Be Assured

Good morning! If you are visiting with us today, I want to welcome you once again to Grace Bible Fellowship Church. It‘s an honor to be worshiping with you today.

We are back in 1 John where John is going to highlight various virtues, characteristics and attributes that true Christians should exhibit. In 1 John 3:19-24 John says….

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will 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 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 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Throughout history there have been many godly men who have impacted thousands of people around the world for Jesus Christ. One such man is Jonathan Edwards. He was likely one of the greatest theologians our country has ever known. In the early eighteenth century, in a period we now refer to as the First Great Awakening, God used him to help spark one of the most famous revivals in American history. God used Edwards and others to draw countless numbers of sinners to genuine repentance and saving faith in the gospel. God empowered him to preach and write powerful sermons that called people to turn from sin, follow Jesus Christ, and embrace the authority of Scripture, as well as pursue personal holiness.

Because of the incredibly quick and widespread response to the gospel, assurance of salvation quickly became a major issue. The call to embrace the gospel, obey the Word of God, and persevere in holiness overwhelmed many of these new believers. Many questioned whether they were doing all they should and questioning whether they were truly saved.

Obviously, Jonathan Edwards was concerned, so he wrote his classic book “A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections.” This monumental work argues that the most accurate proof of salvation is a zealous and biblical orientation toward righteousness which is evidenced by practical good works. Edwards was careful to warn his readers that it is possible to have an initial, positive interest in the gospel and yet not possess true saving faith. Matthew 13:1-23 highlights this point in Jesus’ parable of the seeds that fall on the shallow soil and weedy ground. They were quick to spring up but had no roots or were choked out by the weeds. Conversely, when the grace of God is truly planted in a person’s heart, it will always result in a changed nature marked by an abiding desire to live a holy life. Edwards believed as we do, that true salvation is a permanent gift from God that inevitably results in righteous living.

In contrast to this Reformed view of salvation, the Arminian position teaches that salvation is conditional, guaranteeing nothing beyond an initial experience of desiring holiness. So, Arminians believe Christians can and do lose their salvation thus losing their ability to perform good works. Sadly, believers are left with no assurance of their salvation, because salvation itself can be forfeited due to their failed actions. The Arminians’ hope can never be sure because it is always in a state of fragile balance based on their failures instead of God’s steadfast assurance.

As the twentieth century rolled around, there was another position suggested regarding assurance of salvation. This view, most often known as “no-lordship” or “Free Grace,” denies that there is any necessary connection between justification and sanctification. Justification meaning we have been made right with God and sanctification meaning we are continually growing in Christ-likeness. The Free Grace view teaches that justified people are saved forever, even if they have only a temporary display of and interest in obedience and holiness. In other words, once an individual makes a decision to follow Christ, the individual is deemed saved forever, regardless if they live their lives dishonoring God or even if they deny faith in Christ. This view of assurance of salvation is wrongly based on a one-time profession in the past, not on the present, consistent fruit of a holy life which confirms true justification.

In contrast to the erroneous views of Arminianism and Free Grace, which either make assurance impossible to keep or provide the wrong criteria for sustaining it, John wrote this epistle. According to 1 John 5:13, John wrote this epistle, so that those “who believe in the name of the Son of God, … may know that they have eternal life.” God wants us to be certain of our salvation, possessing an assurance that is both legitimate and lasting. With that in mind, God had John concisely offer five familiar virtues or attitudes in verses 19–24 that true believers will consistently manifest in their lives. By examining ourselves we can know for certain that we are saved, because our lives will be characterized by five things: 1) a thankfulness for God’s grace, 2) a boldness in prayer, 3) submitting to God’s commands, 4) a true faith in Jesus Christ, and 5) an appreciation of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Each of these attitudes derive from the theme of love which John just highlighted in verse 18 of this chapter where he said, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” John is maintaining his emphasis on love as he provides associated attitudes we should possess. John starts by saying…

WE SHOULD BE THANKFUL FOR GOD’S GRACE

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him 20 in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

We have all been born with the law of God written in our heart and with a conscience to accuse or excuse, depending on how we act in regard to God’s law. Romans 2:14-15 says, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” Paul’s letter to the Romans makes it clear that every person has some degree of self-knowledge and some innate ability to recognize right and wrong. We all have evidence of this truth in our own lives and we can see evidence in the lives of others.

