Simon Bowkett's Podcast

1 John 3:19-24 - The Sources of Confident Assurance

May 21, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
1 John 3:19-24 - The Sources of Confident Assurance
Show Notes Transcript

Introduction, v. 19


This week my social media was ‘invaded’ (I hadn’t invited it) by an advert for a forthcoming conference on ‘Religious Trauma’.


Its description of religious trauma described what happens when someone gets as far as a clear awareness of their sin but fails to go on to turn from that sin to Christ and live life from that point on in the grace of God in Christ.


It dwells a lot on the manipulation of guilt by church leaders as a means of management of their organisation and seems to seek to motivate support for its ‘de-churching’ message by this means. 


Now there is such a thing as coercive church leadership.


It is real and it is awful, but this advert seemed to be describing the sort of experience of conviction of sin that is a feature of Biblical preaching which appeals to the ears of the faithful to turn to Christ … but arouses rejection of Christ in the ears of those who prove not to be amongst the faithful.


This passage in 1 John is about dealing with it when our hearts condemn us.


In that sort of situation, how do you find assurance and peace?

When our hearts condemn us, v. 20


v. 20 “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”


This ‘condemned by your heart’  thing … what’s going there?

Condemned by YOUR heart 


Well, there’s a bit of background to this term … starting with the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint.


•               In Deut 25:1 LXX καταγινώσκω (kataginōskō) means “to condemn” in a context where it is in opposition to δικαιοῦν (dikaioun, “to acquit”). 


•               In Job 42:6 LXX and Ezek 16:61 LXX it is used of self-judgment or self-condemnation, and this usage is also found in the intertestamental literature (Sirach 14:2). 


•               The Testament of Gad 5:3 describes a person οὐχ ὑπ᾿ ἄλλου καταγινωσκόμενος ἀλλ᾿ ὑπὸ τῆς ἰδίας καρδίας (ouch hup’ a[llou kataginōskomenos all’ hupo tēs idias kardias, “condemned not by another but by his own heart”). 


So we’re pretty safe to say that the word John is using here of the heart condemning a person has legal or forensic connotations, and in this context it refers to the believer’s self-condemnation, resulting from a guilty conscience concerning sin.


THAT’s what we’re talking about.


So when your heart condemns you like this, your sense of your assurance of salvation is being lost to an awareness of personal sin and sinfulness resulting in self-condemnation to the point of doubting your own personal salvation.


It’s a desperate situation in so many ways, and the remedy for it is, of course, a life that makes a habit of regularly and consciously turning back to God and casting ourselves again on His mercy and free Grace … not a conference that is there to deny the reality of human sin and accountability before God for our behaviour.


The thought-remedy, the strategic meditation that mends this pervading sense of guilt, John says, is to remind ourselves of certain truth …


God is your answer


John tells his readers something specific … perhaps not a specific we’d immediately go to, but one that when you think about it makes perfect sense … something specific ABOUT GOD Himself.


GOD is your answer!


Specifically two things about Him

He is greater


Firstly, when your heart and conscience condemn you, reckon on God being greater than your heart.


V. 20 “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts”


Our hearts might condemn us, but there is such a thing as an illegitimate sense of guilt when our hearts make the mistake of listening to the Accuser of the Brethren who seems to sit on our shoulder whispering in our ear all sorts of illegitimate criticisms of us into our ear to make us doubt the efficacy of the Lord’s death on the Cross for my sin.


Our God is greater, so God’s authority is greater than both the Accuser of the Brethren and the critical voice of my fallen human flesh.


That inner voice of the conscience can be a useful warning sign, but it is not always a reliable indicator.


Paul explains that in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5 “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. 4 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.”


Paul has a clear picture of the transcendent Glory of God which means His character and therefore His judgment is far greater than mine which is accusing me.


It’s an interesting argument, which goes to the heart of the divergence that can develop between God’s verdict and my own.


His is based on grace and mercy: mine is based on listening to the voice of my own sinful flesh and (quite possibly) the enemy of my soul.


He is greater.


And a consequence of that, of course, is that whatever it is about me that my accusing conscience finds to be so sure an indication that I am lost … He already knows all about it, and He’s not going anywhere.


When your heart condemns you, God … His personality, greater Glory and omniscience speak against it!

He knows all about it


See here, whatever it is that your heart accuses you of as a genuine believer, and whatever mud it is that the Accuser of the Brethren throws at you in the hope of getting it to stick on your guilty conscience weighing it down and  leading you to doubt the effectiveness of what Christ did for you on the Cross … WHATEVER it is, He knows all about it already and has NOT turned His back on you.


So when our conscience condemns us there are better things to think of other than just sit there like a sitting duck listening to it!


(So advises this pastor John as he’s writing this letter.)

