We are back tonight in 1 John chapter 3. If any of you are new to our church, I basically am a Bible teacher. That’s what we do around here. We open the Word of God and see what it has to say and mine into the rich treasures that are very often beneath the apparent surface of the text. We find ourselves in the wonderful epistle called 1 John. John the apostle wrote three of these letters known as 1 John, 2 John and 3 John, this is the lengthy one. This is a very, very important one.
We find ourselves in chapter 3 of this great epistle and looking at a text that really begins in verse 18 and goes to the end of the chapter, verses 18 through 24. The theme of these verses can be found in verse 19. In fact, in our last studies we’ve been sort of parking on verse 19. Let’s go back to it. Verse 19, “We shall know by this that we are of the truth and shall assure our heart be for Him.” What John is talking about here is the matter of assurance. He says we shall know that we are of the truth and shall assure our heart before Him. This is about assurance, the assurance of salvation. Those who are saved have every right to enjoy the reality of that. They have every right to enjoy the assurance of that. They have every right to enjoy the confidence that indeed they are saved and they are headed for heaven.
Through the life of the church, through the history of the church, assurance has always been a very, very significant issue. Through the years of the church, strong preaching of the Word of God – as we pointed out over the last couple of messages – strong preaching of the gospel, strong calls to holiness, strong teaching of the Bible have created an environment in which assurance can become a very fragile thing. Wherever you raise the standard of holiness, wherever you call people to obedience to Christ, wherever you call people to a true gospel of submission to the lordship of Christ and repentance from sin, the issue of assurance becomes important. People begin to wonder, have I repented sufficiently? Have I believed sufficiently? Have I pursued holiness sufficiently? Do I really know the Lord? Am I really headed for heaven? And through most of the years of my ministry, as well as many other ministers before me, we have faced the issue of helping people to experience the assurance of their salvation.
I will confess to you that in my lifetime there is less of an interest in the assurance of salvation today then there’s ever been. And I’m saying that not because I’ve done some survey, that’s just sort of putting my hand on the pulse of the contemporary church scene. And I will tell you that I hear very little discussion, if any, about the issue of assurance. And the reason assurance is not an issue is because the preaching is so shallow, because the presentations of the gospel are so superficial and trivial. We live in a tolerant sort of anti-intellectual, experienced-driven, uncritical church environment. And the faith has been trivialized, if not romanticized. The local church becomes a religious experience center. The local church becomes a social rescue agency. And the gospel is reduced to a very minimal kind of thing. All you do is pray a prayer, say you believe in Jesus, and they run to surround you and give you psychological assurance that that’s all that’s necessary and you can be sure that you’re a Christian and don’t ever question it.
People then are given a very shallow or superficial exposure to the gospel, hardly adequate in many cases to even bring them to a true understanding of what is necessary to be saved. Then they are psychologically assured that they belong to Jesus. They’re in the kingdom. That’s all they need to know to settle that issue and assurance never becomes an issue to them because they do not understand the true gospel. They do not understand that it’s 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 depth and breadth of repentance. They do not understand the matter of obedience. They do not understand the pursuit of holiness. That is not what is taught.
So in that environment people aren’t concerned about the assurance of their salvation, because they’re not under the kind of preaching that produces the kind of conviction that makes them question that. And so it’s almost as if we have to go back and redo the gospel before we can create the need for people to understand the matter of assurance. But nonetheless, John does give us very, very critical and important teaching on the doctrine of assurance for those who have been exposed to the truth.
In fact, if you look at chapter 5 verse 13 you get sort of a summation of why this epistle was written. “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” The whole epistle was written to the people who believe so they could know that they have eternal life. No sense having eternal life and not enjoying it. No sense having eternal life and not being able to rejoice in the reality of it. We have emphasized that salvation is forever. Salvation is forever, true salvation is eternal, irrevocable. We have also then emphasized that we can be assured that we possess that eternal salvation. And that is the issue that John addresses. True salvation is forever and we can know that we possess that true salvation. We can rise above doubts and fears and the lack of assurance.
Now this is not a new issue, as I said. In other eras of history in the church, when preaching was much stronger, this was a very, very important theme. In fact, Christian people were clamoring for this kind of teaching because they were frightened about the fact that they might not be true Christians. And as I said, under any kind of strong powerful biblical preaching, the issue of assurance is a major issue. You have an environment today where there’s very little of that kind of preaching and so people don’t question the validity of their salvation since it’s typically attached to a prayer they prayed, “a decision they made,” and nothing more was ever asked.
Just to take you back to another era. Perhaps the greatest theologian in the history of our nation was Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards, as you remember, was involved in preaching at a crisis point in American history which developed into what we call the Great Awakening, one of the great revivals in the history of our nation, under the preaching of Jonathan Edwards as well as George Whitefield. Now because of the strong preaching of Edwards and the strong preaching of others – and Edwards’ preaching was very strong – i.e., Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, where he literally dangles the sinner over the gaping fires of hell on the spider web. His preaching was very powerful. It was very strong. It called for the purest and truest kind of repentance. It called for obedience. It called for a longing to abandon sin and embrace holiness, and there were many other preachers whose preaching was like that. In that environment of preaching, the Great Awakening burst onto the scene as people fell under conviction, as they repented, as they embraced the gospel.
