Some years ago Time magazine reported on a nervous motorist in Lambertville, New Jersey. This man, on being stopped by the police, explained that he had been driving on two hundred and twenty-four consecutive learner’s permits over the last twenty-five years. He had flunked his first driver’s test and had been unsure of himself ever since.
If we were honest, many of us would confess that we feel the same way about our relationship with Jesus Christ. We want to be followers of Christ but because of what we perceive as our spiritual failures we are unsure of ourselves. We want to believe we are headed for eternal life but we just aren’t so sure. As a result, we tend to live tentatively in our relationship with the Lord.
The apostle John has written his letter to help us see the qualities of a true believer. One of those qualities is a confidence or assurance in the faith. As we near the end of 1 John 4, John seems to be transitioning from talking about love to focusing on the assurance that is ours in Christ. In 1 John 4:13-16 John gives us a few of the things that should provide the basis of our confidence. What John says is not necessarily new, however as he writes now, He seems to be saying these things as an affirmation rather than an exhortation.
How do we know if we are true believers?
We Share in the Gift of His Spirit (v.13)
13 We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
The first test of whether or not we are a true believer is an internal test. Does the Holy Spirit live within us?
As you read through the Bible you see a progression in mankind’s relationship with God. In Genesis we are told that God walked with Adam, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. In Exodus God started to live with the people in the tabernacle. However, when the people sinned grievously, God’s Spirit departed. With the coming of Christ things change again. Now as we come into a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ, God’s Spirit takes up residence inside of us. John captures this idea by saying, “We live in Him, He lives in us”.
This is a message that is reiterated throughout the New Testament (it is also foretold in the book of Joel in chapter 2).
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. [John 16:7]
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, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory. [Ephesians 1:13,14]
When you want to purchase something (like a house) you are usually asked to put down some kind of deposit. This means you are serious about the purchase. The owner knows that you intend to make the purchase when all the financial arrangements can be worked out.
In a sense, the Bible tells us that God gives us the Holy Spirit as His way of guaranteeing that we will indeed “live even though we die”. It is God’s way of showing us that He is committed to us for the long haul. A husband and wife exchange rings . . . God gives us His Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul asks,
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The Bible teaches that when we become a true Child of God we enter into the most intimate of relationships with God. He becomes a part of us. This is a much more intimate relationship than even that of a husband and wife. The Spirit lives IN us. He is privy to our thoughts, our attitudes and our private deeds.
Jesus tells us that as a result of the Holy Spirit’s influence we will begin to develop the character of Christ. We will have new power to serve the Lord. We will be given the words we need when under attack or when we don’t know how to pray. We will be delivered from fear (more on that next week) and given a new ability to discern. We will also know a new joy, a new strength, a profound peace, and a deep assurance that we are truly a child of God . . . all because of God’s Spirit within us.
But this all begs the question doesn’t it? What most of us want to know is this: “How do I know if I have received the Holy Spirit?” How can we know if God is living in us?
Some will tell us that you cannot know that you have the Spirit until you speak in tongues or have some similar extraordinary experience. This comes from reading through the book of Acts. In Acts we see at least four occasions when people who received the Holy Spirit showed this by speaking in tongues. Certainly such experiences happened and could happen again. However, saying that these things happened and saying it is the normal experience or the necessary experience is an entirely different thing. That would be like saying, “Since the Apostle Paul was blinded for a period when he was brought to Christ, so any true believer will also be blinded.”
Throughout the rest of the New Testament these signs are mentioned as gifts that some people receive but no where are we told that this is the normal sign that the Holy Spirit has come upon a life.
Extraordinary experiences can be wonderful; however they can also be dangerous. They can be dangerous first, because they are unreliable. Lots of things can provoke an ”experience” (drugs, the power of suggestion, Satan). Rather than use an experience as the test of truth, we need to use the truth (the Bible) to test our experience.
Second, putting the focus on an extraordinary experience is dangerous because it can provoke spiritual pride. This is the opposite of what the Spirit does in a life. When the Holy Spirit is truly at work He makes us aware of our weakness and the greatness of the Lord. A true believer becomes humble rather than proud. A true believer is less and less self-sufficient and more and more Christ-sufficient.
Third, when we emphasize extraordinary experiences, many will seek the experience rather than the one who is Lord over all our experiences. Grand experiences can easily lull people into a false sense of security. It is possible to have great experiences without truly laying hold of Christ.
So, if extraordinary experiences are unreliable how can we tell if the Holy Spirit dwells (or abides) in us? Let me give you some simple questions to ask yourself:
- Have you ever been convicted of the depth of your sin? (John 16:8) Jesus tells us the Spirit will convict the world of sin. Those who do not have the Spirit will constantly seek to justify their sin or excuse it. Those with the Spirit will recognize their sin and repent of it.
- Have you put your hope and confidence for salvation on Christ alone? Have you received His gift of eternal Life? You will not receive the Holy Spirit until you are first a child of God. (Romans 8:9 tells us that if we do not have the Spirit it is because we are not a true believer).
