We're turning to 1 John chapter 3, and beginning our reading tonight, I think we should begin at verse 10 - although the verses that we'll consider this evening are verse 19 to 24 at the end of the chapter, but we need to read, I think, the verses that we considered last week just to get the flow of John's thought. So beginning at chapter 3 and verse 10, and our title this evening is 'Confident Christianity'.
Verse 10: "In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother. For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. Not as Cain, who was of that wicked one, and slew his brother. And wherefore slew he him? Because his own works were evil, and his brother's righteous. Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you. We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him. Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us".
If you look at verse 19, where we begin our study, we read that John says: 'Hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him'. How do we know? Well, he has spent many verses that we studied last week from verse 10 through to verse 18, explaining to us that one of the tests of whether we belong to Christ are not, one of the tests of whether we are in fellowship with Him, and the test that ought to give assurance to our hearts is whether or not we love our brothers and sisters in the faith. So in verse 19, John is reiterating this as we begin another section, telling us: if we love our brethren, that assures our hearts in the presence of God, it gives us assurance and more certainty that we are God's children. But of course, the antithesis is true, the opposite: if we do not love our brothers, or if we hate one brother in particular, that is an assurance that we are not a child of God. It is a cause not to assure our hearts, but to cause us to doubt our hearts.
I wonder is there anyone in our gathering this evening, and perhaps over the last number of weeks study in 1 John you have been caused to doubt whether or not you're a child of God? Well, some doubts are well-grounded and some doubts are ill-founded. I want first, in introduction, to deal with each of those briefly. When I say that some doubts are well-grounded, what I mean is: if you hate your brother, and that has caused you to doubt whether or not you are saved, it may be because you are not saved. It may not simply just be a hate or a murderous spirit towards your brother, but we saw in previous portions of this little book that if you are engaged in an habitual, continual, constant lifestyle of sin, that is a sure sign that you're not a child of God. So many doubts that people have in their heart about salvation are well-grounded, particularly this one of hating our brethren. We need to remember what we looked at in verse 15 of chapter 3 last week: 'Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him'. Now John has a goal, he wants those who are not genuine to realise it, and to start to doubt their salvation for the one sole purpose that they might be sure of their salvation.
Now some believe that when John says in verse 20 of our text tonight: 'God is greater than our heart and knows all things', that that is speaking of the fact that if we think our sins are bad, and if we're starting to doubt our salvation because we realise that we have a murderous, hateful spirit towards our brother, or there's a root of sin within our soul of an habitual lifestyle of iniquity before God; if we think our sins are bad, God is greater, and God is holy, and God sees our sins infinitely worse than we see them through His eyes of righteousness, His all-holy eyes that cannot look upon iniquity. So if that's you tonight, and you have been doubting your salvation, and your heart is condemning you, and it is a well-grounded doubt because you have constant sin in your life, or you have hatred towards another brother in Christ, I want you to analyse that doubt - don't get rid of it! Face it! As Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:19: 'The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity'. Your doubting heart, your condemning heart should be a warning to you - as we find in 2 Peter 1 verse 10 - to 'give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall'.
If your heart is condemning you, the first thing you ought to do is - as Paul said to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 13:5 - 'Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves'. Whilst we'll be talking tonight about confident Christianity, and spend the majority of our time talking about ill-founded doubts that people have in their heart concerning their salvation, let's not quickly overlook the fact that many may have hearts that are condemning them and doubts about their salvation, because they're not saved! Because they are failing in these outward tests of the signs of divine life in their soul! The doctrinal test: that they believe the truth concerning the Son of God. The moral test: that they are obeying His commandments. The social test: that they love their brethren. My friend, if that is you, I urge you with all my heart: make sure, if you're not sure tonight, that you're a child of God! Your doubts may be well-grounded.
But then there are those doubts that are ill-founded. It may be that we are His, we are child of God, but we have failed Him. Whilst it may not be a lifestyle of constant failure and habitual sin, there has been a blip and a blot on our testimony. Because of that, whether we consider it to be a small hiccup or a large fall, we have a bad conscience toward God - and it causes us from time to time, or maybe constantly, to doubt our salvation. I would have to say after our study last week in verses 10 to 18, reading and studying in depth that portion, it would be easy to come away and say: 'Am I saved at all? How guilty I have been of being an unloving Christian, an uncaring Christian! I have not laid my life down for the brethren the way that John is exhorting us to do. I have shut up my emotions when I have been faced with the needs of others, my brothers and sisters in Christ and those outside the church. I have been guilty of loving in word, loving in language, but not loving in deed and in truth'.
