By This We Know Love
Grace Community Church
Mar. 11, 2018
Reassurance for the Condemned Heart
1 John 3:19-24
This past week I went on a local pastor’s retreat. This year I was asked to open the retreat and when I told them that after each of our teaching sessions we would be breaking up into groups to discuss, I appealed to them to do two things. First, I asked each of them not to hog the discussion because pastors are known to talk a lot! It’s an occupational hazard. Second I asked them to go deeper than just concepts and doctrinal statements and share from the heart. Be honest. Be vulnerable. Talk about where the Lord is working in your life, and where you might be struggling. Later, in the group I was in, I noticed that there were some who shared on a more heartfelt and vulnerable level and there were those who kept it very surfacy. It’s hard for many of us to share from our hearts. There are many who have a hard time even knowing what’s going on in their own hearts, much less sharing it with others.
God really cares about the heart. The Bible says that man looks at the outward but the Lord looks at the heart. The fact is, what we see when we look at each other is only a small percentage of who we really are. There are thoughts and emotions and struggles and impulses and currents going on in our hearts all the time, most of which we never share. And here’s the deal, not only can we not share everything that’s going on in our hearts, we can’t know or trust everything that’s going on in our hearts either. Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? We can’t totally understand what’s going on in our hearts. Our hearts play head games with us, excusing our own wrong-doing here, falsely blaming others there, then they flip the script and blame us and shame us when we didn’t do anything wrong, and excuse the one who did clearly do something wrong. Our hearts pendulum from puffing us up with pride to battering us with feelings of worthlessness and back again. And all the while our hearts whisper lies about God: He’s not faithful, He doesn’t love you, He has abandoned you. Our hearts can’t always be trusted, but it’s the heart where God wants to do His deepest work in us. We often ask God to change something about our circumstances, but God says, “no, I want to change something about your heart.”
John is what one person described as a “pastoral cardiologist”. One of the reasons he wrote this letter was to assure believer’s hearts that we can know – not just hope or think, but know – that we have eternal life. In the passage we’re going to read he writes to offer reassurance for the condemned heart. He doesn’t want our hearts to stay in a place of condemnation but he does acknowledge that there are times when any one of us can struggle with a voice of condemnation that doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from the inside, from the heart.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Vv. 19-20
Reassurance for the condemned heart
Condemnation can come in many forms, but as I was preparing this message I felt the Lord was laying on my heart to focus on one of the most common and devastating by-products of condemnation: doubt. Because when our hearts feel condemned, when we feel that God condemns us, it allows serious doubts to enter our hearts, personal doubts about where I stand with God. These kinds of doubts aren’t so much doubts of the mind: whether God’s word is true, or Jesus really is the Lord, they’re doubts of the heart and they hit on a deeply personal level: does God really love me? Can He really forgive my sin? Am I really His beloved child (as John assures us we are in 3:1)? Am I really saved?
We hear a lot about faith in the church, and rightly so because it is by grace we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, but we don’t often hear much about doubt and that can make us think that most believers never struggle with doubt in their hearts and that can make our doubts feel all the more devastating – cause no one else has them, and I shouldn’t have them. Doubts can really do a number on our hearts. So into this mix of condemnation and doubt John the pastoral cardiologist speaks a reassuring word.
19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Vv. 19- 20
John accepts that there may be times when our hearts condemn us. There may be times when even the strongest believer is tempted to doubt God’s love for him or her. It can be reassuring for our hearts just knowing that we’re not the only ones who struggle with condemnation and doubts. John even includes himself in this number: whenever our heart condemns us…
The great (faith-filled) 19th Century preacher Charles Spurgeon once wrote: “I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him, it is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, ‘It is too good to be true.'”
This is where condemnation can foster doubts: we may not doubt the concept of God’s goodness or His love, but when we look at our own failings and sins and shortcomings up close and personal doubts can hit our hearts that He could love one such as me. And then those doubts make us feel like we’re not walking in faith, which adds to our sense of condemnation which then deepens our doubt that He could love us and be for us.
John doesn’t point to anything in our hearts to reassure us, he points to God: 19 By this we … reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.
