Title: Instruments of His Love
Text: I John 4:13-19
FCF: We often struggle remaining assured of our salvation.
Prop: Because God’s Spirit continues to complete God’s love with His Children, we must examine ourselves to see if we are His children.
[Slide 1] Turn in your bible to I John chapter 4. After a brief break from I John last week, let us return to John’s encouragement of his readers. We’ve seen John come back to the chorus of his hymn. Once again he extols the great assurance that it is to love other believers with the love of Christ. But why is loving one another such a great assurance to God’s people of their status in Christ?
John started to explain by telling us that God is the source, definition, revealer, and greatest doer of love. That He lavishes His boundless love on His children. This, in John’s estimation, leads to His children loving one another. But still, this does not really tell us why our love for other believers is so assuring.
Today, John will explain exactly why it is that when we show love to our fellow Christians, we can draw assurance that we are a child of God.
I am in verse 13 of chapter 4. I’ll be reading from the NET but you can follow along in whatever version you prefer.
John’s thought extends beyond the passage we have marked out for today and really does not quite finish until chapter 5 verse 4. That is, however, too much for us to bite off for this morning. So we will cut short the fullest expression of what John is saying and save that for next week. Don’t let that fool you though! We have more than enough to cover today, so we must get right down to it.
I.) God in us and we in God means we have His truth and love in us, so we must examine ourselves to see if we are His children. (12-16a)
a. [Slide 2] 12 – No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God resides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
i. We actually unpacked this a couple weeks ago. So we won’t spend long here.
ii. The only reason I am including it in today’s sermon is to pull the key themes that John elaborates on in the text this morning.
iii. First is this idea that No one has seen God at any time. This is John’s way of saying that if people are going to see God in this world, they will see Him through His people. That is a point John will bring up in a few ways in the next several verses.
iv. Second, is this idea that if we love one another then God resides in us. John will pick up that theme to further explain how we can know that God resides in us.
v. Finally, John mentions that God’s love is perfected in us. Not just our love for God, or even His love for us, but rather, His love channeled through us toward one another. The circuit is complete. God gives His love to us, we give His love to other believers, and we all give His love back to Him.
vi. So let’s start our text in earnest this morning with these three themes from verse 12 in mind.
b. [Slide 3] 13 – By this we know that we reside in God and He in us:
i. First, John desires to address this “residing in God and He in us” aspect.
ii. AGAIN – we must recognize this word to reside. I cannot emphasize enough that this word in scripture is most often used to talk about status, being, or who you really are.
iii. In other words, it is not an activity that one continually strives to accomplish. It is instead continually living out a reality.
iv. If it is not talking about status and is talking about an activity that can be failed or abandoned then John very clearly has established that not only can we forfeit our salvation by what we do, but here he establishes that God can also abandon us at His own whim.
v. Neither of these are theologically possible compared to all of scripture.
vi. Therefore, we MUST continue to understand this word reside as a status that we have been given to live out, not a work that we must continue lest we lose it.
vii. John again says “by this” and as always, we are left to wonder is it something that he has said already or something he is about to say.
viii. It makes the most sense that it is what he is about to say that gives us assurance that we reside in God and He in us. What is that assurance?
c. [Slide 4] In that he has given us of His Spirit
i. Our assurance of God residing in us and us in Him is that He has afforded us and availed us of the power, presence, and indwelling of His Spirit.
ii. It is the fact of our indwelling that John points to.
iii. No one is indwelt with the Spirit of God if they are not in God and God in them.
iv. Residing in God = having His Spirit. One more coal for the fire of the word “reside” referring to status and not work. Unless you believe the Spirit can leave you?
v. John has already dealt with how to know that the spirit you have is from God or from Satan. He did that in verses 1-6 of chapter 4.
vi. In fact it was there that we found that clinging to doctrinal confession of the scriptures, not privately interpreted but mutually assured in the church’s agreed interpretation as led by the Spirit, is the way we know we have the Spirit of God.
vii. And this is the very first point that John draws here as well. Having been given of His Spirit means that we will confess certain doctrinal truths… why? Because they are revealed by the Spirit to us! What truths have been revealed by God’s true Spirit?
d. [Slide 5] 14 – And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
i. We, despite all cost, do cling to and boldly proclaim the truth
ii. That God the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.
iii. His Son is the object of the entirety of the redemption. All of the atonement is in Him.
iv. Every person saved from destruction and judgment is only saved in Him and the world as a whole, this entire spinning ball, will only be delivered through Him.
v. There is no other way, no other truth, and no other life.
vi. Not just for the Jew, but people from the whole world will inherit this salvation.
vii. And we have seen and testify these truths – why?
viii. Because he has given us of His Spirit!
e. [Slide 6] 15 – If anyone confesses that Jesus is the Son of God
i. We have to understand this phrase.
