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Sermon #28[i] — 1st John Series
Title: “God is
greater than our heart.”
Text: 1 John 3:18-24
Subject: Confidence toward God
Open your Bibles with me to the book of 1st John. This short, but blessed and instructive epistle was written by John under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit for one specific purpose. And that purpose is stated very plainly in chapter five, verse 13.
“These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” (1 John 5:13)
John’s stated purpose in writing this epistle is “that we may know that we have eternal life.” This is repeated, time and again, throughout the book (2:3, 5, 21; 3:5, 14, 19, 24; 4:13; 5:2, 19, 20).
(1 John 2:3) “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.”
(1 John 2:5) “But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.”
(1 John 2:21) “I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth.”
(1 John 3:5) “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins; and in him is no sin.”
(1 John 3:14) “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death.”
(1 John 3:19) “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”
(1 John 3:24) “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
(1 John 4:13) “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.”
(1 John 5:2) “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.”
(1 John 5:19-20) “19 And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 20 And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.”
Now, I could be mistaken, but it seems to me that if we trust Christ John wants us to know that we have eternal life. Yet, if you read the commentaries men have written on this book, you would think they must have never read the book, because almost all the commentaries I’ve read, a1most all the sermons I’ve read and heard from 1st John in the past 45 years seem to scream, “There’s no way to really know!”
Am I one of God’s elect? Is my name inscribed in God’s eternal book beneath the name of his Son? Am I numbered among those sheep for whom the Good Shepherd laid down his life? Have I been regenerated, born again, and called to eternal life by the sovereign power of God the Holy Spirit? These are questions which every true believer desires to have answered in his own heart. With David, we have one strong desire before God; we want to hear one thing from him. — “Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation” (Psalm 35:3). This is our soul’s satisfaction. We all want to be able to honestly and joyfully sing…
“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood!”
But we all have our times of doubt. — Don’t we? We all have those sad, mournful seasons when we get to looking at ourselves, our sins, our failures, our weaknesses, our unbelief, and our hardness of heart. And when we do we moan…
`Tis a point I long to know,
Oft it causes anxious thought:
Do I love the Lord or no,
Am I His or am I not?
Now hear what I say. Hear what God says. — “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?” (2 Corinthians 13:5) — Examine yourselves on this one point — “Whether ye be in the faith.” — Prove this one thing. — “How that Christ Jesus is in you.” —Am I in THE FAITH? — Is Christ in me? That is the issue. That is the thing to be examined.
I am fearful for those who never engage their hearts in this matter of self-examination. By no means do I suggest that the children of God should always be doubtful and uneasy about their souls. But I do say that we should constantly search and try our hearts by the Word of God. I do not know; it may be that some of you have found a place to hide from God by joining the church. You made a profession of faith some years ago; and you never bother with this matter of self-examination. You had a religious experience. Your outward life was changed. You got baptized and joined the church. And you say, “I am secure.” I fear that you are just that — secure as the mountains, secure as the rock of Gibraltar, and just as dead. Your heart is still a stony heart. Your soul is without feeling. You are precisely orthodox, and precisely lost and undone! Oh, may God deliver us from carnal security! Assurance, peace, and security, if they are given of God, are blessed gifts of grace. But if they come from any other source, they are a positive curse. Ephraim was peaceful and secure. But, oh, what a curse was Ephraim’s security! God had left him alone!
There are also some genuine, tender-hearted believers who need reproving. They feel the awful sinfulness of their own hearts. They are overcome by a sense of God’s holiness. Their hearts are broken and contrite. There is nothing so precious to you as Christ. No story stirs your heart like the story of the cross. You hate sin and love righteousness. You cry unto God in the daytime, and in the night season you are not silent. There is nothing which you would refuse to give or do for the glory of Christ. Yet, your faith is always weak and trembling. You would give anything to have a soul-satisfying assurance of God’s love and grace. But you never come to assurance. Unlike the carnally secure, these are truly God’s children, but they are lacking the confident assurance of faith. Their faith is true. It is fixed on Christ alone. But it is weak. I say such believers must be reproved; and, at the same time, they must be encouraged, for God’s children ought to rest in his love.
It is my purpose in preaching this message to destroy the assurance of the carnally secure professor, and to encourage the assurance of the true, but doubting believer. With Peter, my exhortation to you, brethren, is this: — “Give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11).