Now, let's be honest with one another, and honest with God: all of us, at some time or another, have been guilty of these things. Whilst we agree that these ought to be exceptions rather than the rule in the Christian life, we are all guilty of being unloving towards our brethren in Christ. But here's where the problem arises: if you have an oversensitive conscience, you can read passages of Scripture like this and listen to preaching that we've been hearing week after week, biblically based, and you can begin to say to yourself, 'I'm not truly saved', or 'There's a cause for doubt' - when there is no cause for doubt because you're a child of God. Your sensitive conscience can actually begin to do the devil's work for him. Some of you, perhaps, are having self-incriminating doubts, and it makes you feel condemned in your heart. It's wrong, because God has not condemned you if you're one of His children! Maybe even that bad conscience, that condemning heart is preventing you from approaching God. You feel unworthy to such an extent that you feel that you can't come into God's presence, even though it is not God who has condemned you, God has not barred you from approaching Him, but it's your own heart that makes you feel that way. Whilst there are those, as we've said, who have well-grounded doubts, and their heart condemns them for good reason, I believe that John here now in these verses - 19 to 24 - is speaking to those who have ill-founded doubts. This is the problem he's addressing.
So first of all in verse 20, he speaks to the condemned Christian. He says: 'For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things'. So let's deal first of all this evening with the condemned Christian. Now pastors and evangelists always find it - at least I speak for myself - much easier to deal with those who know they're saved, or those who know they're not saved, rather than those who aren't sure. The difficulty comes in pastoral counselling when you get people who think they're saved, and it's blatantly obvious they're not saved, and others who doubt their salvation when they have every reason to believe that they probably are converted. Now John's epistle is all about assurance, as we've already seen, and John has not only been exposing false teachers whose salvation should be doubted, but he's seeking to bring assurance to the true sheep of God in these churches who have been influenced by the false teaching of the false teachers and are beginning to doubt their salvation because of what they have been saying.
Now John was a compassionate pastor, we know that because as he went through this epistle he keeps addressing his church as 'Beloved'. He realises that on the one hand, when you're preaching and you're trying to expose those who are guilty of false assurance, that you can inadvertently cause genuine believers to doubt their assurance that is well-founded. That's always a danger when you're preaching on this subject of assurance. I never forget having a personal experience of this, but on the other side of things. When I was at an evangelistic crusade in a well-known church in East Belfast, and the evangelist was on fire, it would seem, and he was preaching searing messages. But in this particular message that I was listening to that Lord's Day morning, he was preaching against various means that evangelicals have of responding to the Gospel message - i.e. the altar call, putting your hand up, praying the sinner's prayer, signing a decision card, and so on and so forth. He was pronouncing that they were false, they were an addition to the Gospel, and what you needed to do was believe only that Jesus died for you, repent of your sin, and have faith. What this evangelist did, effectively, he had the whole church doubting whether they were saved or not. I'm not exaggerating here, because I - and forgive me for this, I'm sure the Lord will - kept my eyes open during the appeal, and even the elders of the church had their hands up, the office bearers of the church had their hands up, not realising why they had their hands up - and then he pronounced to them 'You're not converted!'.
Now John is wanting to guard against this: yes, he wants to uncover, in the hearts of men, false assurance; the false assurance that these false teachers had, spreading their lies; the false assurance that some of these believers may have, if they believed their lies - but what he does not want to do is create a bad conscience in a true child of God. That's where we are tonight. What many do not realise, and the trap that I think some of these believers fell into, is that a lack of assurance does not necessarily mean that you have a lack of salvation. Sometimes as evangelicals we can propound that if you're saved, that you should know that you're saved - and that's true, you should know that you're saved. But just because you don't, at a present moment, have an assurance, does not necessarily mean that you aren't saved - just as an assurance doesn't necessarily mean that you are saved. Your problem may not be a lack of salvation, it may simply be a lack of fellowship. That lack of fellowship can be because of what John calls a bad conscience, or a condemning heart. It could be that you have a guilty conscience for something that you have done, or for hatred toward your brethren as we've been uncovering last week - but it could also mean that you have an over-sensitive conscience.