When our hearts do NOT condemn us, vv. 21-22


Having addressed the situation in which our hearts condemn us, and having supplied the remedy, John HIGHLIGHTS THE BENEFIT of moving from that former situation via his proposed remedy to being in the far better situation of living in what Paul calls ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God’.


“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, 


we have confidence before God 


and receive from him anything we ask, 


because we keep his commands and 


do what pleases him.”


The un-condemning heart


Now the important thing to grasp here is that this heart is not a heart that shies away from self-examination and even self-criticism.


Those are the engines that drive repentance and amendment of life … the ongoing renewal of spiritual life and of the believer’s ongoing walk with God.


The ENGINES of it.


And you know what an engine is?


It is a machine for turning energy into work … the energy supplied by the indwelling Holy Spirit which works to sanctify the people of God from the inside out, from the heart strings to the sounding board that expresses the reality of the inner physics, so that it can be seen, heard and appreciated.


“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us …”


That is grace and faith-based real Christian life.


Living with the Spirit’s correction and daily repentance and amendment of life, but living this not as if living under Law and regulations but under grace, in the era of the Spirit … living the glorious liberty of the children of God


Confidence before God


Confidence as a sinner in the hand of the (three times) Holy God!




If you can be confident before God, the holy judge of all the earth … who on EARTH is going to bother you?!


Sounds great … but there’s more benefit to be gained for living in this grace-fuelled relationship with God …


Power in prayer 


When our hearts do not condemn us we have confidence in the presence of the Holy One of Heaven (which is astonishing but is exactly what you might anticipate the genuine forgiveness of your sins might do for you) but then even more astonishingly John describes a direct verbal correspondence between what you ask for and you get when you pray … if your faith is actually the real Biblical deal:


“… and receive from him anything we ask, 


because we keep his commands and 


do what pleases him.”


V. 22


There are a few rather surprising things in John’s statement here.


He is speaking about ‘us’ … the authentic believer whose conscience (because of Christ’s sin-atoning death on the Cross and liberty securing sending of the Spirit) does not condemn them.


But nonetheless, John is saying that THAT person walking with God in the light of the Gospel and as the consequence of their transformation by the new birth … gets what they ask for from God.


But there’s at least one other major surprise for the Spirit-born, Gospel believing free man here.


You see, grammatically, that ‘because we keep His commandments’ is a causal link.


We receive of Him what we ask of Him BECAUSE we keep His commandments …


It IS saying of the authentic believer in Jesus that we receive of Him anything we ask BECAUSE we keep His commands and do what pleases Him.


So there’s the thing.


Keep His commands (we’ll see what he’s thinking of there in a moment) and DO WHAT PLEASES HIM … there’s the positive part of Gospel obedience.


Keep His commands (which are often thought of as prohibitive - don’t do this) and do what pleases Him (that’s prescriptive DO do this).


A life of positively and negatively orientated compliance with the will of God brings the relationship the believer has with God to the point where the Lord’s promise is realised in that experience.


Which promise?


John’s Gospel records at least three:


John 14:12-14


“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”


John 15:15-17


“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit

fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.”


John 16:23


“In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.”


Now I am very cautious about all this ‘name it and claim it’ theology, because I have seen the most fervent sounding prayers of Christian people NOT being answered in the affirmative.


The thing is, in one way or another, the Sovereignty of God and the dependence of this sort of promise on human conformity to HIS will not His conformity to ours are in every case in John’s theology the foundations of answered prayer.


The promise depends on our praying in conformity to His will not our seeking to conform Him to ours.


And when we ARE walking with Him closely and faithfully because of what He has done in us, and therefore conforming our will to His not seeking to do the opposite … then there is power in the prayers of God’s people.


Need I say we really don’t reckon with and therefore don’t do this enough?

A closing and necessary caution, vv. 23-24


Now in the rather glorious light of all that John’s been expatiating on so far, he feels the need to add a closing and necessary caution.


There is such a thing as false assurance just as surely as there is such a thing as fake faith … the very reason John has to write to these readers because there are pretenders causing trouble in their gatherings.


So John highlights two considerations that must be born in mind for the preservation of orthodoxy and the spiritual well-being of these people, which flows from rightly holding the truth:


V. 23-24 “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”


Two things:


1) It is faith not obedience that saves


2) Sanctification evidences salvation, but doesn’t earn it.

Faith saves


V. 23 “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

That isn’t Biblically contentious.

From Abraham in Genesis 15 onwards this has been the basis of salvation and Paul spells out the theological detail with unerring accuracy across the face of his letters.

It is NOT your personal holiness that saves you, but grace through faith alone.

That’s the first thing John is stressing here, and then the second thing he stresses is that …


It isn’t your heart but what God wants which matters


Subjective assurance CAN be sadly misguided.