- Do you sense the Spirit inside of you? (1 Corinthians 6:19) Paul tells us that the Spirit testifies to our sonship (Romans 8:15)
- Do you sense a struggle going on inside of you between what you used to be and what you desire to be? (Romans 7)
- Is the gospel making more sense to you? (John 16:12-15). Jesus told us the Spirit would guide us into all the truth.
- Do you sense the leading of the Spirit? (Romans 8:14) Paul talks about being led by the Spirit of God.
- Do you see evidence of the fruit of the Spirit in your life?(Galatians 5:22-23)
- Do you hunger to share the Gospel and do you see signs of power in your life as you witness? (Acts 1:8)
- Do you long to be more like Jesus?
If you answer yes to these questions, then the Holy Spirit is in you and you are in Christ.
We Acknowledge Jesus is God (v.14-15)
There is a second reason we can have confidence.
14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.
We would call this the Intellectual or Doctrinal basis for confidence. John tells us that those who acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God can be sure that God lives in him and he in God.
John says we must have “seen and testify” that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. This is important. It is knowledge AND experience. We must know this to be true and we must have personally entrusted ourselves to this truth. We must understand that Jesus alone is God and he alone can and has paid the price for our salvation. Once we recognize and become convinced of this truth, we must apply that truth to our own lives.
The person who does not have the Spirit will always seek to diminish or “water down” the person and nature of Christ. People who have not been made new by God’s Spirit will minimize the miracles of Jesus, they will water down his teaching, they will try to make Him as common as possible. Why? Because then He is less threatening to life as it has always been.
The true believer accepts Jesus for who He is rather than trying to make Him into what they would like Him to be. The true believer understands that the Lord is our only hope of eternal life. How does this give us confidence of our standing with God? If our theology is correct, we put our confidence in Christ’s work rather than our own. In those times when we don’t “feel anything” we put our confidence in God’s promise rather than our emotions or experiences. We anchor our life to God’s promise that if we have put our trust in Him, we ARE children of God (John 1:12) whether we feel like it or not.
So, the question to answer is this: “Have you put your trust in Jesus for your salvation?” Do you recognize that you need a Savior and that Jesus is that Savior that you need? Have you gone beyond being religious to actually become a follower of Christ? Have you bowed before God’s Amazing Grace or are you just playing a game?
We Abide In Love (v.16)
16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
This third test would be the External Test. If the Holy Spirit is at work on the inside, there should be a corresponding change on the outside. There should be a character change (fruit), there should be a new power in ministry (gifts) and there should be an interpersonal change (love).
If you will, think about what happens when someone is going through chemotherapy. As this powerful drug goes to work against the cancer cells inside the body, there is a corresponding effect externally. People lose their hair, their food loses its taste, and they often get sick.
Fortunately the work of the Holy Spirit is not so unpleasant. John is hammering away at the fact that those who “live in love, live in God”. If God has a hold of our lives it will be evidenced in the way we treat others. This isn’t hard to understand. Will your relationship with other people be affected if,
- You are angry?
- You are In love?
- You are not feeling well?
- You are depressed?
- You are afraid?
- You are running late?
- You have just reached an important goal in your life?
All those things affect our relationship with the people around us. How could we possibly think that becoming a child of God through God’s incredible mercy would not also impact the way we treat the people around us?
John wants us to understand that a real deal follower of Jesus Christ is more than just somebody who goes to church regularly. A real deal follower is more than a person who believes certain things or engages in certain disciplines. A real deal follower of Christ is one who walks with Christ daily.
It’s kind of like the difference between taking a parenting class and actually being a parent. In High School, students have to carry around a baby with a computer chip in it. It’s designed to give teenagers an idea of the demands of having a child. It’s a good learning tool, but it doesn’t compare to having your own child. When you hold your own baby in your arms you become committed in a whole new way. You are committed for the rest of your life rather than just a couple of weeks. Your life changes. You change. It’s hard . . . but it’s also wonderful. You cannot get the blessing without paying the price.
It’s the same way in our relationship with God. Studying about Jesus is not the same as actually following Him. Hanging out with other Christians is not the same thing as being a Christ-follower yourself. Playing at Christianity is not the same thing as committing yourself to the life-changing Savior.
So, are you a real deal follower of Jesus, or are you just dabbling in the Christian faith? Have you surrendered your life to Jesus? Are you committed? Have you responded to His invitation to follow and trust Him? If not, I encourage you to become a real follower today.
For those who dare to follow Him you can know that you are truly a child of God. You can know for certain that you are going to Heaven. How? John says,
- You will see the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in you.
- You will see Jesus for who He really is and trust Him with your lives and the broken pieces of your past.
- You will see God changing you from the inside out. You will find yourself loving people. You will love them not because of what they can do for you but simply because God loves them. You will find yourself becoming more patient, less self-absorbed, more aware of the needs of others. You will want to get involved in helping the hurting rather than simply standing on the sidelines. In short . . . you will start acting a little more like Jesus.
When you begin to see these things in your life . . . then you can get rid of your learner’s permit and live . . . . and die, with confidence.