And then the issue of assurance became a major issue. These people were literally so overwhelmed by the demands of the gospel to repent, to believe, to obey, to submit, to follow Christ, to pursue holiness, that it was very natural for them to question whether they were actually doing that and whether they had the manifestation of true salvation, the true work of God in their hearts. And in response to that in the year 1746, Jonathan Edwards wrote his classic, A Treatise on Religious Affections – A Treatise on Religious Affections. That absolutely critical and monumental document was directed at the matter of evidence for true conversion. It was to be a help to people who were wondering whether their salvation was true, because the standard was so high, people were prone to think they couldn’t reach it. The thinking of that Treatise on Religious Affections, by the way, is profound. It is biblical and it is also very practical. If you ever have occasion to read it, you should do so.
But Edwards concluded that the accurate proof of salvation, summing it up, was the presence of religious affections, or let’s call them what he did – holy affections. Another way to say it is a passion for righteousness, a zeal for holiness. Edwards said that where true conversion takes place there is a new nature, there is a new inner man. And that new inner man has a driving passion for holiness. He isn’t always what he should be, doesn’t always say what he should say, doesn’t always think what he should think, but his passion is toward holiness. And so Edwards says true salvation is demonstrated in holy affections. Edwards was concerned about Satan counterfeiting conversions and was careful to distinguish between what he called saving operations of the Holy Spirit and common operations of the Holy Spirit. He said the common operations of the Holy Spirit may, “Sober arrest and convict men and may even bring them to what at first appears to be repentance and faith, yet those influences fall short of inward saving renewal.”
That is to say people can be struck by the gospel. They can be drawn to the gospel. They can have some kind of positive reaction to the gospel, like the soils of which Jesus spoke in His parable. And yet come short of inward saving faith, inward conversion. And the main thesis of his classic work is that you know when the conversion is real by the holy affections. He writes, “Grace planted in the heart in a new birth is a principle of holy action and always produces an abiding change of nature in a true convert. Therefore whenever a profession of conversion is not accompanied by holiness of life, it must be understood that the individual concerned is not a Christian.” Jonathan Edwards didn’t invent that idea. He simply drew that idea out of all the prior teaching that was faithful to the Word of God, because that’s what the Bible teaches. James summed the same thing up by saying, “Without works there is no real saving faith.” And those works would be the works which he calls “holiness of life.”
Now let me give you a sort of a context for where we are today. If you go back and look at the history of theology, there have been really two alternatives in this discussion. There is the reformed alternative, as we typically identify it, and it kind of goes like this. The reformed view presents the permanent nature of regeneration manifest in the reality of experience – the permanent nature of regeneration manifest in the reality of experience. In other words, you’re saved, you’re saved permanently and it shows up in your life. The other view is the Arminian view, sometimes called the Wesleyan view. This is the view that affirms the temporary nature of regeneration, temporarily manifest in experience. So you have the permanent nature of regeneration, permanently manifest in experience; that’s Calvinism or Reformed Theology. You have the temporary nature of regeneration manifest in temporary experience; that’s the Arminian Wesleyan view that essentially says salvation is not forever. You can lose it. You’re likely to lose it and therefore losing your salvation you would lose the ability to do good works and so the whole thing would disappear. And those were basically the options through history. You either believed in a permanent salvation that had permanent manifestation or a temporary salvation that had temporary manifestation.
But today we have a third view that has come on the scene and we could call it the permanent nature of regeneration and the temporary nature of experience. That is to say you can be permanently saved but only temporarily manifest the evidence of it. This is what the no-lordship people teach, that you can be a believing unbeliever, that you can deny the faith, reject Christ, live in absolute outright sin, have no desire for holiness and still be a Christian. That really doesn’t find any kind of a wide adherence in the history of theology. But this is what we’re dealing with today. The idea that once you’re saved you’re saved permanently, although there may be only a temporary manifestation, if any at all, in terms of your works. Well no self-respecting Calvinist would accept that and neither would any self-respecting Arminian accept that. The Calvinist would reject the idea that you could be permanently saved and only temporarily manifest that salvation. And the Arminian would reject the fact that you could be permanently saved all together. The Calvinist would say you could be permanently saved but not temporarily manifest it. The Arminian would say you couldn’t be permanently saved at all, that would be temporary, and therefore you could manifest it only as long as salvation lasted.
But we have this new and bizarre idea that if you go through some motions at a service or if you pray a prayer, decide for Christ, or do whatever you’re asked to do and affirm some belief in Jesus, you can have permanent salvation and it may or may not manifest itself in any kind of righteous works, any kind of holy affections, not only in the moment but lifelong. The Bible says if you’re justified, you’re going to manifest that you’ve also become involved in a process the Bible calls being sanctified. Those who are justified are sanctified. So where you come to Christ genuinely, you’re given a new nature, transformed, new birth, new creation, regeneration, you have ongoing manifestation of that new life.
