He in Us (1 John 4:13)
"A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also….If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (Jn. 14:19, 23).
Jesus had long intended that His relationship with His disciples would be characterised by an inseparability unchanged even when He was no longer in the flesh. He promised them He would abide with them after His ascension, telling them that this promise would come to pass when the Spirit came.
Today, the second downpour of the Spirit has begun, and the end time true church has been established. Jesus’ promise applies to all who believe in Him. It is a promise of an intimate relationship with Christ, as well as a statement of the two requirements for salvation: “We abide in Him and He in us”.
Its Actual Meanings
On more than one occasion, either Jesus or John had said, ”We abide in Him and He in us” to emphasize the importance of having ‘God in us’. But what does this phrase really mean?
Partaking of His Flesh and Blood
”He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (Jn. 5:56).
The context of this verse is the partaking of the Holy Communion. Was Christ suggesting that just by partaking of the Holy Communion, we shall have ‘the Spirit in us’? It is difficult to conclude that this was what He meant. The Holy Communion was instituted before the suffering of Christ. But the Spirit would only be given after Christ was glorified (Jn. 7:39). Jesus had stressed that the Spirit would not come to the disciples, but if He went away (ascension) He would send Him to them (Jn. 15:7).
The phrase ‘would not come’ implies that the Spirit had not yet dwelt in them in the way they had been promised. Since the Spirit had not come, biblically speaking, He could not have been in them. In addition, the disciples were told to tarry in Jerusalem for Jesus to send them the Promise (Holy Spirit) of the Father (Lk. 24:49). If the Spirit was already in them, would it not be a pointless exercise to urge them to wait for the coming of the Spirit?
Hence what exactly was our Lord trying to teach?
The Lord wants us to know that in partaking of His body and blood, we are inseparably connected to Him. The expression ‘abides in Me, and I in Him’ is the best depiction of being one with Christ. It is a state of existence where one shares in the life of Christ. Back then, the Jews were utterly intolerant towards the teachings of eating and drinking Christ’s flesh and blood (Jn. 6:52). Hence, Christ sought to warn that rejection of His flesh and blood amounted to alienating oneself from having a share in His life.
Confessing Christ and Being Loving
“Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed in the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn. 5:15-16).
1 John 5:15 is about acknowledging Jesus as the Son of God. Few of us would conclude that a person – regardless of whether he/she is baptised or not – who merely confesses that Jesus is the Son of God automatically, has the Spirit in him or her. In fact, in the context of evangelism, when a non-believer accepts that Jesus is the Son of God, the clear next step is to expound on the complete gospel of salvation to him or her.
Looking at verse 16, it is not unusual for some to claim that ‘God is in us since we have love for others’. But can love be used as the basis for determining that ‘the Spirit is in us’? Cornelius’ love and good deeds were so well established that these even reached God (Acts 10:1-2). Do we thus conclude that Cornelius already had ‘the Spirit in him’, prior to God’s revelation to him and prior to Peter’s arrival at his house?
Similarly, while preaching ‘he who believes and is baptised will be saved’, we do not rule out receiving the Spirit before baptism as the starting point for the indwelling of the Spirit. But in general, receiving the indwelling of the Spirit happens after baptism. The rationale for such a sequence is that one’s belief, not only leads him to accept baptism, but also underlines the need to pray for the Spirit.
The example of Paul preaching in Ephesus (Acts 19:5f) would also be inexplicable if the abidance of the Spirit happened before or at baptism. If the newly-baptised believers had ‘the Spirit in them’ at the point of baptism, there would have been no hurry (or need) for Paul to pray for and lay hands on them for the Spirit to fall upon them after baptising them.
