God Dwelling in Us and We in God

1 John 4:7‑19  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 7
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The eternal life which was with the Father has been manifested and has been imparted to us: thus we are partakers of the divine nature. The affections of that nature acting in us rest by the power of the Holy Ghost in the enjoyment of communion with God Who is its source: we dwell in Him and He in us. The actings of this nature prove that He dwells in us. The first thing is the statement of the truth that, if we thus love, God Himself dwells in us. He who works this love is there. But He is infinite and the heart rests in Him. We know at the same time that we dwell in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. But this passage, so rich in blessing, demands that we should follow it with order.
He begins with the fact that love is of God. It is His nature: He is its source. Therefore he who loves is born of God, is a partaker of His nature. Also he knows God, for he knows what love is, and God is its fullness. This is the doctrine which makes everything depend on our participation in the divine nature (vers. 7, 8).
Now this might be transformed on the one hand into mysticism, by leading us to fix our attention on our love for God, and love in us, that being God's nature (as if it was said, love is God, not God is love), and by seeking to fathom the divine nature in ourselves; or to doubt on the other, because we do not find the effects of the divine nature in us as we would. In effect he who does not love (for the thing, as ever in John, is expressed in an abstract way) does not know God; for God is love. The possession of the nature is necessary to the understanding of what that nature is, and for the knowledge of Him Who is its perfection.
But, if I seek to know it and have or give the proof of it, it is not to the existence of the nature in us that the Spirit of God directs the thoughts of the believers as their object. God, he has said, is love; and this love has been manifested toward us in that He has given His only Son, that we might live through Him. The proof is not the life in us, but that God has given His Son in order that we might live, and further to make propitiation for our sins. God be praised! we know this love, not by the poor results of its action in ourselves, but in its perfection in God, and that even in a manifestation of it toward us, which is wholly outside ourselves. It is a fact outside ourselves which is the manifestation of this perfect love. We enjoy it by participating in the divine nature, we know it by the infinite gift of God's Son. The exercise and the proof of it are there.
The full scope of this principle, and all the force of its truth, are stated and demonstrated in that which follows. It is striking to see how the Holy Spirit, in an epistle which is essentially occupied with the life of Christ and its fruits, gives the proof and full character of love in that which is wholly without ourselves. Nor can anything be more perfect than the way in which the love of God is here set forth from the time it is occupied with our sinful state till we stand before the judgment-seat. God has thought of all: love toward us as sinners, in verses 9, 10; in us as saints, verse 12; perfect in our condition in view of the day of judgment, in verse 17.
In the first verses the love of God is manifested in the gift of Christ: first, to give us life—we were dead; secondly, to make propitiation—we were guilty. Our whole case is taken up. In the second of these verses (10) the great principle of grace, what love is, where and how known, is clearly stated in words of infinite importance as to the very nature of Christianity. Herein is love, not that we loved God (that was the principle of the law), but in that He loved us, and sent His Son to make propitiation for our sins. Here then it is that we have learned that which love is. It was perfect in Him when we had no love for Him; perfect in Him in that He exercised it towards us when we were in our sins, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for them. The apostle then affirms, no doubt, that he who loves not knows not God. The pretension to possess this love is judged by this means; but in order to know love we must not seek for it in ourselves, but must seek it manifested in God when we had none. He gives the life which loves, and He has made propitiation for our sins.
And now with regard to the enjoyment and privileges of this love:—if God has so loved us (this is the ground that he takes), we ought to love one another (ver. 11).
No one has ever seen God: if we love one another, God dwells in us. His presence, Himself dwelling in us, rises in the excellency of His nature above all the harriers of circumstances, and attaches us to those who are His. It is God in the power of His nature which is the source of thought and feeling and diffuses itself among those in whom it is. One can understand this. How is it that I love strangers from another land, persons of different habits, whom I have never known, more intimately than members of my own family after the flesh? How is it that I have thoughts in common, objects infinitely loved in common, affections powerfully engaged, a stronger bond with persons whom I have never seen, than with the otherwise dear companions of my childhood? It is because there is in them and in me a source of thoughts and affections which is not human. God is in it. God dwells in us. What happiness! What a bond! Does He not communicate Himself Co the soul? Does He not render it conscious of His presence in love? Assuredly, yes. And if He is thus in us, the blessed source of our thoughts, can there be fear or distance, or uncertainty, with regard to what He is? None at all. His love is perfected in us. We know Him as love in our souls: the second great point in this remarkable passage, the enjoyment of divine love in our souls.
