We have taken note that a central theme of 1 John is that his readers might know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). In his letter he sets forth a number of tests that help to highlight the differences between those who have truly been born of God and those who are merely religious.
In 1 John 4:13 he highlights another important truth: “We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” This verse echoes the verse in the previous chapter: 1 John 3:24—”Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
The truth involved here is simple: those who are God’s children have His Spirit living within and those who are not don’t. There is a profound simplicity in these statements of John that I fear has been lost in much of the modern church world. John knew in a deep and personal way that he had received God’s Spirit and that by that Spirit he enjoyed an inward oneness of spirit with God Himself.
It was the presence of God’s Spirit within that alone made possible all the other aspects of this truth that we have discussed: walking in the light; obedience; love for one another; a sense of connection with every other believer that enables unity and submission. But John, in the statements above, looks beyond the outward characteristics of having God’s Spirit and speaks of a direct knowledge that he, personally, had been given the Spirit by God.
Of course, it would be easy for us to think of John as a special case. After all, he was one of the disciples who, on the day of Pentecost, received the Spirit in a very dramatic and manifest way. Of course he knew! Who wouldn’t after having such an experience? He and the others had been enabled to proclaim the wonderful works of God in languages they had not learned. Peter had powerfully preached Christ resulting in thousands added to their number in a day. He had been there as the church had grown rapidly and experienced great miracles. No doubt he himself had been used to perform some of those miracles.
But John did NOT say, “I know it by the Spirit he gave me.” Rather, he said, “We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” Naturally he includes himself in what he says yet he writes as if this knowledge is something every believer has. Satan has made it his business to greatly confuse this subject over the centuries but at the point in time when John wrote his letter he expected his readers to know what he was talking about. No long explanations: just a simple statement, “We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
I believe that this is something that God desires every believer to have a clear knowledge of. The truth that every individual believer is indwelt by God’s Spirit is absolutely central to the new covenant established through the cross, the resurrection, and the exaltation of Christ. It is a fundamental difference between the old and new covenants.
The old covenant was a covenant of laws imposed upon the people from without. It was given to restrain evil and also to teach men that they were sinners in need of salvation. Titus 1:9-10. Romans 3:20. Those under the law performed ceremonies and offered sacrifices that had no power in themselves but rather pointed to the one sacrifice for all time that was later to be offered by Christ himself. See Hebrews, chapter 8 and following.
Believers in the Old Testament era looked ahead to what was to come. Heb. 11:13 says of them, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.”
The blood of bulls and goats could not take away sin nor could that blood cleanse the sinner’s conscience. But the blood that Christ shed did all that and more! His blood has the power to cleanse us to the core of our beings that we might be sanctified — set apart — so that God could come by His Spirit and live within.
Whereas the old covenant was an external covenant of laws, the new covenant is everywhere spoken of as an inward work—in the heart. And that is the need. So long as a man’s heart is unchanged he is not saved. We find such expressions in the prophets as these: Jer. 31:33, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” Twice this passage is quoted in Hebrews (8:8-12, 10:16-17). Ezekiel 36:26 says, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you....” Verse 27 begins, “And I will put my Spirit in you....”
We need more than laws to observe and forgiveness of our sins; we need a new heart and power that comes from the inside to live for God. Anything short of that is not salvation.
It was John who was present and later recorded an incident in the life of Jesus in John 7:37-39. “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
Notice carefully what was said in verse 39: “Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” That clearly indicates the fundamental change that came about after Jesus ascended to heaven and poured out the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Everything up till that time had been preparation but on that day the eternal covenant came into full force and people began to enter in and be indwelt by the Spirit.
It is evident throughout the gospels that Jesus’ disciples did not understand many things. One example is found in John 14:8-10 where we read, “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father.” Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.’”
The relationship that Jesus was describing between Him and His Father was far beyond the understanding and experience of the disciples. They had seen God’s power at work and had themselves been used to perform miracles by that power. But what Jesus was describing had more to do with BEING than merely with DOING.
He enjoyed an inward oneness of life with His Father that was continual. This oneness was so complete that the things Jesus said and did were not really Him at all but rather flowed from the Father Who lived in Him. He willingly gave up His own individual earthly life to become an instrument for the infinitely greater purposes of God.
