In our age of uncertainty where everything is examined, questioned, and doubted how can we know we belong to God’s family and have eternal life? John confidently writes of an assurance that is not always our experience, ‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.’ (1 John 5:13)
We face two challenges to such assurance:
- A Condemning Heart
Satan’s accusations are false but our own hearts tell us the truth. We are not all we should be and nowhere near like our Lord. We are not meant to deny what our hearts tell us but,
‘God is greater than our hearts and he knows everything.’ (v20)
We meet the challenge of a condemning heart by remembering that God is Lord of our hearts. How do we know this? Our own concerns and dissatisfactions, the very things that trouble us, are the product of a spiritual life. The very fact we experience dissatisfaction with our walk with God testifies that our priorities are godly even as we recognise our lives are not consistently so. We can say with John Wesley,
‘Lord, cure me of my intermittent piety and make me thoroughly Christian.’
Active love is evidence of salvation life. Such a Christian can trust in God’s mercy even as he or she bemoans their falling short. God knows our hearts better than we do and when we look to him he loves and forgives, sanctifies and glorifies.
‘THIS THEN…’ What does John mean when he writes, ‘This then is how we know that we belong to the truth…’ (v19) David Jackman writes:
‘I do not think John is saying in verse 21, ‘Some Christians never have a condemning heart, so they can be confident before God.’ Rather, his meaning is that when we deal with our condemning heart on the grounds of God’s truth and love – even though it recurs a dozen times a day – we can become sure that the Lord accepts us in spite of all our faults, and that we can therefore come to him in prayer. We do not need to fear.’
- An Imperfect Obedience
Our second challenge is an obviously imperfect obedience. We know this and can worry that God’s answer to prayers is dependent on our obedience. (v22) Many believe in a direct quid pro quo when it comes to answered prayer and out of this attitude comes a sense of condemnation. The Psalmist reminds us however, ‘He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him.’ (Ps.103:10)
In his gospel John explains that all, even obedience, is based on relationship. (John 14:14-23) ‘If you love me you will obey…’ (John 14:15)
John tells us in his letter that we are to ‘ask according to his will’ (5:14) and we know his will, which is to, ‘Believe in the name of his Son and love one another.’ (v23)
“There is a certain stress here on the thought of right belief: the readers are to believe in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a stress that is demanded by the situation in which false beliefs about Jesus were prevalent. Belief in the name of Jesus means believing that his name contains the power which it signifies, so that the question is not simply one of right belief, but of trust in the one who is the object of the Christian confession.” (Marshall)
A true Christian is one who obeys both commands, to believe and to love. Out of these two comes what people think of when they think of obedience, i.e. the commandments; “if we love him we we will obey…”
John draws together key themes of his letter here:
A Christian has fellowship with God and this results in us walking in the light (1:6-7)
A Christian remains in Christ and this issues in believing sound teaching (2:24-28)
A Christian who enjoys such fellowship obeys his commands which results in our walking like Jesus (2:3-8)
The spiritual life (how we think about and relate to God) and obedience (what we do about it) feed and reinforce one other.
Two things evidence the authenticity of our Christian walk:
Our awakening to the need to repent and believe the good news because of the work of the Spirit testifying of the truth of the gospel.
The objective evidence of a changed life and a new concern that we should live righteously in obedience to Christ.
‘The Spirit himself testifies with our Spirit that we are God’s Children.’ (Ro.8:16)
It is always worth remembering,
“Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”