1 JOHN – SERIES NR 11
1 JOHN 3: 19-24
The Apostle John is displaying deeply pastoral care for the members of the churches to whom he is writing. One can see a true shepherd’s heart in him. He truly tries to reassure the Christians of their salvation in the Lord Jesus, and he points out the dangers. He is exposing the false preachers.
If one considers that this letter from the Apostle is basically about the assurance of salvation, it is not strange that he also deals with the question of DOUBT. Because doubt is something that handicaps a Christian’s confidence towards God. And for someone who truly is a child of the Lord, confidence towards God is fundamentally important. When that confidence is absent, a Christian can experience dreadful stress and darkness.
John realises very well that – in the light of what he has written up to this point – there certainly shall be some members who – in their own opinion – will feel condemned and denounced. And that it shall lead to depression and lack of assurance. At all cost, he wants to prevent it.
We know for example what the vital signs were that John held before the church, and how by them they could know that they truly did come to life in Christ.
The last vital sign which he mentioned, is at the end of the previous chapter, and also verse 18 of the passage we read, namely the practical love, that not only remain lip service but is expressed in practice.
READ VERSES 18-19 AGAIN
Look carefully at what he is saying. Love that not only remains words, but that becomes actions in all sincerity before God – BY THAT – when a Christian recognises it in him/herself – the Christian can know that he/she belongs to the true God. Meaning: is truly saved. And the word KNOW means BE ASSURED.
If you see the vital sign in yourself, it rouses assurance. And when you have assurance, your conscience is clear before the Lord. Your conscience does not convict you. And when your conscience does not convict you, you have confidence towards/before God. And for someone who is born of God, there is nothing better than that!
When the paramedic examines the person who was in the accident and feels his pulse and heartbeat (the vital signs), there is assurance and excitement! HE IS ALIVE the paramedic calls out, and the person’s wife/husband is unbelievably encouraged.
That is what the Apostle is saying in verses 18-19.
There certainly are such vital signs. Without listing the vital signs we have already studied, we now concentrate only on this one in verse 18: the true love of God in me – that becomes evident in works. It is there, I can clearly see it. Other people also see it in me. It means, therefore – together with the other vital signs – that I am truly alive! I am not dead and lost. And this knowledge puts my conscience at rest. And the confidence towards God rushes in.
The sequence is therefore: – > I recognize the fact that the vital sign is present in me 2 > It rouses an assurance of my salvation in me 3 > That leads to that my conscience can not convict me before God 4 > That gives confidence towards God
This matter was particularly important to the churches to whom John was writing because the followers of the heresy of the Gnosticism seriously made them doubt. Their faith foundations were shaken. And what was the result? Their conscience was convicting them and their confidence towards the Lord was gone. A dreadful, intolerable situation for anyone who is truly born of God and in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. When you have been made new in Christ, it is intolerable not to have confidence in God. To the unsaved person, it is of no interest to have that confidence, but the saved person cannot survive without it – it feels as if his/her bottom has dropped out.
But what exactly does the Apostle mean here in verse 19 with “hearts”? The NIV translates it rightly with heart. A heart that has come to rest before God is the same as a conscience that has confidence before God. The heart/conscience acts therefore as accuser before God and who (for example) continuously say: “that vital sign of practical love does not register in you, no, you do not have it, you are a failure, you are not a true child of God, you fall too far short. You may just as well stop praying, stop witnessing, you are no good.” A condemnatory conscience before God, therefore.
And what then? Gone is the confidence towards the Lord. And if the confidence is gone, and you believe your own heart, you do not want to read the Word of God, you do not want to pray, because you are hesitant to stand before God. Because your conscience is convicting you. Consequently, your walk with the Lord is suffering. And one thing leads to another because sin easily finds access and gets a foothold. In the end, such Christian lands in a great hole of darkness, because the focus is turned completely away from Christ, turned away from His perfect work of atonement. The entire focus is now only on myself and my own heart. It is the worst situation ever.
But now observe how the Apostle turns the focus right again. And the moment when the focus is correct, the mist clears away.
The mist loud is caused by a bad conscience. Instead of the conscience being brought to rest when you observe the vital signs working in your life, the complete opposite takes place. Your conscience convicts you because your conscience/heart tells you that you are miserable when it concerns those vital signs.
A condemnatory conscience/heart.
What to do now?
READ VERSES 20-21
Look at what the Apostle is saying here. If your eye is focused upon your own heart, your heart will mislead and condemn you. But, if you turn your focus AWAY from your own heart and place it upon God and His eternal faithfulness, then the heart is set at rest. And what is the result? The confidence towards God is restored.
You see, God and His promises and His faithfulness are 1000 times greater than your heart. And HE knows what is the truth. Your heart leads you astray. Jeremiah 17:9 says that the heart is deceitful above all things.
What will happen when you try to build your trust in something deceitful and misleading? Answer: You will fold. You will be doubtful and unsure. Darkness will overwhelm you.
And what will happen when you build your trust upon something steadfast and reliable and true? Something far greater than your own heart/conscience/feeling? Answer: You will stand as firm as a rock, and assurance shall enter.
Well, here the Apostle is now saying WHAT is greater than our own heart. Actually WHO is greater. Namely God. He is saying: GOD is greater than our heart/conscience and He has the knowledge that our hearts do not have. Your heart is more deceitful and anything (Jer 17:9). Your heart tells you things about yourself that are certainly not based upon what God knows. Your heart looks at how far your love falls short. And then your heart condemns you. But God looks at how your love is enwrapped in the perfect love of Jesus Christ. And then God likes what He sees. Your practical love is not standing on its own. It is included in CHRIST’S perfect success. Roman’s 8:1 > There is now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus!
