I John 4:13
“By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”
– I John 4:13, NAU
In I John 4:7-21 the author presents a full discussion about love. God’s love for us; our love for God; and our love for each other area all important aspects of the gospel.
As Guthrie points out, verses 7-12 deal with the powerful effect of God’s love. He states the main points (p. 901) of John’s discussion as follows:
Since God is love, the believer’s love to God must reflect the same love. Its supreme example is seen in the sending of Christ to be a propitiation for our sins. But this high concept of love is the pattern for Christians’ love for one another.'”
In verses 13-21, according to Guthrie, John deals with the perfecting of God’s love in us. Guthrie summarizes these verses with these comments (p. 901):
We have received (1) the Spirit and (2) the testimony that God sent His Son to be our Savior. Our duty is to confess Christ and in this way we shall experience more of God’s love until it becomes perfected. When it is perfect it will cast out fear and give confidence for the judgment day. Again mere profession is strongly condemned and brotherly love is made a test for the reality of our love to God.
Within this context of discussion about love, John deals with the subject of assurance of salvation. For example, in verse 12 John states: “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” Then, in verse 16, he writes: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”
Verse 13 deals specifically with the role of the Holy Spirit in assurance of salvation. John declares, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” NAU This declaration is very similar to what John said in 3:24. There he writes: “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.”
First, John says, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us.” (Italics Mine) Grammatically, “we know” could refer to the preceding verse or to the last clause of verse 13. The preceding verse (verse 12) says, “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” The last clause of verse 13 says, “because He has given us of His Spirit.”
The fact that we love one another is an evidence of our relationship with God. In his Gospel (John 13:35) John states “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” NAU However, it seems more likely that “By this” points forward to the rest of verse 13. The Spirit of God assures us of salvation. Moreover, it is the Spirit that inspires love in us.
Second, we know that “we abide in Him and He in us.” (Italics Mine) In I John 2:6, John declares that we are “in Him.” Then, In I john 3:24, he says that God “abides in us.” Now, John combines the two points: we abide in Him and He in us.” One condition is never without the other.
God abides in us, and we abide in God. This mutual abiding presence has a powerful impact on our lives as believers. Whatever happens, we know that we are directly and intimately related to the almighty and loving God. This should inspire our deepest loyalty and an outflow of love from us to others.
The Reason Why
Our attention focuses on the word “because.” This word introduces a reason why we know that we abide in God and God abides in us. That reason is clearly stated. We know because God “has given us of His Spirit.”
There are many reasons why we know we are saved. We know because the Word of God assures us that we are saved through faith in Christ. We know because God has changed our lives. We know because His love is manifested through us. Here, John highlights the role of the Spirit in assurance.
In this verse “has given” is a translation of the Greek verb dedoken, which is in the perfect tense. According to Mounce (p. 218), the Greek “perfect indicates a completed action whose effects are felt in the present.” When we believe in Christ God gives us His Spirit who continually abides with us. Thus, in this verse, John emphasizes the ongoing relationship with the Spirit. The ongoing presence of the Spirit reassures us that we are children of God.
Mounce (p. 219) makes some significant observations about English. He points out that English does not have an exact counterpart to the Greek perfect tense. When you add the helping verbs “have” or “has” to an English past tense, the action was done in the recent past and the statement is accurate up to now. The English present can describe an action with current consequences and, therefore, is close to the Greek perfect.
In I John 3:24, the verb “has given” is a translation of the Greek aorist edoken. The aorist tense is used in a variety of ways. According to Gruenler (Mounce, p. 189):
The aorist (aoristos) is the indefinite tense that states only the fact of the action without specifying its duration. When the aorist describes an action as a unit event it may accentuate on of three possibilities, as, imagine, a ball that has been thrown: 1) let fly (inceptive or ingressive); 2), flew (constative or durative); 3) hit (culminative or telic).
Very often, some scholars will emphasize that the aorist tense refers to a once-for-all action. However, Schreiner (Mounce, p. 197) maintains that the aorist can refer to a once-for-all action, but that it does not always do so. The context often determines how the aorist tense should be interpreted.
With the entire Biblical picture in view, God gave His Spirit to us, is giving His Spirit to us, will give His Spirit to us, and His Spirit abides in us. The language of the Spirit is flexible and comprehensive. His presence and works today assure us of our standing with God.
Of His Spirit
In I John 3:24 it is clearly the Spirit who is the gift. However, in I John 4:13 the phrase ek tou pneumatos may be interpreted in different ways. The preposition ek may indicate that a portion of the Spirit is given to us or that the Spirit is the source of gifts. In other words the gifts are from the Spirit. Grammatically, either view is possible.
If we assume that the Spirit is the source of blessings, then we ask what blessings. Although the verse does not say what blessings, we naturally think of the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the gifts (I Corinthians 12:8-11) of the Spirit. Because I John 4:13 comes in the context of a discussion about love, the fruit of love stands out.
However, ek may signal that God gives us a portion of the Spirit. Some object that the Spirit cannot be divided in parts. Swete (pp. 267-268) counters this objection with this comment: “That in one passage [I John 3:24] God is said to give the Spirit . . . but in the other [I John 4:13] a portion or measure of the Spirit . . . is not material; the Spirit was given in its fullness, but is received by each man according to his capacity for spiritual gifts.”
Whether a passage speaks of the Spirit Himself, His presence, or His works does not always make a great deal of difference. After all, He is in a sense present in all His works. We may not receive His presence or His works, and thus reject the Spirit Himself, but He is nevertheless present in what He does.
The primary thrust of I John 4:13 is that the Spirit, who is present in our lives, assures us of our salvation. Because of the Spirit, we know that we abide in God and that God abides in us. This is true whether we think of the Spirit Himself or His works. Our subjective experience of the Spirit greatly enhances our sense of assurance. This is why we welcome the powerful presence of the Spirit in our life and in all our activities.
For Further Study
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Introduction. London: The Tyndale Press, 1970.
McDowell, Edward A. Broadman Bible Commentary: Luke to John, Vol. 9. ed. Clifton J. Allen. Nashville: Broadman Press, n.d.
Mounce, William D. Basics of Biblical Greek. Grand Rapids: Zondervan , 1993.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930. Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London: Macmillan and Company, 1910.
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