1 John 3:19-24 January 15, 2017
Sermon Series on I John Sermon # 15
Today’s Sermon: “Liberated from Condemnation, You Have Confidence Before God”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Are you a Christian who is struggling with a heart that condemns you? Are you a believer in Jesus Christ, yet sometimes feel guilty and judged by God? Do you lack the confidence of your salvation in Christ? Does God seem distant, and you wonder if He hears your prayers? Or do you know someone who struggles with these things, but you’re not sure how to help them? This message is for you. In Jesus Christ, God the Holy Spirit wants you to be liberated from a heart that condemns you. He wants you to enjoy the blessings of full confidence and assurance, when you come before the Lord, in prayer and in worship. First, God wants you to know that…
I. God Has Liberated You from a Condemning Heart (vv. 19-20)
19 “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
It is not unusual for a Christian to struggle with a heart that condemns him or her. Why? The Evil One is always accusing us and trying to get us to take our eyes off of Jesus, so that we feel shamed, guilty, and condemned. I think of those who, after the death of a parent, wrestle with whether their mother or father was angry with them, and condemn themselves for either not doing enough or for doing the wrong things. I think of those who are always blaming themselves for anything that goes wrong in their family or in their relationships, even if they were innocent. I think of those who have very sensitive consciences, and who second-guess their every action and motive.
In addition, there are times in the life of a believer when our hearts lack an assurance of salvation. We may feel distant from God, or feel that we just can’t be forgiven of something we’ve done. While you may have Romans 8:28-39 firmly tattooed in your memory, your heart just isn’t following along, and therefore you feel condemned, guilty, shamed, and unworthy. What do you do?
John provides you with two remedies so that you can set your heart at rest in His presence. The first remedy concerns what God has done in you, while the second remedy involves what God knows about you.
A. First, what God has done in you frees you from condemnation.
19 “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us.”
When John writes “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth,” he is referring to the preceding paragraph about our love for others being the test of our profession in Christ. That is, we are encouraged to think about how God’s love has been poured into our hearts, so that we are able to love one another. When we love others this way, it assures us that indeed, we are born again of God’s Spirit, and we really do belong to Him. In other words, God wants you to think about how Christ has impacted your life and how He has made you a more loving person, God wants you to realize that these changes have happened precisely because God has made you His child, and nothing can separate you from Him and His love for you! God wants you to reflect on His clear fingerprints on your life and how He is changing you in love. He wants you to consider the evidence that God has been pouring His love into you. So don’t listen to Satan’s lies. Don’t believe the false accusations of others… or even of your own bothered conscience. Instead, you need to meditate on how God’s hand has been on your life and working in and through you.
Now, you may be here this morning, and you’ve never been born again, and you don’t know the love of God in your heart… and in that case, I don’t want to give you a false sense of assurance! You’ve got to be born of God before you can start loving like God. So let me ask you: Is God’s love living in you? Does Christ live in you by faith? That’s your starting point. Surrender your life to Christ today!
Here’s the second remedy to a condemning heart…
B. What God knows about you frees you from condemnation.
“For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” (v. 20) What does John mean by that? In the context, the apostle is saying that when your heart feels condemned (for the wrong reasons), you need to remember that God knows your heart better than you do. So if He has given you a new heart in Christ, then you can be sure that God does not condemn you. God wants you to trust that He who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion in Christ Jesus. He wants you to believe His interpretation of your condition, not your own.
When I was in my mid 30s, I was concerned that I was having heart problems. My father had died of a heart attack before the age of 50, and I didn’t want to follow in his footsteps. So I had a stress test done, and the results came back negative; my heart was fine. Turns out it was indigestion. You see, the cardiologists knew much more about my physical heart than I did, and so they could set my emotional heart at rest. And that’s the way it is with our Heavenly Doctor. God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything about our hearts. So listen to Him, listen to His Word, and don’t rely on your feelings. If it is Satan accusing you, you’ll feel condemned with no way out, like you are sinking in quicksand, but if the Holy Spirit is convicting you, He will help you to repent of a specific sin or idol. That’s the difference.
The main point here is that your Heavenly Father is more merciful than your condemning heart. His omniscience should therefore relieve you, not terrify you, if you are His child.
Ps. 103:14 “For He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust.”
John Stott puts it this way: “Stronger than any tranquillizer is trust in our all-knowing God.”
Summary: First, the truth about what God has done in you frees you from condemnation. Second, the truth concerning what God knows about you frees you from condemnation.
Therefore, you need to rest in Christ, for there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1).
And that leads us to the second great truth of this passage, namely…
II. God Gives You Confidence to Come to Him (vv. 21-24)
21 “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.
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. 24 Those who obey his commands live 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.”
John moves now from assuring the condemned heart to rejoicing in the blessings of a forgiven heart. He focuses on the confidence we can have to come before Him; to stand with joy in the presence of the Holy and Almighty God! Now there are two aspects to this confidence. And the first one is that…
A. Your confidence to come to God is rooted in God’s character and His Gifts.
We can come confidently to God because of who God is and what He has given us.