ii. Confess – again – does not mean to simply admit with the mouth. Nor does it mean to decide something or even to think something is true.
iii. Confess is covenant language. It is to place all hope and trust into something. It is to sign your life away on the dotted line. You have woven your very existence and all your hope upon the stipulations of this covenant. What are those stipulations?
iv. That Jesus is the son of God.
v. If you have so signed…
f. [Slide 7] God resides in him and he in God.
i. Then you have God and He has you.
ii. This does not negate all the other proofs that John has mentioned.
iii. This doesn’t mean that God working through you to produce righteousness and obedience suddenly are irrelevant.
iv. But it does mean that true faith – faith that is given by God through His Spirit is sourced in Christ
v. Faith that comes from and in Christ himself
vi. Faith thrown to us to catch
vii. This is an evidence that we are in God and He in us. Because those who are not in God, do not have this faith, because they do not have the Spirit that reveals it.
g. [Slide 8] 16a – And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us.
i. To know and to believe are used often in John’s writings. We have seen it in I John and he uses it in his gospel as well.
ii. What is obvious is that there is very little difference between them.
iii. To know is to become suddenly and intimately connected with a truth or person.
iv. To believe - is to have faith or to have received conviction or hope.
v. So to believe and to know constitute a complete expression of a divine awakening of our hearts. Life is breathed into us and we do suddenly know the truth and do become convinced of a truth to the point of placing full hope in it.
vi. This is the gift of faith that God gives. He opens our eyes to see the truth and then gives it to us to receive.
vii. And what have we come to know and to believe by true faith?
viii. The love that God has in us.
ix. This is an interesting way to phrase what John is saying. Although many translations use the word “for” here. The love that God has for us. In the two other places in I John where he uses the word “has” with the word “in” it is always refers to something possessed inside or in the interior.
x. And so, we have come to know and to believe the love that God has in us – or rather – God’s love which He placed in us.
xi. Certainly, this would include His love for us, but it would also include our capability of loving Him and other believers with His love.
xii. So The Spirit of God not only delivers the truth to us that we might believe, but also informs and communicates God’s love to us that we may live in it. Both toward Him, and toward others!
xiii. Another quote from John Stott’s commentary on I John which I found worth mentioning, which speaks to the entirety of the Spirit’s work in us.
xiv. [Slide 9] “Without the Holy Spirit our minds are dark and our hearts cold. Only the Holy Spirit can enlighten our minds to believe in Jesus and warm our hearts to love God and each other. So believing and loving are evidences that His spirit is at work within us” Stott 168
h. [Slide 10] Passage Truth: Johns words to his readers are crystal clear. God in them and they in God means that they have His Spirit. When they have His Spirit, they will believe the truths He gives and have His love.
i. Passage Application: So for an application to his readers John no doubt desires that they walk away with great assurance. Knowing that they are in God because they are actively believing the doctrinal truths and displaying godly love, thus proving they have God’s Spirit.
j. [Slide 11] Broader Biblical Truth: Zooming out to the whole of scripture, we must understand that as Paul says in Ephesians 4 we ought to be unified in the Spirit of God. Why? Because there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and in all! But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of the gift of Christ! Therefore, we are one in this Spirit, hope, Lord, Faith, Baptism, and Father. We are one in Christ. And therefore – we can paint with a broad brush what every single Child of God looks like, because they all look the same! They hold to the same confession. They practice the same love. They have the same Spirit. Because they have the same Christ. Sent by the same Father. We are alike more than we are different. There is no room for deviation, exception, interpretation, or experimentation. This is true of all genuine followers of Christ.
k. Broader Biblical Application: And as much as I would like to be so certain, like John, and say that all of you have this assurance. The truth is that I don’t know who is listening right now. And even if you were all in the room with me today – I still could not hope to know each and every heart. So once again this is a test. A test that produces great assurance and comfort for God’s children – and great concern for those who are only pretending. Do you conform to the doctrinal confession of orthodox Christianity? What we have agreed upon about God, man, and all the teachings of the apostles since the beginning of the church? Do you have within you a love that is self-sacrificing, unconditional, enduring and loyal to those who claim Christ? Are you intimately connected to God’s people in a way that you just can’t explain? They didn’t do anything to earn it, and you aren’t a particularly loving person, but you just have this urge within you to care for them – even if it means you suffer? If the answers to these questions are yes… then you must know that the Spirit of God is in you. Take comfort Christian. But if the answer is no – my friend, you must search your heart.
[Slide 12(blank)] John now will pivot. He has explained, from verse 12, how we can know that we are in God and He in us. That we have His truth and love in us from His Spirit. But now John will explain what he meant by saying that God’s love is perfected in us. How is God’s love completed in us? And how does that contribute to our assurance of being His child?
