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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)

  3. The flesh experiences futile thinking, darkened understanding, hardened heart, and callousness towards sin that the Christian is no longer to walk in. (Ephesians 2:1-3, 4:17-19)

  4. The flesh wars against the soul (1 Peter 2:11)

  5. The flesh causes us to think sinfully, according to the ways of the world. (Romans 8:5)

We first see this Trinitarian emphasis first in 1 John 3:20. Our heart will condemn us because of the weakness of our flesh, but God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.

Secondly, we see the Trinitarian focus of our text as we see our need to pray to God and to receive the grace to live out this Christian walk. We are a needy people but God has the provision, the answers, the grace that we need and He is willing to give it to His children when they ask. We see this in verse 22, “...and whatever we ask we receive from Him”.

Thirdly, we see the Trinitarian emphasis of our text in our need to believe upon Jesus Christ and to apply the gospel in every circumstance and in every occasion. In verse 23 we read, “And this is the commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ…”.

Finally, we see the Trinitarian nature of this text in the emphasis on abiding in God, and God abiding in us. We are also told that this abiding is the result of the Spirit whom He has given to us. We read in verse 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.

Spurgeon knew of the importance of the Trinitarian work in a believers life. He said, “Our main concern must be as to the root. The heart must be alive with gracious gratitude, or the leaf cannot long be green with living holiness. How is it with thee, my soul? Is there root-life in thee? Is Jesus precious? Is the Father’s name most sweet? Does the Holy Spirit move thee to ardent affection?...He who doubts his own love to Jesus generally doubts Jesus’ love to him. O love, be thou the living root in me, and, through your quickening and nourishing energy, may the branches of my consecrated life grow exceedingly.

Spurgeon speaks of many of the things that we have considered in this letter. He recognizes the need for our heart to find Jesus precious, to treasure the sweet name of the Father, for the Holy Spirit to stir up ardent affections. He also acknowledges the love of God (the living root) and the life of God (the quickening and nourishing energy) to bear fruit.

John speaks of five of these fruits that come from the root of the LORD in our text today,

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

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

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

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

  • A confident Christian keeps the commandments of God (24)

Let’s consider these five things. First, a confident Christian addresses the issues of the heart.

In our Thursday morning Community Group we have been going through the gospel of Luke. One of the things that has captured my attention is the fact that Jesus often addresses the hearts of believers and unbelievers. He goes where no one else desires to go and addresses things that no one else is aware of.

For example, in Luke 11 Jesus is eating at a Pharisee’s home and the man is astonished that Jesus did not wash his hands before dinner. Jesus says to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You fools! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But give as alms those things that are within and behold, everything is clean for you.” He continues by saying, “But woe to you Pharisees! For For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

We see so clearly in the gospels that Jesus was often addressing peoples hearts and trying to get them to deal with the sins that were there. If Jesus did this in His earthly ministry we can assume that the Holy Spirit does this in us now.

In this list of five things that John speaks of in our text we see that he addresses the internals, and the externals; the inside, and the outside; things seen, and the things that are unseen.

If we are honest, we realize that we do not always obey God. We do not always love others with the same agape love that Jesus has loved us. As a result, our hearts condemns us. But John encourages us that God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. We can confess our sin (1:9) and draw close to God and dwell in the Light.

Typically we are unsettled by the fact that God is omniscient and that He knows everything about us; but here, the omniscience of God is intended to encourage us. We see this in the life of Peter when he applied this in his life after he had denied the LORD three times. In that moment, he was at his lowest point and he lacked assurance before the LORD.

In John 21, Jesus comes to Peter and asked him three times if he loved Him. Each time Peter said that he did. When Jesus asked Peter the third time Peter replied, “Lord, You know everything; you know that I love you.” (21:17)

This brings us to our second point. A confident Christian prays and is aware of the grace that God provides. John says, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him…” (22)

The words ‘ask’ and ‘receive’ are both in the present tense. This implies that a believer will be continually asking the LORD for things. They will see their great need for His grace in their life. And when they pray for such things God is going to give them what they need.