The apostle has not yet said, “We know that we dwell in him.” He will say it now. But, if the love of the brethren is in us, God dwells in us. When it is in exercise, we are conscious of the presence of God, as perfect love in us. It fills the heart, and thus is exercised in us. Now this consciousness is the effect of the presence of His Spirit as the source and power of life and nature in us. He has given us, not “His Spirit,” the proof that He dwells in us, but “of His Spirit:” we participate by His presence in us in divine affections through the Spirit; and thus we not only know that He dwells in us, but the presence of the Spirit, acting in a nature which is that of God in us, makes us conscious that we dwell in Him. For He is the infiniteness and perfection of that which is now in us.
The heart rests in this, and enjoys Him, and is hidden from all that is outside Him, in the consciousness of the perfect love in which (thus dwelling in Him) one finds oneself. The Spirit makes us dwell in God and gives us thus the consciousness that He dwells in us. Thus we, in the savor and consciousness of the love that was in it, can testify of that in which it was manifested beyond all Jewish limits, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. We shall see further another character of it.
If we compare verse 12 of our chapter 4. with chapter 1:18 of the Gospel by John, we shall better apprehend the scope of the apostle's teaching here. The same difficulty, or if you will, the same truth is presented in both cases. No one has ever seen God. How is this met?
In John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18) the only begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. He Who is1 in the most perfect intimacy, in the most absolute proximity and enjoyment of the Father's love, the one, eternal, sufficient object that knew the love of the Father as His only Son, has revealed Him unto men as He has Himself known Him. What is the answer in our Epistle to this same difficulty? “If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.” By the communication of the divine nature, and by the dwelling of God in us, we inwardly enjoy Him as He has been manifested and declared by His only Son. His love is perfect in us, known to the heart, as it has been declared in Jesus. The God who has been declared by Him dwells in us. What a thought! that the answer to the fact that no one has ever seen God is equally that the only Son has declared Him, and that He dwells in us. What light this throws upon the words, “which thing is true in Him and in you!"2 For it is in that Christ has become our life that we can thus enjoy God and His presence in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. And from this we have seen the testimony of verse 14 flow.
We see also the distinction between God dwelling in us and we in God, even in that which Christ says of Himself. He abode always in the Father and the Father in Him; but He says, “The Father who dwelleth in me, he doeth the works,” Through His word the disciples ought to have believed in them both; but in that which they had seen—in His works—they had rather seen the proof that the Father dwelt in Him. They who had seen Him had seen the Father. But when the Comforter was come, at that day they should know that Jesus was in His Father—divinely one with the Father.
He does not say that we are in God, nor in the Father,3 but that we dwell in Him, and that we know it, because He has given us of His Spirit. We have already noticed that He says (chap. 3:24) “hereby we know that he [God] abideth in us because he has given us his Spirit.” Here he adds, We know that we dwell in God, because it is—not the manifestation, as a proof, but—communion with God Himself. We know that we dwell in Him; always, as a precious truth—an unchangeable fact; sensible, when His love is active in the heart. Consequently it is to this activity that the apostle immediately turns by adding, “and we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.” This was the proof for every one of that love which the apostle enjoyed—as all believers do—in his own heart. It is important to notice how the passage thus first presents the fact of God's dwelling in us, then the effect (as He is infinite)—our dwelling in Him, and then the realization of the first truth in conscious reality of life.
We may remark here that, while God's dwelling in us is a doctrinal fact and true of every real Christian, our dwelling in Him, though involved in it, is connected with our state. Thus chapter 3:24, “He that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him.” Chapter 4:16, “He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.”