Our hearts don’t determine reality even about us, God does. If our hearts say “condemned” and God says, “saved”, guess what? God wins. If our hearts say, “filthy” and God says, “forgiven”, God wins. God is greater than our hearts. There will be some whose faith in Christ will be shaky all their lives, whose hand will cling weakly to the Savior till their last dying breath, and on their deathbed their hearts will fear that they are not saved. And then, as they are warmly welcomed into glory, they will find that God is greater than their hearts and Jesus is a great enough Savior to save even the one whose faith is weak and whose walk was stumbling. Spurgeon writes:
Often doubts will prevail. What a mercy it is that it is not your hold of Christ that saves you, but His hold you! What a sweet fact that it is not how you grasp His hand, but His grasp of yours that saves you.
If you struggle with doubts, let your heart be reassured, you’re not alone. Many other believers do too. I do too. Trust in Jesus even to save you from your doubts. He knows everything – the weakness of our frame didn’t come as a surprise to God. He has lavished us with such love by calling us His children and calling Himself our Father, and whether we are full of faith or doubt or fears or confidence we can reassure our hearts by taking our eyes off ourselves and putting our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher (perfecter) of our faith.
But John’s not done as a pastoral cardiologist. He wants to help unclog our faith arteries so that instead of condemnation in our hearts, we might have confidence:
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
John says it’s better to have confidence in God than condemnation in ourselves. We often need to remind ourselves of how faithful and loving and good our heavenly Father has been to us. Condemnation might seem like it’s totally a statement about me because condemnation makes me go all inward and hyper-examine myself, but condemnation is never just a statement about me – it’s a statement about God too. Condemnation is leading me to believe lies about my heavenly Father: He doesn’t love me (though He has shown me time and again He does), He hasn’t forgiven me (though I say Jesus’ blood is more powerful than my sin), I don’t deserve His love (uh, yeah, that’s what grace is – undeserved kindness and mercy). So we need to remind our hearts of how great and gracious and loving and merciful our heavenly Father is! God doesn’t write us off because of our failures and weakness – any more than a loving parent writes off his or her child due to their failures and weakness. Our heavenly Father is far, far more loving and patient and committed to us than any earthly father or mother could ever be.
If we are trusting Christ as our Savior, we can come with confidence that God accepts us gladly and is ready to answer our prayers! One of the benefits of unclogging our hearts of condemnation so that our confidence in God grows is that we will receive more answered prayers than condemnation will. There are things we can do to reassure our hearts that we really do belong to Him. How we live does have an impact on the strength of our faith and our assurance. If we live in disobedience, it will weaken our assurance. If we live in obedience to the Lord, it will strengthen our assurance. We aren’t saved by obedience to the Lord, but obedience to the Lord strengthens our confidence and reassures our hearts that we belong to Him. John lists the two important ways we obey the Lord’s command:
Believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ
When we think of obeying God we probably think of doing things but obeying God isn’t built on doing, it’s built on believing. This will always be the most important thing in the church, believing in Jesus. The false teachers that John is countering were trying to undermine the church’s faith at exactly this point: believing in the true Son of God, Jesus Christ and the devil will always try to move us from faith in Christ, cause if he can do that, he’s destroyed the church - doesn’t matter what else we do or don’t do. How do we obey God’s command? Most important thing is believe in Jesus. Jesus said the same thing in John 6:29 when he said “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” God’s command for us to believe in Jesus is like commanding someone to eat food and drink water and breathe air. We die if we don’t.
As I was meditating on the simplicity and power of this command to believe in the name of Jesus, it reminded me of something I have felt since my first days as a pastor. I’ve been pastoring now in three different churches for over a quarter of a century. Which, if nothing else, means I’m getting old. Over that time I’ve preached over 1000 sermons, including by the grace of God, four or five good ones. I love pastoring and I especially love pastoring this sweet and loving church, but the truth is I struggle far too often with the same doubts that we talked about earlier. Sometimes I struggle believing the Father’s unconditional love for me. I see my own lack of passion, faith, obedience, and love and I know that the Lord is worthy of so much more. And the Bible says that there is stricter judgment that pastors will face on judgment day as we will be held accountable for how we led and cared for God’s precious people.