II.) God’s love completed with us loving others gives us assurance of our status in Him, so we must examine ourselves to see if we are His children. (17-19)
a. [Slide 13] 16b God is love, and the one who resides in love resides in God, and God resides in him.
i. God is the definition of love
ii. And all who abide or reside in this status of love do reside in Him. And God in them.
iii. But what does it mean to reside in love? Again, reside speaks of status. We could, perhaps, replace the word reside with “be”. Be in love. Just as we are in God and He in us, so when God’s love is in us, we are in His love.
iv. In other words, a person cannot reside in God’s love but not in God Himself, nor can a person reside in God Himself but not in His love. Why?
v. Because God IS love. You cannot have one without the other.
vi. Why is this so important to John?
b. [Slide 14] 17 – By this love is perfected with us
i. The next word seems to point to the purpose of the love being perfected – which makes it likely that this particular “by this” is pointing backward.
ii. So our previous question… why is it so important for John to emphasize that those who are in God and God in them are those who have His love in them and are in His love? Why is this so important?
iii. Because it is by this fact that love has been perfected with us with continuing effects even up to when John wrote this letter.
iv. What does it mean that love has been perfected WITH us?
v. In us would make sense, for us, even on us… but with us. That is challenging.
vi. How is it that love has been perfected with us?
vii. Friends, If God is love and His love is in us, meaning He is in us and we are in Him… His love has been completed with us. The circuit of His love is complete with us. How?
viii. By us loving one another. Which is exactly what John said in verse 12.
ix. Since God is love, Him placing His love in us is how He will complete His love with us. But for what purpose?
c. [Slide 15] So that we may have confidence in the day of judgment
i. God completes His love with us… why?
ii. For us! It is an assurance for us!
iii. When His love is displayed with us, we walk away confident that in the day of judgment we will be accepted by God and not rejected.
iv. Why would this give us this kind of confidence?
d. [Slide 16] Because just as Jesus is, so also are we in this world.
i. Remember when John was saying that no one has seen God – but that by loving one another we prove that God resides in us and that His love has been perfected in us?
ii. What he means by that is that although none have seen God, they should see Him in us. Namely in our love for one another.
iii. We become little Christs!
iv. We become lovers of the sheep!
v. We walk as He walked – in holiness and self-sacrifice for one another.
vi. If we live like Christ – that is confidence that we will be accepted… why? Because Christ’s love displayed in our words, thoughts, and actions – CANNOT be explained by anything other than God’s indwelling love. Which CANNOT be explained by anything other than God’s indwelling presence in His Spirit.
e. [Slide 17] 18 – There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear
i. We must be careful not to strip this out of its context. It is tempting to do so because of the situation we are in today. It is also tempting to do so because elsewhere in the bible we know that love and fear do not go together.
ii. But the fear mentioned here is of a specific kind.
iii. The fear here is the fear of judgment.
iv. But John says that in love – specifically in the love that God has given. Because it is of Him and He is love – there is no fear in that kind of love.
vi. Because completed love actually drives out that fear. Completed love gives confidence and assurance.
vii. Why is this true?
f. [Slide 18] Because fear has to do with punishment.
i. This fear of judgment really comes down to the fear of being punished by God. Being rejected by God. Being consigned to eternal death by God.
ii. This is where that fear of judgment comes from.
iii. A guilty conscience desires to postpone judgment for as long as possible. But a clear conscience doesn’t mind enduring judgment for it knows that it will be accepted.
iv. So John makes a logical conclusion to the matter and says…
g. [Slide 19] The one who fears punishment has not been perfected in love.
i. If you fear being judged by God – it is because you have not been completed in love.
ii. You cannot be confident to face the judgment of God unless you have been completed in love and that effect has continued.
iii. But lest we think this completed love is generated from within us or because of who we are…
h. [Slide 20] 19 – We love because He loved us first.
i. The object of this love is not specified.
ii. Many translations supply God – we love God because he first loved us. This is certainly a possibility.
iii. However, in the context we cannot eliminate the possibility of loving other believers because God loved us first.
iv. But perhaps John means all of this and more.
v. Perhaps John reveals a component of our depravity here. In that mankind is incapable of showing God’s definition of love to anyone or anything. Mankind is a loveless creature. We can express shadows and hints of that love – but never can we fully express God’s true standard of love to anyone or anything.
vi. Unless… He loved us first. Unless He sent His Son to pay for our sins. Unless He has placed His love in us. Unless He has indwelt us with His Spirit.
vii. At that point, when God shows His love to love the unlovable and save the undeserving. When God chooses to love the wicked and rescue them based on the pleasure of His will and not of anything the thing loved can offer…
viii. At that point… that wretch is changed forever. They are perfected in love. And then God can complete His love with them.