Let me quote from Jonathan Edwards from Religious Affections. He said this, “Natural men have no sense of the goodness and excellency of holy things, at least for their holiness. But for the saints, holiness is the most amiable and sweet thing that is to be found in heaven or earth. When persons are possessed of false affections and think themselves out of danger of hell, they very much put off the burden of the cross, save themselves the trouble of difficult duties, and allow themselves more of the enjoyment of their ease and their lusts.” That’s what we have in the church today. People are coming and affirming that they’ve been delivered from hell and since they’re delivered from hell, that’s all taken care of, they can basically go out and give little regard to the burden of the cross, little regard for the duties that should be theirs as the servants of the Lord, and allow themselves the enjoyment of their ease and their lusts. Edwards says this is a dead giveaway of false conversion.
He further says, “There is a holy breathing and panting after the Spirit of God to increase holiness which is as natural to a holy nature as breathing is to a living body. If you’ve been given a new nature, then the longing for holiness is natural. The true believer loves God in the first place for the beauty of His holiness. Instead of being something separable from salvation, holiness is the very purpose of salvation. And once a person is renewed, a life of holiness is instantly begun and a transformation of nature is continued and carried on,” says Edwards, “to the end of life until it is brought to perfection in glory.”
Not everybody bought in to what Edwards said. In the very year that Religious Affections was published, 1746, Reverend Philemon Robbins attacked it and he said, “The only real evidence of true salvation is an inward feeling based on an experience.” Edwards said it’s based on a life of manifestation of righteousness, holy affections. Robbins said the only real evidence of true salvation is an inward feeling based on an experience. That would sort of be the modern approach to it, I think.
Well the Apostle John is on the side of Jonathan Edwards, or better, Jonathan Edwards understood what John was teaching. The pursuit of holiness is the proof of salvation. Edwards writes, “Godliness in the heart has direct relation to practice, as a fountain has to a stream or as the luminous nature of the sun has to beams sent forth or as life has to breathing. Holy action,” he says, “is ten times more insisted as a note of true piety throughout Scripture than anything else.” How do you know you’re a Christian? Edwards would say, “Holy affections.” You don’t look back to a feeling. You don’t look back to an experience. You don’t remember an event. This was a huge issue in his time. It should be more of a significant issue than it is today, but in the shallow preaching of today, people don’t know the gospel well enough to be frightened that they might not be really saved.
So we come back to verse 19 in our text. “We shall know by this that we are of the truth and assure our heart before Him.” We have talked about that verse now a couple of times. Let’s dig into it and grab one little phrase, “by this.” I told you we’d get to that phrase and we have finally arrived. Verse 19, “We shall know by this that we are of the truth and assure our heart before Him.” By this – by this. Drop down to verse 24. “And the one that keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us by the Spirit whom He’s given us.” So the passage is bracketed by that little phrase “by this.” It appears in verse 19. It appears again in verse 24. John is then giving us the means, the reasons why we know we are saved – by this. To exactly what does he refer? Let me give you a handful of things that are caught up in this text.
Number one, here are the components of religious affections. The first component of religious affection, of holy affection that manifests true salvation is love for other Christians – love for other Christians. And all you have to do is back up to verse 18, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth we shall know by this that we are of the truth.” Now we’ve gone through the passage prior which deals with that kind of love that is the mark of Christians. Go back to verse 10, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious. Anyone who doesn’t practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” Verse 11, “This is the message which you heard from the beginning that we should love one another.” Verse 14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life because we love the brethren. He who doesn’t love abides in death.” That just reiterates what we were learning when we went through that whole passage. And it is summed up in verse 18 with a call to that kind of love which is true, not just in word and tongue, but in deed and truth and thereby demonstrates that we are of the truth and as a result of that gives assurance to our hearts before God.
Jonathan Edwards said that this, in fact, was the chief holy affection. This was the chief sign in zeal for holiness and that is love toward the brethren, that this is the chief manifestation of the regenerating work of God. All of a sudden people you had no affection for, no interest in, people you saw as strangers, as odd, as outside your social structure, outside your interest, people you virtually wanted nothing to do with because you couldn’t connect, all of a sudden you find yourself loving those people. This is the change, the alteration of the heart. This is part of the new affection that you have, that affection for the people of God. And you love them not just in word – that is it’s just not talk; it’s just not with the tongue; it’s not a hypocritical superficial love – but it’s a love that finds expression in what you do. It is a love indeed and in reality. The word truth in that sense means reality. It’s real love, it’s demonstrated love more than just what you say.
