Having Confidence

19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.1 John 3:19-24

 Confidence in Loving One Another

John uses the phrase “we know” over twenty times in1 John. It speaks of the assurance or confidence the children of God have. It acts as an inclusio in this section when he repeats it in verse twenty-four. Confidence or assurance of one’s standing before God comes by knowledge. In this case it is the knowledge or assurance of the believers in their self-sacrificing love for other Christians.

 Confidence in the Truth

In verse nineteen John is either referring to assurances the believer has in the truth that he really loves the brethren or in general, that is, he is following the Truth. Knowing the truth can bring great confidence as Jesus pointed out in John 8:32: “and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Literally, phrase “reads, ‘out of the truth we exist’” (MacArthur 143). Being confident before God rests on the fact that our lives are in tune with the truth.

 Confidence in Our Hearts

The idea of one’s conscience is implied by John’s use of the term “heart” three times in these verses. The term for “assure” is the Greek pietho which means here “to reassure.” Paul describes how the conscience works in Romans 2:15: “who 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.” If one’s conscience is trained or programmed by the Word of God, it will accuse us of guilt when we have sinned, or it will excuse us of guilt when we are either innocent or God has removed the guilt of sin via forgiveness. In this passage the confidence is one’s standing: “shall assure our hearts before Him” (3:19).

Because of a Christians failure to love one another specifically or to keep God’s commandments in general, the conscience can condemn us. Sometimes even after one has been forgiven by God their conscience or heart condemns them as guilty sinners before. God. This is a problem because it will result in a loss of confidence to approach God in prayer and abide in fellowship with Him.

John gives two reassurances to help the struggling Christian to overcome this problem. First, “God is greater than our heart” (3:20a). When God promises we have been forgiven His words carry more weight and authority than whatever the inner voice of the conscience may be telling us. The answer of a good conscience toward God.

Secondly, the troubled saint has the assurance that God “knows all things” (3:20b). The omniscience of God trumps the doubts of our hearts. God certainly knows the condition and content of the Christian’s heart. The heart may accuse and condemn but God knows the effect our relationship with Christ has had on our sinful state and our walk with Him. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:1). God knows those who have obeyed the Gospel and baptized for the remission of their sins. And baptism is “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21). He knows the prodigal children who have returned home having repented, confessed, and asked forgiveness through prayer.

 Confidence Before God

So, the condition of the heart and the clear conscience of the believer has a great deal to do with our ability to approach God. “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God” (3:21). The same Greek term for “confidence” is used by the Hebrew writer to denote boldness in approaching before the throne of God. “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The Christian needs to stop listening to the condemning voice of their hearts which knows of their inconsistencies and their failures of the past and start focusing on the all-knowing God. Paul informs us of the benefits of focusing on God in Romans 8:31-34: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.”

 Confidence in Answered Prayer

There are two benefits of a clear conscience before God. First, the boldness to coming before God and second, “whatever we ask we receive from Him” (3:22a). This boldness or freedom to speak to God is based on our faith in the promises of Jesus with regard to God’s willingness to answer our prayers. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matt. 7:7-8).

Prayer is not a debit card in the hands of the believer. John gives two reasons God will answer those with a clear conscience able to approach Him with boldness. First, “because we keep His commandments” (3:22b). This in no way implies that the Christians earns favors from God or that God is obligated to answer our prayers just because we did something for Him. However, sin has always been a blockade standing between the sinner and the blessing the Holy Father wishes to give His children. The Psalmist observed, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). The second reason is because the guilt free heart is doing “those things that are pleasing in His sight” (3:22c). Of course, the obvious way we can please God is by obeying His commandments. Faith pleases God (Heb. 11:6), but this faith must be an active, obedient faith. A child will find ways to please its father. Not just because of fear or to curry favor but out of love and delight in their relationship. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4).

 Confidence in Keeping His Commandment

Observe what John is doing in this verse. He switches from the plural, “commandments” in verse 22 to the singular, “commandment” and then back to the plural “commandments” in verse 24. This is not a mistake on his part. This commandment consists of two components. First, “that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ” (3:23a). The term “believe” indicates a past event which has implications on the present. It speaks of saving faith which resulted in salvation in the past (Mark 16:16; Acts 16:31f). Christ commanded that we believe in Him and is in His name. “His name” represents who He is. He is Jesus the Savior. He is the Christ the anointed one of promise. He is Emmanuel, that is, “God with us” (Matt. 1:23) referring to the incarnation of the Son of God.

The second element of this commandment is that we are to “love one another” (3:23b). The command to love here is in the present tense. Believing in an event in past and loving one another is an on going event in the present. Faith in God and love for the brethren can hardly be separated into two distinct commandments. Paul wrote that in Christ it is “faith working through love” that avails anything (Gal. 5:6). Jesus summed up the two greatest commandment with loving God and loving one’s neighbor (Matt. 22:34-40). John now sums up the relationship with God and one another into one command. This is not a command fashioned by John just to make an argument but “as He gave us commandment” (3:23c). Jesus on numerous occasions gave the command for His disciples to believe in Him and to love one another. One cannot be obedient to Christ unless they maintain both aspects of this command.

 Confidence in Mutual Indwelling

John turns attention to the result of those who keep God’s commandments in general. Obedient believers abide or remain in God, as God at the same time abide or remain in them. They are at home dwelling with God while God has taken up residence within their heart. Perhaps an illustration from nature can assist in understanding the necessity of this mutual relationship. A fish must live in the water so the life-giving oxygen can be given to the fish as the water enters the fish. Without the fish being in the water and the water in the fish death will result. Jesus had pointed out this mutual indwelling between Him and His disciples in His allegory of the Vine and the Branches. He said, “abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me” (John 15:4).

 Confidence by the Spirit

Confidence in the indwelling of God in us, and we in Him is due to the Spirit given to the believers. Far too often Bible students have misapplied Jesus’ promises of sending the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to everyday saints (John 14:26;15:26;16:13). The context clearly points to the apostles as recipients of these promises and not the average Christian of today. Those of the Charismatic persuasion see a reference here to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, as a result of overreacting to the Charismatic movement of the Pentecostals, some brethren have run away from Pentecost and completely retired the Holy Spirit. A broad, sweeping declaration is made concerning the work of the Holy Spirit. Some claim, “the only work the Holy Spirit does today for believers is indirectly through the Holy Spirit revealed Word of God as they read it and apply it to their lives.” However, there is evidence from the scriptures that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and doing its part in the scheme of redemption. At the point of baptism, the Holy Spirit reassures us of our relationship with God and the assurance of our eternal salvation (Eph. 1:13; Acts 2:38b). He, that is, the Holy Spirit, intercedes and assists the prayers of believers before God (Rom. 8:26-27).

What is the Spirit doing in this context which brings assurance to Christians? Notice John uses the term “spirit” in (4:1-6). Whatever it means here must be determined by the greater context of 1 John.

– Daniel R. Vess

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