Text: 1 John 3:19-24 — 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. 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. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
Introduction: How do you know that you’ve really trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord? Do you just take it by faith? Does God give you some kind of warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart that confirms you’re His child or do you gain assurance on the basis of something you do like responding to an alter call, praying the sinner’s prayer or going to church every time the doors open? Or, is it possible that there really is no way to know with certainty that you’re a child of God who will spend eternity with Him in heaven? Perhaps the best you can hope for is to close your eyes for the last time in this world and hopethat when you open them again you will see Jesus. I know of some people who longed for assurance that they were saved, but never seemed to have it. So, if you place yourself in that camp, you’re not alone. Queen Victoria, of England, struggled for some time with assurance of her salvation. She once attended a service in St. Paul’s Cathedraland listened to a sermon that interested her greatly. Afterwards she asked her chaplain, “Can one be absolutely sure in this life of eternal safety?” His answer was that he knew no way that one could be absolutely sure. This incident was published in the Court News and came to the notice of a minister named John Townsend. After reading of Queen Victoria’s question and the answer she received, he prayed and then sent the following note to the queen: To Her Gracious Majesty, our beloved Queen Victoria, from one of her most humble subjects: With trembling hands, but heart-filled love, and because I know that we can be absolutely sure now for our eternal life in the home that Jesus went to prepare, may I ask Your Most Gracious Majesty to read the following passages of Scripture: John 3:16; Romans 10:9–10 — … if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.I sign myself, your servant for Jesus’ sake, John Townsend. Mr. Townsend was not alone in praying about his letter to the queen. He took others into his confidence, and they offered up prayer to God in Her Majesty’s behalf. About two weeks later he received the following letter: To John Townsend: I have carefully and prayerfully read the portions of Scripture referred to. I believe in the finished work of Christ for me, and trust by God’s grace to meet you in that home of which he said, “I go to prepare a place for you.” (Signed) Victoria Guelph. After Queen Victoria’s discovery of Christian assurance, she used to carry a small booklet to give away. Its title was Safety, Certainty, and Enjoyment. This is what she found in Christ. This is a good story, but it begs the question, “Is assurance of salvation meant for all Christians and if so, how does it come to us?”
In our eighth message in the series Vital Signs, which a study of the various ways we can measure the authenticity of spiritual lives from 1 John, the Apostle provides three ways to confirm that we are, using his words, of the truthand, therefore, can rest assured that we are children of God. Let’s look at them together.
God gives us assurance as He changes our lives(1 John 3:19-20 — By this((… by loving one another in deed and truth – 1 John 3:18))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). As we learned last week, God is working in the lives of all true believers to bring us to a sincere love for one another characterized by truth and action. Second Corinthians 5:17puts it like this: If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things pass away. All things become new. When a person becomes a Christian, his priorities change. He starts to want to live like Christ who showed us how to love in deed and truth. However, believers are not perfect, though we are to aspire to rid our lives of sin. Unfortunately, when we examine ourselves before God, when we look at His Word and the standard of holiness that He has set for us, we often see lots of sins. And that can cause us to wonder if we’re really in the kingdom of God at all and lead to a lot of insecurity on our part. But here’s the good news! John wants us to know that salvation is not based on some kind of feeling we have that we’re in the kingdom. It’s not like that. In fact, even in those times when our heart (consciences) condemn us because of the principle of sin that the writer of Hebrews says “so easily entangles us”, we don’t have to worry. Because, God, who knows everything, is our judge and He knows the truth about us. When His life is pulsating within us so that we begin to obey (trust) where we didn’t and love where we didn’t, He sets our hearts at rest. We realize that though we may not be what we ought to be, we are not what we used to be either.” That’s because we see the power of new birth working within us. This isn’t to say that we can’t still feel ashamed that we’re not doing better in the Christian life. We know that there is never an excuse for sin. But even when our hearts condemn us, we should not lose hope. Listen to what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me …He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.” God is the One who knows our hearts and whether or not our faith is real and sincere. Even in the most sinful places of our lives, He knows who the pretenders and true believers are because the former have not desire to live like Christ while the latter absolutely do.
God gives us assurance as He answers our prayers(1 John 3:21-22 — 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). Let me ask you a question: How many times have you prayed without any real sense that God even heard your request let alone was willing to grant it? I know I’ve felt that way at times, and if I’m honest about it, usually it’s because I’m not in the right place with the Lord. I’m walking in the flesh and clinging to a particular sin, rather than confessing, repenting and submitting to the Lordship of Christ.
This passage teaches that there are certain conditions that must be met in order for believers to be able to pray with confidence to God. We are to keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. John then explains what this looks like for every one of us.
