe the record clear of our sins and adopt us into His family; He also unites us with Christ in His death and resurrection. United to Christ, we become God’s sons and daughters (Rom. 8:15–16). And, as John reminds us, we receive the Holy Spirit.
The fact that we receive the Holy Spirit at conversion is a biblical reality, though certain groups deny it. Some teach that we receive the Spirit at conversion, but not in full; they assert that He’s given progressively in installments, so to speak. But the Bible teaches the very reverse of that. When we receive the Spirit, we receive all of Him. It isn’t possible for us to have Him at 60 percent, for He’s an indivisible unity. The Spirit is one divine person.
Now, while it’s impossible for us to have only a portion of the Holy Spirit, it is possible for Him to have less than all of us. That’s why Paul warns against Christians grieving God’s Spirit (Eph 4:30). Instead, we are to “be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). By this Paul means not that we receive more of what we don’t already possess but that we experience a constant renewing and directing of God’s Spirit in our lives. And the degree to which the Spirit has fullness in our lives is the degree to which we may experience assurance that God lives in us.
Beyond experience, there are also certain marks to be expected in the Spirit-filled person. Those born of God’s Spirit have been gifted for service and graced for usefulness. We’re given spiritual gifts and bear spiritual fruit (1 Peter 4:10; Gal. 5:22–23). In every Christian’s heart there is a new power at work. The Spirit inclines us to obedience, worship, and seeking the things of God—each a divine mercy assuring us of God’s presence in us.
We Acknowledge God’s Son
A second sign of God abiding in us is in our acknowledgement of His Son:
And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. (1 John 4:14–15)
Christianity is both creedal and personal.
In verse 14, John ties the Spirit’s witness experientially to the apostles’ testimony historically. (He refers to the apostles as “we” in this section.) They saw and could therefore credibly testify concerning Christ’s person and work (1 John 1:1–3). On the basis of the apostolic witness, John tells us, believers come to confess that “Jesus is the Son of God.” Simply put, the Spirit makes the Bible real to Christians so as to make it a vital source of assurance in us. And from this place of assurance, we confess the authentic Jesus.
When John talks about confessing Jesus in verse 15, he means more than intellectual assent—but he doesn’t exclude intellectual assent. Our Christian faith rests on a theologically accurate confession of Jesus as Lord. But such a confession isn’t just mind-transforming; it’s life-transforming. Anyone who professes to know God while possessing an unchanged heart doesn’t really know Him (Matt. 15:8). Genuine faith is intellectual without erring into intellectualism, experiential without drifting toward emotionalism.
In two words, Christianity is both creedal and personal. In faith, we confess all that Christ is, historically as a man, eternally as God, and experientially as Savior.
We Display God’s Love
Finally, we can be assured of God’s presence in our lives when love is our dwelling place:
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. (1 John 4:16)
Our theological convictions are proved and deepened by living experience.
When we read our Bibles, we discover that the love that was eternally in God and historically in Christ is now to be visible in us. This astounding truth is the basis for showing God’s love to our non-Christian friends and loved ones. We can’t take them into eternity—and so God came from eternity. Jesus, knowing He would depart back to the Father’s side, leaves us with His Holy Spirit that we may know and show God’s love.
In saying “we have come to know and to believe” God’s love for us, John reminds us that our theological convictions are proven and deepened by living experience. Just as a good marriage takes seriously the vows made on the wedding day, each spouse learning to daily rely on the other’s love, so in our relationship with God do we learn to rely on His love. In Christ’s economy, trials and tests come if for no other reason than that we might learn to rely on God’s love for us.
If displaying God’s love is evidence of God in us, then a loveless Christian is an oxymoron. The person who claims to know Christ but favors solitary devotion to the exclusion of church fellowship is in a perilous state. In love, we would do well to address that erring brother or sister. It’s better that such a person would “examine” their confession than to go on maintaining a false assurance (2 Cor. 13:5).
Does God Live in You?
If Christians are those who know God personally, then the question of God’s presence in our lives is fundamentally a personal one. Are you sure God lives in you? If you are, then let this be your reason why: “I’m sure because God has given me His Spirit. My confession of Jesus is both biblical and experiential. And the love that stems from my relationship with Jesus isn’t a condition for abiding in God but evidence that God abides in me.”
This article was adapted from the sermon “Grounds of Assurance” by Alistair Begg.