Now the question naturally arises from that: can we, as Christians, trust our conscience? I wonder what you would say to that question this evening. Can we trust our conscience? Jiminy Cricket would say: 'Always let your conscience be your guide'. Is that good theology? Well, we need, as Christians, to beware of mistaking or supposing that our conscience, when it speaks, is the voice of God. Now certainly our conscience is a gift from God to men, but our fingers and our feet are gifts of God to men - yet our fingers can steal, and our feet can lead us astray. We would do well always to remember that our conscience, under many evil influences, can impose cruelties and sins that have been perpetrated not only in individual lives, but in churches and religions right throughout the history of humanity.
If you'll turn with me, let me illustrate it from Acts chapter 26 for a moment, in the life of Paul the apostle when he was Saul of Tarsus before his conversion. He's relating his testimony, and he says in Acts chapter 26 and verse 9 that, in his unconverted state, persecuting the church, he was obeying his conscience. Acts 26 verse 9: 'I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth'. He thought within himself that he was doing that which was right. Now, when we turn two chapters back to chapter 24 and verse 16, now in his regenerate days he describes: 'Herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void to offence toward God, and toward men'. Now on both occasions he is exercising his conscience and obedience to it, but we see that before his conversion there was an evil influence on his conscience that he mistook as being God's influence. Now he's converted, he knows better.
So we need to realise that our consciences are not the voice of God, and we need not always heed our conscience as being such. The Bible teaches us that our conscience can be seared when we despise it, when we don't listen to it, when we drown out its voice, when we plug our ears to what it is telling us. God says we can sear it, and cauterize it, and sterilise it, until it is no longer effective. Sometimes we can just dull our conscience down, not listen to it - like when the alarm clock goes off in the morning, you turn it off and put it on 'snooze' about five times, we can do that with our conscience and persistently ignore it until we don't hear it any longer and sleep through it. We could be ignorant in our conscience because we have not been educated in the word of God and, because our conscience has not been regulated by the teaching of the Scriptures, our conscience can be in error - and that's what the Lord Jesus said to the religious teachers of His day in Matthew 22:29: 'Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures'. They thought they were obeying God, but they were ignorant of the true teaching of the word of God - it was not regulating their conscience.
John Milton, in his great work 'Paradise Lost', calls the conscience 'the umpire of the soul'. Any of you who watch football or cricket will know that umpires and referees are mistaken more often than not! It is the same with our conscience: if we are ignorant of the rules of the game, we can make mistakes when we follow what our conscience tells us. So, what is the answer? Well, the key is simply this: our conscience, in and of itself, is not bad, but we must train our conscience. The way we train it is to constantly expose it to the truth of the Bible. It was Martin Luther who said: 'My conscience is captive to the word of God'. Now listen, this is so important, especially if you find yourself to be one of these condemned Christians, a person with a guilty conscience, a true child of God that has a condemning heart, a bad conscience. Now it is one of the best gifts that God can give a man, to have a sensitive conscience - but you must always remember to temper your conscience by the teaching of God's word. Regulate your conscience by the Scriptures. Now here is why: because the devil can use your sensitive conscience as a weapon in his hand, as the great accuser of the brethren, to condemn you and to rob you of your confidence toward God.
Now if we were to ask the question: what is the specific truth that regulates a sensitive conscience? We find it at the end of verse 20: 'God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things'. Now if you are conscious in your life of a momentary failure, of a partial transgression - at some time in your Christian experience you have let the Lord down, and you're continually reminded of it, and through it you have a condemnation attitude toward yourself, a bad conscience - does that mean that you no longer love the Lord? Does that mean that you have forfeited His grace, you no longer have a claim upon His name, that He's letting you go and maybe you're not even saved at all? Now listen, here's the answer, this is what John is trying to say: first of all, what you need to do is what we studied in chapter 1 and verse 9, 'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness'. Because God is greater than even our condemned heart, He not only understands the way we really are in all of our sin that we can't even see with our eyes, but He is able to undertake for our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Now let me take you to one Bible character that illustrates this well. You remember Peter, and how often he let the Lord Jesus down. I want to bring you to that scene in John 21, where Peter is at that after-breakfast interview with the risen Lord. You remember that he denied the Lord Jesus in the courtyard three times with oaths and curses. Now, over this fire on which their breakfast had been cooked, through the smoke and the rising embers, the Lord Jesus Christ pierces his eyes with His holy eyes, and three times asks the question: 'What is the real nature of your love, Peter? You have denied me three times, and three times I'm asking you: Simon Peter, lovest thou Me? Lovest thou Me? Lovest thou Me?'. At that third question, Peter breaks down and blurts out these heartbroken words: 'Lord, Thou knowest all things, Thou knowest that I love Thee'.
