In Chapter Ten we began with 1 John 4:13 where John sets forth a very 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.”
We then tried to explore just how central the “gift” or the “seal” of the Spirit is to New Testament Christianity. The seal of the Spirit marks those who belong to God and guarantees that He will finish what He started. The centrality of this truth and the simplicity of John’s statements beg the obvious question...
So how do we know that we have received God’s Spirit? John speaks of this as if it is something believers know. And surely the God Who inspired John to write as he did desires us to know as well.
I believe that the answer is two-fold: inward and outward. The inward evidence is known to the believer himself and is a fruit of the new union he enjoys with God. The outward evidence has to do with changes that come about in the believer’s life as a direct result of what has happened on the inside. We have already looked at several outward evidences: walking in the light, obedience, fellowship, and not walking in the spirit of antichrist. Let’s look then, at some scriptures that speak of that inward evidence.
Rom 5:1-5 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”
There are several clear references to inward evidences of the seal of the Spirit in this wonderful passage. The first is, of course, “peace with God.” The natural state of man is to be at war with God. His every inclination is opposed to God and His ways. Rom 8:7-8 says, “...the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.”
Consider what Paul said in Romans 1:18-32 describing how the human race rebelled against God and plunged into its awful state of depravity. To begin with men possessed a knowledge of God. However, as time went along they, with few exceptions, became more and more enslaved by their lusts and as a result deliberately suppressed that knowledge, willfully choosing darkness over light. God became the enemy standing in the way of what they wanted to do. They hated the light of God’s truth that exposed their wickedness. This continued until “God gave them over to shameful lusts.” Verse 26.
In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul includes us all when he says: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.”
There are only two possible outcomes to the state of war that exists between man and his Creator. Either we “lay down our arms” at the feet of Jesus Christ in unconditional surrender or we remain in rebellion to face Him at the judgment. Many are those who diligently practice their religion without ever coming to that point of surrender. As a result they never come to know the deep inward peace with God that seals them as His.
What a joy it is when that war is over! No more running from God. No more fear of facing the judgment. The dreaded Judge has become the greatest Friend one could ever know. The very moment we are brought to that surrender He comes in by the Spirit with the witness of peace.
Another closely related word is “rest.” Jesus said, “...I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28. In Hebrews, chapter 4 this is described as entering “God’s rest.” The great concern of the writer was that his readers would not stop short of that rest.
The fact is that God has a perfect rest in His great heart concerning the salvation He has provided for us. It is perfect. It is complete. Nothing needful has been left out. Moreover, “...his work has been finished since the creation of the world.” Heb. 4:3. That is the reason that God is at rest. So far as He is concerned the work has all been done. What appears to us to be unfinished and uncertain has, in fact, been both finished and certain since the creation! Do you think that God is sitting in heaven somewhere wringing His hands, pacing the floor, and worrying about whether He can finish the job!?
All that remains is for us to become the beneficiaries of that completed work. Salvation does not come about through labor and struggle on our part but through the realization—as the result of God dealing with our hearts—that the “work” necessary to secure our salvation has all been done. Our response then becomes one of repentance and faith.
There is a process to the “outworking” of that salvation but the foundation has been laid by God Himself and that foundation is our Lord Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross. And yet, even though His death took place only about 2000 years ago so far as time is concerned, from God’s point of view it was finished long before that! He Who created time itself is far above its limitations. “God ... calls things that are not as though they were.” Romans 4:17.
As we cease all of our own efforts and struggles and put our trust in Christ we are enabled to enter into God’s rest. That is, we literally begin to share the very rest that God Himself has regarding His own work. The effect of that is peace and rest on the inside. Heb. 4:10 says, “...anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.”
There are many other inward evidences that we have been given God’s Spirit but I should pause to inject a word of caution. One mistake that many make is the failure to distinguish between our emotions and the far deeper evidences of God’s presence. Most of the time our emotions reflect the constant ups and downs of life in this world and are totally unreliable witnesses when it comes to eternal things. Emotions are usually very superficial and changeable whereas peace with God is a constant deep in our spirits.
