“No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit” (I John 4:12-13).
Because John’s “if” statements can appear to add some requirements on our part to remain in Christ, it is helpful to always remember the order of what happened to you when you believed. Over and over in this letter, John comes back to the idea that we can know that we are in God’s family; we can know that by virtue of our new birth, we are abiding in God.
So in keeping with the proper order of how things happened to us, let’s start with the last verse in this passage, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” How do we know that we abide in God and He abides in us? Because we do certain things? Because we love others well? No, our abiding in God and He in us is 100% because He has given us the Holy Spirit as a seal. We have the Spirit from day one of our salvation. So we are always abiding in God and He in us.
Now let’s go back to verse 12. No one has seen this God of whom love is His essence. But this God of love abides in us. Therefore the world will “see” God when they see us loving one another. Jesus made a similar point in the gospel of John, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Again, using the language of verse 12, “no one has seen God.” But when “we love one another”, folks will see that we love well because “God abides in us and His love is perfected (played out) in us.”
Loving well does not “cause” God to abide in us. Loving well shows what we already have; God and His love abiding in us.