· We are to believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ(1 John 3:23 — And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ). The word “believe” refers to a decisive act of trusting in Christ as Savior and Lord. It is God’s children (those who have received and believed in Christ) who have “anytime” access to Him in prayer. He gladly welcomes us to bring our joys, concerns and anything else on our minds to Him.
· We are to love one another(1 John 3:23 — And this is his commandment, that we … love one another, just as he has commanded us). If the word “believe” is a decisive act in response to the truth, the word “love” is seen as a continuous act in response to the same. It is self-sacrifice for the good of another. In this case, John is talking about our love for the body of Christ. When we fail to love our Christian brothers and sisters, our prayers are hindered. An example of this is found in 1 Peter 3:4 where Peter warns believing husbands who do not treat their wives with respect as heirs of the gracious gift of life, will see their own prayers impeded before God.
Of course, there are other factors mentioned elsewhere in the Bible that also are conditions for answered prayer. These include: (1)Praying in Christ’s Name– John 16:24 — Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete; (2)Praying with the right motive– James 4:3 — When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures(Greek – hedone – from where we get our word hedonist – it can be translated as lusts); (3)Praying with a pure heart– Isaiah 59:1-2 — Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear; (4)Praying in faith– Mark 11:24 — Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours;(5)Praying in the absence of unforgiveness– Mark 11:25 — And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.
So, we’ve said two things so far when it comes to assurance of our salvation. (1)God gives us assurance as He changes our lives; (2)God gives us assurance as He answers our prayers. Here is a third that John wants us to think about.
God gives us assurance as we abide in the Spirit(1 John 3:24b – And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us). This happens as the Holy Spirit bears witness to our salvation. Paul says this in Romans 8:14-17 – For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. As we are filled with the Holy Spirit and abide in Him, God testifies to us that we are His children. This makes us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. My children are my heirs. Laurie and I have a will that names them as the benefactors of all that we possess. When we die, they will take everything, divide it seven ways and claim it as their own. By my way of thinking, each is going to receive about $75.00. Sorry kids! Because you and I have believed in Jesus and have died with Him to sin, we are now fellow heirs. Just as He is alive and will never taste death again, so we can know with certainty that we, too, have eternal life and that death is a defeated foe. This is what the Holy Spirit does for us. He seals us as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance in heaven (See Ephesians 1:13-14).
Applications: So, John said three things to us this morning. (1)God gives us assurance as He changes our lives (i.e. we love one another);(2)God gives us assurance as He answers our prayers; and (3)God gives us assurance as we abide in the Spirit.
If you’re looking for the assurance that comes from the Holy Spirit that you are a child of God ask yourself these two questions as both are key indicators that you’re truly saved.
· How’s your love life? If you’re into sacrificing yourself for the good of others because you want to live like Christ, that’s a good sign that you’re saved. If you’re not, maybe you should take a closer look at your relationship with God.
· How’s your prayer life?Do you only pray when you’re in crisis or do you seek fellowship with God as a way of life? If you find you don’t want to talk to God that much, you may not be saved.
· How’s your spiritual life?Do you walk regularly by the Spirit and keep short accounts with God when it comes to your sin? If not, that should cause some alarms to go off in your head.
Conclusion: When it comes to salvation and assurance, there are three groups of people: (1)those who are secure but not sure; (2)those who are “sure” but not secure; and (3)those who are secure and sure. The first group(SECURE AND NOT SURE) are sincere believers in Christ who are saved but lack assurance. The second group(SURE BUT NOT SECURE) are those who claim to follow Christ, but continue in sin and say, “Even though I’m living in sin, I’ll make it. After all, ‘once saved, always saved!'” The third group(SECURE AND SURE) are born-again believers who enjoy sweet fellowship with Christ each day. The basis of their salvation is faith in the finished work of God’s Son on the cross. The evidence of this faith is seen in that they keep Hiscommandmentsand love the brethren. These are the people who come before His throne with confidence to know that God will answer their prayers because they are His children.
Sometime when you’re in an airport, observe the difference between passengers who hold confirmed tickets and those who are on standby. The ones with confirmed tickets read newspapers, chat with their friends or sleep. The ones on standby hang around the ticket counter, pace and smoke, smoke and pace. The difference is caused by the confidence factor. If you knew that in fifteen minutes you would have to stand in judgment before the Holy God and learn your eternal destiny, what would your reaction be? Would you smoke and pace? Would you say to yourself, “I don’t know what God’s going to say–will it be ‘Welcome home, child,’ or will it be ‘Depart from me; I never knew you’? (Bill Hybels – Too Busy Not to Pray) John tells us that we do not need to worry if we’re really born again. Our changed lives, our prayer lives and the Holy Spirit will confirm that our ticket is secure.