Pastor Alister Begg tells a story about the late playwright George Bernard Shaw. In the days when radio was relatively new in the British Isles, the playwright gave a talk on the peculiarities of the English Language. During his talk, he said there were only two words with the “sh” (s-h) sound but not spelled with a “sh” at the beginning of the word. One listener took it upon herself to write to the playwright and correct him. The only word meeting that criteria was “sugar,” she said. According to the story, Shaw replied with a postcard. Only one sentence was on it: “Madam, are you sure?”
At some point every Christian asks him or herself if this whole Christian thing is just made up. “How can I be sure?” one might ask. In 1 John 4:13-16, John gives us three indicators by which we might be sure that this faith is true and life changing.
The first indicator is the Holy Spirit. “This is how we know that we abide in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit,” says John. We cannot have only half or three quarters of the Holy Spirit. We either have all of him or none of him. When someone receives Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately resides in that person (1 Corinthians 3:16). However, the Holy Spirit can only have half of us (1 Thessalonians 5:19). When we attune our hearts to the Holy Spirit in us, the Spirit assures us of the reliability of the Christian message and continues his life changing work in us.
The second indicator is our acknowledgement of Jesus as the Son of God. Words can tell us – and others – who we are. A polygraph works, because it can detect physiological changes when we don’t believe what we say. When we can confess that Jesus is Savior with peace in our hearts, the Holy Spirit assures us that we abide in God.
The third indicator is our abiding in love. The late New Testament scholar C.H. Dodd said that the energy of love discharges itself along the lines which form a triangle, whose points are God, self, and neighbor. The source of all love is God. Whether we love God or neighbor, it is God’s love working in us through the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.
So, I return to that question, “Are you sure?”