Throughout this letter from John it is clear he wants us to know assurance:
“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard” (1:3)
“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands” (2:3)
“But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth” (2:20)
“We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers” (3:14)
“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth…” (3:19)
“I write these things…that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13)
What is the difference between the assurance of a Christian believer and the knowing of every day experience? On what is our knowing founded? How can we have assurance when God is not capable of discovery simply by our senses and not open to analysis, but is Spirit, Sovereign, incomprehensible beyond what he gives us by revelation?
1.We have received of his Spirit (v13)
The account of Pentecost teaches us that receiving the Spirit is the normal Christian conversion experience (Acts 2:38-39) So Paul is able to write, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” (Ro.8:9)
Being, “filled with the Spirit” (Eph.5:18) is understood as being constantly energised (continually filled) and directed by the life of God in us. We have already learned that this filling by the Spirit produces the characteristics of God’s life – joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal.5:22-26) Evidence of this filling is not gifts, that can be counterfeited in the moment, but fruit that can be tested over time. We have assurance in the evidence of the Spirit’s activity in us.
“Where the life of God is at work, it sweetens bitterness, melts hardness and multiplies love” (David Jackman)
2. We Have the Apostolic Testimony (v14)
It is important to ask, what is the apostolic testimony? Jesus regarded it as every bit as important as the testimony of the Spirit:
‘When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me. And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.’ (Jn.15:26-27)
We are studying right now a part of the apostolic testimony. (1:1-5) It is the eyewitness testimony of those who have heard, seen and touched the Word of life – Jesus. We are doing what those first believers did (Acts 2:42-43) Stop and consider that for a moment. Peter wrote, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty” (2 Pet.1:16) We have the assurance of eye-witness accounts.
These eyewitness accounts refute the claims of Gnosticism that the Word didn’t really come in the flesh. How many errors in teaching would we avoid if we truly valued the apostolic testimony, the testimony of Scripture?
3. We have Personally Acknowledged Jesus as God’s Son (v15)
We have made an outward confession of an inner conviction; that Jesus is the Son of God, come in the flesh. This isn’t simply about feelings, it is a confession that you are convinced of the doctrine and historical claims of the Christian faith, and it issues in obedience and changed lives. Those changed lives, our new focus and walk through this world, also testify that our assurance is well founded. This is why we confess the creeds:
“I believe…in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, Begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, Begotten not made, Being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men, and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man…”
We have the evidence of our own convictions.
4. We Have Confidence in God’s Love (vv 16-19)
Just as a loving relationship between a married couple grows in confidence as they come to know and trust each other more, so our relationship with God grows in confidence as we grow in him and see his love at work in our lives. We will witness the fulfilment of the promise that, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philip.1:6) We are, writes Paul, “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph.1:3)
Is Christ our wisdom, righteousness, holiness, and redemption? (1 Cor.1:30) Is he our very life? (Col.3:4) Then, “The Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Ro.8:16-17) God’s love for us is the same as his love for the Son. God’s love for us is an everlasting love (Jer.31:3)
Such a lively and growing love makes us look forward with growing confidence to the day of judgement because, “perfect love drives out fear” (4:18) We have the evidence of our changed perspective because of God’s love.
5. We Love our Brothers (vv 20-21)
“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (4:7)
Here is the most practical test of our Christian confession – do we, who are loved by God, love one another? This is the evidence of Godly love of the Christian community. How does this work out in our lives, yours and mine? It is the most immediate, telling test of our confession, the love we have for each other and I suggest we must daily apply this test if we are to really grow in God’s love.