19 We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him,
20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things.
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 the things that are pleasing in His sight.
23 And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.
24 And the one who 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 has given us.
(1 John 3:19-24, NASB).
There is so much emphasis in 1 John on what we know!
We know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments (1 John 2:3,4,5)
He writes to us because we know Him (1 John 2:13,14)
We have an anointing from the Holy One, and we all know, so he writes to us (1 John 2:20,21)
We are children of God, and the world does not know us (1 John 3:1)
We know that Christ appeared to take away sins (1 John 3:5)
We know that we have passed from death into life because we love the brethren (1 John 3:14)
Knowing is important. Knowing who we are in Christ, and who we are as a community, shapes the way we are able to love each other and the way we are able to serve each other. If we are not convinced in our mind that He laid down His life for us, we have little reason besides a fearful sense of what we ought to do to love one another. We only have reason to judge one another.
However, our assurance, our convincing evidence which assures our doubting heart, is that the propitiation of Christ works to knit us together in affective and practical ways in community. When we love with authenticity, in deed and truth and not as mere judging platitude, it is a sign to us that our community is indeed built upon the rock of Christ.
Notice that the idea here, and this resonates deeply with me, is that we are constantly running to doubt, and that this is because our hearts are constantly condemning us. We need this assurance of heart, because our heart is intimately aware of our true unholiness. Our heart does indeed condemn us, and it is not wrong at all. We stand constantly in need of confession and cleansing, and we do not need to drum up a false humility at all. It is true. Since it is true, we waiver in our assurance. Perhaps the blood of Jesus is not enough now! Perhaps our community is all built on a sham! We must try harder! I am a fake! I always sin! I love idols!
Note that John says, “in whatever our heart condemns us”, not “in the outside chance that our heart might condemn us”. There is no question that our heart will condemn us. It does. This condemnation comes from our own heart. We might falsely interpret that this condemnation comes from God, that it is the voice of God condemning us. Many do think this. But it is not God, it is our heart, and God is greater than our heart. We might think this voice of the heart which condemns is the voice of the church, or the voice of other people in our lives, we imagine it is what they might say. But it is not any of these things. It is our heart, truly saying that we are a sinner involved from the heart in sin.
This has very interesting applications when thinking about the idea of “following your heart.” Your heart sets very high standards of moral and creative perfection, and then condemns you when you fail to execute these things perfectly. Your heart does not really lead you, it condemns you. Your heart does not primarily need to be followed, it needs to be liberated. It does not need to be hated or ignored, it needs to be assured, to be cleansed. Your first desire and aspiration should be to have a pure heart, because from it flows the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23).
God is greater than our heart. Our heart condemns us, but God has a greater breadth of knowledge and vision than the things our heart bases its condemnation upon. Our heart knows partial truth, but God knows all things. Notice that the difference between the heart and God is the breadth of knowledge. The heart only knows partially, but God knows all things. It is this greater knowledge that makes God’s judgments concerning the issues of our heart more authoritative. So whereas our heart knows enough to condemn, God knows enough to redeem.
This is amazing stuff! It isn’t dry doctrine at all! Wake up! Your heart runs to condemn you, but even the scary depth of your heart and your conscience are not the final story! God knows more, and He runs towards acceptance and redemption and persistent one-way love for you! You are used to thinking that your conscience is the voice of God, but God is greater than your conscience. Your heart is wrong about you! God knows a different story, and God is not wrong! He knows all things, and has the resources to assure and cleanse your condemning heart! We can have confidence before God! Confidence!
So, if your heart condemns you, God has greater knowledge, and can assure our heart to the point of confidence. If our heart does not condemn us, which is possible for seasons because of the blood of Jesus for all of our sins, then we already have confidence. So we can always arrive at a place of confidence and assurance, and this is the aim of God. He wants us to be a community of confident assured people who have a solid and pure heart together.
It is this blood-bought confidence, this propitiatory cleansing that opens the door to love in community, that gives us a boldness to ask things from God and expect to receive them. We have experience feeling condemned and being outflanked by the redemptive aims of God. We have experienced the power of confession and have seen Him cleanse rather than condemn. We develop a confidence in His persistent kindness and agenda of grace.
Yes, we keep His commandment – His new covenant commandment, which is new in Him (1 John 2:7,8). We confess that in this moment His blood is sufficient for me and for you. We believe in Jesus His Son and love one another. We do not claim a sinless perfection under the old covenant law. We have a confidence in asking because we believe in Christ and we see the fruit of love in our relationships, and we know therefore that He has real power in our lives.
Next time: the single commandment – believe and love (1 John 3:23). Stay tuned!