Assurance and Christian Love
Topic: Sunday Sermons Scripture: 1 John 3:19-20
Over the past couple of weeks or so, maybe not even that long, I have had the opportunity to interact with people, none from GraceLife, just so you know, who we deeply struggling with the issue of assurance of their salvation—people who were convinced that they had committed the unpardonable sin and that the Holy Spirit had left them, people who have interacted with difficult questions that they were not quite sure how to answer and had unsettled them from the faith that they thought that they possessed.
All of that was very timely in God’s providence because as we continue on in our study of 1 John, we are coming in to his treatment of the theme of assurance, an assurance of salvation. And it certainly would not surprise me in a room of this size with so many of you here today to know that some of you are struggling with those same exact questions, “Is my salvation real? Have I truly been delivered from the wrath of God? Do I truly belong to Christ or am I one of those who are self-deceived?”
You know, it is an important issue because Jesus said in Matthew 7 that there will be many on the final day who will say, Lord, Lord, did we not do all of this stuff? How can you send us away. And Jesus will say “…Depart from me, I never knew you…”
The Bible treats seriously and takes seriously the issue of a false assurance of salvation and says that there will be many self-deceived people even within the walls of the church. And so I have no doubt in a room where there are several hundred people are gathered together that some of you would fall in to that self-deceived category. I encourage you as we look at these things to examine yourselves as 2 Corinthians 13:5 says to see if you are in the faith. But at the same time, the Bible would be quick to bring assurance to those who are truly saved. God does not intent for us to live in doubt as true Christians. One of the cornerstones of our sanctification, of our growth in Christ, of our enjoyment of our salvation is an assurance that we truly belong to Him. And the epistle of John was written to give us assurance that we truly have eternal life, that the guilt of our sins has been forgiven, that it has been removed and that we no longer need to fear the judgment of God.
Turn in your Bibles to 1 John 5:13. This is not our text for this morning, but it does introduce it and it highlights one of the central reasons that John wrote this letter as he said to his readers that:
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.
You are intended to know and if you have doubts, God intends you to take the principles of His word to understand them and to apply them to your own soul and your own situation so that you could move from doubt to assurance. And if it so happens that the word would expose you as being a false professor of Christ, that that would be your opportunity to really repent and truly put your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. So the doubts either way are designed to be for our spiritual benefit when we approach them from the biblical perspective, when you know that God is holy, when you know that He will judge sinners, when you know that He is a God of wrath who suffers indignation every day as the Psalms tell us, if you are a thinking person at all, you long to know that you have truly been saved from that wrath.
When John wrote this letter back in the first century, he wrote to help his readers to know that they had eternal life even though false teachers had upset their confidence. False teachers had come along side these believers and had kicked out the pillars of confidence that they rightfully were entitled to with their false teaching about Christ and undermining the sense of assurance that they were entitled to. And John the apostle picks up his pen as it were and writes to give them assurance and he doesn’t mince any words about it. Look at 1 John 2:12. I love the pastoral spirit that the apostle exhibits in this letter. Remember he is writing to give them assurance, but he doesn’t simply lay out tasks for them to apply to themselves and then stand back as though he were a referee or an observer to this process. He tells them his own God-inspired spirit, inspired assessment of their spiritual condition and he states in unqualified terms that I am confident of your salvation, that you truly belong to Christ. Look at 1 John 2:12, he says:
I am writing to you little children because your sins have been forgiven you for His name’s sake
(1 John 2:21) I have not written to you because you do not know the truth but because you do know it and because no lie is of the truth.
He is saying I am writing to you because you are true Christians and I am writing to support you in your walk with Him. And in Chapter 4:4 again in unqualified terms he speaks to his readers and says you are from God little children, your source of life, you come from God Himself and:
…you have overcome them because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.
He speaks in the indicative not the potential. He says these are settled facts, your sins have been forgiven to you for your name’s sake. Think about that, John the apostle, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, expressing the very words of God with what he wrote and therefore his attitude in this letter toward these particular readers reflects the attitude of God Himself toward those who are truly saved. God intends for us to know and understand, God sees our salvation as a completed fact:
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
He who began a good work in you, will perfected until the day of Christ Jesus.
