In I John 4, John makes a rather startling statement regarding our union with Christ. It is puzzling in that its practical application is vague to us because we are unfamiliar with the possibilities. Readers usually take a glimpse of it then move on, wondering about its meaning. The words themselves are simple enough, but their very simplicity adds to its confounding nature because, if it truly means what it appears to say, it is too good to be true! Lacking biblical evidence and a logical explanation for reaching such a wonderful conclusion, we pass on.
I John 4:15 says, "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God." The context is obviously our union with God, as the words "abide" and "in" confirm. Verse 16 continues the thought: "And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." Abide means "to live," "to continue with," or "to go on with." By substituting these synonyms, the last phrase reads, "He who continues or lives in love, continues or lives in God, and God in him."
The verse emphasizes an ongoing, unbroken, intimate relationship. Nothing can be closer than for one to be in another! Since John defines love in I John 5:3 as keeping the commandments, the word "love" in this verse indicates that it is being reciprocated between God and us, and it is what facilitates the continuance of the union and relationship. These verses in fact confirm what Jesus said on the eve of His crucifixion:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever. The Spirit of truth, which the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. (John 14:15-17)
In verse 23, Jesus drops the term "Helper," showing more specifically who would be living in us: "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." "Keep" indicates that the love of which Jesus speaks is not merely an affection, as keep means "to maintain, continue or carry on." It is therefore active and dynamic.
Has that wondrous promise actually taken place? Are we so united with God, so at one with Him, that Jesus Christ, our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, and High Priest has made us the place of His abode? If so, do our lives reflect that He is there? Are we giving evidence of His presence?
I John 4:17 contains the astounding statement: "Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world."
Peter announces in I Peter 4:17, "For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begin with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" For those of us "in the church," our judgment began with God's calling and our conversion, and it continues to this very moment. Judgment will come to those living following Christ's return during the Millennium and to those in the second resurrection during the Great White Throne period.
Are we experiencing boldness or confidence (the Greek word can be translated either way; see Hebrews 3:6), or are we ashamed of Jesus Christ? Do we hide what we are? John suggests that we should be living boldly because we have a foundation of confidence that we are under the blood of Jesus Christ and have begun to keep His commandments. Are we ashamed about talking about our baptism into the church of God, His Family? Are we fearful about talking about specific doctrines, not to convert others, but simply to state our beliefs?
It is interesting that the Greek word translated "boldness" literally means "freedom of speech." It implies that nothing hinders a person. Love is being perfected in us so that we may be unhindered in our submission to God while under judgment. I John 4:17 then goes on to say, "As He is, so are we in this world." "He" is capitalized. The publishers have done this to draw attention to the fact that this pronoun refers to Christ Himself.
The subject here is not another human being but the Deity, and John is saying we can be bold because we share a commonality with Him. What did He accomplish? Where does He stand in relation to God and to us? How did He live His life? Jesus Christ lived His life confidently and boldly. The apostle is essentially saying that, when God looks at us, He sees us as though we were Jesus Christ! Has anybody ever lived life closer to God than Jesus?
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Eight): Conclusion (Part One)
John wants us to understand how much God loves us and to believe how special we are to God—our faith in how much He loves us. The fact that God is love is repeated from verse 8 to emphasize how complete God's love is toward us. The verse ends with the fruit of this kind of love—unity.
Faith to Face Our Trials
These verses furnish Christians with critical marching orders and guidance while providing crucial insight into our Creator's nature—all centered around the word “love.”Twice in these three verses, John declares that “God is love.” He also implores us to “love one another” and to know God, and then he identifies God as the source of love. Furthermore, our Savior commanded His disciples, earlier in John 13:34-35 (see also John 15:12, 17), to love one another “as I have loved you.”
Consider that God has created humanity physically in His image (Genesis 1:26), and further, is re-creating those whom He has called into His spiritual image (II Corinthians 3:18). To that, we must add our standing orders to love God (Deuteronomy 6:5), to seek Him (Matthew 6:33), and to establish an intimate relationship with Him that we might become more familiar with the image that Christ came to reveal and that we are to become (John 1:18).
Consider also the following quote from John Ritenbaugh's 1992 sermon, “Do You See God?”:
We are beginning to see an application to you and me. Will God be working in our lives if we don't see Him? If we don't recognize Him? If we don't understand His purpose, what He is working out in you and me? I don't think so!
In like manner, in his 2006 sermon, “God, the Church's Greatest Problem,” he opined:
Since eternal life lies in the relationship with God, it is extremely important how frequent and accurate our thoughts about Him are. We can conclude that what one knows about the true God Himself and how one uses that knowledge are the two most important issues in life.
A strong relationship with God is critical to attaining eternal life, and the strength of that relationship depends upon an accurate understanding of who He is—His nature. To that end, we have the written Word of God to guide us as it reveals the true nature of God. Moreover, since the Bible teaches us that God is love and that our ability to know God will be determined by our willingness and capacity to love, it is vital that we understand the true meaning of love, particularly asintended by the apostle John's inspired writings. In fact, without this understanding, how can we possibly proceed with our marching orders to seek God—to know Him—and to reflect His will in our interactions with all mankind?
But, everyone is familiar with the concept of love, right? After all, virtually all of civilization is absorbed—even obsessed—with the idea of love. Throughout man's history, countless writers, performers, pundits, and deep thinkers have devoted much—if not most—of their respective careers trying to define and even display love. So, determining the meaning of this simple, four-letter word should not be too great a challenge, right?
Perhaps it is not as easy as one might think. In fact, if we study the world's most common usages and descriptions of love,we find that they have little or nothing in common with the divine nature of our Creator. Stated another way, we discover that John's use of the word “love,”as translated from the Greek word agape, has little to do with our modern, worldly concept of love.
Joseph B. Baity
The Nature of God— What's Love Got To Do With It?