A couple of Saturdays ago, I gave a devotional on 1 John 3:19-24 to the Men’s group of my local church. Here’s the gist of it.
“Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him…” (1 John 3:18, 19 ESV)
One of the benefits of living a life of love – practicing the truth instead of just talking about it – is that we reassure our hearts that we really really belong to God, that we’re really Christians. But if we don’t live a life of truth and love, a sense of condemnation comes over us: our hearts condemn us and our spiritual life suffers.
Condemnation undermines our communion with God.
“…for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” (1 John 3:20 ESV)
God knows far more than our conscience ever can what’s really going on in our heart. He’s omniscient; we can’t hide from him. And if we disobey him and don’t confess our sins and don’t repent of them, not only do we feel condemned, we feel estranged from him. True, our relationship to him can’t be broken (if we are truly his, we are his forever), but our fellowhship can. David once prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Yes, we’re saved if we truly put our faith in Christ as our Savior and Lord, but we can lose the joy that’s supposed to accompany salvation whenever we backslide and disobey God.
Condemnation undermines our confidence in prayer.
“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:21, 22 ESV)
One of the great joys of the Christian life is being able to pray with confidence that God will grant our requests. But when we don’t do the things that please him, we feel like our prayers just bounce off the ceiling. Not only does God seem far away, we don’t have the confidence that he’ll hear our prayers.
Confidence is confirmed by obedience.
“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. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God and God in him.” (1 John 3:23, 24a ESV)
When we obey God, he becomes more real to us. We sense his presence more and more. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you, as James says (James 4:8). The opposite is also true, however: Disobey God and the further away he’ll seem.
In John 14:21, Jesus says, “He that hath my commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me; and he that loveth me shall be loved of my father, and I will love him, and manifest myself to him.”
When we obey God, we all the more sense his love towards us. When we disobey him, the less we sense his love for us. It’s not that he loves us less, it’s just that the further we move away from the fireplace the less we feel warm.
Confidence is confirmed by the Spirit.
“And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.” (1 John 3:24b)
The Spirit whispers into our spiritual ear that we are God’s children. This is a very important role that he plays in our lives: He makes alive in our heart of hearts the promises of God to us. Without him, all the wonderful truths that we read in the Bible are just dead letters. But when we disobey God we grieve the Spirit, and when we grieve the Spirit, we suffer in that he keeps silent. Yes, we read the words of God in the Bible but they don’t move us. They’re like dead corpses without the breath of life in them. That’s what happens when we disobey.
In conclusion, the song “Trust and Obey” is so true: “Trust and Obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”