Believing and Receiving

1 John 3:19-24

October 30, 2011 | Brian Bill

This section of Scripture is comprised of some loosely connected statements…much like how disconnected grief and sorrow comes as it crescendos with difficult-to-answer questions that reverberate in our minds.

  • Some of us are angry and stunned.  Others are dismayed and discouraged.  In times like this it’s easy to doubt.  
  • The enemy of our souls attacks and accuses according to Revelation 12:10: “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night.”
  • Some of us do a pretty good job of accusing ourselves as well, resulting in guilt-ridden and shame-centered lives.  We don’t move forward because we’re stuck in the pain of the past.  

Here’s my challenge to you today.  No matter what you’re facing there are always only two choices.  You can go through it without God or you can go through it with Him.

love with actions

Last week we learned once again the importance of living a life of love.  One way we can know that we are born again is when we’re moved to love with actions, not just in our attitudes; when we see the need and do the deed.  This confirms that we are His and pours confidence into our faith.  The love of God should cause us to live a life of love.  We ended in verse 18 so let’s pick it up in verse 19: “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” The word “rest” means “to calm, to pacify, and to soothe.”  The word can be traced back to the idea of “to tranquilize.”

It is really an amazing thought that we can come into God’s presence.  He is so holy and we’re not.  And yet, our hearts can be at rest in His presence.  The word “presence” literally means, “to be in front of.”  For the believer in Jesus Christ, Romans 8:1 says that there is “no condemnation.”  I love the picture in Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

But what do we do when doubt creeps in?  How do we handle the condemning thoughts?   Some of us were raised in a church tradition that continually hammered on guilt and shame.  Let’s look at the first part of verse 20: “Whenever our hearts condemn us…”  Notice that it says, “Whenever,” not “if” or “might.”  This is something that we all must deal with at one time or another.  

The idea behind a condemning heart is “to find fault with” or “to know something against someone.”  It also has the idea of “to be put down.”  One commentator captures the intensity behind this word when he explains it this way: “To rend in pieces…to crack.”  What do we do when all we’re hearing is a soundtrack of condemning thoughts and feelings that just loops over and over again?

Focus on God’s Character

Friends, even when the grief is so deep in our gut that we feel paralyzed as we gravitate between anger and numbness, or when we feel condemned by Satan, self, or our own sins, we must focus on God’s character.  I see three attributes of the Almighty that we must hold to when we’re hurting and when our faith fluctuates.  The truth of who God is will bring us peace when we feel like we’re going to pieces.

1. God is Great. 

Notice this in verse 20: “For God is greater than our hearts…”  God is omnipotent, meaning that He is all-powerful.  He is greater than our hurting and heavy hearts.  Hold on to the truth that God is great.  It’s not easy to do…but it’s what we must do.  Psalm 89:8 says, “O Lord God Almighty, who is like you?  You are mighty, O Lord, and your faithfulness surrounds you.”

God can do with power anything that power can do because He has the strength to do all He wills to do.  He has all the resources and the ability to work His will in every circumstance in the universe.  I love how A.W. Tozer puts it: “God possesses what no creature can: an incomprehensible plenitude of power, a potency that is absolute.”  

Hold on to the greatness of God and remember that He’s on the throne.  Nothing takes Him by surprise.  The ultimate issue is not how strong you are, but how great God is.  Your faith does not have to be huge when you’re hurting.  All you need is a little bit, the size of a mustard seed, placed in a large God

2. God is Glorious. 

God is great and the last part of verse 20 says that He is also glorious: “…And He knows everything.” In classical theology the doctrine of God’s omniscience means that God knows all things, past, present and future, real and potential, and He knows them all at the same time.  He not only knows what was, and what is, He also knows what will be. 