With all that in mind, from my earliest days as a pastor to this day I feel a deep reassurance in my heart – a sense of peace and wholeness – when I preach Christ. If I get nothing else right I want to get this one thing right: the Lord Jesus Christ. The one message I want to proclaim is Christ and him crucified. The one Person I want to point to is Christ. The one hope I desperately want to cling to and urge you to cling to is Christ. Because I believe with all my heart Jesus is enough! And only Jesus is enough! Jesus is the Savior who saves us from the horrors of hell and for the glories of heaven. I believe God’s word is true when it says that no one will ever be saved apart from Christ and no one will ever be lost who has put their faith in Christ. Do you want to reassure your heart that you are walking in the truth and not a lie? Believe in Jesus. Believe in Jesus’ teaching. Believe in Jesus’ finished work on the cross. Believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Believe in Jesus’ ascension to the right hand of the Father. Believe in Jesus’ soon-coming return to the earth with all the holy angels of heaven right behind him. Do you want to obey God? Believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Love one another
We talked about loving one another last week but what John is saying is that our hearts can find deep reassurance as we love one another. Jesus commanded it, and when we obey his command, its evidence that he has gotten a hold of our hearts. When our hearts get clogged with condemnation and doubt, one of the best ways to get the spiritual blood circulating in our lives again is to love one another. When we love, not in word or talk but in deed and in truth it brings reassurance to our hearts that we belong to Christ.
I think one reason loving one another brings reassurance to our hearts is because love is at the center of everything God is about. John will write in the next chapter that God is love. The air in the kingdom of heaven is pure love. The reason God sent His Son, and the reason Jesus came, is that God so loved the world. Not just loved the world, so loved the world. Giving His Son for us is the measure of His love for us. And it is a gift that is precious beyond anything else and everything else in all creation. Loving one another reassures us that we know Him and belong to Him.
One of the pastor’s at the retreat shared how the Lord spoke to his heart recently and asked him this question: On a scale of 1-10 how important is it to you that you please the people in your church? And he answered, honestly, it’s a 9 or 10. Then the Lord asked him, how important is it to you that you love the people in your church? And he realized that that was only about a 3 or 4. The Lord said, “you’ve got it backward. I didn’t call you to please them, I called you to love them.” Loving and pleasing aren’t always the same thing. Love isn’t word or talk, it’s not sentimentality or niceness. You can’t substitute niceness for love. Niceness is about pleasing others (if we’re super nice it’s probably because we want people to like us), love cares more about what’s best for others.
If these are the two things that represent an obedient life: believing in Jesus and loving one another than we have a window into the heart of God. These are His priorities. Not that there aren’t other things important to God but these top the list and if we get these things right, we’re probably gonna get everything else right too. Let’s end with an encouraging truth John lays out.
Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
I got a call on my cell phone on Friday that I wasn’t able to answer, but I saw they left me a voice mail. When I listened to the voice mail there was nothing but silence…for over a minute and a half. I figured it was an accidental call and was about to stop listening when out of the silence an automated voice said, “you are currently the only person in this conference.” What? How could I be the only person in the conference when I didn’t even know there was a conference? Remember, I didn’t call the conference, the conference called me. But suddenly I find myself sitting alone in a phone conference. It was a pretty lonely feeling. I’m kidding, I didn’t feel lonely, I just hung up.
John has one more reassurance for our hearts: as we believe in Christ and seek to love others, we’re never alone. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. We’re never the only person in the conference, we live in God and God lives in us. God didn’t call us up and tell us what to do and then leave us to do it alone.
When you believed in Jesus and gave your life to him, God took up residence in you. The Third Person of the Trinity, the beautiful Holy Spirit of God came to live in you. Do you see His presence in your life? Not even in huge ways – in little ways. Do you feel a hunger for God’s word, your heart being drawn to Jesus, a desire to see God get glory from your life? That’s the Holy Spirit in you. You’re not the only person in the conference. Have you ever felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle leading? Have you ever heard His voice speak to your heart?
You are not alone in your walk with God, the Holy Spirit lives in you. He has taken up residence in you and knows your heart and is working on you. Believe that. Refuse condemnation, refuse to listen to those doubts, and believe the Holy Spirit is working in you. Even on the deepest, most personal heart issues, He is there and He is working. Invite His work and embrace it. And believe that He will work through you to love and minister to others. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world.
God is a loving Father who speaks reassurance to our hearts. If you believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ be assured, you aren’t condemned. You are loved. God wants us to walk in the freedom and confidence of that reassurance.
If you haven’t believed in Jesus, I urge you not to wait another day. Ask the Lord to come into your life and forgive you of your sins and reconcile you to God. Jesus said there is no other way to the Father except through him. Will you believe that and ask him to save you from your sin?