And so out and away with those false systems of theology that would bind people in doubt and uncertainty about the reality of their salvation, that you might lose your salvation somehow. Eternal life by its very definition is eternal. And those who have put their faith in Christ are entitled to as one of the spiritual gifts that God gives to His children, to have assurance.
Now, some people lack assurance because they struggle with a particularly besetting sin. And I would imagine to say that those of you who are struggling with lack of assurance can relate specifically with that particular issue. And that one particular sin becomes the defining prism through which you view all of spiritual life. You look at your unfaithfulness, you look at your failure in one particular area of life, usually dealing with certain fleshly desires that you have and have difficulty mastering, and you view your entire spiritual condition through the prism of that one weakness and you find yourself discouraged and confused.
Understand that there is an entire context of salvation, there is an entire metrics through which we are supposed to look through and examine our spiritual lives to see if we are truly in the faith. We don’t isolate one particular area and elevate that and ignore all of the others—that’s not what this epistle teaches us to do. This epistle teaches us to look at our view of Christ, do we believe the truth about Christ, do we believe He is the propitiation for our sins. He would have us look, yes, at the moral area of our lives, but also at the area of the way that we love other believers and our attitude toward those for whom Christ died and that is where our passage this morning takes us to. So if you find yourself discouraged and confused, I trust that this is going to be a helpful passage for you as we look at what God has to say in His word.
Our passage this morning is found in 1 John 3:19-20, so turn there and direct your attention to that particular passage, that’s where our teaching through the epistle of 1 John has brought us this morning and I am very excited about what we are going to consider together here today. Let me read those two verses to you, verses 19-20, John says again under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writing God’s trustworthy word by which we could know, he says this: “We will know by this that we are of the truth…” that our source, the source of our spiritual life comes from the truth of God, that the source of our spiritual life is rooted in God Himself and therefore is indestructible:
We will know by this that we are of the truth and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us, for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.
Now, we will finish this, the paragraph goes down through verse 24, but I’m just going to deal with those two verses here this morning. But I want you to make some preliminary observations as we approach this passage because context is key here in this particular passage help you understand what he is saying.
Notice that the beginning and the end of these verses—19-24 are bracketed by the concept of “We know”. Verse 19:
We will know by this that we are of the truth…
And look at verse 24 there where he says:
We know by this that He abides in us…
This is how we know that God the Holy Spirit is abiding in us, this is how we know that we belong to the truth, this is how we know that our salvation is real. The beginning and the end of this passage bracketed together kind of summed up together have been brought up together in one envelope as you can say is for us to know that our salvation is real—that is what this passage is addressing here. The beginning and the end and everything in between is addressing the issue of knowing whether we truly belong to Christ—that is the overall context.
Now, notice this. In the midst of this passage, he is dealing with the reality of what we were describing in the introduction, those whose consciences condemn them, those people who are troubled by doubt, those people who are uncertain. Look at verses 20-21, he deals with those: “…in whatever our heart condemns us…” Verse 21: “If our heart does not condemn us…” So in the midst of the overall goal of bringing assurance of salvation, he is recognizing the fact that true believers can have a condemning conscience, a conscience that accuses them and he is giving us a means by which we can silence our conscience by applying truth to the situation. Your conscience, as important as a mental and moral faculty as it is, is not an infallible guide to the truth of whether you are truly saved or not. Some people’s consciences do not accuse them when they should, other consciences are active and condemning when they should be silenced by the blood of Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of sin.
And so the issue of dealing with and understanding how to approach a condemning conscience is at the core of this passage whose broader aim is to bring assurance of salvation. So, that’s the theme for this morning.
Now, in keeping with one of the key themes of this epistle as assurance of salvation, “I have written so that you may know,” John is showing us one means here in this particular passage by which we can have assurance, he is teaching us how to address a condemning heart. I am going to summarize the point of what he is saying here in this next paragraph here. This is kind of an introduction to the overall theme of where we are going here this morning, here is what he is saying here in this paragraph. I am just going to say this and I will unpack it for you and show you from the context so you can see it for yourself.