Now get the import of this: Peter knew that the Lord knew what he did in betraying Him, sure the Lord had prophesied it! As the Lord was being taken away, Peter out of the corner of his eye saw Him looking towards him, and their eyes met. Can you imagine the condemnation that Peter felt, as he met Christ's eyes and as he heard the cockcrow, and as he goes away knowing that he's betrayed his Lord who he said that he would die for and follow to the grave? Peter knows that the Saviour knows all about him, more than he could ever know; but he also knew that the Saviour knew he loved Him. Now I want you to get that: though our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows all things. Though you have a heart that is condemned tonight, maybe a bad conscience toward God because of something that you have done, God knows about that thing! He knows more about your sinful iniquity than you do, my friend - but God also knows if you really love Him! Deep down, underneath all of that condemnation, He knows if you're His and you love Him.
It's not that God minimises or disregards our failures, He knows them better than we know them. Yet the amazing thing is that this God acquits us, even though He does know them. Here's the big question that John is trying to get to: why then should we listen to our condemning heart? If God is greater than our heart, and God knows all about us and what we've done, yet God still undertakes to forgive us our sins, why should we listen to our condemning heart? He, our God, is the just One and the Justifier of those who believe in Jesus. Am I speaking, tonight, to a Christian, and you got a condemning heart, and you're harder on yourself than God is? You hammer yourself constantly, because you've an oversensitive conscience; and you allow the devil to latch onto, perhaps, sins that were legitimate sins, but that Christ has forgiven you for a long, long time ago - but you still have this condemning heart that you won't let go of, and you're harder on yourself than the Almighty is! Oh, you need to hear this tonight: God is greater than your heart. He knows all things!
Turn with me to Romans chapter 8, till I show you your position in the Lord Jesus in spite of what your condemning heart may feel. Romans 8 and verse 31: 'What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?'. Your condemning heart can't be against you if God is for you! If God is for us, 'He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth'. God is the Judge! God is the Prosecutor! Here we see in verse 33 that for the child of God, no matter how they feel condemned in their heart, there is no charge coming from God! Verse 34: 'Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us'. The judge condemns us, but not only is there no prosecutor with a charge, but there's no judge condemning us for Christ is the only one who can condemn us, the only one without sin who can cast the first stone at us - yet He is the one who died for us, He's not going to condemn us!
Verse 35: 'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?'. The prosecutor can't charge, the judge cannot judge against us, and therefore there'll be no jailer coming to the dock and taking us away to separate us from the love of God in Christ. It cannot be done, my friend! You need to hear this tonight: no matter what way your heart is feeling, however sensitive your conscience is, how much it condemns you - God has forgiven you if you're a child of God! If God does not condemn you, why should you condemn yourself?
'There is therefore now', Romans 8 verse 1, 'no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus'. Can I also say to you: if you are a condemned Christian, and your heart condemns you, that is proof positive - in my book at least - that your heart is alive to God. Something without life is not sensitive to God, it's not sensitive to guilt. It's like when people sometimes come to me, and say: 'Oh, I'm afraid that I've committed the unpardonable sin, I'm really worried' - whatever that sin may or may not be, they're worried that they have committed it. Usually I say to those people: 'Well, I can assure you haven't committed it, because you wouldn't be sitting here worried about it if you did'. Are you sensitive tonight, maybe oversensitive, maybe with a bad conscience, a condemning heart because of something you've done in the past? As we've been going through these studies about assurance, and how you can know you're in fellowship, you've started to doubt and the sins have come to the surface once more. You're fearful, and maybe the devil is latching hold on it - John is saying: 'Be careful, and remember this - whatever you are or are not guilty of - if you're a child of God, God is greater than your heart and He knows all things about you, yet He still receives you and He still loves you, and more than that: He knows if you truly love Him'.
