The fifth evidence that we have been born (again) as children of God is our experience of the Holy Spirit. Paul explains that "You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness that we are children of God" (Romans 8:15-16). So in this section of the Epistle John says "By this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit he has given us" (3:24, repeated in 4:13).
We have already seen that a first sign of our new life is an unexpected love for our brothers and sisters in the family of God (3:14). And Paul tells us that "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (Galatians 5:22). We find all these beginning to appear like flowers in the spring as soon as we are "born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). We also discover that "the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs (unspoken groanings) too deep for words" (Romans 8:26).
These are some of the evidences by which "we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit" (4:13). This in turn assures "that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world" (4:14). Having been assured of our own acceptance into the family of God, we soon grasp that this is not just for us but for all people of the world.
The image of abiding (3:24, 4:13) is again that of the parable of the Vine and the branches (John 15:1-5). If a branch could think, it would know that the life of the Vine was coming in to it by the sudden inrush of sap that begins to produce the first shoots, then the leaves, and soon the little grapes, which then fill out to be the joy of the farmer. That sequence is a common experience as the Holy Spirit does his work in us.
The image also suggests that being filled with the Spirit is a not a once for all event but a continual rhythmic experience of being filled again and again (like a branch filled with sap) for the next task. "Do not get drunk with wine, but keep being filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). A drunkard is not someone who get drunk once, but keeps imbibing again and again. After their initial experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter, Stephen, and Paul were all filled with the Spirit for the special tasks they had to perform that day (Acts 2:4, 4:8, 31,7:55. 13:9).
4:1 But an openness to the Holy Spirit also requires us to test the other spirits that could confuse us. The "false prophets" are those that Jesus warned us would precede the siege and fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Matthew 24:11, 24). And it seems that John was writing this Epistle when that event was about to occur (as Jesus had said, it would occur in that generation, Matthew 24:34). Similarly in every subsequent Day of the Lord (crisis situations in our world) Christians on the one hand can look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom, but they will also be tempted by false teachers of every kind (Matthew 7:15).
4:2 The translation should be: "Every spirit (whether a false spirit or the Holy Spirit) that confesses that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh is from God."
4:3 This means that any teacher who denies this essential fact is a false prophet. Here the text that underlies the King James Version fits the sense much better. "Every spirit that does not confess that Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh is not from God." The word 'antichrist' means someone who opposes the Messiah. As Jesus had prophesied, there would be many such persons in the time preceding the siege and fall of Jerusalem. Some would claim to be the Messiah, and others would claim that this or that person was the Messiah (Matthew 24:5,23-26). The one thing they would all deny was that the Messiah had already come in the flesh in the person of Jesus.
4:4 John assures his readers that they are from God because of their faith that Jesus is the Messiah (4:2). And they would triumph over the false teachers.
4:5 Worldly persons prefer to listen to teachers who view Jesus as a merely good man, not the Lord King Messiah who was already reigning in the Old Testament period. And there are many such teachers and writers in our day.
4:6 Such persons do not want to hear that "Jesus is the Messiah come in the flesh" (4:2). And we can easily discern their spirit.
4:7 What they say about the pre-existence of Jesus (4:1-3) is a decisive test of those who profess to teach the Christian faith. But for ourselves as individuals, John has already explained the assurance we have because of our love for one another (3:11-19). He now comes back to this ground of personal assurance.
4:8 The fact that "God is love" is what distinguishes a Trinitarian Theistic model of God from all other religious explanations. No other religion offers a model of God's love for us, and how that love works in us to love others (Creative Love Theism). But we are not saved by the correct understanding of our model. The assurance of our salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit creating love in our hearts.
4:9 It is by the coming of the Son of God into our world that God's love was revealed in a way that was not possible in the Old Testament (John 3:16).
4:10 But it is not our love for God (suggested in other religions) that saves us but the fact that God loves us before we ever thought of loving him. And the sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross is the visible expression in our space time world of the fact that from the beginning God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit have been willing to absorb our sin and rebellion in loving us.
4:11 It is this assurance of the love of God that the Holy Spirit reveals to us, and then uses to empower us to love one another.
4:12 No one has ever seen God the Father. It is the Son who has come and been seen among humans from the beginning. And when we find ourselves loving one another we know that God the Holy Spirit is working in us.
4:13 This experience of the Spirit is therefore evidence that we are indeed abiding in the Son as the Vine and the Vine is abiding in us like sap coming into the branches (3:24, 4:13, John 15:1-5).
4:14 As one of the twelve, John can say "we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent the Son." We were not present to see what John saw (1:1), but the experience of the Spirit in our lives gives us what we need for our own personal assurance of salvation.
G. ASSURANCE 1 John 4:13-5:21