In fact, if you want to know how it’s demonstrated, go back to verse 16. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. And whoever has the world’s goods and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” This love is manifest not in what we say, but in what we sacrifice. If we have something and a brother has need, we give them what we have to meet his need. If it comes to laying down our lives for the brethren, we do that. This is the magnanimity of that love. It is not shallow. It is not superficial. It is not selective. It is a kind of abandoned love in the sense that it yields up everything, even if necessary life itself, for the benefit of those who are in Christ. This is the uniqueness of our love. And this is celebrated, certainly, by our Lord in the fifteenth chapter of JOHN:. It is affirmed by the apostle Paul many, many places throughout his writings. It is advocated by the apostle Peter. It is enjoined upon us by the writer of the book of Hebrews. It is the mark of true salvation. We, all of a sudden, have this consuming holy affection for other believers to the point of sacrifice and to the point of giving our lives, if necessary. This is the mark.
If you know someone who says they believe in Jesus. They’ve received Him, accepted Him, whatever language they use. They’ve prayed a prayer. They call themselves Christians. You can, first of all, and perhaps most importantly, determine the validity of that claim by how sacrificial, how involved, how passionate, how affectionate they are toward other believers. If they do not attend a church, if they have no desire to be with the people of God, if they’re not consumed with the joys of Christian fellowship, you have every right to question the validity of their salvation. That’s what we have just learned in the prior passage and is rehearsed for us in verse 18.
Let me take you to a second because we’ve covered that one in some detail. There is a second holy affection. This is part of the demonstration that we have a new heart. It starts with love for one another and it moves to gratitude for God’s grace – gratitude for God’s grace. Look at verses 19 and 20. “We shall know by this that we’re of the truth and shall assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us, for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” You can see that verse 19 goes both ways. It picks up verse 18 and flows into verse 20. As we look again at verse 20 we read this, “That we shall assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us, for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” This is a powerful, powerful truth and a greatly encouraging one as well. We’re Christians. Our salvation is real. We have love for the brothers. We have a longing to be with other Christians. We find in our heart affection toward them, a desire to meet their need when we have what they need and they don’t. It may be to the point where we’re even willing to make sacrifices to the most extreme level on their behalf. And yet we have sin in our lives. We fail; we fall short. And so as a result of that our conscience is activated and that’s in the phrase “whatever our heart condemns us.”
There’s another element to being a Christian. If you’re a true Christian, you’re going to find that you have a very active conscience. Right? Very active conscience. It is a conscience, if you sat under good teaching as a Christian, that is well informed – well informed. And your conscience is going to function the way it should function. I have to give you a little background on this. Every human being is born with a mechanism called a conscience. Every human being is born with a mechanism called a conscience. The word conscience just means self-knowledge, an ability to recognize yourself, an ability to recognize what’s going on in you. And if you look at Romans chapter 2 for just a moment, the very familiar verses on the conscience are found in chapter 2. Well, we’ll just look at one verse, verse 15. It says in verse 15 that the conscience bears witness. The conscience observes what we do. It is self-knowledge. And it observes what we do. And it gives testimony to what we do.
You ask, “Who does it give testimony to?” To me and to you. Right? Your own conscience testifies to you concerning your behavior. It happens in your thoughts. Conscience bears witness and their thoughts ultimately accuse or else excuse. Okay? You do something right. Your conscience consciously informs your thought that this is right. You did something good. You did something righteous. You did something well, and there’s a sense of well-being. There’s a sense of joy. There’s a sense of satisfaction and happiness. You commit sin. Your conscience immediately is activated. It informs your thought that this is wrong and it accuses you; it attacks you; it condemns you; it indicts you, and if you persist in the sin, it can bring you all the way to depression, fear, and a loss of assurance – insecurity, doubt. That is the function of conscience. That’s critical in every human being.
Without a conscience people would go merrily to hell. It’s a warning system. And I said this when we taught on the conscience many years ago, the conscience is to your inner person what your nerve system, your pain mechanisms are to your physical body. A person who feels no pain will inevitably kill themselves. If your nerves don’t warn you, you’ll kill yourself. Leprosy – they’ve learned many years ago, leprosy is not a disease that eats away at you. Leprosy is a disease that desensitizes your nerves and what happens is people literally rub their fingers off, rub their toes, their feet off, rub their noses off, rub their ears off because they can’t feel what they’re doing, and they put too much pressure on themselves. That’s what leprosy does. They drink drinks that are too hot and literally fry their mouth and their throat. They touch things that are too hot and burn their hands and destroy their skin, because they have no ability to feel. Pain is a very great gift from God. Pain is God’s device given to every human being to warn that something’s wrong and you react to it.
What pain is to your physical body, conscience is to your spiritual soul, yourself. It is a warning mechanism. And if you didn’t have that warning mechanism, you’d be deadly to your own self, because you’d plunge deeper and deeper and deeper into sin without any appropriate warning of the danger. Now everybody has a conscience, but conscience has to be informed by the right standard. And so you have to teach people the Law of God so that conscience can react. Conscience is not the Law of God; conscience is not a system of morality. Conscience is a device that reacts based upon whatever your highest level of morality is. If you have a low level of morality, you have a very minimally functioning conscience.
