1 John 4:13-16 | We Abide In Him

My red canoeI recently returned from a six day canoe trip through Killarney Provincial Park. Over the years these annual trips have become more and more important to me. I’ve given some thought to why I value these trips so much.

At first, challenging ourselves was the most important thing. When we paddled Quetico in 2004, we chose a long route and deliberately started the trip with two overgrown 4 km portages. There was a moment in that trip when we had our canoes lived over our heads sideways so we could thread them between trees and boulders as we bushwacked to the next  bit of flat water. The only problem with challenges is that you can only outdo yourself so many times.

I started focusing on solitude and nature. When we paddled to Moosonee, we didn’t see another soul for days. I have seen some of the most beautiful land in the world and bless God for it. Still, that’s not the essence of these trips.

The reason I value our annual canoe trips so much is the group of friends that travel these routes with me. In the “real world,” there’s always something to do that presses on your mind. In the wilderness, life falls into a simple routine of paddling, cooking, and sleeping. This simplicity provides the freedom to truly enjoy another person’s friendship. That is the essence of any good canoe trip.

Over to 1 John. The letter can feel a bit scattered. In this post we’re going to explore the idea of mutual indwelling, something that John already touched on in 1 John 3:24. John visits and revisits topics in such a way that some commentators have despaired of finding any logical structure to his letter.

That’s what makes this passage so special. In the midst of all the circling topics, we find a beautiful line, what Stott calls “the essence of the gospel” (169). Beneath all of the good topics, here is the essential core:

The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14 ESV)

How Do You Know?

Consider this question: how do you know that you’re saved? John offers an answer: the abiding presence of the Spirit of Christ.

John introduced the idea of mutual abiding in 1 John 3:24: “Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him” (ESV). There, he credited the mutual indwelling to the Spirit of Christ. In today’s short passage, mutual indwelling is mentioned no less than three times!

  1. “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)
  2. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15)
  3. “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)

Can you see how important this is to John?

This is a mystical idea. Theologians talk of perichoresis—the idea that the three members of the godhead participate in the life of each other without losing their own personhood. It’s one thing to imagine this of God, it’s quite another thing to imagine this of us in relation to God. Yet in a very real sense, we Christians are indwelt by the Spirit of God—divine life lives within these clay bodies. God abides in us. In another equally real sense, we abide in God. In the words of an old Gaelic poem:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

We live in Christ even as Christ lives in us and this mutual indwelling, empowered by the Spirit of Christ, enables us to submit to Christ as Lord and to love our neighbour even as we love ourselves.

The Savior of the World

It is in the context of this mutual indwelling—this perichoresis—that we find the essence of the gospel.

The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14 ESV)

This phrase is only used one other time in scripture. When Jesus opened the spiritual eyes of the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), she ran home to tell her people about the encounter. These people came to Jesus and recognized that Jesus “is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42 ESV).

The point was this: In a world of cultural division and racism, Jesus revealed himself not just to be the Saviour of the Jewish people, but the Saviour of all people.

It is not just a select few (one ethnicity, social group, or gender) who can experience the mutual indwelling of Christ—the whole world is invited to participate, all who are created in the image of God.

To Know and To Believe

Let’s return to our original question: how can we know that we are saved? Anyone who has wrestled with this knows that you can “know” things in different ways. It’s one thing for me to know that my wife loves me with my mind—after all, that’s what she promised in our wedding vows. It’s quite another thing to know the love of my wife, a love that informs all of my actions, not just my thought-processes.

The ESV translation reads, “we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us” (1 John 4:16). The phrase “to know and to believe” is a combination of two verbs which convey one idea (a hendiadys). The first verb conveys the idea of mental knowledge, but the second is the same verb that is alternately translated “to have faith,” “to believe,” or “to trust”. It’s a deeper sort of knowing that doesn’t exclude the head but transcends mere intellectualism.

Kruse translates this expression as “we know and rely on” (165). What a powerful statement.

We know and rely on the fact that we are saved because the Spirit of Christ indwells us and draws us into the life of God. This abiding relationship is evidenced by our submission to King Jesus and by our reflection of Divine Love to others.

< 1 John 4:9-12 | In This Is Love

1 John 4:17-18 | Perfect Love >

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