i. [Slide 21] Passage Truth: Again John wants to communicate to his readers that love is antithetical to fear. His readers do not need to fear judgment from God because His love is being perfected with them. They are showering it upon each other and because of that – they can draw great confidence that they will NOT be punished at the judgment. God’s love in them means they are in God and He is in them.
j. Passage Application: So for his readers he encourages them not to fear, but rather to comfort each other by their existing love they have for one another.
k. [Slide 22] Broader Biblical Truth: Broadening this out, again Jesus said that they will know that you are my disciples by your love for one another. That you love one another just as I have loved you. This godly love, that we can only offer if we have His Spirit in us, is an overwhelming evidence that we have been changed. That we will not face punishment. But rather that we will, like the Son, be given a great inheritance.
l. Broader Biblical Application: Again, for us we must understand that if we have this love then we need not fear the judgment. We know that we will be accepted and adopted into the family of God. Given the right to rule with Christ. But for those who do not show this love – the only appropriate response you can have is to fear. To fear the judgment of God. God loves His children, and He puts His love in His children. So if you don’t love His children, then you aren’t His child. And if you are not His child, as John has already said, you are of your father… Satan.
[Slide 22(blank)] So how do we apply what we have learned today? How can we then live?
It is interesting to see how John provides comfort for his congregation. He has already declared to them that he knows that they are genuine believers. His desire is to continue to lavish them with comfort after comfort, test after test, to make sure they know that they are God’s dear children. Today is no different. John answers the question… why is godly love in us and God’s truth in us so assuring? Why are these supposed to provide comfort? And John draws a very clear and logical argument that basically says that godly love and doctrinal fidelity is simply not possible without the Spirit of God indwelling you. It is not possible without having received of the Spirit of God. And you can’t have the Spirit of God in you unless you have been Fathered of God. It is one big tapestry woven together that cannot be stripped down or parted out. You are either all or nothing. And his readers were all.
To be clear, of course they weren’t perfect. Did they ever have a tiff, squabble, fight or sin against one another? Of course. Did they ever have differences of opinion over this minor point or that? Sure. But that isn’t what John is talking about. He is talking about who they are on a soul level. Who they have been made to be.
[Slide 24] Imagine all of this in the context of a composer. In the mind of the composer he hears the entire piece of music played for all to hear. So he sets out to produce what he hears in his head. So he first puts it all down on paper. He writes the sheet music for every single part. Each part weaves its way together. Then, having both skill and ability, he takes up each instrument and plays the piece. As each instrument comes together, they join with each other and create harmony and beauty. Exactly what the composer had dreamed.
[Slide 25] The Father is the great composer of His church. He has His great divine plan for what they will be. He sent His Son, the sheet music, the exact specifications for that plan. His Spirit is able to play with masterful precision every single note in perfect execution upon each member of His church. The song… is love. His love. God’s Love.
So in true children of God, not in unison, but in perfect harmony, the notes ring true, the music is followed, and although the instruments are broken and tattered, beaten and highly imperfect, the song comes through and to an increasing degree, becomes more and more of what the Father desires. What does this mean? What can it mean? The only thing it can mean is that the Spirit is reading the pattern of Christ and empowering us – the instrument to fulfill the Father’s plan… namely… to conform every note to the image of His Son, the embodiment of His plan for His church.
But in those who are only pretending to be God’s children, the notes are harsh, hit wrongly and unevenly. They often are out of key. They are often silent when they should be playing and playing when they should be silent. What does this mean? The instruments are just as broken, no better or worse than the others. There is no discernable difference between them. But the Spirit, the music, and the composer… they only look like God. It is a fake. A facsimile. It has been dressed up to look like God’s Spirit, Son and The Father Himself but it isn’t so. And so those who claim to be followers of Christ, but do not follow Christ, that is exactly who they are. Those who claim to follow Christ but do not have His love. They are but a clanging symbol, a noisy gong. They are just noise. Though they know all secrets, though they die a martyrs death, though they have wonderous gifts and talents, without Christ’s love in them… they are nothing. They are following a god, a jesus, a spirit, that is not Yahweh. And thus- they lack His love, His faith, His trust, His laws.
[Slide 26(end)] So how do you fix it? Do you play better? As an instrument how do you fix the problem we just identified? Do you just try to play better? Do you try harder? What good will that do? If you don’t have the sheet music and the musician providing skill and breath is a fake… how can you possibly play the composer’s song?
You don’t need to play better friend. You need a new composer. You need to seek after the real God, the real Jesus, and the Real Spirit. Desperately seek Him. If you continue to seek after Him – He promises that He will reveal Himself to you… for the first time.
But how comforting it is, when our song is sweet and continues to repeat the joyous notes of our redeeming love, played toward those who are also redeemed. Not only does it make a harmonious melody with the other instruments of His song, but it does also assure us that the composer of our faith, love and hope will welcome us home when this life is done, to ever play His glorious refrain.