That should make us rejoice - whilst we rejoice that though our hearts condemn us God does not, that is somewhat, I feel, of a cold comfort when we realise that God's intention, as this little book tells us, is that we should have confidence towards God. God doesn't want us to feel condemned, even though when we do He's greater and He forgives us, and so on - He wants us to have engendered within us, through the truths of the word of God, a confidence toward Him. So you should be asking tonight, if you have had a condemned heart: 'How do I move from being a condemned Christian, to a confident Christian?'. That's John's desire, and it's my desire to get you to that point just now. Here is the import of his message in verses 20 and 21, and right to the end of verse 24: though we fall from time to time as Christians, the Master knows truly if we love Him. But here's the secret: if we are to know - it's alright God knowing everything, God knowing that we are His - but if we are to know that we are His, and we're to have confidence and assurance in ourselves, we need to, as quick as possible, take our bad conscience to the blood of Christ, as chapter 1 says, confess our sins, chapter 1 verse 9, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, to restore us to fellowship - and then, if we are to know that we are the children of God after doing that, we need to keep ourselves from falling. That's the secret. If you want to be a confident Christian: you confess your sin, repent of it, and keep yourself from falling - of course, it's the power of God that does that, but you know what I'm saying.
So let us look at this confident Christian that we find in verses 21 to 24: 'Beloved', verse 21, 'if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God'. If your heart is condemned, you bring your heart to God and you believe the Bible truth of the Gospel that the precious blood of the Lamb is able to cleanse you from all sin, you confess your sin, and you seek - as Paul said - to have a conscience void of offence to men and to God. If you do that, take it to Calvary, confess it, repent of it, and desire to have a conscience void of offence toward God and men: you will develop a God-given confidence in your Christian life. Do you have that tonight? Where in that progression of things have you gone wrong? Where have you stalled? Where have you stopped? Many people stop at the moment of salvation, after coming to Calvary and being washed in the blood of the Lamb, they don't go on any further - they don't try to see in their lives the fruit of the Spirit manifest, and so these tests often go by without any notice. They don't even recognise them, maybe, because they're not reading the word of God. But this confidence comes when you come to the cross, when you confess your sins, when you repent of them, but when you seek by the Spirit's power to live a life before God that is pleasing to Him, and a life before men that does not unnecessarily offend them.
Now John says that this confidence will affect three things, we find them in verses 22 right to 24. Here's the first thing that it will affect: a Christian confidence will affect our approach to God. Look at verse 19, just to give us a taster of this: 'Hereby we know', John says, 'that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him'. Now that phrase 'assure our hearts before him' has been translated in another version 'This is how we set our hearts at rest in His presence'. Our hearts are at peace with God when we're in His presence, another translation puts it like this: 'Then we will be confident when we stand before the Lord'. The sense here is: here is the way we can know when we come into the very immediate presence of God that we are confident, we're at peace, we don't feel condemned, we don't feel like running away from His presence - confidence before the very face of the Holy God of heaven! Now do you have that?
This word 'confidence' has been used already by John, and it will occur two more times in our epistle. The first and the third instance of it refer to confidence before God when the Lord Jesus comes again at the Throne of judgment - in chapter 2 and verse 28 we read about this. Look at it: 'And now, little children, abide in him; that, when he shall appear, we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before him at his coming'. In chapter 4 and verse 17, the same idea of the Throne of judgment: 'Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world'. Imagine it! We, as children of God, if we live lives and walk as He walked, and are not ashamed of the testimony that we have, when Christ comes and we stand before the Bema, the Judgement Seat, we'll not be ashamed but we'll have confidence, we'll be able to lift up our head and look Him in the eye! I don't know whether any of us here, including myself, will be able to do that...
In this particular instance, John is referring to confidence in prayer, verse 19, that confidence in His presence. Then he refers to it again in chapter 5 verse 14 that we'll look at in a later week: 'And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us'. One scholar has spoken of this confidence and described it like this: 'It is the boldness with which the Son appears before the Father, and not that with which the accused appears before the judge'. There are two types of boldness there: the boldness of the accused prisoner shaking his fist in rebellion towards the judge, but John is speaking of the boldness of a son who, with confidence and adoption, comes to his father knowing that his father is towards him and he is towards his father, and there is nothing between their affection. This confidence is approaching God and being at peace in His presence, but this is what I want you to see, and this is John's point: you cannot be at peace and confident in the presence of God if you're not at peace with your brother. There it is. It would be nice if I left that bit out, but I cannot because John doesn't - in fact, that's the import of what he's saying. If you want to be a confident Christian, if you don't want to have a condemning heart, a bad conscience, if you want to develop confidence in your Christian life it will affect your approach to God - for not only will you be at peace with God, but you will be at peace with your brethren. The import is this: if you're not at peace with your brethren, you cannot have peace with God. That's serious stuff.