Therefore, the context of these two verses in the epistle of 1 John must be carefully analysed to come to a sound conclusion in line with the pattern of the truth. First, John was writing to believers. They must have been baptised. Second, this epistle stands against the backdrop of the denial of Jesus’ divinity. There were claims that He is not the Christ (1 Jn. 2:22; 4:2-3; 5:1). John rebuts these false teachings by saying that those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God would have their lives hidden in Christ’s life. This would then draw a clear distinction between those who stray and the faithful. The former will be cut off from Christ, whereas the latter remains in the abundance of His life.
Third, judging from the epistle, it is apparent that love was in short supply amongst the brethren (1 Jn. 2:10-11; 3:10-15; 4:8). The aim of verse 16 is to highlight the danger of being over taken by death when there is no love within us.
Biblical interpretations or teachings are inaccurate when one takes a single verse as the basis for postulating a doctrine, neglecting the pattern of the sound word. Christ taught that belief in Him was necessary for salvation (Jn. 3:16); He did also say that to be saved requires one to hear His words and believe in Him (Jn. 5:24). But none of us would think that this was sufficient. So we have to find the pattern of the teachings on salvation, with believing in Jesus as the core.
The Indwelling of the Spirit
“At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:20).
Jesus speaks much about the coming of the Holy Spirit in the Book of John. To assure His apostles of His continuous presence in their lives, He promised them that He would come again. His coming, however, shall no longer be in a physical form. Rather, He would come in the Spirit. According to Christ, He would be in them when He came. This implies that when He was still with them in the flesh, the ‘Spirit would not be in them’ (Jn. 14:17). Jesus was referring to a whole new encounter that the apostles were about to have. When the day came (Jn. 14:20), the disciples “will know” what it would be like. But what exactly would they ‘know’?
Since the disciples had already been told about the coming of the Spirit, the new knowledge they would be gaining was beyond written information; beyond things understood cognitively. Instead, the disciples would experientially know once the Spirit came. Three facets of the encounter are stated.
First, ‘I am in my Father’. Jesus had been teaching that the Father dwelt in him (Jn. 14:10b). Not only is there an inseparable closeness between Jesus and the Father, They are actually one in the Spirit. For that reason, Jesus boldly declares that “We” (the Father and He) shall make Their home with him who loves Jesus (Jn. 14:23). The disciples would know that it was true, when they received the Spirit.
Second, ‘You in Me’. When the Spirit dwells in the apostles, they would naturally know that they belong to Him. This is similar to the teaching of Isaiah concerning the coming of the Spirit (Isa. 44:1-5): “I am the Lord… Another will write with his hand, ‘The Lord’s’” (Isa. 44:5). There is an urgency to do so when the Spirit dwells in them. The conviction is given and enhanced at the coming of the Spirit.
Third, ‘I in you’. The promise of Christ that He would dwell in them was realised when they received the Spirit. They knew the Spirit was in them when they were given utterance as indicated on the Day of Pentecost. Similarly, Christ taught that when one is born of the Spirit, it is analogous to him hearing (tangible) the wind blowing but not being able to tell where it came from (Jn. 3:8). The believer knows that ‘God is in him’ by experience, which in the light of the Book of Acts, is receiving the Spirit ascertained by speaking in tongues.
“Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 Jn. 3:24).
We are liars when we fail to keep the commandments and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 2:4-5); we do not belong to Him. Quite evidently, ‘We abide in Him’ is maintained by keeping the commandments. Keeping the commandments is to follow the walk of Christ, who was totally submissive to the Father when He was in the flesh (Jn. 8:26b, 28). Submission to the word firmly binds us and Jesus together. We can never be in a position that we have ‘God in us’ and yet do not keep His commandments.
However, John is not equating keeping the commandments to ‘God being in us’. He is not saying that the Spirit is received on account of our abidance in His word. The coming of ‘the Spirit in us’ is a physical encounter with God. That is why John states “We know” that ‘God is in us’ by the Spirit that He has given us. The word ‘given’ is a term used in Acts to describe the outpour of the Spirit (Acts 11:17) on the Day of Pentecost.
“No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (1 Jn. 4:12-13).
