In his first epistle, the apostle John makes it clear in several places that if we obey Jesus and love our brethren, then we truly abide in God (3:24; 4:12). That we must abide in Jesus is an emphasis both of this epistle (2:27) and of the gospel according to John (15:4). However, we would be mistaken if we think our own love and obedience satisfy the condition for having Christ dwell in us and us in Him. For John makes it clear in his gospel (3:5), as well as in places like today’s passage, that the work of the Spirit is the condition for Jesus to dwell in us. Love and obedience are inevitable and inseparable results of the Spirit’s work in producing faith in us (James 2:14–26), but God always takes the initiative in regeneration.
First John 4:13 tells us it is by the Spirit that we know we dwell in Christ and that He dwells in us. But as we have noted before, it is not simply His internal witness that tells us we are the children of God. We are not meant to read this passage in isolation from the rest of the letter. That John discusses the role of the Spirit along with three tests for assurance tells us the internal witness of the Spirit will always be confirmed by the outward manifestations of confession, love, and holiness.
Verses 14 and 15 assume the primacy of the Spirit but discuss the outward manifestation of a true confession. “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God” (v. 15) — whoever acknowledges His full deity and full humanity according to apostolic teaching — dwells in God and God in Him. In other words, our avowed belief in God’s Son shows we are indwelt by the Spirit of God (v. 13). We can claim to have the Spirit, just as many liberals do, but if we deny a high Christology, our assurance is a false one.
Moreover, one essential christological teaching that the Spirit leads us to affirm is that the Son is the “Savior of the world” (v. 14). This does not mean that Jesus has made atonement for everyone or that He will save all men. It is just a simple affirmation of the exclusivity of the biblical Christ — only the God-man presented in verse 15 can save anyone in this world. He is the only way to the Father.
Are you abiding in Christ? Do you maintain a strong confession of the biblical Jesus and so receive confirmation by the Spirit that you dwell in God and God dwells in you? Or do you hesitate to take a stand for Jesus when it is necessary to do so? Think of family, friends, or co-workers and then ask yourself if it is evident to them that your life and words belong to Jesus. Endeavor to confess Him truly before all of the people in your life.