I John 3:23-24 concludes a paragraph (I John 3:19-24) that tells us how we may know that we are in fellowship with God. Thus, our text deals with the role of the Holy Spirit in assurance of salvation. The Spirit enables us to know that God abides in us. Several points stand out in this text.
One, we must believe in Christ and love one another!
John summarizes the commandments of God in one twofold command. God's command is that we would believe in Jesus and love one another. Sometimes this twofold command is viewed as two distinct commands, but in this case John treats them as one. Neither aspect of this twofold command is optional. We must believe in Christ, and we must love one another!
John's placement of the two commands into one shows the close relationship between the commands. Faith in Christ is an absolute prerequisite to being born again. Jesus said (John 14:60), "'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.'" When we truly believe in Christ, we will obey the command to love one another. Loving one another is the normal result of coming to faith.
Two, as we obey God, we abide in Him and He abides in us.
John says (verse 24a), "'The one who keeps (teron) His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.'" The Greek word teron is a present participle. Thus, it refers to the one who "is keeping" God's commandments. There is a strong relationship between obeying God's commandments and the presence of God and the believer in each other.
We know that the one who honors Christ and obeys God's commands is in fellowship with God. However, what happens when a believer begins to deliberately practice sin? Can one who has truly believed apostatize? The church has debated such questions for centuries.
Many writers move toward a resolution by referring to the practicing of sin. John writes (1 John 3:9), "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." NAU All believers occasionally sin, but believers should not be deliberately practicing sin.
Three, we can know that God abides in us.
John says, "we know." John has constantly made the point that we can know we are in fellowship with God. The result is so decisive that our conviction cannot be shaken by the lies of those who oppose Christ. You can trace the subject of knowing throughout the epistle: compare 2:13, 14, 18, 29; 3:1, 6, 16, and 19. It is crucial for believers to know that they abide in God and that God abides in them.
Many Christians needlessly are shaken by doubt and uncertainty. They are not sure of their salvation and their relationship with God. To be sure, all believers sometimes experience doubt, but we do not need to live in a condition of doubt. Our God provides us with assurance.
Four, the Spirit assures us of salvation!
John makes a statement about the role of the Holy Spirit in assurance of salvation. He writes (verse 24): "We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."
The presence of the Spirit within us provides us with the assurance that God dwells in us and we dwell in Him. As Swete (p. 267) says: "the indwelling of the Spirit of God in men is the indwelling of God Himself; for it is by His Spirit that God dwells and works in us." The presence of the Spirit removes all doubt about our relationship to God.
When the Spirit is present, we can expect to witness evidences of His presence. Both the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit are evidences. When we see changed lives and empowered witnesses, we know that God is present, and He is at work. When we ourselves experience this, we know that we are His!
Many teachers will tell us, "You believe in Christ and are thus saved; therefore you know you have the Spirit." It is true, of course, that when we come to faith in Christ, we receive the Spirit. Moreover, this is true whether or not we feel anything or have any particular experience. This point puts the emphasis on the objective nature of salvation.
Others recognize the importance of subjective experience. John's statement in verse 24 supports this approach. In essence John is saying, "You are aware of the presence of the Spirit; therefore you know that God abides in you." Or, in other words, you know that you are saved. This point, too, is true. Subjective experience of the Spirit is a part of the normal Christian life.
As many have recognized, the believers in the New Testament enjoyed a highly experiential relationship with the Spirit. Certainly, God desires that we have this kind of relationship today. The Spirit's presence should be sensed, felt, and manifested in our lives. Indeed, our awareness of His presence will strengthen our assurance of salvation.
However, all believers sometimes go through times when they do not sense a strong presence of the Spirit. Thus, this evidence of salvation is diminished for the moment. However, salvation itself does not rely on feelings. We are saved by faith in Christ. We must persevere in faith. When we do, in due season the feelings and awareness of the Spirit will return! We will once again know in a personal way both His presence and His works.