John Flavel, in his book ‘Keeping the Heart’ says, “An acquaintance with your own heart will furnish you a fountain of matter for prayer. The man who is diligent in heart-work will be richly supplied with matter in his addresses to God. He will not be confused for want of thoughts; his tongue will not falter for want of expressions.” I would also add that a person who addresses the heart and prays to God concerning the things that he sees there will be able to testify about the many answers to prayer that they have received from God. Seeing these answers to prayer believers will grow in assurance.

Our assurance is not dependent upon having every prayer will be answered. Dr. David Thompson makes an interesting observation concerning the Greek here. The phrase ‘If our heart does not condemn us’ contains a third class conditional clause. This means that if certain conditions are met there is a good probability that the request will be given. He contrasts this with a first class ‘if’ clause which was not used here. If John would have used the first class clause it that would have asserted a fact. It would have then been a matter of fact that God would answer our prayers. Instead John uses the third class to speak of a good probability.

Dr. Thompson then gives us some things to consider when we pray to the LORD.

  1. When we pray we should be obeying the Word (22)

  2. When we pray we should practice what pleases Him (22)

  3. When we pray we should pray in the name of Jesus (John 14:13, 16:23-24)

  4. When we pray we should examine our motives (James 4:3)

  5. When we pray we should examine our heart to see if we have been forgiven and have forgiven others (Matthew 6:14-15)

  6. When we pray we should examine our life for secret sins (Psalm 66:18; Is. 59:1-2; Jer. 11:10-12)

  7. When we pray we should examine our prayer and not pray like the Pharisees (Mt 6:5-8)

  8. When we pray we should examine our relationships with our spouse and others (23; 1Peter 3:1-7)

  9. When we pray we should pray in faith (Mt. 21:22; James 1:5-7)

Thirdly, a confident Christian believes in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. Perhaps it would be best to quote Paul here as we consider the need for a Christian to continually look to Christ and to believe upon Jesus to have assurance. In Romans 7 Paul discusses the weakness of his own flesh. He describes the fact that he desires to obey God but evil lies close at hand. He says, “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Because of this struggle with sin Paul could be condemned before God; bit Paul immediately answers this question by saying, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (7:22-25)

Then in Romans 8 Paul speaks of being freed from condemnation and being freed to live confidently in Christ through faith. He says, “There is therefor now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened in the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (8:1-5)

In Galatians 2:20 Paul speaks very clearly about what it looks like for a Christian to live by faith in Christ every day. He says, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

A Christian who deals with the heart, who prays for the grace of God, and who lives by faith will show fruit in the last two ways that John mentions. And we again see this clearly in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Let us deal with John’s last two points together. First, a confident Christian loves the brothers and sisters in Christ. Secondly, a confident Christian keeps the commandments of God. Both of these things can be addressed in Galatians as well.

When the Galatians turned from the gospel that transforms the heart to an external religious law they did not display any love for the brothers and sisters in Christ and they did not obey God’s commands. Paul says to them:

  • Galatians 3:10-11, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’

  • Galatians 4:15-16, “What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?”

  • Galatians 5:15, “But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

  • Galatians 5:26, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Paul pleaded with the Galatians to return to Christ and to live by faith. And if they would do this they would display love for others and they would obey God’s commands, He says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (5:6)

He said to them, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (5:13-14)

We have seen today in 1 John 3:19-24 that a believer can have assurance of their salvation. We first trust in the truth of God, the promises that God has given to us. We also need to recognize the central and fundamental role of the Trinity in our assurance. It is the LORD who begins this work and He will finish it (Philippians 1:6) We also grow in our assurance when we address the heart, pray for grace, live by faith, love others and obey His commands by the Spirit which has been given to His children.


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