Those few vital signs that register if you are born-again and that support your assurance, are all unfolded in the righteousness of Jesus Christ! THAT is the knowledge that God the Father has about His child. He does not look to see how far your vital signs fall short. He looks at how SUCCESSFUL it is within the success mark of Jesus Christ! 1 Cor 1: 30 > CHRIST is our righteousness and our holiness. Christ is the child of God’s pass mark before the holy God.
Does your heart convict you? God himself is greater than your heart. And He has knowledge concerning you which your heart does not have. His knowledge about you is how perfect His Son’s righteousness favours you. And if you realise it and believe it, your heart no longer convicts you. Because now your focus is corrected. Your focus is now turned away from yourself and is directed upon the Lord Jesus himself. And if you look at Him, you immediately have peace and rest and assurance, and the practical love flows even more to the forefront in you! And most important of all, says verse 21, your confidence before the Lord is restored. Suddenly you again have the confidence to go to the Lord and to walk with Him. And especially to pray.
Look what verse 22 is saying (READ IT)
One can see here in verse 22 what is meant with the last words in verse 21: “we have confidence before God”. The first word in Verse 22 says it refers specifically to prayer. Because he is saying: We receive from Him anything WE ASK. In other words: Prayer is effective. It bears fruit. It is not merely a senseless rattling in the wind. To the Christian-believer who is focusing on the God-who-is-greater-than-his-heart and is desirous to follow Him in obedience, prayer is certainly not a rattling in the wind, not a senseless prattle. And obedience implies in the first place (and the start is always) faith-confidence in Jesus Christ and love for other people (fellow-believers in the faith and also the lost) comes forth from it. The two walks hand-in-hand: Faith-confidence in Christ and love for others.
READ VERSE 23
This is a very important verse because it is saying that which all God’s commands have been saying all the time. The true content of all the commandments in the OT-time was JESUS CHRIST!
If a person tries to be obedient apart from trusting in the death on the cross and the resurrection for your salvation, you are only busy with religion like any non-Christian religion. The Muslim (for example) do all kinds of good deeds to try to gain the favour of his god, but alas – he is not saved in that which Christ has done in his place. He does good deeds WITHOUT trust in Christ. It is a useless religion.
In John 6:28 the unsaved religious Jews ask Jesus:
“What must we do to do the works God requires?” Upon which Jesus answered: “The work of God is THIS: to believe in the One He has sent”.
What you must do, is not to try to obey the Ten Commandments. What you must do is to cast yourself upon Christ Jesus. Build trust in that which He had done for your salvation. And that trust is after all God’s work in you. And FROM OUT OF THAT the love as a fruit of the Spirit starts to flow. And where the love flows, good works follow almost without saying.
Everything, everything, everything is about a heart-focus upon Jesus Christ. That is the Christian Faith in essence. And brotherhood with other people who have the same heart focus, spontaneously follows. And there you have the essence of being a Christian. That is that. And how can one keep something like that to yourself? Therefore the message must get out. That is how daily witness and being a sole-winner come to the fore.
Verse 24 however adds something that we should not miss. Verse 24 is loaded with such precious truths.
READ VERSE 24…
If a person lives in disobedience to the Lord God, you will always doubt whether you have truly been saved and are reborn. Doubt about your salvation will eat away inside of you. Disobedience does not MAKE you unsaved, but it undermines your fellowship with God, and the absence thereof brings doubt.
The opposite is also just as true.
A Christian who is devoted and committed and who is passionate to follow the Lord in obedience, his assurance of salvation shall be deeply rooted. That lifestyle of surrender is worked by the Holy Spirit and makes the presence of the Holy Spirit very evident. And therefore you just simply KNOW that you are truly a child of God. No, obedience does not WORK the assurance of salvation. It is a work of grace by the Holy Spirit. But the experience of: “My heart yearns to be a committed and devoted and obedient follower of Christ” -THAT makes me realise that the Holy Spirit truly is at work in me. And Romans 8 is clear: Whoever has received the Holy Spirit, is surely a true child of God.
Once more you see the vital signs! Earlier in the letter, 5 such vital signs were mentioned – by which a Christian – when you observe these vital signs in him/herself – can know with certainty that he/she truly came to life in Christ.
Here is the 6th vital sign: I notice the presence and working and power of the Holy Spirit in my life. And if I recognise it, I KNOW that the Lord is present/ truly lives in me. And I remain in Him.
There is mutual inclusion. He is in me and I am in Him. Not physically, but by the Person of the Holy Spirit who is working in me. That is the wonderful/miraculous indwelling of the Holy Spirit which causes that the living God REMAINS IN ME and that I REMAIN IN HIM. Like the branch-in-the-vine. That is the most precious union. One cannot think how CLOSE He is to His child and His child to Him! And the Christian-believer can never lose it again. Even after death, it simply continues. Because though my body dies, the Holy Spirit does not die (Rom 8:10-11).
But, in closing, notice the interaction:
If I love and desire obedience to God, I shall experience fellowship with God.
And also: If I desire and thirst for fellowship with Christ, I shall experience the power for obedience.
And that which causes it all is the work of grace by the Holy Spirit.
But if I thus notice the work of the Holy Spirit in me, it creates assurance. The assurance of He truly dwells in ME!
Translated by Marthie Wilson