1 John 3:19-24 - A Christian's Assurance Before God Part 2

John MacArthur makes this observation concerning our text this morning, “Strong preaching of the Word of God, strong preaching of the Gospel, strong appeals for holiness, and strong teaching of the bible creates an environment in which assurance can be a fragile thing...Today there is less interest in the assurance of salvation than there has ever been...There is less need for assurance today because the preaching is so shallow and the presentation of the gospel is so superficial and trivial...People do not understand the true gospel, they do not understand that it is hard to believe, they do not understand the high cost of discipleship, they do not understand the Lordship of Christ, they do not understand the real breadth and depth of repentance, they do not understand the matter of obedience, they do not understand the pursuit of holiness because these things are not taught.

The apostle John has been emphasizing three tests in this letter. A true believer will pass the doctrinal test, the moral test and the love test. As a result of this strong teaching concerning things these things the apostle now gives believers instruction on how they can have assurance concerning their salvation.

Our text this morning is 1 John 3:19-24.

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.

A couple of years ago Andy Lickel gave me a book by Thomas Watson that is called ‘The Doctrine of Repentance’. I started reading the book and I was shocked that I was learning things in this book that I simply had not heard taught in all my years in the church. MacArthur was right when he said that we are not being taught the ‘depth and breadth of repentance’.

At first, I was very eager to read the book. In the opening part of the book Watson gives six characteristics that must be present if one is to experience ‘True Repentance’.

  1. They need to see their sin

  2. They need to have sorrow for sin

  3. They need to confess their sin

  4. They need to have shame for their sin

  5. They need to hate their sin

  6. They need to turn from their sin

Soon after I began to read this book I be to became overwhelmed. On the one hand, I could look back throughout my life and see that God had often worked in me ‘true repentance’. He did all of this even while I was still so ignorant of these six steps. Part of me wanted to remain naïve to all of the complexities of these things because with this knowledge would come responsibility (Luke 12:48). And yet, I knew that part of maturity and part of growing strong in sanctification would mean that I needed to know and apply these things to my life.

So I continued to read the book and as time went on I found myself more and more overwhelmed. I felt the weight of these things and eventually I could not pick this book and read it anymore. For months it sat in my office untouched. Then one day I decided to pick it up again. I decided that I would start at the beginning and I am so glad that I did. As I started to read I discovered the importance of the opening words that I did not appreciate the first time through. Watson began his book by saying, “Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit, whereby a sinner is inwardly humbled and outwardly reformed. For a further amplification, know that repentance is a spiritual medicine made up of six special ingredients...

The first time that I read this book I failed to see the importance of the words: ‘Repentance is a grace of God’s Spirit’ and ‘repentance is a spiritual medicine’. Because I failed to appreciate those words about the Holy Spirit’s work in repentance I was overwhelmed.

I share this story because it may be easy for us to get excited about the five points in our text that pertain to assurance; but the assurance will be short lived if we fail to recognize and appreciate the Trinitarian nature of the text. The five points that John makes concerning assurance are...

  • A Christian addresses the issues of the heart (19-21)

  • A Christian prays and is aware of the grace that God provides (22)

  • A Christian walks by faith in the Son of God (23)

  • A Christian loves the brothers and sisters in Christ (23)

  • A Christian keeps the commandments of God (24)

When we begin to apply these things we may quickly find ourselves overwhelmed. Part of this is because our heart and conscience is really good at condemning us. We read in 1 John 3:19, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us…”.

John is quick to point out that when this happens, ‘God is greater than our heart, and that He knows everything.’ Our hearts often need to be reassured by the truth of the gospel because we are weak in our thinking, in our understanding, in our heart and in our flesh. Let me give you five examples of this from scripture. (PLETHOS Global Discipleship, Ray Hass. pg.32-36)

  1. The flesh is weak: experiencing some incapacity or limitation (Romans 6:19; Mt. 26:41)

  2. Nothing good dwells in the flesh. Although we desire to do right we often don’t do the right we desire to do, but we do the wrong thing. (Romans 7:18)