True Christians embrace the truth of Scripture, by which we were regenerated according to 1 Peter 1:23 and are being sanctified according to John 17:17. We desire to know and obey God’s Word and when we obey the Word of God, our consciences inform us that we did the right thing resulting in joy and godly confidence. Similarly, when we sin, our consciences charge us of our wrong thoughts, words, or actions. However, if a believer persists in sin, their conscience will make them fearful, depressed, and insecure because of the conviction of knowing the truth. David gives us a glimpse of this in Psalm 32:3–4 where he says, “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away, through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.”

As a result, persistent, sinners will then begin to question the genuineness of their profession of faith because of their continued disobedience. But, if a person is truly saved, they cannot lose their salvation; however, they can begin to lose the assurance of their salvation due to a hounding conscience that accuses them. Until an individual repents of their sin and requests forgiveness, God will use their conscience, empowered by the truth of God’s Word and the Holy Spirit, to persistently and painfully remind them of God’s standard of holiness and the discrepancy between their profession and daily practice.

God therefore uses our conscience as a type of guilt-producing warning device to confront our sin. Like pain is a physical warning mechanism for physical injury or illness, the conscience is a spiritual warning mechanism for conduct which is detrimental to the soul. Of course for the conscience to function correctly spiritually, it must be taught the right standards since it only reacts to the person’s convictions about right and wrong.

That is why it is so critical to know God’s Word accurately. It is the law of God empowered by the Spirit that awakens people to their sinful condition and need of salvation. When a sinner is faced with their sinful wretchedness as one guilty before God, they have a choice of divine wrath and judgment or to receive God’s offer of mercy and deliverance through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of salvation’s most gracious gifts is a cleansed and clear conscience. We should have great confidence as highlighted in Hebrews 10:19–22, “Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” We have been given full assurance of faith. Our conscience should no longer accuse us, but instead we should have joy, hope and peace. The writer of Hebrews also refers to this work of God when he writes in 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 from dead works to serve the living God?”

However, there are still times when true believers can struggle with assurance of their salvation. John understood that fact. It is possible that some of his readers, and even some of us today, may be so overwhelmed by the memory of our past sins and awareness of present ones that we find God’s forgiveness nearly impossible to accept. Our overactive consciences can badger us with our own weaknesses and make it difficult to have a settled confidence in our right standing before God. So John has written this book to encourage all believers and enable us to accurately evaluate our own spiritual condition.

The phrase John uses, “we will know,” translates “to know,” “to learn,” “to find out,” or “to realize.” John uses the future tense which indicates that his readers would eventually grasp the reality of this promise. This point is further reinforced by the next short phrase, “by this,” which logically refers back to the admonition for brotherly love back in verse 18. When believers “know” they have sincere love for one another, they can be certain that they “are of the truth.”

But, what truth is John referencing? The “truth” is the written truth of Scripture as described in Psalm 119:160 which says, “The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.” This “truth” embraces the truth incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ which is also highlighted in John’s gospel and in 1 John 5:20 where John says, “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” So, it should be abundantly clear that belief in the truth marks all who repent of their sin and believe in Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Believers should enjoy an assurance based not only on what Scripture promises, but also on a practical level, based on the presence of a serving love for fellow believers and a desire to live in holiness. Because these qualities of serving and seeking holiness come from God, they cannot exist in a person who is still unregenerate. As believers we stand before the awesome, intimidating presence of the absolutely holy God; however, we can have a calm, tranquil, confident heart and an affirming conscience. And even though we are no longer slaves to sin, the remaining sin within us could make God’s holy presence very frightening were it not for the gracious gift of assurance.