It is certainly true that we can become so caught up in our emotions and in the trials of life that we don’t enjoy the benefit of that peace at times but it is there nonetheless. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus spoke of two rests. The first one is given to those to come to him. This is salvation. The second has more to do with practical living, learning from him. God desires that we learn to find that practical rest that brings our external emotions more into line with His inward peace—but once there, that peace remains like a well-laid foundation. The war is over.
The last part of verse 2 says, “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Right there we find reference to two more inward evidences of the Holy Spirit’s presence: joy and hope. Hope, in the scriptures, is not the uncertain wish that we sometimes express when we say something like, “I sure hope it doesn’t rain.” Scriptural hope is a confidence based upon the sure promises of God concerning something that is yet future. There is no uncertainty in it.
When God comes in by His Spirit, He brings not only His peace but also an inward confidence, an expectation, regarding not just the future in general, but OUR future in particular. It is personal. We may battle uncertainty in our emotions at times while living down here but way down deep there is the inborn knowledge that we are in God’s hands and that all will be well in the end. We can sing with joy and conviction the great hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul.”
It is that knowledge that enables us to rejoice even in contrary circumstances. We are able to look beyond all of the difficulty and heartache of this present evil world and see the glory that will burst forth when God’s eternal purpose reaches its fulfillment. With Paul, we are enabled to say, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:18.
The joy I am talking about is more than just our emotional reaction to the hope we have in God. That may be part of it but the joy that is the result of having God’s Spirit within comes from His own joy! Do you think that God has no feelings about what is to come? Of course He does! His own heart is filled with the joy of anticipation of that day and all that is to follow. His joy becomes a wellspring of hope and joy in our hearts from which we may drink throughout our earthly journey.
It is that wellspring within that enables us to learn perseverance in the face of suffering and even to be able to rejoice because of an inward knowledge that God uses such things to achieve His wonderful purpose in us. The quality of perseverance—patience, endurance—is very much a fruit of God’s presence within. No matter how weak we may be in ourselves, the Spirit that is begotten in us will never give up, never abandon hope or trust in God. We may be called upon to pass through deep waters but, as I said before, our anchor will hold!
What a wonderful example and demonstration of this we see in our Lord, “...who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Heb. 12:2.
The knowledge Paul spoke of in verse 3 needs to be noted. This is not mere head knowledge, learned from a book, or from a preacher. God certainly uses human instruments in teaching us but the knowledge to which Paul refers is an inward knowledge that results from our being taught of God. God desires to teach His children. He wants us to be willing disciples, learners, students.
Once again, Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matt. 11:29. In John 6:45, Jesus quotes from Isaiah: “They will all be taught by God.” Heb. 10:16 likewise quotes the Old Testament when it says, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
In 1 John 2:27 we read, “As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit — just as it has taught you, remain in him.” John is describing that same inward knowledge that comes when we are taught of God by His Spirit within.
Surely we understand that God has not given us His Spirit that we might walk alone, independent of the Body of Christ. Nonetheless, every member of that Body does have an inward ability to know as a direct result of the presence of God’s Spirit and those who have that Spirit are thus enabled to recognize and fellowship others of the same Spirit. They are also enabled to recognize those that the Spirit anoints to minister in carrying out the various functions of the Body.
This inward knowledge—or at least, the inward ability to understand spiritual matters—is no small thing. It marks one of the greatest, most telling differences between the saved and lost.
Listen to these words of Jesus from John 16:12-15, spoken to his disciples shortly before his arrest and crucifixion: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
God’s Spirit is referred to as “the Spirit of truth,” so direct is the connection between truth and His Spirit. That Spirit is THE means for the communication of truth between our glorified Lord and His Body, the Church. Some of that truth may be expressed outwardly through preaching and teaching yet it can only be truly understood by those who have His Spirit living within. Others may hear the words yet have no more power to understand their true significance than did most of those who heard Jesus on earth.
In the first part of 1 Corinthians Paul spends considerable time expounding on this subject. In 1 Cor. 1:18 he says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” Note the connection between the spiritual state of the hearers and the way in which they regard the message: same message, opposite evaluation.
In the verses that follow, Paul discusses the difference between human and divine wisdom and how God deliberately frustrates the wisdom of the wise. Behind worldly wisdom lies sinful human pride and God will never cater to nor reward pride. He bypasses both the sign-seeking unbelief of the Jews and the intellectual pride of the Greeks. Instead He saves those who believe a message that the worldly-wise regard as foolishness.
