THE PROMISE OF THE PRESENCE
by Bob Wheeler
Jesus has already given His disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit (I John 14:16,17). He has also told them that “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (v. 15: NKJV). He now proceeds to link the two statements together. “He who had My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him, and manifest Myself to him” (v. 21). Here the promise that we will be “loved by My Father” is made conditional on our loving Christ and keeping His commandments. We cannot experience the blessing unless we fulfill the condition.
There is a sense in which “God so loved the world,” but that is a kind of love that is not based on any good which God sees in us. Rather it is the pity and compassion that a merciful God shows towards His wretched, rebellious creatures. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Theologians sometimes call this God’s “love of benevolence,” from the Latin word “benevolentia” – “good will” or “kindness.”
But that is not what Jesus is describing here. This is a love which God has especially for those who love Christ and keep His commandments. He loves them because they love Him. He is genuinely pleased with their love. Theologians sometimes refer to this as God’s “love of complacence,” from a Latin word which means “to be pleased with” something. And that is the kind of love which God has for those who consciously try to please Him.
God originally created us human beings to have fellowship with Him. He created us in His image, and endowed us with intellect, emotion and will, so that we could have a personal relationship with Him. But what ruined that was our sin and rebellion. The relationship was severed and we were alienated from God – we had become His enemies and were therefore under His wrath and condemnation.
But that changes when we become Christians. Christ died for our sins. We repent and ask for forgiveness and put our trust in Him. We are reconciled to God and can now have the relationship with Him that we were originally meant to have. We are brought into a position in which we can appreciate Christ for all that He is and has done for us – we love Him, and want to please Him, and as a result “. . . he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
But how does Jesus “manifest” Himself to us? Certainly not in any physical way. None of us has ever seen Jesus physically = the pictures that we see of Him were all created in the artists’ imaginations. But there is a sense in which we can know Jesus personally – to have real communion with Him, to sense His presence with us, and to know and understand Him better. This happens when we spend time alone with Him in prayer and in meditation upon His Word, and the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to receive the truth. We then come to understand and appreciate Jesus in a way that we never did before. He as manifested Himself to us.
The disciples were still somewhat puzzled by this, and Judas (not Iscariot) asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” (v. 22); to which Jesus replied, “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. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the world you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me” (vv. 23,24).
Here again He emphasizes that if we genuinely love Him we will keep His word. But He elaborates a little further on the promise: “and we will come to him and make Our home [NASV: “abode”] with Him.” Again, Jesus is not speaking of physically dwelling with us; He is in heaven and we are here on earth. Rather He is speaking of the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts and making His presence felt. It is a spiritual abiding.
But Jesus makes this blessing contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word? Does not every Christian believer have the Holy Spirit dwelling in his heart? Yes, but not to the same degree. While it is true that every truly born-again Christian has the Holy Spirit dwelling inside his heart, the New Testament makes it clear that the blessings of the Holy Spirit are variable, depending on a believer’s love and devotion to Christ. We can be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) or we can “quench the Spirit” (I Thess. 5:19). The apostle Paul could pray for the Ephesians that they would be “strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to . . .know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:16-19; cf. 1:15-19; Col. 1:9-11). To be filled with the Spirit is to have “the love of God” which “has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5); it is to have “the peace of God which surpasses all understanding” (Phil. 4:7); it is to have “joy unspeakable and full of glory” (I Peter. 1:8). To be filled with the Spirit is to have the fruit of the Spirit in abundance. But Jesus emphasizes that all of this is contingent on our loving Him and keeping His word.
The modern church is not experiencing the blessing largely because our love for Christ has grown cold. We are too preoccupied with the things of this world and have largely forgotten Christ. Too often our Sunday morning worship is mere entertainment and the Wednesday night prayer meeting has largely been abandoned. We have “a form of godliness” but deny “its power” (II Tim. 3:5). We have an intellectual knowledge of the truth, but perform the outward duties of religion in a mechanical way. Our devotion is lukewarm, and the sad result is that there is little evidence of the Holy Spirit working among. Us.
Much of the blame lies squarely at the feet of pastors. In most churches the congregation looks to the pastor for direction and guidance in spiritual matters. The congregations will rarely advance spiritually beyond the pastor. And if the pastor is spiritually immature, if his own prayer life is wanting and he is not consciously seeking guidance from the Lord, it will be reflected in empty worship and dull, lifeless sermons. The spiritual life of the congregation languishes while the surrounding world perishes.
What is at stake can hardly be overestimated. There are human beings who are trapped in sin and are on their way to an eternity in hell. And much of it is due to the lack of the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church.
Oh, that we would heed the words of Christ! Oh that we would claim the promise! Oh that the power of the Holy Spirit was a living reality in our churches today! But it will only happen when we devote ourselves completely to Christ and heed His word.