Likewise, the power to love originates from the Lord. This love is shown in our submission to God. By the love that we have for God and one another, God abides in us. When ‘God is in us’, we naturally manifests His very essence – love. Hence, we cannot declare we have ‘God in us’ but yet lack the deeds of love.
Yielding to the Spirit in practising love makes our love perfect. John is making clear that there must be a sense of willing reciprocity for love to be manifested. By this “we know” that ‘God in us’. With the working presence of the Spirit, His love is abundantly poured into our hearts (Rm. 5:5; Col. 1:8) as a continuous supply for the manifestation of love in our lives.
John was very careful to maintain that knowing ‘God in us’ occurs because God has given us His Spirit. We must then not draw the hasty conclusion that having love is equal to having received the Spirit. This was not John’s intention. His focus here was to discuss the work of ‘the Spirit in us’. The position ‘we abide in Him and He in us’ becomes a concrete reality when we allow God to work within us, in the knowledge that the Spirit had been given to us with an experiential proof.
The Teachings of Paul
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, Abba, Father” (Rm. 8:14f).
There was a certain faction in the church at Rome who were carnal in their deeds. For that reason, Paul warned believers to put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rm. 8:13). For the transformation to occur, they must be led by the Spirit. In other words, there must be a sense of willingness to allow the Spirit in them to lead (Rm. 8:10f). Paul does not in any way teach that once we are baptised, the Spirit is in us. Rather, he is saying that we who have received the Spirit should allow the Spirit in us to do His work, and in the process, we confirm that we are His children and He is our Father.
If we insist that ‘the indwelling of the Spirit or the Spirit in us’ and ‘receiving the Spirit’ occur at two separate times, with the former preceding the latter, then we have to ask when the adoption takes place. To say that it takes place when the former occurs is to confuse the truth for Paul says it occurs when the Spirit is received (Rm. 8:15). To say that it takes place when the latter occurs is to misconstrue the teaching, for it is indisputably clear that the ‘Spirit in us’ occurs at the point of receiving the Holy Spirit.
“The blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus that they might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Gal. 3:14).
Before His ascension, Jesus spoke about the coming of the promise of the Holy Spirit (Lk 24:49) to the disciples. The Promise is the Spirit Himself. The biblical pattern is that this happened for the first time on the Day of Pentecost. Now, when do we (the Gentiles) receive the promise of the Holy Spirit? To postulate that the Spirit in us occurs at the point of baptism creates tremendous difficulty in interpreting this scripture. If the Promise in us takes place at the point of baptism, to teach that we need to receive the Promise again is to muddy the once clear truth of the Bible.
From the statement of Paul, the sequence is that being in Christ Jesus (through baptism) comes before receiving the Promise (having the Spirit in us). This is in line with the teachings of Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38f). Quite evidently, the apostles are very careful to draw a clear distinction between the two. This is the reason why Peter and John went to Samaria to help the newly baptised pray for the Spirit; for the Spirit has fallen upon none of them, meaning the Spirit was not in them, though they had been baptised (Acts 8:16f).
God strengthens the relationship we have with Him when we partake of the Holy Communion and put His word to good use. Our lives are closely tied with Christ’s when ‘the Spirit in us’ is given the role to direct us. This is the submission to God needed on our part. It is true that partaking of the Communion is to share in, and connect us to the life of Christ. But it is not the evidence of having ‘the Spirit in us’, as in the case of being given the Spirit. The same is true with the confessing of Christ, keeping of His word and loving one another.
Jesus and John rightly say that “we know” that ‘God is in us’ because of the Spirit that He has given us. This is a tangible encounter with God. The knowledge of ‘God being in us’ is made true by the coming of the Spirit in our lives. The spiritual reality of being closely knit together in Christ, likewise, is made concrete by the indwelling of the Spirit. Today, we know that ‘God is in us’ because we have received the Spirit. And when we pray, we are enabled by ‘the Spirit in us’ to speak in tongues.