I was just working through the book of 1 John recently and I noticed as well the questions regarding assurance. I wanted to run something by you to see if you thought that it was biblical or if there is something I am missing. The Bible says that we have received the Spirit of adoption whereby we cry Abba Father (Rom 8:15) and verse 16 says that our Spirit bears witness with our Spirit. We know from other writings in the New Testament that the Holy Spirit can be grieved or quenched so that we silence Him in our lives. I agree the main point of 1 John is fellowship and joy but there is also the issue of assurance in there. Just as in salvation, there is the man side of choosing to accept the gift and the God side of the finished work. It seems to me based on Scripture you have both sides in assurance. The man side being if we live in disobedience we quench the Holy Spirit and He is not able to bear witness as He would desire to because we are drowning Him out. This leaves us trying to make sure on our own without the Holy Spirit’s help about our salvation. The God side is that no matter what I do, once I am saved, nothing can change that. I think that is another major reason many question their salvation because they have drowned the voice of God out in their lives. It seems in 1 John 5 that John is addressing those who are saved but unsure because they have lived disobediently. Do you think that this is a fair treatment of the passage?
Thank you for your follow-up question regarding assurance. The witness of the Spirit is a great truth. Romans 8:16 says, “The Spirit [Himself] beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” The communication takes place within our innermost being, Spirit to spirit. It is not a feeling, but rather a knowing. The Spirit bears witness, not that we feel like the children of God, but that we are the children of God. This is a deep down knowing.
However, the Spirit only bears witness to truth. So if we doubt our salvation, He will not bear witness to doubt. But when we side with truth—we have believed in Jesus, and are, therefore, saved, because the Bible says so—then the Spirit will bear witness to that truth. Also, as you have mentioned, if you are grieving the Spirit through willful disobedience, then you may lose the witness of the Spirit, because you are living in falsehood, rather than walking in truth. Again, the Spirit witnesses to truth.
The issue in 1 John 5 seems to be just the reality that some are saved, but through a wrong focus have been shaken from knowing what they already have. This wrong focus could be a defeated life or just looking at something other than the object of faith—Jesus, based on the sure Word of God.