It is John’s purpose in our text to give the children of God some points by which they can prove their own hearts. Read the passage with me (1 John 3:18-24). Our text will be verses 18-24; but let’s begin reading at verse 16. Remember the context. John is showing us the manifest difference between the children of God and the children of the devil (v. 10).
“16 Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:16-17)
Now, read verses 18-24.
“18 My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19 And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.”
“20 ¶ For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”
“23 ¶ And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24 And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.”
(1 John 3:18-24)
In these verses John give us five tokens of grace, five things found in God’s saints. Before we look at the text itself, let me point out that these tokens of grace are not the grounds of our assurance, or the foundation of our faith. Christ alone is the object of our faith. Christ’s obedience and sacrifice as our Representative and Substitute before God is the foundation of our faith, upon which we rest our hope of eternal life. This is our assurance. But if we have that faith, which brings eternal life, these are things which will inevitably accompany that faith. As Paul puts it, these are “things that accompany salvation.” In no way do they merit salvation. But where salvation is, these will also appear.
This sweet assurance of eternal life is desired by all of God’s children; and there is no reason for any believer not to enjoy this blessed assurance. We dare not accept any substitute by which our souls may be deceived. But if assurance may be obtained in this life (And it may be had!), we dare not be without it. Assurance gives strength to our faith in the time of trial; and it gives expectation to our hope in this earthly pilgrimage.
When I can read my title clear
To mansions in the skies,
I’ll bid farewell to every fear,
And wipe my weeping eyes.
Should earth against my soul engage,
And fiery darts be hurled,
Then I can smile at Satan’s rage,
And face a frowning world.
Let cares, like a wild deluge come,
And streams of sorrow fall!
May I but safely reach my home,
My God, my heaven, my all.
Proposition: True faith and eternal life in a man’s heart is evidenced by distinct tokens of divine grace, governing his heart and life; but those tokens of grace are not our assurance. Our assurance is faith in Christ.
Divisions: I trust the Lord will enable me to clearly set before you these — Five Blessed Tokens of Grace.
Faith and Love
Here is the first assuring evidence of eternal life. — Where there is faith in Christ there is a true and active love for the brethren.— “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth” (v. 18). We love our brethren because they are our brethren, not because they are loveable, but because they are our brethren.
There is no grace that is more talked about and less practiced than that of brotherly love. Sadly, it seems to me that, those who talk about it most practice it least. But everyone talks about loving the brethren. It sounds very pious to say, “we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” But John tells us that talk is not enough. Our love must be active, or it is not sincere. Brethren, beware of deception in this matter. It is easy to say, or imagine that you love your brethren. Perhaps you think that you would not shrink from any great sacrifice for your brother. But if you fail to serve his good in easier and less noticed matters, your love is only a self-deceiving, hypocritical imagination.
We must prove the sincerity of our love by our deeds. — “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” The apostle Paul says, “In Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love” (Galatians 5:6).
“True love is a laborious and operative grace. Hence we read of the work and labor of love. It shows itself by the saints serving one another.”
If I do truly love my brother, I will show that love by my service to him. Do not wait for the great opportunities to show your love. Most people do not need a great sacrifice, or heroic deed from you. But they do need a little kindness, tenderness, and sympathy. Do not wait until you can do nothing and then say, “Is there anything that I can do?” Do what you can while you can.
“Whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (v. 17) Once I heard a man say, “Giving is love’s best language.” We demonstrate our love to one another by giving our goods, our time, our talent, and our labor to supply the physical and material needs of our brethren.
Will you lay down your life for one who is, or may be your brother? And yet you cannot lay down for him your love of this world’s goods, your love of ease and comfort! You will not lay down your pious separation that shrinks from contact with squalid wretchedness and crude behavior! You will not lay down your pride that keeps you at a distance from sinners! How dwelleth the love of God in you?
If I truly love my brother, that love will be manifest in my attitude toward him. The gifts of eloquent speech, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, faith, and even great personal sacrifice are meaningless and useless, if I do not have a loving heart. Listen to Paul’s description of that love with which our Lord honors his people. — “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity enviethh not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:4-9). — “See that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).
Now, look at verses19-21
“And” or “But”
Secondly, John shows us that where there is true faith — There is a clear and uncondemning conscience before God (vv. 19-21). — “And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him” (v. 19). If we read verse 19 like that, it appears that John makes our love for our brethren the condition of our assurance. But in the light of what he has just shown us of our Savior’s love, who could claim to have any assurance? Who among us loves our brethren like that? The word “and” (και) would (in my opinion) be better translated “but,” as it often is in the New Testament. That makes all the difference in the world. — “But hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him.” Now, continue reading through verse 21.