So what do you think Satan wants to do? Satan, in order to literally send men to hell on a greased slide, wants to neutralize the conscience. And there are a number of ways you can neutralize the conscience. One, you misinform it. In other words, you give people a standard of morality that is a lie but if they believe that, then their conscience will react to that standard. If you’re going to take the Playboy philosophy, if you’re going to take the MTV philosophy of life, if you’re going to take the perverted, inverted, twisted, contemporary philosophy of morality in the world and buy into that as your highest level of morality, then your conscience is only going to be able to react at that level. That’s why it’s critical that people have a true understanding of the Law of God, a true understanding of morality, the initial one that God plants in the heart and that that Law be not literally covered over with another law made up by men and demons to lower the stimulus of the conscience and therefore plunge people into perdition without even a hesitation.
The other thing that society does – first of all it tries to lower the standard and misinform the conscience – the second thing it does is try to silence the conscience by telling you you shouldn’t feel guilty. You should feel good about yourself. So you invent a culture of self-esteem. We have everybody running around telling themselves how great they are. And they literally silence their conscience. They will not hear it.
The third way that you neutralize conscience is by searing it. The New Testament talks about having a seared conscience. That’s a desensitized conscience. That’s like something that’s been burned so many times, all the nerves are dead and it feels nothing. And the way you do that is by continually violating your conscience, continually violating it, violating it, and violating it until you’ve covered it over with so much resistance and so much scar tissue that when it does cry out against you, you’re so good at not listening that it has little effect. That’s what the enemy wants to do. He develops a moral system that misinforms the conscience. He develops a psychological system that tells you not to listen to conscience but override it with your love for yourself and how proud you should be of yourself and the pursuit of your self-esteem. And he wants you to so frequently ignore your conscience that literally it becomes covered with scar tissue and ineffective. Your conscience is a critical device.
Now when you became a Christian you had a very active conscience. Let me tell you why. You didn’t become a Christian without conviction. Is that not true? I mean, when you became a Christian it was an issue of repentance. Wasn’t it? So at some point your conscience was awakened. Your conscience was made alive. You saw the Law of God. Right? Paul says, “I saw the Law of God and I died. It slew me.” That was what he was meaning, his conscience literally dealt him a deathblow. At some point moving along in your sinful life and mine, God by His mercy and grace awakened us to the true law, awakened us to the true standard. We realized we fell short. Conscience was slaughtering us. We felt indicted; we felt guilty; we felt anxious; we felt burdened. We got to the point where we came to the Lord and said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner, and save me.” We were pounding on our breast. We were at a level of desperation where we were willing to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. Your conscience was activated at the time of your salvation, and it brought you to true repentance.
And the New Testament talks about the fact that when someone becomes a believer, not just before your salvation but from then on, you have a conscience that should function in a very unique way. Listen to Hebrews 9:14, “How much more will the blood of Christ who, through the eternal spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God cleanse your conscience?” I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about that but what happened when you were saved was all that accusation, all that garbage that your conscience was throwing up and throwing up and throwing up at you and indicting you for – under the active work of the Holy Spirit, by the way. John 16, the Spirit convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. The Spirit was stirring up your conscience and stirring it up and stirring it up, and it was accusing you and it was overwhelming you, and you were feeling the weight of sin. And then you came to Christ, you bowed the knee, and His blood washed your conscience. And one of the great realities that happens when a person is saved, you come out the other side of salvation and the burden has been lifted. Right? You’ve gone from an accusing conscience, which literally overpowered you, to a cleaned conscience – clean, fresh, now ready to respond to every impulse in response to the righteous work and law of God. Your conscience was cleansed from those dead works which indicted you, he says, to serve the living God. You know at salvation you got a clean, washed conscience. You hear people talk about that. Well that’s what Bunyan was saying. Right? When Christian finally got to the foot of the cross, what happened? He threw off the burden. And the burden was the indicting conscience prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Now we have this cleansed conscience, sensitive to the law of God. Now here, listen to this, so sensitive, so sensitive that it accuses us. Go back to 1 John and let’s, with that thought in mind, grab this verse one more time. “In whatever our heart condemns us” – now we’re talking about believers and our heart is the active conscience working on our mind, our thoughts. As a Christian my conscience is very sensitive. As a well-taught Christian, my conscience is very sensitive. My conscience was cleaned when I became a believer, and I felt free of all the indictment. All my burdens fell on Christ at the cross, and I came out of that incredible reality of regeneration and conversion with a joy in my heart, with a song on my lips, with hope, blessing, with an exhilarating deliverance. But I also came out of that with a clean and very sensitive conscience now, ready to lead me and to aid me in my Christian life and sometimes my conscience condemns me. When I sin, it condemns me. There’s no question about it.