Love one to another is indeed taken as the proof that God is there, and His love is perfected in us—this to contrast the manner of His presence with that of Christ (John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)). But what we thus know is dwelling in Him and He in us. In each case this knowledge is by the Spirit. Verse 15 is the universal fact: verse 16 brings it fully up to its source. “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” His nature is there declared in itself (for we joy in God); God is love, and He who dwells in love dwells in God and God in him. There is none anywhere else: if we partake of His nature, we partake of it; and he who abides in it abides in God Who is fullness of it. But then remark that while what He is is insisted on, His personal being is carefully insisted on. He dwells in us.
And here comes in a principle of deep importance. It might perhaps be said that this dwelling of God in us and our dwelling in Him depended on a large measure of spirituality, the apostle having in fact spoken of the highest possible joy. But although the degree in which we intelligently realize it is in effect a matter of spirituality, yet the thing in itself is the portion of every Christian. It is our position, because Christ is our life, and because the Holy Ghost is given us. “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him and he in God.” How great the grace of the gospel! How admirable our position because it is in Jesus that we possess it! It is important to hold fast this, that it is the portion of every Christian, the joy of the humble, the strongest reproach to the conscience of the careless.
The apostle explains this high position by the possession of the divine nature—the essential condition of Christianity. A Christian is one who is a partaker of the divine nature, and in whom the Spirit dwells. But the knowledge of our position does not flow from the consideration of this truth, though it depends on its being true, but of that of God's own love, as we have already seen. And the apostle goes on to say, “We have known and believed the love that God hath to us.” This is the source of our knowledge and enjoyment of these privileges, so sweet and so marvelously exalted, but so simple and so real to the heart when they are known.
We have known love, the love that God has for us, and we have believed it. Precious knowledge! by possessing it we know God; for it is thus that He has manifested Himself. Therefore can we say, “God is love.” There is none beside. Himself is love. He is love in all its fullness. He is not holiness, He is holy; but He is love. He is not righteousness; He is righteous.4
By dwelling then in love I dwell in Him, which I could not do unless He dwelt in me, and this He does. Here he puts it first, that we dwell in Him, because it is God Himself Who is before our eyes, as the love in which we dwell. Therefore, when thinking of this love, I say that I dwell in Him, because I have in my heart the consciousness of it by the Spirit. At the same time this love is an active energetic principle in us; it is God Himself Who is there. This is the joy of our position—the position of every Christian.
Verses 14 and 16 present the twofold effect of the manifestation of this love.
First, the testimony that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. Quite outside the promises made to the Jews (as everywhere in John), this work is the fruit of that which God Himself is. Accordingly whosoever confesses Jesus to be that Son enjoys all the fullness of its blessed consequences.
Secondly, the Christian has believed for himself in this love, and he enjoys it according to its fullness. There is only this modification of the expression of the glorious fact of our portion—that the confession of Jesus as the Son of God is primarily here the proof that God dwells in us, although the other part of the truth equally says that he who confesses Him dwells also in God.
When speaking of our portion in communion, as believing in His love, it is said, that he who dwells in love dwells in God; for in effect that is where the heart is. Here also the other part of the truth is equally true; God dwells in him likewise.
I have spoken of the consciousness of this dwelling in God, for it is thus only that it is known. But it is important to remember that the apostle teaches it as a truth that applies to every believer. These might have excused themselves for not appropriating these statements as too high for them; but this fact judges the excuse. This communion is neglected. But God dwells in every one who confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, and he in God. What an encouragement for a timid believer! What a rebuke for a careless one!
J. N. D.
1. Note, it is not “was.” It is never said in scripture, as often, He left the Father's bosom; but “the only begotten Son who is in the bosom of the Father.” As so knowing God, He reveals Him on earth.
2. This gives us too in their highest character and subject, the difference between the Gospel and Epistle.
3. The only expression in the word that has some resemblance to it is. “the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father.” This is addressed to a numerous corporation in quite another sense.
4. Righteousness and holiness suppose reference to other beings; thus evil to be known, rejection of evil, and judgment. Love, though exercised toward others, is what He is in Himself. The other essential name that God bears is “light.” We are said to be “light in the Lord” as partakers of the divine nature: not love, which is, though the divine nature, sovereign in grace. We cannot therefore be said to be love. (See Eph. 4; 5)