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4. A Heart of Assurance: 1,2&3 John

No matter our sin, God's grace is greater

Little children, let’s not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will set our heart at ease before Him, that if our heart condemns us, that God is greater than our heart, and He knows all things.

-1 John 3:18-20

On October 31, 1517, priest and scholar Martin Luther nailed a revolutionary piece of paper to a door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This document contained 95 opinions that would begin the famous Protestant Reformation. Central to the Reformation’s ideology was that God’s grace could not be merited with good works or human performance. God’s forgiveness is free, and people are saved through accepting, in faith, God’s gift of salvation.

But Luther did not always grasp God’s grace in this way. Luther had spent the previous season of his life as a Catholic monk, obsessing over his sin and tormented by his guilt. Luther would daily spend up to 6 hours confessing his sins to a priest, terrified to miss one! He said on one occasion, If I could believe that God was not angry with me, I would stand on my head for joy.”

In his anguish, Luther began studying the Bible, a practice that was not regular for Catholic monks. In reading God’s Word, Luther found himself confronted with the glorious reality of God’s unconditional forgiveness and grace! This so deeply liberated Luther from his guilt, that he dedicated his life to proclaiming God’s grace and helping others find assurance in their own standing before God.

Much like Luther did, the audience of John’s letters found themselves lacking in assurance before God. Can you resonate?

Do you ever doubt that you’re saved?

Do you ever feel held down by guilt and shame?

Do you ever worry about what God thinks of you?

John wrote to his audience to help them find confidence in their relationship with God, and his writing serves to encourage Believers today as well! There is hope when our hearts convict us.

John was writing to a network of house churches in which a group of people had left the community, denying Jesus as the Messiah. These people were spreading false teaching and stirring up disorder. In the chaos and confusion, John provides a simple way to test and prove the genuineness of one’s faith.

John advises Christians to examine their lives and ask, “Do I obey God’s commands?” According to John, no one who knows God keeps on sinning without a repentant heart. Those who have God’s Spirit inside of them display a pattern of growing to look more like Christ.

Specifically, John singles out loving others as a marker of becoming more like Christ. John argues, if God is love, how can you say he abides in you if you don’t love other people? Jesus lived a life of sacrificial love, and this quality manifested in his follower’s lives is proof of his presence.

It can be helpful and reassuring to evaluate ourselves with these questions, but it may not always be enough. Sometimes, the harsh voice of an inner critic unfairly accuses us, casting a shadow over God’s love for us. And other times, we might be justly convicted. Maybe the past season of our lives hasn’t been characterized by love or obedience to God…

Yet, there is still hope. 1 John 3:20, says, “Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.” When our conscience declares our guilt, there is only one voice loud enough to overpower it, and that is the pardoning edict of God. He is more merciful towards us than our own heart. No matter our sin, the extent of which God understands far more than we do, God’s grace is greater.

After finding assurance before God for himself, Martin Luther helped a friend with a similar struggle. In a letter, he advised his friend to speak this to his heart:

“I admit I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’”

Believers are united to the perfect person and work of Christ. So, take assurance: where Christ is, there you shall be also.

RESPOND: Take a moment to bring to God any doubts or fears present in your relationship with him. Ask him to ground you in the assurance of his unconditional forgiveness and favor.

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