What John is saying here is that he says we shall know by this, what is the “this” that he is talking about? We are going to see that what he is talking about is that when your life shows evidence of having tangible expressions of love for other Christians that is motivated by an understanding of Christ’s own sacrifice for sinners, you have compelling evidence of the reality of your salvation. This is going to be evidently obvious to you as we go through the passage, so let me say it one more time. Tangible love for other Christians, motivated by an understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners is compelling evidence of the reality of your salvation. Every clause in that is important, tangible love for other Christians, not talking about general philanthropy as we will see, it is tangible love that is motivated by an understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners. At the core of this is the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf when He laid down His life to forgive us of our sins.
And so, understanding the sacrifice of Christ, being motivated by His sacrifice for sinners and letting that motivation spill out in to your relationships to other believers within the church, within the body of the church, when you see that in your life, you have compelling evidence that your salvation is real and utter absence of that kind of love is compelling evidence that your profession of faith in Christ is false. It is not real because loving the brethren is an inevitable outcome, an inevitable outflow of true salvation as we are going to see.
Now, here is a question for you. Why is it that that kind of love for the brethren, for other Christians (I am using those terms interchangeably, the brethren, other Christians, believers, the church, I will be using those terms interchangeably here this morning.) Why does love for the brethren point to true salvation? Why? Love for the brethren shows that you have been transferred from the world in to the true kingdom of God. There are three points that I am going to structure today’s message around and here is the first point. We have to start with the full context of what John is saying and recognize the fundamental realities that are at work in the world. And so, love points us to true salvation because of:
- The Reality of the World’s Hostility
Get this, and you see why these things must be so. By nature, by fundamental unalterable disposition, the unregenerate world is hostile to true Christians. The unregenerate world is hostile to true Christians and that is preeminent in John’s thinking as he writes this passage here in chapter 3. The unregenerate world is hostile to true Christians. Look at chapter 3, verse 1. This connection here may not be immediately obvious to you, but follow me and I assure you that it will be in the end. Chapter 3:1, John says:
See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us that we would be children of God and we are.
There is another statement of his assurance of salvation that he gives to his readers—we are children of God, we belong to Him. This is in the indicative mood, this is reality, we are children of God. And notice what he says, he says:
For this reason the world does not know us because it did not know Him.
He is setting up opposing realms here, there is the realm of the children of God and there is the realm of the world that he clearly distinguishes in that verse.
Look at chapter 3:13 where he says:
Do not be surprised brethren if the world hates you
Don’t be surprised that the world is hostile to you and not just to you individually, but don’t be surprised when you see the world system, when you see unregenerate men being hostile toward those of you who profess faith in Christ, those of you who are truly redeemed. He said don’t be surprised by that because there is a cosmic spiritual battle going on between the world and the kingdom of God that promotes that friction and that hostility. We have talked about that in the past as we taught through 1 John.
Look at chapter 5:19 and we see the source of these things. Once again he speaks in the indicative, he says:
We know that we are of God and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
Conflict and hostility is an inevitable result of these opposing realms in this present age.
Now Jesus Himself foretold this. Turn back to the gospel of John in John 15. I just want to establish this clearly in your mind because we are going to pivot away from this in a way that is going to give you, I trust, a lot of understanding. John 15:18-19, Jesus told His disciples:
If the world hates you, you know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own, but because you are not of the world and I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.
Chapter 17:14, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus says to His Father:
I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world even as I am not of the world.
Jesus says, if they persecuted me, they are going to persecute you, expect this as part of the reality of living in the fallen world. Unregenerate, unsaved men are hostile to Christ and therefore they show hostility toward those who follow Christ, those who truly belong to Him. We are not talking about your individual experiences with difficulties in your family, we are talking about an important general fundamental principle about the relationship between the world and the kingdom of God. There is hostility from the world toward the true people of God. They hated Christ enough to crucify Him. They could not get Him off the face of the earth fast enough to satisfy their perverted jealousies and hatred, and so they got rid of Christ. And if all restraint were removed, they would get rid of us too, but because there are restraints of different kinds, we just see flashes of it and underlying ongoing attitudes of it that reflect that fundamental underlying hostility.