Now when my conscience condemns me, when my heart condemns me, assurance can be lost. It can be. Where then do I turn? If my conscience is saying, “You know, if you’re a real Christian, why would you do that? If you’re a real Christian, why would you talk like that? If you’re a real Christian, why would you desire so much affirmation or accolade to yourself? If you’re a real Christian, why would have pride in your life? Why would speak to a person that way? Why would you be angry?” Or whatever it is. If you were a real Christian, why would you have that in your life? And conscience can bring you to the point where you lose your assurance. What do you do? Where do you go? Do you say, “Well wait a minute, now, I was baptized. Wait a minute, I walked the aisle. Hey, wait a minute, I go to church.” That isn’t going to fly. Your conscience will just keep saying, “Well that shows what a hypocrite you are.” Where are you going to go?
Here’s where you’re going to go. Back to verse 20. “In whatever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” What is that? That deserves a huge, “Wow.” That is a great, great statement. A conscience focused on our failures smites us with the axe-blows of guilt and hacks away at the tree of assurance. And how do we react? We say, wait a minute. Wait a minute. Where’s something greater than my conscience. There’s a higher court than my conscience. There’s a higher standard than my heart. God is greater than my heart, and God knows all things. God is far greater in holy indignation. God hates sin more than my conscience and my heart hate it, and God knows more than even my heart knows. That is to say God has a higher standard of holiness than I do. God has a greater hatred of sin than I do. And God knows everything about me far more than even I do. And the Bible says, Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no” – what? – “condemnation to those who are in Christ.”
So where do you go when your conscience is accusing you? You go back to the position of gratitude for the grace of God. God knows more about your sin than you do. God has a higher standard than you do, and God has pronounced you justified. He knows your heart better than you know it. That’s what He said to Peter, elicited from Peter. “Do you love Me?” Yes, I love You. “Do you love Me?” Yes, I love You. “Do you really love Me?” You know my heart. You know everything. You know I love You. I haven’t acted like it. I haven’t conducted myself as I should. But look at my heart. You know there are holy affections there. And the response of our Lord was, “Feed My lambs. Feed My sheep. Feed My sheep.”
God knows the worst that’s in me. God knows the worst that’s in you. He sees the deep things. He sees the true revelations of our hearts, and He does not condemn us. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Go back and read Romans 8:31 to 39. We don’t want to read it again; we read it so often. But you know what it says. If God is for us, who’s against us? Who’s going to condemn us when God has justified us? What is going to separate us from the love of God in Christ? Absolutely nothing. God sees the deep reality of our failures. He knows more than our conscience knows. Black deeds may rise on the surface of our conscience into our heart, into our mind, to condemn us. But God knows everything. He knows way more than that and down deep He knows we love Him, and we like Peter have to say, “Lord, I know it isn’t obvious, but You know my heart. You know I love You.”
So where do you go? Edwards would applaud, you go back to touch your holy affections and know that even though God’s standard is higher and God’s knowledge is greater, encompassed in that knowledge is the knowledge that down beneath the sin are the holy affections that manifest the changed nature. It doesn’t mean you take sin lightly. You don’t. But you avoid morbid self-condemnation. You go back and touch those holy affections. Do you have a love for God’s people? Are you grateful for grace? Are you thankful to God? Does your heart reach out in holy love to God and to see the One you desire to honor and to please? No matter what your conscience and your heart may say to you, God is greater than your heart. He knows more about what’s wrong with you than you do. He also knows the holy affections that are there as a result of the transformation in your life. And so, by this we know we’re of the truth because we love the brethren and because we are thankful for the grace of God. God, greater in knowledge, greater in holiness than our hearts, has promised us that we are His and He is faithful to His own.
There’s a third element here and it is this – boldness in prayer. Here’s another holy affection. One is an affection toward the brothers, another is an affection toward God driven at being thankful for His grace. Here is another one in the direction of God – boldness in prayer. Verse 21, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God, and whatever we ask we receive from Him because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” Now we’ll just take verses 21 and the first part of verse 22. “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us” – when we get pass that condemnation, we’re walking in obedience. Our conscience is excusing us, defending us, as it were. Our Christian life is as it should be. We’re walking in obedience and faithfulness and self-condemning insecurity disappears, and it’s replaced with confidence. If our heart is no longer condemning us, we’ve confessed those sins. We’ve celebrated the non-condemning promise of God to those who are in Christ. We’ve celebrated that all those sins that we have committed have been paid for in Christ. We’ve celebrated the fact that God knows way down deep inside of us even though it’s not apparent at the moment that we love Him, that holy affection toward Him is there. If we get pass those sins and our conscience is again commending us, we find ourselves with a kind of confidence that causes us to rush into the presence of God, and whatever we ask we receive from Him.
This is amazing. This might be considered to be presumption. Really. The word here parrēsia, the word confidence, means boldness. It means freedom of speech. The idea would be to go into the presence of God and say exactly what’s on your mind. I mean, you know, whenever you tell your children you’re going to have somebody special at the house, the first thing you say to your kids is, “Watch what you say.” Right? “Be careful what you say. Don’t say something stupid. Don’t go up and ask them for something silly,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You know, “Watch what you say.”
