John asserts, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). And so he is. God is all love and there is no shadow of evil in him. His nature can be defined as love for that is what he is. Some Christians feel the need to place an adjective like holy before the word love, so that they can say that God has a holy love. But this represents a misunderstanding of simplicity—that doctrine upon which Trinitarian theology stands and ensures that we can state without a second thought that “God is love.”
So then, God is love. But as we consider the nature of God, we can discern another reality, namely, that just as the second person of the Trinity can be called “Son” and the first person can be called “Father,” so the Holy Spirit might be called “love” or “the bond of love” or perhaps “the sign of love.”
And knowing the reality that the Holy Spirit is the sign of God’s loves provides perhaps the greatest assurance of our salvation possible. Let me explain.
The Holy Spirit signifies God’s steadfast love
When Samuel anointed David, “the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon David from that day forward” (1 Sam 16:13). So David became the anointed one and heir apparent of Israel. Around this time, the Spirit left the current king of Israel, Saul: “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul” (1 Sam 16:14).
The Spirit rushed upon David and away from Saul. The temporary abiding of the Spirit seems to be a reality in the Old Testament as we see David pleading, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps 51:11). Perhaps David remembered what had happened to Saul when the Spirit left him.
But even David could not have the Spirit abide on him forever since he died and went to the grave. But God promises that a son of David would have an eternal kingdom (2 Sam 7:13).
And what is particularly important here is God’s promise in 2 Samuel 7:15: “but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.” Samuel appears to link the Spirit departing from Saul in 1 Samuel 16:14 with God’s “steadfast love” departing from him. So love (or steadfast love) and the Holy Spirit find themselves as close friends walking side-by-side in the Old Testament.
The Holy Spirit’s removal means God retracts his love
And this relationship gets picked up in the New Testament too. Paul can say, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5) and that we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:13).
In fact, the Spirit signifies God’s covenant fulfillment to Abraham and thereby his steadfast love as Paul makes clear in Galatians:
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Gal 3:13–14).
The Spirit’s bestowal on the Gentiles is the Abrahamic blessing and is the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham. The Spirit signifies God’s steadfast love, which really means his covenantal love, to us by the Spirit’s bestowal to the church.
Conversely, to lose the Spirit would mean to lose God’s covenantal love for us such that we would have no guarantee or downpayment of our divine inheritance (Eph 1:13–14). It would be to return to the life of era of Saul in which God can remove his Spirit, his sign of love over his people, due to their sin.
The Holy Spirit abides forever with Christ and so with us since we are in Christ
But the final and undying son of David to whom God’s promises come (e.g., 2 Sam 7:13–15) will always have the Spirit abiding on him. John the Baptist twice claims to baptize with water (John 1:26, 31). But Christ can baptize with the Spirit because Jesus is “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain” (John 1:33). The Spirit remains on Jesus as the son of David to whom the promise of the eternal kingdom was given and upon whom God’s love would never depart (See Carson, John, 152).
And here is the wonderful thing. Jesus does not die. The Spirit stays with him forever. And by faith, we unite to Christ and share in this Spirit forever. God sees us as he sees Christ. And since the Spirit can never leave Christ because he always remains faithful, then the Spirit cannot leave us who are so united to Christ.
The Spirit will never leave you because nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:31–39). Christ’s love is ours forever. And Christ’s Spirit is too.
Perhaps the greatest assurance of salvation that we have is this: the Spirit will only leave us if Christ is faithless, yet he will never be faithless. So we have the Spirit and thereby the sign of God’s love forever.
If you feel empty and lonely, remember this: your works do not guarantee God’s love or his Spirit. Christ’s works do. And he is perfect and always faithful. He is your high priest who has made atonement for your sins and guarantees that nothing can separate us from the love of God in him.
So trust in Christ and the promised Spirit, not your doubts.