Who is the God we come to? Remember that He is a loving Father, He is the God of all grace and mercy. Therefore, in Christ, we are coming to a loving Father, not to a condemning Judge! We are coming to the One who will give us bread, not a stone; to the One who will give us a fish, not a snake; therefore let us boldly and confidently ask of Him, seek His face, and knock on His door in prayer! (Matt. 7:7-11) That’s who He is!
And what has He given to us? Only the best and highest gifts! God has given us both His Son (v. 23) and His Spirit (v. 24)! God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son! And God so loves us that He has sent His Spirit to live in us! And it is the Spirit who seals and empowers in us all that Christ is for us. Could you ask God for anything more?
Analogy: Imagine you are a 12 year old orphan in a poor country, and you receive news that a couple in America is going to adopt you. Although you become hopeful, you are also fearful, because you’ve had some very bad foster home experiences. You are also anxious about any male authority figure. But then even before you meet this couple, everyone is telling you how nice and loving this couple is, and how they are wonderful people. Furthermore, the husband starts sending you all sorts of gifts, including pre-paying all your college expenses and buying a house in your name, that will be yours when you become an adult! What does that do for your confidence? How much more should God’s character and His precious Gifts (Son and Spirit) encourage your heart, to trust Him and to be able to come before Him with joy!
So let us enjoy a clean conscience based on the finished work of Jesus Christ as your atonement for sin. Let us come boldly into God’s holy presence because Christ lives in you through the giving of the Holy Spirit! Such confidence should bring you a wonderful peace, as well as a bold communion with God. Let us come to Him with our needs and our longings. Hallelujah!
The second aspect to our confidence is that…
B. Your confidence to come to God grows along with your pleasing obedience to God’s commands.
John supplies a second reason why we can have such confidence to come before God, so that we know that our Father hears us and answers our prayers. That reason is “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (v. 22b).
But let’s be careful here in how we understand this reason. As John Stott puts it: “Obedience (to God) is the indispensable condition, not the meritorious cause, of answered prayer.” The adopted child will know he is loved by his parents because they chose him and adopted him, not because he’s trying to be obedient. Yet because he has been adopted and loved, he will seek to be obedient and pleasing to his parents. Furthermore, the longer he stays with this family, the more he will become like them, and that also will give him more confidence as part of the family.
So while Christ’s sacrifice supplies the root of our confidence, our pleasing obedience to God provides the fruit of why we can be confident.
But what did John mean when he wrote writes “we… receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.”?
Let’s start by asking “What are the commands we must obey, if God is to hear our prayers?” The answer is found in 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.”
It boils down to the two great commandments, with “Believe” substituting for “Love” in the first one. We must believe the truths that John has been writing about in this letter, that Jesus has come in the flesh, that He is the Christ, etc. Furthermore, to “believe in the NAME of His Son” means to trust in all that He is; all that He has done; and all that He will do. It means to have full confidence in all that He has revealed about Himself to us. It’s like buying a trusted name of a car or some food item. The name represents the product and its quality. So it is with the “Name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ” His Name can be trusted … and therefore obeyed.
As Stott so helpfully summarizes this passage: “So if we would set our hearts at rest, when they accuse and condemn us, we must look for evidence of the Spirit’s working, and particularly whether He is enabling us to believe in Christ, to obey God’s commands, and to love our brothers…”
Topic # 1 What does it mean to “do what pleases God”? (v. 22)
(Think about wanting to please your mother or father, your spouse or your friend)
See John 8:29 “I always do what pleases Him”;
Romans 12:1 “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual acts of worship.”
2 Cor. 5:9 “So we make it our goal to please Him”; Eph. 5:10 “Find out what pleases the Lord”;
Col. 1:10 “That you may please Him in every way”;
Col. 3:20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord”;
1 Thess. 4:1 “We instructed you how to live in order to please the Lord”;
Heb. 11:6 “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” [We must come to Him as the Great Satisfier of our souls- Piper].
Heb. 13:16 “Do good and share with other, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
Heb. 13:21 “May the God of peace…equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work is us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen”) [“God glorifies Himself as God by satisfying our souls in God.”]
Topic # 2 What are the other conditions which God’s Word gives us, for our prayers to be heard and answered by our Father in heaven?
- We must pray according to God’s Will (1 John 5:14 “that if we ask anything according to
His will, He hears us.” Also Psalm 37:4 and John 15:7) This is parallel with the verse we are looking at, in 1 John 3:22, “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him,” as such obedience to God is evidence that our will is in harmony with God’s will.
- We must pray in Christ’s name (John 16:23-24), that is, through all He is and all He has
done for us. No one comes to the Father except through Him (John 14:6)
- We must pray for God’s glory (James 4:2-3)
- We must be cleansed from our sins (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 15:29; Isaiah 59:1-2; James 5:16),
both forgiven by God and having forgiven others (Mark 11:25).
- We must believe God’s promises (Matt. 21:22; Mark 11:24; James 1:5-7)
- We must obey His commands (as above, in 1 John 3:22)