“19 But hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. — 20 ¶ For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God.” (1 John 3:19-21)
Though our own hearts condemn us, as they surely do, still trusting Christ, our consciences do not condemn us, for God is greater than our hearts!
The fact is, when we have carried our love to the brethren, the brethren of the Lord Jesus, love to them on his account, to the highest possible pitch of affection, how infinitely it falls, compared to what the Apostle says of Christ's love to his people. “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.” God the Son laid down his life for his people. This is the highest testimony of his love (1 John 4:10). This demonstration of love outweighs all others. This is love unparalleled, both in greatness and condescension, for Christ the Son of God to take upon himself our nature, and for God to give us to Christ, and Christ to us; to bless us in all the departments of nature, and of providence, and of grace, and of eternal glory.
In the light of this, our love to the brethren, at its best, sinks very low in our esteem. What is our love, when we contemplate this love of Christ, which passeth knowledge!
John’s words here are not to be tken as a warning, but as a comfort. — “If ou heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” — If our hearts condemn us, what a blessed relief to a soul under heart reproaches, to look off self to Christ. There is more in Christ to uphold, more to bless, more to justify, than all our sin of to condemn. And, when a child of God is born again, this life in Christ sin cannot destroy, neither can death or Satan reach it. Your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). And when the Apostle adds, Beloved, if our hearts condemn us not, while laying low in the dust before God, our God beholds us in Christ is greater than our heart. Therefore, have we confidence toward God.
It is not our strength of faith that gives this confidence, but the full and finished salvation of Christ, which gives strength to our faith. Our foundation for holy triumphs does not rest upon our faith, or the exercise of faith, or any other of the graces and gifts of God the Holy Ghost, not in all of them put together, but the sure resting place of the redeemed soul is in the completeness of Christ’s finished salvation, and God the Father's perfect approbation, and acceptance of our souls in Christ. — If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful; he cannot deny himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
The believer’s heart will sometimes condemn him for sin, because he does not have a clear view of the pardon and advocacy of Christ, our righteous Mediator. But God knows all things, and he will not condemn his own. Let sin, Satan, the world, the law, and a believer’s own heart condemn him, there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, for God is greater than our hearts and he knows all things!
Therefore, we can, in the face of our many sins, cry out, “Who is he that condemneth? It is God that justifieth. Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is Christ that died!”
And if we have a clear conscience, then we have confidence and not fear before God. — “Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence before God” (v. 21).
This is the thing we desire, a good conscience. — “The end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” (1 Timothy 1:5). “Holding faith and a good conscience” (1 Timothy 1:19). “Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience” (1 Timothy 3:9). A good conscience is one that is tender, void of offense, and purified by the blood of Christ. And it is one that condemns us not.
The Apostle is here speaking to those who are beloved of the Lord and of one another, who have experienced his grace, and have their consciences purged from evil works and sprinkled by the blood of Christ. — The hearts of these children of God do not condemn them.
The anchor of our souls is not in us. Christ is the Anchor of our souls; and he is in heaven (Hebrews 6:19).
Illustration: Gill’s Deathbed Confession
“I depend wholly and alone upon the free, sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love of God, the firm and everlasting covenant of grace, and my interest in the persons of the sacred Trinity, for my whole salvation; and not upon any righteousness of my own; nor anything in me, or done by me under the influences of the Holy Spirit; not upon any services of mine, which I have been assisted to perform for the good of the church do I depend, but upon my interest in the persons of the Trinity; the free grace of God, and the blessings of grace streaming to me through the blood and righteousness of Christ, as the ground of my hope. These are no new things to me, but what I have been long acquainted with; what I can live and die by. I apprehend that I shall not be long here, but this you may tell to any of my friends.” Then, just before he died, Gill said, to one of his friends standing by his bed, “I have nothing to make me uneasy,” and quoted one verse of a hymn, written by Isaac Watts, in honor of that Redeemer whom he loved, trusted, and served…
“He raised me from the depths of sin,
The gates of gaping hell,
And fixed my standing more secure
Than ‘twas before I fell.”
When a man has a good conscience, he has confidence toward God.