In some parts of the world of course that hostility is more open and ongoing than it is where we experience here in our country. But the fundamental point is that hostility of unsaved men toward those who know Christ. Church history bears out the pattern in which the world persecutes true Christians. Understand this, this is the fundamental point here, they do that by nature, this is the nature by which they act out the desires and affections and motivations of their dark heart. They lash out against the light and against those who belong to the light—that’s the reality of the world’s hostility, that’s why the apostle Paul could tell Timothy in 2 Timothy, chapter 3 that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
Now, the question is what does have to do with assurance? When I am struggling with assurance of my salvation, why are you talking to me about the hostility of the world against Christians? It seems to have no connection to me. Well, the truth of the matter is beloved that it has all of the significance in the world, this has everything to do with understanding whether you are a true Christian or not. In light of the world’s hostility, the next point is:
- The Significance of Christian Love
What does it mean when Christians love one another? What does that say about what realm they belong to? You see where I am going with this, I am not going anywhere that the apostle John didn’t go himself. In light of the natural hostility that the world has against true Christians, what does it mean when you and I love those Christians? It means that we don’t belong to this world, it means that we belong to a different realm. The world hates Christians and yet I find myself loving them to the point of self-sacrifice. I want to serve them, I want to minister to them, I like to be with them, I want to pray with them, I want to pray for them. Those are attitudes and desires that do not come from belonging to the world, that could only come from belonging to Christ, the one who truly died to save His own people.
And so when you find yourself having affections to the point of self-sacrifice for other believers, you are giving evidence coming out of your life is evidence that you have been transferred from the realm of darkness, the realm of Satan, the kingdom of Satan that hates and persecutes believer. There is no other explanation for that kind of love except that you have been born again, that you have been brought in to God’s kingdom. Let’s see that from the passage here, look again at verses 19-20:
We will know by this that we are of the truth and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us…
We will know by this, everything hinges on what this means, what is this “this” you could say. What is “this” that gives us true assurance? It is the hinge upon which this whole passage turns, watch this. John is pointing back to the prior paragraph in his letter, he is pointing back to what he had just said—I have said these things and having said these things:
We will know by this that we are of the truth.
What is the “this?” Go back to verse 13, he was talking about the reality of the world’s hatred toward believers, don’t be surprised that the world hates you. And then notice in verse 14 he says:
We know that we passed out of death in to life because we love the brethren.
He is picking up that same point in verse 19 where he says:
We will know by this that we are of the truth…
That is the hinge, he is pointing back to his call to love the brethren and he is drawing out the reality. What is the reality of loving the brethren in your life, what that says about the reality of your salvation. And he is doing that to undergird one of the great central themes of this epistle is that:
I have written so that you would know that you have eternal life.
See the connection? (It’s okay to nod your head. We can interact a little bit anyway. I have to remind you of that like every six weeks it seems like. You can nod your head if you’re tracking with me.)
Now notice this, notice in verse 16 how he puts Jesus Christ right at the center of this in this discussion of love, he says:
We know love by this that He (meaning Christ) laid down His life for us…
The self-sacrifice of Christ is the core of the gospel. Christ sacrificed His own life, offered it to God as a sacrifice for our sins, His innocent sacrifice in exchange for our guilt and sin. His sacrifice being the means by which God could look on Him, His righteous sacrifice on our behalf and forgive us. Your salvation hinges on self-sacrifice by Christ for His people. He loved us enough to give Himself up for us. There is a window in to the great heart of Jesus Christ. He loved us enough to sacrifice His life for us.