Because God has declared believers righteous in Christ, we are righteous! Seriously, God sees our greatest, most profound failures, and He knows far more about our weaknesses than even our accusatory conscience. Yet God is also at work in our hearts, continuing to cleanse us from the sin that still lingers there. He looks beyond the remaining sin and sees the holy affections, the virtues, He has planted in us. So, even when we are overwhelmed by our sinfulness we can say, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You” (John 21:17).

John moves on to his second point where he says…

WE ARE TO BE BOLD IN OUR PRAYERS

1 John 3: 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from Him…

Our doubts cease when we are walking in faithfulness and obedience, because the “heart does not condemn,” therefore our insecurity and fear give way to “confidence before God.” According to Ephesians 3:12, this kind of assurance provides boldness and confidence as we enter God’s presence. The word rendered “confidence” describes the privilege of coming before someone of importance, power, and authority and feeling free to express whatever is on one’s mind. John says we can come into the presence of our loving heavenly Father without fear and with full assurance that “whatever we ask we receive from Him.” The writer to the Hebrews says:

Hebrews 4:16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Obviously, any prayer requests believers make to God must be in accordance with His will. We see this truth highlighted in Jesus’ prayer to the Father in Matthew 26:39, where Jesus says, “not as I will, but as You will.” John is not implying that God hears and answers our prayers merely for the subjective reason that we have a clear conscience and an uncondemning heart. Obedience is the indispensable ingredient that results in answered prayer. The phrase, “whatsoever we ask, we receive,” should really describe a Christian’s typical and expected experience because of a foundation of daily obedience.

Therefore, boldness in prayer is clear evidence of a changed heart. As believers, we know that our Heavenly Father will hear our prayers and meet all our needs if our prayers are within His will.

Philippians 4:19 And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

John highlights the third virtue as…

WE ARE TO SUBMIT TO GOD’S COMMANDS

1 John 3:22 …because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.

John has just emphasized the we are to be bold in our prayers and now he continues his focus on assurance of salvation by highlighting that believers willingly submit to God’s commands because they desire to bring Him pleasure. John’s purpose of tying the concepts of answered prayer and active obedience together is not to give believers a selfish, ulterior motive for obeying. Instead, he is highlighting that obedience must never be done out of compulsion or out of selfish desires to receive rewards.

We are to fulfill God’s commands with a cheerful heart that expresses gratitude. This is obviously pleasing to God and John reiterates that when he says, “and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” Pleasing God comes from a heart of love and desire to follow after Jesus Christ. John indirectly reminds us that Jesus always sought to please the Father by doing His will. Jesus says in John 8:29, “And He who sent Me is with Me; He has not left Me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to Him.”

Throughout the New Testament, the necessity for believers to keep God’s commandments is explicitly or implicitly indicated by every command given. Doing the things that are pleasing in His sight should motivate everything we do. Our desire to please God should permeate all that we think, say and do.

John has thus far highlighted that we should be thankful for God’s grace, we are to be bold in our prayers, and we should be obedient to God’s commands. John now highlights that…

WE MUST HAVE FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST

1 John 3:23 This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.

Paul also emphasizes this faith in Ephesians 2:8-9 where he says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” This is the same faith that brought us into salvation and it is the same faith that sustains and assures us of our belief in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Our foundational faith is evident in our response to God’s commandment and results in continued obedience to His mandate to love one another.

We need to understand that saving faith contains three inseparable and essential elements: Faith, love, and an eagerness to obey. John has reiterated these three elements throughout this epistle. In this verse, the word “believe” refers to a point in time when one believed, a true acceptance. But that event produces continuing results that last for a believer’s lifetime. And of course the object of faith is “the name of Jesus Christ.” Believing in the name of Christ is an important, continual theme through the New Testament. It was also the reason John wrote both his gospel and this first epistle.