As we said, the disciples knew what it was to perform miraculous acts through God’s power. They had healed many sick people and cast out many demons. Still, they were mystified by words like, “I am in the Father,” and “the Father is in me.”
“I am in the Father,” is indeed a strange sounding statement. I think of what Jesus told the woman at the well in John 4:24:”God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The very substance and being of God is spirit.
He is the great God of creation and is thus greater than His creation. In one sense the whole universe is “in Him” but clearly that is not the kind of relationship Jesus meant. Since God is everywhere then all men are in that sense “in him” (Acts 17:28), yet the awful reality of sin has made it impossible for them to be one with a Holy God. Isaiah 59:2. Most live in spiritual blindness as if God did not exist.
But, through Christ, God was making a way to cleanse unworthy helpless sinners that He might bridge the terrible gulf created by sin and become one with His creatures in life and spirit. No longer would God be just the awesome God of the universe—somewhere, out there.... He would come in to live and become Father, Friend!
In John 14:17 it said of God’s Spirit—referred to here as the Spirit of truth—”But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” Here is a key to the great transition that was about to happen.
There is a great difference between God’s Spirit being WITH us and IN us. The Spirit had been WITH the disciples to perform miracles but did not yet live IN them. The influence up to this point had been an external one only.
We can see an illustration of this in the life of Saul, the first king of Israel. In 1 Samuel 10, when Samuel the prophet anointed Saul to be king, he was given signs that God would be with him. One of these signs was that God’s Spirit would come on him and he would prophesy. That happened in verses 10-12.
Later on, after he had disobeyed the Lord and been rejected as king we see the Lord allowing a demon to torment him. Under the influence of that demon he did many evil things including trying to kill David, whom the Lord had anointed to become king in his place.
In 1 Samuel 19 we see Saul plotting to kill David who fled to stay with Samuel. Saul heard where David was and three different times sent men to capture him but when they came near where Samuel was the Spirit of God came upon them and they prophesied. Then Saul himself went and, in spite of his spiritual condition, he too prophesied before Samuel under the influence of God’s Spirit. Thus we see in Saul how the same man can come under the influence of both God’s Spirit and a demon at different times. The influence of God’s Spirit was an external thing only.
Consider Judas Iscariot. It is clear that he was never a believer. John 6:64-65, 70-71. Yet, to fulfill the purposes of God, he was chosen to be one of the disciples. As a disciple he was commissioned to preach and heal and cast out devils just as the rest were. There was nothing about him to arouse suspicion. When Jesus told them at the last supper that one of them would betray him they could not imagine who he was talking about. We then see the awful end of Judas, yet for a period of time God’s Spirit had been WITH him!
I believe that this aspect of truth is the source of much confusion in people’s minds. In the first place, I am convinced that in our day there are great numbers of wicked religious demon spirits at work to deceive and that multitudes have had all kinds of religious experiences that have convinced them that they are right with God. Such people are almost impossible to reach with the gospel because they are certain that they have no need. Yet they are utterly deceived.
But there are others who, like Saul, have experienced the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit—but who nevertheless have stopped short of being actually born again. They may have been among the people of God and yielded themselves to a spirit of worship. They may have experienced joy, healing, amazement at the power and light in anointed preaching, even exhilarating feelings and experiences, and so forth. But someone can experience many such things and it all be external.
At the time of Jesus’ words in John 14:17 that is all the disciples had experienced. But that was soon to change! Listen to some other ways that this was expressed by Jesus: John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:20, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
Now wait a minute! This is getting confusing! Jesus promised that “the Spirit of truth” would be in them. Then He says, “I will come to you.” Then He turns around and says, “...WE will come,” referring to His Father and Himself.
The fact is that these are all different ways of expressing the same thing. God and His kingdom consist of many persons who share a common life, a common Spirit, and are thus vitally connected together. If that Spirit is in you, you are one with God and everyone else who is one with Him. If that Spirit is not in you, no matter how things may appear on the outside, no matter how many experiences you may have had, you are a stranger to God and His kingdom.
I would like to comment on one aspect of this truth that I feel is very necessary. I have encountered many over the years that seem to believe that the Holy Spirit comes in to live much as someone would move into a house and become a resident. Among these are people that believe that salvation is something that can be lost.
