I John 3:19-22; 4:17-19
1. First John is precious to all of us because, from first to last, it is about assurance.
a. John is clear about his purpose: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life” (I John 5:13).
b. The key terms throughout the letter are “we know” and “confidence.”
c. It has passages within it that are so meaningful that we often repeat them to ourselves to calm our hearts.
2. But in the midst of these familiar sayings, at two of the key points in the letter, we come to two of the most puzzling lines of thought in the scriptures.
a. One writer called them “remarkable texts.”
b. It’s not that they discourage; it’s just that discovering and applying the meaning challenges us.
c. It turns out, though, that when we do dig into them they bless us with the most practical kind of reassurance.
1. Condemned By Our Own Heart, I John 3:19-22
a. These words were directed toward those who had reason to reassure their hearts before God.
i. They were loving with complete and utter honesty (v. 18).
ii. They were practicing the self-giving love which Jesus made known when he laid down his life for us, according to the truth of the gospel (v. 16).
iii. By this they could know that they were “of the truth” – and they could still their hearts with this priceless knowledge.
b. But the reason reassuring our heart is brought up is that we are subject to those times “whenever our heart condemns us.”
i. The picture that develops is like a strange courtroom scene.
(1) John Stott pointed out, “There are three actors in this spiritual drama, three speakers in this inward debate. It is a kind of trial, with our heart as the accuser, ourselves as the defendant and God as the Judge.” (The Epistles of John, 146)
(2) In other words, this is about people who are walking in the light but are having inward misgivings because their own conscience is more critical of themself than it should be.
ii. This accusation of the heart that we are falling short is the kind of thing that happens to the best and most sensitive people.
iii. Brother Woods noted that “in spite of the assurances provided, we yet suffer the uneasiness which springs from the realization of our own weaknesses and the consciousness of our own imperfections.” (284)
c. What John writes here addresses that problem with at least three important facts.
i. “God is greater than our heart.”
(1) As important as our conscience is, it is not the ultimate authority in judging our real condition. God is.
(2) In a different context, Paul said, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (I Cor. 4:4).
(3) Perhaps there are times when we need to remember the other side of that coin: if my conscience is overly critical, I am not thereby condemned. The reason is what John says next.
ii. “And he knows everything.”
(1) He knows our aspirations and intentions, the circumstances we’ve had to deal with, and how we’ve tried.
(2) He knows he has done something through his Son that is sufficient to cleanse us (1:7).
(3) He knows our real relationship to himself.
iii. Besides, the fact is “that we are of the truth.” Sometimes our heart just needs to be called back to what we know (v. 19).
d. That leads John to say, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”
i. In other words, if the assurances of God are enough to pull us through the times when our heart condemns us, how much more may we still our heart when it is not faulting us?
ii. Knowing that the longing of our heart is to please him and that our way of life is to keep his commandments (v. 22), we not only have confidence to come before God, but also that he will respond to our prayers in the way that is best.
iii. The line of thought, though it has recognized the practical problem of self-condemnation, ends up where it started – reassuring our heart before him!
2. Fear That Is Out Of Place, I John 4:17-19
a. “There is no fear in love.” At first thought this sounds strange because we know there is a kind of fear that belongs at the very center of our lives.
i. It is an attitude of loving respect for God which dreads even the thought of displeasing him.
ii. It’s the kind of fear an obedient child has for a loving father, and which must be the controlling motive in our conduct (I Pet. 1:17).
iii. Fear of the Lord like this is “the beginning of wisdom” (Ps. 111:10).
b. But there is also another kind of fear which cannot live in the company of real love.
i. It “has to do with punishment” – that is, it causes a person to live all the time in anticipation of a harsh outcome.
ii. It is the terror, the dread, the slavish fear that is characteristic of a slave in the presence of a cruel and heartless master, or of a citizen under the domination of a mean and unpredictable tyrant.
iii. When we fear like this, it is either because we know we are unprepared for judgement, or because we consider God to be unworthy of loving respect.
iv. There is none of this kind of fear in love (v. 18 a).
v. “Whoever fears” like this “has not been perfected in love” (v. 18b).
c. Notice that John’s claim is that “perfect love casts out fear.”
i. His letter is concerned with the perfecting of the love of God (2:5; 4:12; and verse 18).
ii. For his love to be “perfected” is for it to have reached its true end or purpose in our lives – that it has come to maturity – to the point that we have full faith in the love of God.
iii. Verse 19 describes it in practice as a way of life: “We love because he first loved us.”
d. When the love of God is perfected in that way in our lives “we may have confidence for the day of judgement” (v. 17).
i. It means that we’re living the way Jesus lived: “because as he is so also are we in this world” (v. 17b).
ii. The ground of the confidence of those in whom fear is cast out is that they love like Christ does, and are therefore in the same family (cf. Matt. 25:34-40).
iii. He is to be the Judge, and he surely will not condemn us for being like him!
1. These two passages, of course, speak to people who are already Christians about how to live as children of God. Other texts tell us how to allow him to make us his.
2. But when we are his, we can “have confidence before God” (3:21) and “we may have confidence for the day of judgment” (4:17). If we can have assurance there, we can have it anywhere, anytime!