John 20:31 …these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”

1 John 5:13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

While this command to “believe” certainly is directed at those who have not yet trusted in Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, it also has direct bearing on the lives of the redeemed. To those who have already believed, we are to keep on believing. We are to continue to believe more and more. We are to continue progressively in our transformation into the likeness of Christ. It is God’s good pleasure that his Son should be known, trusted, worshipped, loved; honored as God Himself is to be honored. Individuals cannot displease the Father more than by dishonoring His Son. And rejecting him, refusing to receive him, not resting in him or embracing him, not holding fast to Him are all dishonoring to Jesus and displeasing to the Father. If you have not accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, do not deceive yourselves by imagining that everything is alright between you and God. For those who claim to believe, you can be assured of genuine saving faith if your level of confident trust in Christ grows deeper and stronger over time.

John also points out in this verse that we are to love one another. “Love” translates, the sacrificial love not of feeling but of will and choice. Love is to continually and habitually characterize a believer’s attitudes and actions, as the apostle John has repeatedly made very clear. Certainly we are to love all men, but especially fellow believers, just as Jesus commanded. In this verse, John continues to remind us that faith in Christ and love for the brethren are inseparable, and that it is an imperative for all Christians.

The last virtue that John highlights is that…

WE MUST APPRECIATE THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

1 John 3:24 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

The blessing promised to “the one who keeps His commandments” is that he abides in Christ “and He in him.” The term translated “abides” is one of John’s favorite words for salvation and is repeated in this letter seven times. That shared life is possible only “by the Spirit whom He has given;” which is the third person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:13–14, “In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.”

There is no doubt that the way the Holy Spirit works in a believer’s life is somewhat mysterious and we cannot fully understand with our limited human mind. But the results of the Holy Spirit’s work is readily apparent. Jesus told Nicodemus in John 3:8, “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Just like the wind, its effects can be seen, felt, and heard. So the Spirit’s work in the lives of believers is evident and those who see that work “will know by this that He abides in them.”

Some examples of the Holy Spirit’s work are: He made our spiritually dead souls alive according to Titus 3:5. He gave sight to our blind eyes and caused us to repent. He drew us in faith to Jesus according to 1 Peter 1:2. It is the Holy Spirit who places us into the family of Christ according to 1 Corinthians 12:13. He has gifted all believers for ministry in the church according to Romans 12:3–8. It is the Holy Spirit’s illuminating instruction that causes Scripture to come alive as we read and meditate on it according to 1 Corinthians 2:10–14. It is the Spirit that energizes our prayers and intercedes for us according to Romans 8:26–27. He assures us that we are children of God according to Ephesians 1:13–14. The work of the Holy Spirit in a believer’s life should never be underestimated or under appreciated.

APPLICATION/CLOSING:

The presence of these virtues in a true believer marks those who have, and continue to persevere in, true faith. Those marks are a genuine thankfulness for God’s grace, boldness in our prayers, submission to God’s commands, faith in Jesus Christ, and an appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. The presence and manifestation of these virtues in a person’s life will indeed give true assurance and confidence that you have received salvation by the power of God.

I have an exhortation to all who are true believers. Have no doubts! You can be assured of your salvation! If you are exhibiting the virtues that John has written about in these verses, then continue in them. Grow even stronger in your love for God and love for other believers. Grow stronger in your faith. Remove all doubts and fears and walk the walk from this day forward.

If you are here today and you are not exhibiting any of these virtues nor have you ever exhibited them yet you claim to be a believer, you should really take a serious look at your heart and life. Then ask yourself, “Am I sure that I am a believer? Have I really received Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior?” God directed John to write this section of Scripture that we can be sure of our salvation. You just need to be honest with yourself and God and then trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross and follow Him the rest of your life. I am not saying it is easy, it is not. But you can be assured of your salvation when, out of love, you are manifesting the five virtues John highlighted today.

1 John 3:19 We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will 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 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 The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.