In their minds, they believe they are saved by accepting Jesus and as a result the Spirit comes in to live. However, whether the Holy Spirit continues to “live in the house” depends on whether they “walk the straight and narrow.” If they do, OK. If not, then the Spirit leaves and they become “lost” again. Worse still, some seem to have no real limit on how many times someone can be “saved” and “lost.” In effect, they believe they are saved by faith but kept by works.
But this concept misses the real nature of what happens in salvation. At its heart, salvation is a birth. The spirit of a lost sinner, dead in sins, is literally resurrected from that state of death. And the life by which it is raised is the very life of God Himself. That new life makes us just as one with God as Jesus is! It is the same life. Furthermore, as it is God’s own life, it is also a life which cannot die. That is what is at stake in this issue: eternal life. Life and immortality have been brought to light through the gospel. John 8:24-25. Ephesians 2:1-10. 2 Timothy 1:8-10.
In John 15 Jesus gave us an earthly illustration that portrays some aspects of this union: the vine and the branches. He spoke of himself as the vine and his disciples as branches. Thus, although they were in one sense individuals, they were vitally joined together and shared a common life. In fact, the very ability of a branch to produce fruit depends upon that relationship.
Those not abiding in him, who do not bear fruit and are cast away and ultimately burned, would include those who have only a temporary, external relationship to Him. There is never that inward vital connection and thus, no fruit is produced. This explains many who fall away.
And so Jesus completed his earthly mission by going to the cross, crying, “It is finished” (KJV), dying as a sacrifice for sin, being buried, and raised from the dead. After spending many days instructing the disciples following the resurrection He ascended up to heaven to the highest place of authority next to the Father.
Then on the day of the Jewish feast of Pentecost, when thousands were gathered in Jerusalem from many nations, Jesus poured out the Spirit on the disciples as He had promised. Empowered and emboldened by that Spirit they stood up and began to proclaim the wonderful works of God in all of the foreign languages of those who were present.
That got everyone’s attention and then Peter powerfully proclaimed the resurrection and glorification of the One they had so recently rejected and crucified. The Spirit that was anointing Peter to preach was also at work convicting the hearers with the result that they interrupted him to ask what they should do. Obviously they believed his message.
In his response, Peter gave them two specific things to do as an expression of their faith: repent and be baptized. The promise was that if they would do those two things then God would do two things: forgive their sins and give them the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Notice how central to the gospel the “gift of the Holy Spirit” was. In John 7:39 the “Spirit had not yet been given,” but now Christ had been glorified and the promise of the Holy Spirit was for all who would be saved. In Acts 2:39 Peter said, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off — for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
This is an area where the devil has worked mightily to confuse something that was very simple: individual believers receiving the gift of God’s Spirit. People coming to Christ have some very basic needs that only God can supply: they need their sins forgiven; they need God’s Spirit to be IN them to change what they are from the inside out; and they need the Spirit to be WITH them to enable them to live for God and to serve Him. Of course, the Spirit being WITH them would also include the power they would need for whatever service God might call them to render as they grow up in Him.
There have been so many doctrines spawned in this area that it would be impossible to note them all. For one thing, “salvation,” “baptism,” and “receiving the Spirit”—sometimes referred to as “the baptism of the Spirit” or “being filled with the Spirit”— are treated as though they are separate things. People are “saved.” Then, subsequent to “salvation,” they are baptized in water—or perhaps sprinkled. Then “the baptism of the Spirit” is preached as a distinct experience to be sought beyond “salvation.”
For some, “the baptism of the Spirit” has to do with power while others emphasize “sanctification.” Still others teach these aspects of truth as not one, but two definite experiences beyond “salvation.” And, for good measure, the issue of speaking in tongues adds to the confusion.
Also, there are those who recognize, in some measure, what Peter was inspired to say in Acts 2:38 yet seem to treat it as almost a magical formula. And some of these leave speaking in tongues out of their formula while others insist upon it! For the latter, the net result is that speaking in tongues becomes a necessary sign of salvation!
It is far beyond my present purpose to attempt to explore all of these issues but I feel it is necessary to make at least some comments on the issue of tongues. Those who take a stand regarding tongues generally seem to fall into one of two categories: those who emphasize tongues as the sign of receiving the Spirit and those who deny that tongues are for today and that, therefore, all tongues are false and to be avoided and condemned.
