In Part 1 of this article, we discovered why love is such an important part of the life that is real. We looked at two foundational truths about God: (1) who God is (2) what God did. As we continue our study is John’s first letter, we will look at a third foundational fact about God.
3. WHAT GOD IS DOING: “GOD IS ABIDING IN US” (1 John 4:12–16)
At this point, it would be good for us to review what John has been saying about the basic truth that “God is love.” This truth is revealed to us in the Word, but it was also revealed on the cross, where Christ died for us. “God is love” is not simply a doctrine in the Bible; it is an eternal fact clearly demonstrated at Calvary. God has said something to us and God has done something for us. But all this is preparation for the third great fact: God does something in us! We are not merely students reading a book or spectators watching a deeply moving event. We are participants in the great drama of God’s love!
In order to save money, a college drama class purchased only a few scripts of a play and cut them up into the separate parts. The director gave each player his individual part in order and then started to rehearse the play. But nothing went right. After an hour of missed cues and mangled sequences the cast gave up.
At that point, the director sat all the actors on the stage and said: “Look, I’m going to read the entire play to you, so don’t any of you say a word.” He read the entire script aloud and when he was finished one of the actors said:
“So that’s what it was all about!” Once they understood the entire story, they were able to fit their parts together and have a successful rehearsal.
When you read 1 John 4:12–16, you feel like saying, “So that’s what it’s all about!” Because here we discover what God had in mind when He devised His great plan of salvation.
To begin with, God’s desire is to live in us. He is not satisfied simply to tell us He loves us or even show us He loves us.
It is interesting to trace God’s dwelling places as recorded in the Bible. In the beginning, God had fellowship with man in a personal, direct way (Gen. 3:8), but sin broke that fellowship. It was necessary for God to shed the blood of animals to cover the sins of Adam and Eve so they might come back into His fellowship.
However, by the time of the events recorded in Exodus, a change had taken place: God did not simply walk with men: He lived or dwelt with them. God’s commandment to Israel was, “Have them make a sanctuary for Me and I will dwell among them.” (Ex. 25:8). The first of those sanctuaries was the tabernacle. When Moses dedicated it the glory of God came down and moved into the tent (Ex. 40:33–35). God dwelt in the camp; He did not dwell in the bodies of the individual Israelites.
Unfortunately, the nation sinned and God’s glory departed (1 Sam. 4:21). But God used Samuel and David to restore the nation; and Solomon built God a magnificent temple. When the temple was dedicated, once again the glory of God came to dwell in the land (1 Kings 8:1–11).
Then, history repeated itself: Israel disobeyed God and was taken into captivity. The gorgeous temple was destroyed. One of the prophets of the captivity, Ezekiel, saw the glory of God depart from it (Ezek. 8:4, 9:3, 10:4, 11:22–23).
Did the glory ever return? Yes—in the Person of God’s Son, Jesus Christ! “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling (“tabernacle”) among us” (Jn. 1:14). The glory of God dwelt on earth in the body of Jesus Christ for His body was the temple of God (Jn. 2:18–22). But wicked men nailed His body to a cross. They crucified “the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). All this was part of God’s thrilling plan: Christ arose from the dead, returned to heaven, and sent His Holy Spirit to dwell in men.
The glory of God now lives in the bodies of God’s children. “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). The glory of God departed from the tabernacle and temple when Israel disobeyed God, but Jesus has promised the Spirit will abide in us forever (Jn. 14:16).
With this background, we can better understand what 1 John 4:12–16 is saying to us. God is invisible (1 Tim. 1:17) and no man can see Him in His essence. Jesus is “the image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). By taking on Himself a human body, Jesus was able to reveal God to us. But Jesus is no longer here on earth.
How, then, does God reveal Himself to the world? He reveals Himself through the lives of His children. Men cannot see God, but they can see us. If we abide in Christ, we will love one another and our love for one another will reveal God’s love to a needy world. God’s love will be experienced in us and then will be expressed through us.
That important little word abide (or dwell) is used six times in 1 John 4:12–16. It refers to our personal fellowship with Jesus Christ. To abide in Christ means to remain in spiritual oneness with Him, so that no sin comes between us. Because we are “born of God,” we have union with Christ; but it is only as we trust Him and obey His commandments that we have fellowship with Him. In a similar way, just as a faithful husband and wife “abide in love” though they may be separated by miles, so a believer abides in God’s love. This abiding is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 4:13).
Imagine the wonder and privilege of having God abide in you! The Old Testament Israelite would look with wonder at the tabernacle or temple because the presence of God was in that building. No man would dare to enter the holy of holies, where God was enthroned in glory! But we have God’s Spirit living in us! We abide in this love and we experience the abiding of God in us. “Anyone who loves Me will obey My teaching. My Father will love them, and We will come to them and make Our home with them” (Jn. 14:23).
God’s love is proclaimed in the Word and proved at the cross. But here we have something deeper: God’s love is perfected in the believer. Fantastic as it may seem, God’s love is not made perfect in angels, but in sinners saved by His grace. We Christians are now the tabernacles and temples in which God dwells. He reveals His love through us.
Dr. Campbell Morgan, famous British preacher, had five sons, all of whom became ministers of the Gospel. One day a visitor in their home dared to ask a personal question: “Which of you six is the best preacher?”
Their united answer was, “Mother!”
Of course, she had never preached a formal sermon in a church, but her life was a constant sermon on the love of God.
To be continued…