Look at the end of verse 16, in light of that love, in light of that self-sacrifice, John says:
…and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Listen, if you truly belong to Christ, if you truly have received Him for your salvation and for the forgiveness of your sins and you recognize and understand that He laid down His life for you on the cross, then there is an inevitable impact that that will have on your heart. God gives us a new nature in salvation, He gives us a new heart that is consistent with His own desires, of His own attitudes, with His own approach. Therefore, if you have that new heart from Christ, then your heart is going to mirror that spirit of self-sacrifice that Christ had toward His people, your heart is going to mirror that same kind of self-sacrifice for the very same people for whom Christ Himself sacrificed—there could be no other way. If you have received an act of self-sacrifice for your salvation as the supreme importance in your life, then that thing of same supreme importance is going to motivate you as well. And you are going to have desires and affections toward the same people that Christ died for just like He died for you. You are going to reflect the attitude of Christ toward His people. And you can’t be in the world and do that because the world hates Christians—we have seen that. There is no other explanation for truly loving Christians as John defines it here other than the fact that you have been born again.
The self-sacrifice of Christ so humbles you, it breaks and shatters your pride that you say “I was guilty, I deserve judgment, God should have judged me, that would have been the righteous thing to do and I had no answer for my guilt. And yet before I was even born Christ interceded on my behalf and laid down His life for me in the outworking of an eternal plan of God’s grace toward my life. He interceded for me, He died for me, He sacrificed His life for me. Out with my pride, out with my self-regard, out with my self-conceit and let me love and worship this Christ.”
If your heart has been broken like that, you are going to be brought in to sympathy with the things that motivated Christ to do that in the first place. The attitude of your heart is “Christ sacrificed for me, then I will gladly love those whom He also loves because I am going to conform the desires and the affections of my heart as closely as I can so that they are consistent with the way Christ views His own people because I am so very grateful that He sacrificed for me.” That’s what John is talking about here. Look at chapter 3:16:
Christ laid down His life for us and therefore we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.
Now he expands on his discussion here in verses 17-18, he says:
But whoever has the world’s good and sees his…
So-called brother, you say he is your brother, you see him in need, but you close your heart against him? How does the love of God abide in you? How could it be that you have the resources to meet a need and you slam the door shut against the need that is presented to you on an ongoing kind of way? How can you say that the sacrifice of Christ has been applied to your account when it won’t even motivate you enough to lift a finger to help the need of a brother who is in front of you? How can you say that you love God whom you have not seen when you won’t love the brother who you have seen?
And so in verse 18 he goes on to the exhortation, he says:
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
And so you are so humbled by Christ’s self-sacrifice that you embrace self-sacrifice in your relationship with other Christians. Listen, you love Christians because you love those whom Christ loves, you have an affinity with them, you have shared affections with them, you have natural affections with one another that is foreign to this world. The world persecutes these people, why is it that you find yourselves loving them, why is it that you minister to them, why is it that you reach out, why is it that your time and talents and resources are at their disposal in one way or another? It is because a supernatural change has taken place in your heart—that’s why.
Listen, an unsaved man by definition has no regard for the sacrifice of Christ, not as it is truly understood. An unsaved man has no regard for true Christians. He certainly wouldn’t sacrifice his resources for them. Remember what you were like before you became a Christian—some of you, many of you probably. Weren’t you among the ones who mocked those who claimed to know Christ? You would come across a true Christian with his Bible open and you wanted to mock them, you made fun of them, that’s what the world does. Why is it now that when you see someone with an open Bible you want to talk with them, you are drawn to them.
Now, here is the point in the whole context of assurance. When you struggle with doubts over particular issues, one of the things that this letter of John tells us to do is to step back and look at your love for Christians because that is evidence of the reality of your salvation. Look at verse 19 again, he says:
We know by this that we are of the truth.
The reason that love for Christians shows that you are of the truth is because the world doesn’t act that way, the world doesn’t have those affections, by nature, by definition.
Now, understand this, this kind of love, this tangible love, he said in verse 18:
Let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.
It doesn’t do any good to say “You wouldn’t believe the love I have for Christians” if there is not some tangible external evidence of that in your life. When you really have that love for Christians, somehow it expresses itself in what you do, so this is more than a verbal affirmation of it.