Well, not with God. If your conscience is excusing you, defending you, if your conscience is clear, there’s something in you – and this is another holy affection. This is another religious affection that causes you to run into the presence of God and spill whatever is on your heart. Right? This is boldness. You don’t hold anything back. We have an open relationship, a face-to-face relationship like a loving son to a loving father. We can look into the face of God with freedom from fear, freedom to ask, freedom to give Him anything that’s on our heart, absolutely anything and know that whatever we ask we receive from Him, obviously if it’s in accord with His perfect will and pleasure. In chapter 2 verse 28 it talks about having confidence and not shrinking away from Him in shame at His coming. In chapter 4 verse 17 it says we may have confidence in the day of judgment. In chapter 5 verse 14, this is the confidence that we have before Him that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. That repeats the verse we’ve just looked at, verse 21. We not only have confidence at the end, as in 2:28 and 4:17, we not only have confidence at the end when we face the Lord and we stand before Him knowing our sins are paid for in Christ, we have confidence now to rush into His presence and ask for anything according to His will and know that He’ll hear us and we’ll receive it.
This is an evidence of a changed heart. The sinner has no passion to run into the presence of God and unload all the passions of his heart, to speak freely to God. The sinner has no relationship like a loving child to a loving father. But the saint does, the one whom the Lord has regenerated and made His own loving child, knows God as Abba Father – Papa – and he knows that anything he asks within the will of God he’s going to receive, because God has promised to meet all needs.
How do you know you’re a Christian? Because you have a holy affection for other believers, because you have a holy affection for God Himself, and that affection is driven at the greatness of His grace. That though He knows everything about you, He still loves you and will never condemn you, because all your sins have been paid for. And at the same time He knows that you’re loving Him even though it may not be at the moment obvious. How do you know you’re a Christian? Because you have this very natural desire to run into His presence like a little child into his father’s room and to pour out your heart with freedom of speech, holding back nothing, and believing that whatever it is that you need and is according to His will, He’ll give it to you. There’s no reluctance. There is a boldness in going before God. A love for brothers, a gratitude for His grace, and a boldness in prayer.
Number four, another one of the by this, another element by which we can be assured of our salvation is obedience to His commands – obedience to His commands. Back to verse 22, “Whatever we receive” – and you can see how these are all woven together, which is pretty typical of John. “Whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” Here’s another evidence of a transformed life. This is another religious affection – the desire for holy obedience. We keep His commandments. I don’t need to go back through all of the indications of how substantial and foundational this is to salvation, but I remind you of John 15, “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, it shall be done for you. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love just as I kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.” This is about obedience. This is about love. Those who are true believers are known by their obedience. And Jesus makes that clear in a couple of other portions of the upper room discourse.
Obedience is essential. We keep the commandments, that’s the written Scripture, and we do the things that are pleasing in His sight. We do those things, whatever they might be in life, that we believe will please Him. We’re motivated by what pleases the Lord. That’s a holy affection, to be motivated to please Him, to be motivated to please Him, so you obey His Word, so you do everything that you can possibly do to please Him. In the words of 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, you do it all to the glory of God.” You’re not consumed with your own agenda, your own will, your own ambition. That has all died in the self-denying reality of salvation. You’re consumed with what He wants you to do and what is pleasing in His sight.
To say somebody is a Christian and then they’re disobedient, to say somebody is a Christian and they don’t love the brethren, to say somebody’s a Christian and they don’t have a driving, holy affection for the glory of God because of His glorious grace toward them, to say someone is a Christian and they do not have a boldness and a freedom in pouring out their heart in prayer is to contradict everything that’s in this passage. There’s no such thing as a permanent salvation but a temporary manifestation. This is how Christians are. This is the manifestation of our very nature. Lifelong we do those things that please our Lord, that’s just what it means to be a Christian. Now obedience is clearly indicated at every point of the New Testament, inherent in every command given to believers. And it’s not burdensome and it’s not grievous. It’s joyous for us.
Since our time is almost gone, let me give you the fifth one. The fifth one is faith in Christ – faith in Christ. This we see in verse 23, “And this is His commandment that we believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.” This is another guarantee that I am a Christian. I believe in Jesus Christ. If somebody says, “Well, I don’t believe in Jesus Christ anymore” – I’ll never forget the book in answer to my book on The Gospel According To Jesus that said you can be an unbelieving believer, flatly deny Jesus Christ and still be a Christian because you once believed in Him. That is to make salvation a human act. You generated the faith and then you lost it. If ever you have been given trust in Christ by God, you have been given an eternal trust in Christ. So here is another of the holy affections and that is faith in His Son, Jesus Christ.
We believe in Jesus Christ. All our lifelong we believe in Jesus Christ. We never cease to believe in Jesus Christ. This is the whole course of the believer’s life. In fact, we are called believers. When it says we believe in the name, what does it mean the name? It doesn’t just mean the name in the sense of the letters that make up His title. The name of Jesus is all that He is. And that is, by the way, a constant theme even in the New Testament, but particularly in 1 John. Believing in Christ, believing in the Lord Jesus is critical. First John 2:22, “Who is a liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ.” You deny Jesus Christ, you’re no believer, you’re a liar. You’re antichrist, he says. In chapter 4 verse 3, “Every spirit that doesn’t confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of antichrist.” Look, if you don’t believe in Jesus, you’re an antichrist. You’re not an unbelieving believer; you’re an antichrist. Verse 15 of chapter 4, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.” Chapter 5 verse 5, “And who is the one who overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Verse 13, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” Verse 20, “We know the Son of God has come and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” You are a Christian when you believe in Jesus Christ in all that He is, who He was, why He came, and what He did.
