Monday, September 17, 2012
1st John Chapter 3 Part 12
3:19-21 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.
We come to verse 19 where John states that hereby we know we are of the truth. What is this “hereby” he refers to? Hereby can also mean “by means of this,” so we know John is referring to past statements made to his spiritual children. Verse 16 begins with a similar tone. John states “by this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”
We are acquainted with love because we are acquainted with God through the person of Jesus Christ. We now know the very being John personifies as “love,” 1st John 4:8. But love and truth coexist; one does not exist without the other according to God’s word. John will later commend fellow believers to enjoy grace, mercy and peace from our triune God in truth and in love, 2nd John 1:3.
Perhaps we needed to know love before we could receive the truth. Love was demonstrated to mankind by the vicarious death of Christ so it would make the truth more palatable, like children who need sugar to swallow bitter medicine. God’s love is in truth, and therefore He does not lie concerning our spiritual position before Him and His universal remedial in Jesus Christ. This singular act of God, going to the cross and bearing the sin of the world, was an act of love that arrests the attention; it is then that the truth of the message may be proclaimed. It is perhaps through the love of this selfless act, and only through it, that God’s gospel of truth (Galatians 2:14; Colossians 1:5) can be rightly seen.
When John says that we know that we are of the truth, he is not referring to truth in the abstract. In this respect I do not think he is even referring to the truth of the Scriptures. Truth is in Jesus Christ because our Lord is the truth, John 1:17; 14:6. When he says this he may be intending to reaffirm to us that we are of God, as he stated in 1st John 3:1-2. How can we know we are of the truth and assure our hearts before Him? By living a lifestyle consistent with our confession as the Holy Spirit manifests in us the fruit of righteousness, as John already stated numerous times, 1st John 2:28, 29; 3:3, 6-7, etc.
But there is more. Verse 20 speaks of the heart that condemns us. This is the God-given faculty we call a conscience. Paul writes, “[Gentiles] show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them,” Romans 2:15. When we do wrong we know it; furthermore if our conscience has been touched by the Holy Spirit it shames us deeply when we knowingly sin. “What fruit did you have then in the [sins] of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death,” Romans 6:21. Here we learn of the Christian who is in fact ashamed before his Lord and Creator. While our hearts can be assured as we walk with the Lord in obedience, there is unrest, turmoil, and lack of joy for the Christian living like the prodigal son. David writes of his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah, saying, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit,” Psalm 51:12. A Christian's joy is removed when sin mars our fellowship with God. This occurs because the Holy Spirit who dwells in us is grieved, Ephesians 4:30.
Permit me an addendum and second point here: John words this passage in a way that suggests it is the heart of the believer alone-and not God-that condemns him. If our conscience condemns us for the right or the wrong reasons God sees beyond the heart and its accusations or justifications. God is greater than our heart and is more willing for us to come to Him than we are. The condemnation of the heart could be an unfortunate condition that aggravates a sense of sin when none exists; this can easily happen when we misunderstand God’s command and transgress not God’s word, but man’s interpretation of what His word says. The Pharisees were notorious for altering God’s word to suit their agendas; the burdens they laid on the backs of Israel were not God’s commands but man’s. Either way the condemnation of the heart could simply be a manifestation of guilt spawned by emotion rather than a true sense of the Spirit’s conviction.
Yet the Holy Spirit inspires John to conclude this thought not with the condemning heart that convicts us of our trespasses before a holy God, but the greatness of the God whom we serve. God is greater than our heart and knows all things, John writes. I believe John is attempting to convey to the saints that our lack of works does not nullify our salvation. While they are indicative that new life dwells in us, it is not by these works that we attain or maintain eternal life. If our heart condemns us God knows those who are truly His, 2nd Timothy 2:19. While the Christian ought to be zealous to depart from iniquity (see 2nd Timothy 2:19 again) it is not on this basis that we are saved. Paul also writes of our life in Christ: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself,” 2nd Timothy 2:13. I believe John is reminding us, lest we become carried away with works to the point of replacing grace with them, that God sees the heart and knows whether or not we have been saved, or are using works as a substitute for the confidence of trusting Christ.
“But after that the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life,” Titus 3:4-7.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them,” Ephesians 2:8-10.
Then what is the benefit of serving God through loving obedience rather than serving the flesh? John says that if our heart condemns us not we have confidence toward God and may approach boldly before the throne of grace, see also Hebrews 4:14-16. We have access to God’s throne and may confidently approach our Heavenly Father to petition Him in prayer, 1st John 3:22. We have power with God as Elijah did, according to James 5:16-17. Having confidence toward God, knowing that He hears us and grants our petitions (1st John 3:22) can be a source of great comfort and joy.
The negative side of this coin, living in the flesh rather than walking in the Spirit, comes to loss of reward. Paul addresses this issue twice in 1st Corinthians. In chapter 3 verses 11-15 he details the believer who builds on the foundation of Christ verses the carnal believer whose works were entirely fleshly. One suffers loss; the other reaps reward. Later in this same epistle Paul talks about running to receive a prize, and running in such a manner that you intend to win it, 1st Corinthians 9:24-27. This time he refers to loss of reward as being disqualified from a race. Since we know salvation is a free gift of God and not a reward, this is not a salvation passage, as some erroneously teach, using it as a platform to teach the doctrine of falling away. No, some will be crowned and others will suffer defeat, for it is essentially fellow believers we are competing against. But Christians are not to compete in such a way that engenders spite between brethren; we rejoice when one amongst the body is honored, 1st Corinthians 12:26.