Understand this, that generosity in and of itself does not show whether you are a true Christian. I mean if Louis Rubenstein gives $50 million to the Indiana University Medical Center to build a wing in his honor, his generosity is not evidence that he is truly saved, right? You can’t buy your way in to heaven. Just mere general philanthropy is not evidence that you are truly saved. You can’t reinforce and strengthen your assurance by taking $20 out of your wallet and giving it to the guy on the 405 off ramp at Roscoe, you can’t buy assurance this way.
Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:3 (you will remember this) said this
If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, if I surrender my body to be burned but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
So understand that we are not talking about giving just to buy your assurance, we are talking about the motivation that causes you to do that. It is not that you love or give in general (follow me here) it is that you love Christians in a tangible way and you love Christians because you know and love Christ. You say “I love Christ so much and here is one of His sheep, I’ve got to do something for him.” That is what we are talking about—tangible love, motivated by understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for sinners that leads you to acts of generosity toward them. That kind of attitude points to the reality of a truly transformed heart, that kind of sacrificial love indicates that you belong to Christ because the world is not interested in that love at all, nothing about an unregenerate heart would motivate you to a life like that.
And so, when you see those things coming consistently out of your life and say “Ah, I reason back here, the reason I’m like that is because God has saved me and transformed me and given me a new heart with new desires that are totally foreign to what I knew before.” And suddenly, your efforts to examine yourself are injected not with your subjective feelings, but objective things that you can look at over time. And you don’t collapse under the weight of your own doubts and struggles with a particular besetting sin. You look at bigger picture, bigger context and say “I need to deal with this sin, but there’s other things in my life that show that my salvation is real. I know that I’m saved because of what I see what is happening here.”
I just want to give you a biblical example of what I’m talking about here. Turn to 2 Corinthians 8 beginning in verse 1, Paul says:
Now brethren, we wish to make known to you that grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in the great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this not as we have expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God.
They gave themselves to the Lord, they were truly saved and the outflow of that in their lives was “Paul, we understand you are going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints, let me participate in that. I beg you Paul, even though we’re deeply poor, even though we’re living in poverty ourselves, we want to be a part of that ministry, we want to share in that.” Paul says this is testimony of the reality of their salvation.
When you see voluntary sacrificial love for other believers coming out of your life, you should have assurance of eternal life. So the question becomes as you examine yourself in light of these things, the question is, do the people of God have a place in your schedule? Do they have a part of your life beyond sitting in the back row and getting out as quickly as you possibly can on Sunday morning? Do the people of God have a claim as it were on your resources? Do you find yourself using what you have to benefit people of God, in other words? Do the people of God have a portion in your prayers? These are all things that point to the reality of a transformed heart. Love for the brethren is evidence of true conversion. The absence of love for brethren is compelling evidence that you have never been saved.
But notice this, even as we practice that kind of love, if you examine yourself closely enough, you will find that you still fall short, this is not the passage that extols your sudden perfection in loving the brethren. We haven’t always sacrificed, we have been selfish, our attitudes have been lousy and irritable at times (at least mine have been). And John goes on here in this passage in verses 19-20 to tell us not to rest our hope in our imperfect expressions of love. We are just looking for signs of this that would show that our claim to know Christ is consistent with the reality of what is true of our hearts. Ultimately he points us to the last point of the message:
- Ultimate Basis of Your Hope
He points us to God’s sovereign knowledge as our final hope, the final appeal. It is not by looking at what you see yourself doing in life generally, but ultimately the final appeal is to God Himself. Look at verse 20. He says in verse 19:
We will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us.
That verse is very grammatically difficult, I’m not going to delve in to all of the things that the commentary is talking about this verse, just taking the English text as we have it here. “…in whatever our heart condemns us.” If you are struggling with a difficult conscience, he says in whatever our heart condemns us, we will know by this we are of the truth because God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Your ultimate appeal is to the sovereign knowledge of God. Yes, your conscience may trouble you, but you make your final appeal to God Himself. Remember what Peter did in John 21 when Jesus was questioning his love. Jesus asked him three times, Simon, do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? Peter was grieved when Jesus said to him the third time, do you love me? What did Peter do? He said in John 21:17:
Lord, you know all things, you know I love you.