My friend, I have to tell you tonight that one of the reasons why our Lord Jesus died is not just to bring us to God, but to give us a good conscience. Let me show you this, turn with me to the book of Hebrews and chapter 9 first of all - Hebrews and chapter 9 verses 13 and 14: 'For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?'. The Lord Jesus shed His blood to purge our conscience. If you turn to chapter 10 verse 22 of Hebrews, you find the same thing, and it is an invitation: 'Let us draw near with a true heart', we could read it 'with a good conscience in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water'.
Now listen to what John is saying: this is why Christ died, to not only give you a pure conscience toward God, but to give you a good conscience toward your brother. In effect, what he is concluding is that you are denying one of the reasons why Jesus died if you're not right with your brother! Boy, that's serious stuff, isn't it? Jesus shed His precious blood to make us right with God, but how often do we dwell on the fact that He didn't just shed His blood to bring us to God, but that we should come to God with our brother by our side? It was Robert Candlish who said: 'I cannot look my God in the face if I cannot look myself in the face' - that's the truth, isn't it? If you've a bad conscience, if your conscience condemns you because of something in your past, the fellowship is broken, you can't look God in the face, you find it hard praying, you find it hard studying, you just come to the meetings and maybe put the time in - but you've no real vital relationship with the Almighty! But can I add to Candlish's statement, and say that if you cannot look your brother in the eye, you can't look God in the eye!
It will affect your approach to God if you have confidence in your heart of a pure conscience with Him and a pure conscience with others, because you'll be able to come into the presence of God and know that you're there for the reason that Christ died, to bring you nigh to God's throne, but to bring you near to your brother. It will affect your approach to God, but he says secondly that it will affect your answers to prayer - verse 22: 'And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight'. John is saying that if our conscience does not condemn us, we have confidence to come to God; but we have not only confidence to come to Him, but to call upon Him and to request things of Him, and have the confidence to believe and expect that we're going to get them! Why is that? Because we're not only right with God, we're right with our brother.
Am I exaggerating this point? I'm not, if you turn with me to Matthew chapter 5 I'll show you I'm not, Matthew 5 and verse 23 - the Sermon on the Mount - the Lord Jesus says: 'Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift'. The implication is: don't come and worship God and think that you can have face-to-face communion and look into His eyes, if you cannot look into the eyes of your brother. That is not to keep you away from God's presence, that is because you're to go and be reconciled and experience God's presence in the fullness that you've never done before, or at least with that sin between you and your brother and you and God.
It doesn't just affect a brother-to-brother relationship, or sister-to-sister, it also affects the husband and wife relationship. If we turn to 1 Peter and chapter 3, we find here the apostle speaking of the husband and wife relationship, and the duties of the one to the other, he says in verse 7: 'Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered'. We don't hear that preached on too often, because maybe we'd all get bad hearts and be condemned! Our relationships need to be right, not just in the Assembly but in the home, if we want to see our prayers answered, if we want to go to God with a confident heart, knowing that we can look into His eyes because not only can we look into the eyes of our brother, we can look into the eyes of our wives and our husbands.
I suppose the principle is Psalm 66:18: 'If we regard iniquity in our hearts, the Lord will not hear us'. But John says in verse 22, if we keep His commandments, and if we do what He pleases - now listen to this - whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him. Now that is not a carte blanche promise that anything you ask you'll get, just the way you ask it - it must be tempered by the verse we'll come to in chapter 5 in verse 14 that says we have confidence in Him, when we ask anything according to His will He heareth us. But here's the point: if we come and approach God and there's nothing between us and God, and there's nothing between us and our brother, and us and our wives and our husbands, we'll be filled with God's presence as we come and approach Him - and therefore, when we're filled with His Spirit, we're filled with His will; and when you're filled with His will, you don't ask for anything that's outside of His will. I want you to see how this confidence - this confidence of not having a condemning heart, a bad conscience, but having a conscience devoid of offence toward God and men - affects your Christian life, and gives you a confidence in approaching God, and gives you a confidence asking God for things and getting answers to prayer from God.