In Matt 11:25-27, Jesus first addressed his Father and then taught his disciples something about how dependent we are upon him for true spiritual knowledge. He said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
If we know anything of eternal importance it is by God’s grace and mercy. There will be no boasting on the judgment day. Little children who have simply believed God’s word will stand there robed in white while the intellectual giants of this world who trust in their own intellects and reject His Word will be cast into the fire.
And so Paul, in the light of all he has been saying in chapter 1, begins the second chapter by expressing his determination to simply proclaim the message with God’s power rather than depending upon any kind of human ability. NOT to do so results in people’s faith resting on men’s wisdom—not a good thing! And back in verse 17 of chapter 1 he gives us another bad consequence of relying on human wisdom: the cross of Christ is emptied of its power! No power, no salvation. Converted heads, empty hearts. And we wonder why churches today are filled with lost members!
But our present focus is on evidences of having received God’s Spirit, knowledge not available to the world being one of them. And this is precisely what Paul deals with next. He first makes the point that in his preaching he DID in fact speak wisdom, just not the wisdom of the world. He then says in 1 Cor. 2:7, “No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.”
What an amazing verse! Think about what Paul is saying here. He had the incredible privilege of proclaiming “God’s secret wisdom.” God had kept that wisdom hidden since the beginning of the world. He knew it all along but the world remained in total ignorance despite its professions of great wisdom.
The ancient world had its superstars in the realm of philosophy and religion, men like Plato, Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, and many others, who were celebrated far and wide for their supposedly wise insights. All the while God kept His peace as men professed themselves to be wise, yet became fools. Oh, it is true that He revealed many things to His followers, yet, even though the prophets, for example, were allowed to prophesy many great things, they still didn’t really understand what it was all about. 1 Peter 1:10-12. Only the ministry of Christ and all that has followed could begin to reveal God’s secret.
God’s wisdom is much more than just a lot of superior ideas. Nor is it just about having a better life here in this world. Rather, it embodies a plan, a purpose, a destiny, set forth by One Who has the absolute power to make it happen. And that destiny has to do with US, those who believe. Our destiny is to be glorified along with His Son.
In 1 Cor. 2:9, Paul quotes from Isaiah 64:4, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” Nearly always when I hear this verse quoted it is applied to believers and the wonderful things that God has prepared for them in the next world. That may be true but that is NOT what this verse is about.
Paul is actually continuing his thought about “God’s secret wisdom” by noting that “No eye has seen...,” etc. That is, the eyes, ears, and minds of natural men have been clueless when it has come to divine truth. Man has no idea what God is up to. The greatest philosophers of history have completely missed it because God has kept it hidden and revealed it only according to His plan.
And that is exactly what Paul says next. 1 Cor. 2:10 continues, “...but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” See, the things that no (natural) eye has seen, and so forth, are not all of the wonderful things in our eternal future but what He is revealing here and now in this world, namely the cross that opens up a glorious destiny for those who believe.
How did Paul come to possess this secret knowledge? God revealed it to him BY HIS SPIRIT. It’s not how intellectually brilliant we are. It is what spirit we have. What the wisest of natural men can never know by their wisdom a little child can know because it is revealed by God’s Spirit.
Only the Spirit of God knows these deep secrets of God. In the human realm the only one who really knows the secrets of a man’s heart is that man’s spirit. And so it is with God. Having made that comparison in verses 10 and 11, Paul says this in verse 12: “We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Now that brings us right back to our subject. There is a direct and necessary connection between receiving God’s Spirit and understanding “what God has freely given us.” It is not enough to merely possess those things; God desires that we come to understand them. And He has given us His Spirit that we MAY understand.
The clear implication of verse 12 is that others do not understand these spiritual truths. However, lest that implication be overlooked, Paul says directly in verse 14, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Thus we can clearly see (if we have received God’s Spirit!) the relevance of this truth to our subject.
I’m afraid that one of the tragic features of modern Christianity is the building of great religious empires by “dumbing down” the gospel, removing its offence so that people will not be put off by such old-fashioned doctrines as the blood, the cross, dying to self, repentance, and so forth. In their place we find religious entertainment, psychology for living, engaging programs, superficial “believism,” and a false hope of heaven. It is nothing but the broad road that leads to destruction. Matthew 7:13.