This brings us to our third sweet token of grace. Where there is faith in the heart and life in the soul — There is freedom in prayer before the throne of God.
These two things always go together, confidence toward God and freedom in prayer. — “Without faith it is impossible to please him; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). No one can really pray except those who have a sense of their own sonship, and rightly worship God with a sincere and true heart.
“And whatsoever we ask we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight” (v. 22).
Having confidence toward God we pray in confidence. — “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him.”
All of God’s children pray. Prayer is the breath of the new born soul.
All true prayer has certain characteristics which identify it.
Prayer is the submissive, believing heart worshipping God and seeking his will.
In prayer we seek the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit to show us the mind and will of God. Then, in faith, we ask our Father to do his will. I can have what I will, if my will is lost in his will, and one with his will. Is this not what James tells us? — “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts” (James 4:3).
“9 ¶ After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. 14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you:” (Matthew 6:9-14)
Let us, dear friends, learn to pray after this manner. When you pray, the name of God, the kingdom of God, and the will of God are your primary concerns.
Now, brethren, John tells us that such prayers are effectual.
If these are the things we seek, we have what we desire of him. — “Whatsoever we ask, we receive of him.” “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry” (Psalm 34:15). “All things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). “And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). “This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if ye ask anything according to his will, he heareth us” (1 John 5:14).
We know that God will give us what we desire, — “Because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.”
Our performance of his commandments in no way merits his favor in answering prayer. John is talking about faith in Christ. —— Look at the next verse.
Again, John shows us that where there is eternal life — The law of God is established in the heart. — We will have what we desire of God, if we keep his commandments. — “And this is his commandment, that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment” (v. 23).
We know that we have eternal life, because we have been made partakers of the covenant of grace. And the law of that covenant has been written and established in our hearts. (Compare Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Hebrews 8:8-10, 10:16-17). This new law of God, which is established in the hearts of his people, is faith in Christ and love one toward another. And these two commandments may be reduced into one, because they are inseparable. Where the one is, the other will be also. Faith works by love. If there is no love, there is no faith. If there is no faith, there is no love.
All of God’s children live by faith in his Son Jesus Christ. We have heard God’s report concerning his Son by the gospel, and we believe in him.
We believe that Jesus Christ is who he claims to be.
We believe that Jesus Christ has done what he claims to have done.
We believe that Jesus Christ is able to do what he claims he can do.
Thus, believing on Christ, we commit ourselves into his hands.
This faith in Christ is a law which comes by divine commandment.
The commandment itself brings faith and life. This faith is the free gift of the operation of the power of God. No man will ever have faith in Christ, except it be given to him by the commandment of God. Let me illustrate this for you. — Our Lord said to the man with the withered hand, “Stretch forth thy hand.” If he had not obeyed Christ’s command, he would not have been healed. Yet, he could never have obeyed the command, if Christ himself had not given him the power to do so. So, God commands you to believe. If you believe not, you will perish in your sins. Yet, you never will or can believe unless God the Holy Spirit enables you to do so.
And all of God’s elect are governed by that principle of brotherly love, which Christ requires of them. — “A new commandment give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another….This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 13:34; 15:12).
This, my dear friends, is the law of Christ’s kingdom, faith and love: — Faith in Christ alone for all our righteousness before God, and love toward one another as the governing principle of our lives. This is not an abrogation of the law, but the fulfilling of the law of Moses. It is the higher, fuller, freer law of the gospel.
Once more, where there is faith and love — There is the indwelling of God the Holy Spirit (v. 24). — Faith and love and eternal life are the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit. And, therefore, one more sweet token of grace is this: — We have the Spirit of God dwelling in us. — “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us” (v. 24).
Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, and we dwell in him. We dwell in Christ, depending upon him as the branches dwell in the vine. Christ dwells in us, nourishing and strengthening us, as the bread that is eaten and the water that has been drunk dwells in the body.
And we know that Christ dwells in us by his Spirit which he has given us. This indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is not the special gift of God, belonging to a favored few. It is the special gift of God, common to all his elect. How does the Holy Spirit dwell in us?
This gift of the Holy Spirit was purchased by Christ at Calvary and given to us by his sovereign power. — “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree: that the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (Galatians 3:13-14).
[i] Danville — Tuesday Evening — March 26, 2013
Katy Baptist Church, Fairmont, WV — (Friday PM – 03/29/13)
Tape# 1st John #28
Readings: Merle Hart and Bobbie Estes