So when it comes to affirming salvation, what do you look for? Holy affections. What are they? Love for other Christians. Gratitude for the omniscience and the grace of God, who though He knows everything about you, has a higher standard than you do, doesn’t condemn you because there’s no condemnation to those who are in Christ and knows enough to know that down in your heart there is a love for Him. Boldness in prayer that causes you with freedom of speech to run into the presence of God and pour out unhesitatingly everything that’s on your heart because you feel you have a right to be there, because access is provided and God embraces you as a loving Father. And holy affections toward God’s commandments, holy affections toward Him in the sense that you want to obey His commandments and do whatever pleases Him. And holy affections toward Jesus Christ that you sustain faith in Him, who He was, why He came, what He did.
There’s one other indicator here, a sixth and final indicator of true salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit – the presence of the Holy Spirit. If you drop down to the end of verse 24, “And we know by this that He abides in us by the Spirit whom He has given us.” It’s the same phrase as we saw back in verse 19, “we know by this.” We know that God abides in us. We’re truly His children, His people; He lives in us, and we abide in Him. We share common life with God by the Spirit whom He has given us. If we have ever been filled with the Spirit, led by the Spirit, if we have ever been directed by the Spirit, instructed by the Spirit, taught of the Spirit, graced by the Spirit, gifted by the Spirit, filled with the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control – all those ministries of the Holy Spirit are evidence of the Spirit’s presence. We have walked in the Spirit. We have talked, as it were, in the Spirit. We have sung in the power of the Spirit. We have witnessed in the Spirit. We have served in the Spirit. We have that anointing that comes from God so that we have been instructed by the Spirit. Verse 13 says the same thing in chapter 4, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us because He’s given us of His Spirit.”
You can’t always see the Holy Spirit. You can’t feel the Holy Spirit, of course. He comes like the wind, blows where He will. You hear the sound. You see the motion, but you don’t know where it comes from and where it goes. There is a mystery to the working of the Holy Spirit. But nonetheless, if you’ve been a Christian for any time at all, you have seen the power of the Spirit of God expressed in your life. You say, well where? First of all, when your dead soul was made alive and your blind eyes were made to see and your sinful heart came to a point of repentance, and you, without any faith in Jesus Christ, all of a sudden were drawn to Christ. No man calls Jesus Lord but by the Holy Spirit. Right? And having called Jesus Lord, you have then experienced the Holy Spirit’s work. And then you were placed into the body of Christ. You were gifted and through the ministry of your gift, the Holy Spirit blesses the church. You’ve given testimony to the gospel and the Spirit has empowered that testimony. The Word of God has come alive to you because the Spirit has become your Teacher, as you read that. You have prayed and the Spirit has energized those prayers and prayers have been answered. You have evidence of the work of the Spirit in your life. This is how you know. You see the hand of the Spirit providentially orchestrating things in your life to bring you to the right place at the right time to accomplish exactly the right thing in the perfection of God’s purposes. As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. All those holy longings are really energized by the Holy Spirit.
So holy affections: Love for other Christians, gratitude toward God, boldness in prayer, obedience and a desire to please Him, faith in Jesus Christ, and the internal ministry of the Holy Spirit. By this we know we are of the truth. He sums it up, go back to verse 23, just a summation, at the end of verse 23, “Love one another just as He commanded us and the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him and He in him.” Those seem to be the two primary ones. I’ve given you six, the main ones that He repeated just now as I read in this section have to do with love and obedience. And if we have to have two at the top of the list – we would agree with Jonathan Edwards – the first one is love for the brothers. The second going right along with it – really they should be parallel – is obedience to the Word of God. In fact, all those verbs are in the present tense. Love, keep, and abide, all present tense. We continue to love; we continue to obey as a pattern of life. And by this, by this we are assured that we are true followers of Jesus Christ.
Our Father, again we are aware of the fact that all this profound revelation is Your gift to us. All these rich insights and truths, which are such an anchor to our souls, are Your precious and treasured gift to us who otherwise would wonder about these things. Thank You for the tender compassionate loving-kindness that extends to us this kind of truth, so that we even though we are saved and our eternity is secure don’t have to struggle through our lives, missing the joy of that eternal life, because we fear somehow we may have fallen short. Thank You that You’ve not only given us an eternal salvation, but You’ve given us assurance, so that we can enjoy its fullness. We bless Your name for Your goodness toward us and we only could ask that by the indwelling Holy Spirit we might walk in a manner worthy of such goodness. We pray in Your Son’s name, Amen.
This article is also available and sold as a booklet.