Neither position is scriptural. The ability to speak in tongues CAN be a manifestation of God’s Spirit, although any honest reading of the scriptures will place it far down the list in terms of importance. As for its value as a sign the one scripture that refers to tongues as a sign plainly says that it is a sign, “not for believers but for unbelievers.” 1 Cor. 14:22.
Think about that for a minute. The modern notion that tongues are the evidence for having received the Spirit makes it a sign to believers! The experience is seen by many as proof positive that they have received the Spirit. This unscriptural teaching has opened the door for many false spirits to enter in and deceive people.
The manifestation of tongues on the day of Pentecost consisted of real languages understood by a crowd of unbelievers. It was a sign from God that helped convince them to listen to Peter’s message. Later on it was the manifestation of tongues at the house of Cornelius that convinced skeptical Jewish believers that God had indeed reached out to Gentiles with the gospel. Acts 11:1-18.
In fact, when Peter was recounting the experience he said, “As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning.” Acts 11:15. Notice, he said, “AT THE BEGINNING.” Now, if speaking in tongues was the normal everyday experience—THE sign of receiving the Spirit—why did Peter have to go all the way back—several years—to the day of Pentecost to find a comparable experience? There was a particular reason for tongues on this occasion and it was given by God to overcome the prejudice and unbelief of the Jewish believers concerning the Gentiles.
There is no evidence that the 3000 who responded to Peter’s instruction at Pentecost had any such experience—but they received the Spirit according to God’s promise. The fact is that God can manifest His presence in any way He chooses—or not—according to the present need. There is no guarantee just because someone has experienced something supernatural that affects their senses that they have received God’s Spirit. And the reverse is true. Just because someone has not had a phenomenal experience does not necessarily mean they have not received the promised Spirit.
It is very necessary to bring up this issue because so many people are affected. If you are depending upon the “sign” of having spoken in tongues as evidence that you have received the Holy Spirit then I would strongly caution you that you are on very shaky ground.
In Ephesians 1:13-14 Paul introduces an interesting and significant way of describing what had happened to his believing readers. It was the same thing that had happened to the 3000 at Pentecost—and what happens to all who respond with heart faith to God’s call. He says, “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.”
There is a lot more truth locked up in this wonderful passage than we could possibly exhaust, however, let’s examine briefly some of the key thoughts. Paul spoke of the relationship which we described earlier, that of our being “in Christ.” That relationship is established when people hear the gospel and believe it.
The end result—the divine response—is that the believer is “sealed” with the Holy Spirit. The “sealer” is God Himself and the seal that is applied is His Spirit. This seal is spoken of as “a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.” When we are born of God we become His children, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Romans 8:17. Thus, whatever God has prepared for His Son in the way of an inheritance is something in which every believer will share!
A deposit is a down-payment. A down-payment is a partial payment that is made on something one intends to purchase. We are that something! Do you believe that God makes a down-payment on a purchase and then fails to complete that purchase? Of course not! When God makes a down-payment it is intended to guarantee the full purchase.
The reason that the promised Holy Spirit is spoken of as a deposit is because the complete purchase involves “the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” This redemption concerns our bodies, which, in the will and purpose of God, remain infested with sin so long as we live in this world. When God is through they will be made like the body our Lord now enjoys—free from sin and alive with the very immortal life of God! Romans 8:22-23. Phil. 3:20-21. 1 Cor. 15:51-53.
We are not the first to experience this seal. Our Savior has gone before us. In John 6:27, Jesus said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” NKJV.
A seal is not only a guarantee of a future inheritance but also a mark of ownership. It is God saying, “This one is mine.” Matt 3:16-17 describes what happened when Jesus was baptized: “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
Notice what Paul said in 2 Cor.1:21-22, “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” That is very plain, isn’t it! We see God actively carrying out His guarantee by making us “stand firm in Christ.” We may waver but there is an anchor that holds!
Eph 4:30 says, “And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” KJV. Believers are strongly exhorted not to grieve the Spirit but the seal is still “unto the day of redemption.” God will finish what He has started! Phil. 1:6.
How, then, can we know we have received God’s Spirit?