We need to gauge the certainty of our salvation NOT against what we feel … that’s just the comfort of a believer’s assurance of salvation that we’re talking about there!


We gauge assurance of salvation much more assuredly by what God has done by putting His Spirit in us to tune the way that our hearts respond to His bidding, than we do by the feeling of comfort that assurance brings … or any other subjective experience for that matter.


That’s the thing about the genuine faith of the believer … it demonstrates the fulfilment in that individual of what Jeremiah had prophesied centuries before these believers receiving John’s book came to personal faith in Jesus.


““This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel

after that time,” declares the Lord.


“I will put my law in their minds

and write it on their hearts.


I will be their God,

and they will be my people.


34 No longer will they teach their neighbour,

or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’


because they will all know me,

from the least of them to the greatest,”


declares the Lord.


“For I will forgive their wickedness

and will remember their sins no more.”


Jeremiah 31:33-34


You see?


You cannot separate confidence in salvation from seeing God doing what God genuinely does in a human heart when it is saved.


And what He does is to put His law in the believer’s mind and write it on their hearts.


So John writes:


V. 23 a “And this is his command:”


OK John, confidence hinges on our changed, converted heart’s response to the command of God … but what IS that command? 

God wants to see faith


“this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,”


V. 23b


Whenever we think of sanctification and being a GOOD Christian and so on, the natural Pharisee within us does seem to go straight to thoughts of keeping God’s ‘rules’.


When we hear the term ‘God’s commands’, we do seem to conclude it is performance related!


But John highlights that the command of God is to trust Him, more specifically to trust in the Name of His Son, Jesus Christ.


Now this makes sense.


First of all it makes sense because it is exactly what Jesus was saying in John  6:29 “Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”


29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”


Secondly it makes sense because it is the faith that springs from the new birth … being born of the Spirit … that deals with our sin, puts us right with God and feeds the life of the Spirit which strengthens and inspires our hearts to walk with God in the light of His other commands!


It is the gateway to the life of faith.


Here’s the thing … the big thing … that should assure us of the genuineness of our salvation:


Not necessarily mighty faith, but dependent faith.


The faith that may not feel strongly but strongly or heavily leans its weight on the Lord alone to take our weight and CARRY it.


It isn’t what YOUR heart wants (which might actually be very legitimate or very worthy) but what God wants to see and the first thing He wants to see is the gateway to the life of faith, which is the faith that trusts Him and leans the weight of its present and future destiny on Him and Him alone.


And the second thing He wants to see, which is the work of His Holy Spirit having taken up residence in any individual human heart is the reflection of the love God has shown that individual shining off out into the world around …

God wants to see His love reflected


1 John 3:23 “this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”


Now there are shades again here of Matthew 22:35-40


“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 


36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”


37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 


38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 


39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’


40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”


It’s the two tables of the Law again … obeying the Lord’s primary command to love the Lord your God with all you’ve got so it starts with the Godward relationship, then loving your neighbour as yourself (His love for you getting reflected in your love for your fellow man).


In all this talk about genuine Christianity we need to keep this very simple foundation of truth in mind.


It is faith and love that arise from the new birth and from experiencing and therefore REFLECTING the love of God that are the foundation signs of genuine faith.


Faith saves.


And as faith and love work through the saved person’s consciousness, the sanctification that is born of that evidences salvation.

Sanctification evidences salvation


And that’s where John is going next.


V. 24 “the one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”


Saving faith results from being born again of the Holy Spirit, and the presence of the Spirit in His Temple (the human heart) fulfils the prophetic promise of Ezekiel and Jeremiah.


But how do we know that it is the Holy Spirit and not some counterfeit that has taken up residence in the individual human heart?


He is the Holy Spirit and inclines the human heart that has been so horribly and insufferably orientated towards choosing to sin towards the very opposite.


To choosing a life of walking with God.


The proper resolution of the debilitating continued presence of guilt in a believer’s life is to turn back often from sin to trust Christ afresh.

We’re not coming to faith again, when we do that, we are living the life of faith!

Making that our habitual response to the presence of sin in our lives is liberating and refreshing giving life and joy and peace because it sets us free from what Paul calls ‘the law of sin and death’!

It is a leading SOURCE of the Christian’s joy to turn from rebellion against God to fresh life in Him and to live in the light of His grace … His total acceptance of us in Christ as His beloved children.

And our confidence then lies in the clear promise of His Word that there is now NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

That’s where our assurance has its roots.

That’s what John is spelling out gloriously for his readers.

And THAT is what we must NOT let the de-conversion people with their psychology and their conferences rob us of, on the basis of their observation that grace-less religion is a wicked thing.

Our response has to be to agree that graceless religion … which does not live daily in the mercy and forgiveness of God … is a terrible psychological and spiritual burden.

But that is NOT what our Bible’s about at all!