Truly, as Jesus said in John 3:3, “...no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Prior to the new birth the only spiritual truths one is able to understand—and then, only as God reveals them and convicts him—are those truths that make up the gospel message showing the sinner his need and Christ’s promise of salvation through repentance and faith. It is only after the sinner bows to that truth and enters in that the great truths of the kingdom, those secrets God has hidden since the beginning of the world, can begin to make any sense at all. It is the indwelling Spirit of God that makes that possible.
That heretofore secret wisdom of God absolutely cuts across everything that man prizes so highly. Worldly wisdom prizes, “...the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does.” 1 John 2:16. In short, man places the highest value on whatever gratifies “self.”
God’s plan is to deliver man from sin and self. The cross is not just an instrument the ancient Romans used to execute Jesus; it is also the means of our deliverance today. We are called to walk in the words of Jesus: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt 16:24-25.
Such truths—together with a long list of great kingdom truths—make no sense at all to the natural man, however religious he may be. Oh, he may acknowledge them somewhat, intellectually, but he does not understand them in his heart let alone believe them. The bent of his heart will always be to walk in the ways of the world around him.
Now someone will rightly point out that believers do not instantly acquire all of this wonderful knowledge when they are born again. In fact, Peter says in 1 Peter 2:2-3, “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” Spiritual knowledge and understanding are only acquired over time and through experience.
Part of Paul’s prayer for those who had experienced the seal of the Spirit is recorded in Eph 1:17: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” Now Paul is certainly not talking about their receiving a different Spirit in addition to the One that had sealed them! Rather he is praying that they might grow in their spiritual knowledge as a result of that indwelling Spirit.
In fact, what follows in 1 Cor. 3 acknowledges this need as Paul points out that he cannot address the Corinthian believers as “spiritual” but as “worldly,” “mere infants in Christ.” They still needed spiritual “milk” and could not yet tolerate “solid food.” In many ways they behaved more like people of the world than they did as true followers of Christ.
Yet, Paul did not regard them as unbelievers but rather as immature believers needing to grow. There would have been no point at all in his writing to them to teach them needed spiritual truth if they had been “natural men” because they would not have had the capacity to understand. And that is precisely the point. Just because someone is born again, sealed by the Holy Spirit does not mean that they suddenly become theologians able to expound the deep mysteries of God. Rather the Spirit’s indwelling gives them the CAPACITY to understand. And beyond that, it gives them the ability to recognize those who minister by the Spirit of truth even when they don’t understand everything!
We can see an example of this in the events of John 6. At this point in the ministry of Jesus great crowds were following him, having seen miracles such as the multiplying of the loaves and fishes. But Jesus understood their true condition. He knew their real need was to recognize and receive him as God’s messenger. It was not the loaves and fishes he provided but the message of eternal life he brought that mattered.
And so he expounded this truth, deliberately expressing it in terms that would expose the true spiritual condition of his followers. Jesus never was interested in crowds. Actually, there was no one who heard him that day that understood the truth he shared yet there were two very opposite responses. The crowds—and even some of those who had followed him around and considered themselves to be his disciples—turned away from him.
Jesus pointed out that although the words he had spoken were “spirit” and “life” there were many among his followers who did not believe (Judas being one). In John 6:65 we read, “He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.’” This enablement, this ability, has everything to do with being taught of God (verse 45).
At that point Jesus addressed the twelve disciples to see how they would respond. Now it is true that the Spirit was WITH the disciples and not yet IN them but still that Divine influence caused them to stay. Even though they did not understand what Jesus had said, Peter spoke up quickly and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:68-69.
They didn’t understand what he had said—but they knew WHO HE WAS. How did they know? They knew it because God had revealed it to them, even as Jesus pointed out on another occasion in Matthew 16:15-17.
And so receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit has everything to do with our ability to understand the things of God. The only thing necessary before that is for a sinner to know that he is a sinner, to know where the gate is that opens upon the narrow way that leads to life, and how to go through that gate. He cannot truly understand anything beyond that until he first bows to the gospel ultimatum and is born of that Spirit.
How, then, can we know we have received God’s Spirit?