Then thirdly and finally it gives you a confidence through abiding in Christ, and Christ abiding in you. Verse 24 says: 'And he that keepeth Christ's commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us' - a mutual abiding. Grasp this: when your conscience is right with God because it's been washed and sprinkled by the precious blood of the Lamb, and you've confessed your sins to God and to men, and He has forgiven you, and you've come to your brother and been reconciled, to your wife or your husband and put all things right, there is an abiding - and it is this confidence of our heart that is clean and pure, a conscience that is clear, that causes Christ to abide in you and you in Him, and it is the presence of the Holy Spirit!
That is the test of Christ abiding: He will manifest His presence in fulfilling the three tests that we've seen right throughout this book and will do in the chapters that remain. The doctrinal test - look at it, verse 23: 'we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ'. If the Spirit of God dwells in us because we have a confidence toward God through our conscience that is good, we will believe that which is right about Jesus Christ, we will confess it about Him, and we will stand for Him. The doctrinal test, and then the moral test, he says 'we will keep his commandments' - you find it in verse 22, and verse 23, and verse 24. We will be obedient! How could the Spirit of God dwell in you and you not be obedient, if you've given full control? Then there's the social test: you will love one another. The Spirit of God, if He's abiding, Christ in you will manifest these fruit. For, after all, as Paul said in Romans 5 and verse 5: 'the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us'. In chapter 8 in Romans and verse 16, he says again: 'The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God'. Through this right view and appreciation of Christ, and through this holy life, and this love for our brethren that's shed abroad in our hearts, the Spirit is witnessing with our spirit that we are the children of God - and that ought to bring more confidence!
Can I ask you just for a brief moment, to look for evidence of the Spirit's working in your life? I think John makes it very clear that the cause of Christ's abiding, and the condition of Christ's continual abiding is obedience. Only that obedience will bring assurance to your heart. Are you a person, tonight in this place, who lacks confidence? Do you lack assurance of your salvation? Do you feel that you're a child of God after examining your heart, but you have a heart that condemns you? You're sure you're saved, and maybe you harbour a hatred to your brother or to your sister, or there's an animosity between you and your wife or your husband, and this has affected you because it's hindering your approach to God, it's hindering any answers to prayer that you could hope to get, it's hindering the abiding of the Spirit in your heart, and you abiding in Christ and manifesting His fruit. What do you do? Can I tell you this evening: the answer is the same for all of those categories, even for those who are not saved and have a condemning heart, those who are saved and have a bad conscience, and those who have a good conscience. All of us constantly need to get to Calvary! My friend, that is the only answer for us all - what is it? God is greater than our heart - hallelujah! As the hymn writer put it: 'His grace is greater than all our sin'.
My friend, whatever state your heart is in, whether it condemns you or not: all of us, I believe, daily need to come to Calvary's mount where the blood of the Lamb was shed. Maybe you need to go there alone this evening, because the condemnation in your heart is a personal sin that you have committed against God and none other. Maybe you need to step up Calvary's hill with your brother beside you. Maybe you need to bring him with you. Maybe you need to go up to the cross with your wife, or with your husband, and say like John Newton:
'With my burden I begin,
Lord, remove this load of sin.
Let Thy blood for sinners spilt,
Set my conscience free from guilt'.
Have you come to Calvary tonight? Will you get your conscience clean with God and with men? If that is the case, you will receive a confident Christianity.
Our Father, we thank You this evening that if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knoweth all things. Lord, You know wherein we have failed You, You know everything that hangs heavy upon our hearts - but we pray that we'll not allow the devil to gain a foothold over us, and condemn us in those things for which You have forgiven us. May we have a confident Christianity, that with assurance we may come boldly through the blood-sprinkled way, to approach our God, to receive answers to our prayers, to know the abiding presence of Christ in our lives through the Holy Spirit; that we may uplift Christ and preach Him as He is, that we may obey Christ and walk as He walked, and that we may love our brothers and sisters in Christ, and so fulfil His law. Lord, may Your grace cover all our sins tonight, and may every child of God in this place be able to look into the eyes of God because they're looking into the eyes of their brethren with a clear and a pure conscience, that God may be glorified and that Christ's presence may be felt in our lives and in our church. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the eleventh recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Confident Christianity" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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