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Blessed Assurance (1 John 3:19-24)

Blessed Assurance
1 John 3:19-24

Minister’s Summary
: How does a beleaguered fellowship of God’s people live with confidence when it is surrounded by darkness? When we live in the light (i.e., Christ’s incarnational presence) and walk in love (i.e., authentic care for one another), the Holy Spirit bears witness and brings comfort to our hearts.

Exegetical Notes

This section begins and ends with a standard of assurance ("by this" in 3:19, 24) and contains a statement of confidence (boldness; 3:21). The dominating them of this section, then, is assurance (knowing we are God's people). But how is this linked to what is previously discussed? I think the linkage is the call to love as Christ loved, and this is how we know that we do have the love of God in us. This is how we know that we are God's people. We know it through faith in Jesus Christ, love for the brothers (obedience to the command to love one another as in 3:11), and the gift of the Spirit. I think Burge's three points (pp. 170-71) are better than Smalley's six points (p. 199). "This is how we know" is faith, love and Spirit.

Restful Hearts (3:19-22)

Confidence is the key idea in this section. Notice several key words that only appear in this section in 1 John: (1) "heart" (three times -- 3:19,20,21); "set at rest" (NIV; "reassure" in NRSV; to persuade); and (3) "presence." Further, "confidence" is used here, and only at 2:28; 4:17; 5:14 in the rest of 1 John.

Assurance is rooted in what God does or knows. This is a theocentric understanding of assurance. It is the beginning point of assurance: (1) God is greater and (2) God knows everything. Our "knowledge" is rooted in God's "knowing." Our hearts are confident because of God's relationship to us. If we are "out of the truth" (belong to the truth; oriented to the truth), then we have assurance even when our hearts condemn us. If we walk in the light -- even if our hearts condemn us -- we have assurance.

Because of God's relationship to us, we are confident in prayer. We will receive anything we ask because we keep his commandments. Here we must put "commandment" with the first part of verse 19 ("by this"). We have assurance when we love the brothers. These are the commandments we keep. This is how we please God. We please him when we love the brothers.

Assurance Through Obedience (3:23-24)

The last line of verse 22 anticipates the fuller statement in verses 23-24. Here we have the three tests of assurance (where the "commandments" are identified).

We believe in Jesus Christ. The is the first time the verb "believe" or the concept of faith has entered the discussion of 1 John. It prepares us for what follows in the rest of the epistle ("believe" in 4:1,16; 5:1,4,5,10[3],13). The climactic use is 5:13 where assurance is linked to faith in Jesus just as it is here. To believe in the name of the Son, Jesus Christ is to confess the revelation of God in Jesus Christ and trust him for our cleansing from sin. Consequently, this is a doctrinal confession that involves one in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I think it is significant that "his Son, Jesus Christ" appears only here (body) and in 1:3 (prologue) and 5:20 (epilogue). Faith involves a Christological affirmation about who Jesus Christ is.

We love one another. The command is revealed here. The command is to love one another. This is test of obedience that is uppermost in John's mind and everything else may be reduced to it. It is not love alone, but faith and love that are the tests of assurance.

We are filled with the Spirit. This probably points back to the anointing. God gave us his Spirit partly as a function of assurance. God lives in us by his Spirit. This, then, assures (persuades) our hearts.

Theological Perspectives

Assurance is often a practical difficulty. As soon as we say that assurance is connected with the loving the brothers, then it is natural to ask whether we love the brothers enough? Have we shared enough? Assurance, then, quickly because a matter of self-evaluation and is rooted in our own critique of our sanctification and the depth of our holiness. After all, whose heart does not condemn when we subject it to critical self-evaluation?

John responds to this concern in this section. Our hearts do condemn us, but God knows the heart more intimately than we can ever know our own. God knows us from the center of our being. Assurance begins with a confidence in God’s love for us, his understanding of our hearts and his anointing Spirit within us. Our hearts can rest in God’s presence because we know he is greater (has fuller knowledge, understanding) of our hearts as we seek to live in a pleasing way before him. We can always find elements to condemn our hearts, but these are outweighed by God’s initiative and knowledge.

But there is a sense in which our hearts do not condemn us. This does not mean there is a sense in which we are sinless, which would contradict 1 John 1:7-10. Rather, it means that there is a sense in which we can be confident before God about our orientation toward light and love. Our confidence does not arise out of our perfection, but out of God’s initiative in Christ and our response to that initiative.

In particular, in the light of God’s initiative, obedience gives rise to confidence. And this obedience is fundamentally faith and love. It is faith in name of Jesus and love of the community. Faith and love are the tests of community and as we pursue these, we are confident about our relationship with God. This is the nature of obedience. It is not perfection. Rather, it is to believe in Jesus and to love each other.

But as we live in faith and love, this confidence is not simply how well we love and how deeply we believe. This would turn assurance into climbing a latter—the higher climb, the deeper the assurance. Rather, as we pursue faith and love, our assurance comes from the testimony of the Spirit.

The role of the Spirit in assurance is an important dimension for John. That we live in God is rooted in the fact that God lives in us. God takes the initiative through Christ, we respond in faith and love, and God surrounds us with the presence of his Spirit that assures us of relationship with him. Assurance is not fundamentally self-assessment, but it is the experience of relationship with God through the Spirit. Assurance is existential and subjective—it is the work of God in our hearts and not primarily the cognitive assessment of our obedient life.

Assurance involves an evaluation of our faith and love—do we believe in Jesus and love the brothers? But that evaluation is preceded by God’s own initiative that sets our evaluation in the context of God’s love for us and his knowledge of us. Also that evaluation is permeated by the presence of God’s own Spirit who lives in us as a witness of God’s love and empowers us with hope in the pursuit of faith and love. Assurance is the experience of God’s love toward us and within our own hearts. The work of God in Christ by his Spirit generates confidence, even when our hearts condemn us. We set our hearts are rest because we know who God is, how he has loved us, and how he continues to live in us.

Teaching Particulars

Restful Confidence (3:19-24)

Function of Text: Through faith and love, the people of God rest peacefully in the assurance of God's relationship with them.

Theology: Confidence is theocentrically grounded, Christologically focused and pneumatically evident in the lives of God's people.

Application: You can know that God lives in you by the gifts he has offered you in Jesus Christ.

Teaching Outline:

1. Assurance is easily misconstrued as arrogance or it is totally lost in self-doubt. We are either self-righteous or self-doubting. What do we do when our hearts condemn us? How can we be assured without being arrogant?

2. Our hearts are persuaded by God's relationship with us even when our hearts condemn us. God assures our hearts by his great love. Assurance begins with God's love for us and his work for us in Jesus Christ. God is greater than our hearts.

3. And this is how he assures us: (a) faith in the name of Jesus Christ--God has entered history to ground the objectivity of our faith, (b) love for the brothers--God lives in us so that we experience a community of love within the church, and (c) the gift of his Spirit--God bears witness that we are his by his presence in our hearts.

Questions for Discussion:

1. In the context of 1 John 3:11-24, to what does John attribute assurance? How do we “know”? Note the various ways John pinpoints this knowledge.

2. In verse 23, what is central to authentic Christianity? Is this too simplistic? In the light of this study through 1 John, how do we define “faith” and “love”?

3. Share your own struggles with assurance? What have been your ups and downs? What generates the “ups” and what generates the “downs”?

4. How does this text help your struggle with assurance? What resonated with you in the text in relation to assurance?

5. How does a sense of community relate to assurance? How do we know that we “belong to the truth”? Is assurance possible without community?


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