He appeals to the omniscience of Christ as being the final court, his conscience was not the final court of appeal. His actions, particularly at that time, certainly couldn’t have been the final court of appeal because he had just denied Him miserably with curses three times just a few days earlier.
And so, ultimately as we understand these things, the final appeal of our heart is to the sovereign knowledge and mercy of God, “God, I see this evidence of Christian love in my life, but God I know that it is imperfect. I remember how I reacted the other day, I remember how I turned that person away and I fell short Lord and I’m conscious of all of that. But Lord, look at my heart, you know all things, you know that I love you. It’s not that my failures point to it but Lord, there are things in my life over time that show the reality that nothing else can explain.”
And so the idea here is this, someone is troubled about whether they are a true Christian. The apostle John in 1 John 3 has taken them to the core of the gospel. He has taken them to Christ’s sacrifice for sinners as he has done earlier in the epistle in chapter 1:7:
…the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.
(1 John 7:9) If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us all our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. He is the propitiation for our sins, not for ours only but those of the whole world.
And on it goes. John is not pointing to self-effort as the grounds for our assurance, he has taken us first to the gospel, that is the entrance way, that is the first question you ask. And then there is a follow-up question as it were. John says, do you see a similar principle of loving sacrifice in your life for those for whom Christ died? It is not going to be perfect like Jesus’ was, but do you see yourself and your life conforming to that self-sacrifice of Christ? If you do, (here’s the point) it shows that you don’t belong to this world, it shows that you belong to Christ. And the joy and the assurance and the confidence and the hope, the peace that flows from that is your prerogative as a true Christian, to enjoy that assurance and say “God, I truly belong to you.” But even when you see that evidence, you don’t rest your final hope there because you still fall short of the glory of God. You rest your ultimate hope, your final rest is in the reality that the Lord is greater than your heart. You give Him the glory for the evidence that you do see, but the ultimate glory, the ultimate hope, the ultimate assurance is that:
He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.
You rest in the knowledge that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because Christ Jesus Himself bore the penalty of your sin, even the lingering sin in your Christian life.
And so your love for the brethren is only a sign post that points your attention to the greater reality of the shed blood and the righteousness of Christ which alone can save you.
Now, what we have talked about here this morning is that which flows out of the true reception of Christ, but ultimately it all points back to Him. And when your heart is brought back to the cross, that is where you have perfect peace, knowing that He alone is the one who truly purchased eternal life on your behalf, and you love Him and give Him the glory and you go forth and you love those very people for whom He Himself died.
Let’s pray together. Father, help us to truly examine our lives and our hearts in light of these things. I pray for those that are with me this morning, those who will hear the message later. Help us to look at the believers that are in our circle of relationships and understand that you have called us to make them the objects of the love that you have shed abroad in our hearts, those relationships are where we express that love. Thank you for the many in this room that show forth the reality of the transformed hearts by the love that they show to one another.
Father, for those that have been convicted and exposed in their own hearts as your Spirit has worked in, you have convicted them with the sense that say “I don’t love believers that way, something is horribly wrong with me.” Father, help them to understand that the answer to that is first to go to Christ and to confess sin to Christ and to receive Him and to believe on Him for salvation, open their hearts to that. Let them not try to place good works unto their life of an unredeemed heart, but let them see that their first responsibility is vertical, to respond to you and to repent of sin and to receive Christ for salvation.
Father, thank you that you have left us with this word in the Bible that gives us a sense of understanding, we can know, we can understand, you intend for us to know whether we have eternal life. For those of us who are enjoying assurance of salvation this morning father, we thank you, it is nothing we have earned. We gladly, humbly, fully give all the glory to the one who died and rose again to save us from our sins, yes, even to you Lord Jesus we ascribe all the glory. In your wonderful blessed name we pray. Amen.