Psalm 147:5 puts God’s greatness and His knowledge in one verse: “Great is our Lord…His understanding has no limit.” Proverbs 15:3 tells us that “The eyes of the Lord are everywhere…”  And Hebrews 4:13 reminds us that it makes no sense to try and hide from Him: “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight.  Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

His knowledge is absolute, innate, full, complete, and free.  He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well.  He never discovers anything, he is never surprised, never amazed.  He never wonders about anything, nor does He seek information or ask questions.  And He knows how everything fits together…even when it makes no sense to us.

Check this out.  God knows everything about us…and loves us anyway!  In John 2:24-25 we read that Jesus knows “all men” and knows what is in all people.  Someone has aptly said, “Only God could love a human being.”

3. God is a Giver.

God is great and He is glorious.  Drop down to the last half of verse 24 where we’ll see that He is also a giver: “…And this is how we know that He lives in us: We know it by the Spirit He gave us.”

It’s so hard to think of God as a giver when someone you love has been taken from you.  But it’s possible to praise Him even in the midst of the mess you are in.  For an example of this, listen to Job 1:21: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.”

Listen to this quote from Jerry Bridges: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” 

I love the fact that if you are a born again believer, God will never take your salvation from you nor will He ever remove His Holy Spirit from your life.  Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”

One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to translate our pain and cries from our gut to the Lord when we can’t even pray.  Romans 8:26: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  We experienced this at Becky’s house on Monday.  

Verse 21 gives us the result of focusing on God’s character: “Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”  The word “confidence” means to have freedom in speaking, boldness and assurance.  When your heart condemns you, focus on God’s character because He is great, He is glorious and He is giving.  We need to come back to doctrine – to what is true.  That will help us not doubt in the darkness what God has revealed in the light.  But we must also focus on doing.  There are three ways that we can follow God’s commands.

Follow God’s Commands

1. Lean on Him. 

Check out verse 23: “And this is His command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ…”  To believe means “to trust in and lean on.”  

In one conversation with a mother who lost her son, I  complimented her for trusting God.  I’ll never forget what she said: “I have to.”  That reminded me of this quote I heard some time ago: “You will never know Jesus is all you need until He is all you have.”

2. Love others. 

Let’s pick up the last part of verse 23: “…And to love one another as He commanded us.”  

Let’s lean on Him, let’s love like He does and then let’s live in Him.

3. Live in Him. 

This is found in verse 23: “Those who obey His commands live in Him and He in them.” The word translated as “live” is the word “abide” that we’ve seen many times in 1 John.  One definition of this is very descriptive.  It literally means “to stay put.”  Friend, when problems paralyze you, stay put with Jesus.  When questions cascade like a waterfall, stay put.  Don’t bail on God.  

When we obey His commands we are essentially living in Him; and the only way to live in Him is to obey His commands.  Here’s a biblical principle from 1 Samuel 2:30: The Lord honors those who honor Him.

Don’t miss the fact that God dwells in born again believers as well!  If we fully comprehended this it would totally change the way we live.  1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.”

The result of following God’s commands is found in verse 22: “And receive from him anything we ask, because we obey His commands and do what pleases Him.”  The word “obey” means “to attend carefully, to take care of, and to observe.”  A simple way to understand this verse is that when our will lines up with His will, we are doing things His way.  And because that pleases Him we will then receive what He wants to give us…and we’re good with that because we want our lives to line up with His will anyway.  To say it another way: Our will and God’s will coincide when we obey and do it God’s way.

Obey first. 

I came across a verse in my Bible reading that highlights the importance of obedience.  Listen to John 7:17: “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.”  Listen carefully.  When we choose to do, God will reveal His truth to you!  Don’t wait to obey until you understand everything.  Obey first.  Understanding will follow.  If we get this order wrong, we end up holding God hostage by demanding that He bless us before we’ll obey Him.  This reminds me of the line from that great hymn: “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”  

The Bible continuously challenges us to live out our love for the Lord… 

  • Our Belief must translate into Behavior
  • Our Doctrine must be demonstrated in Duty
  • Our Position should lead to Practice

Friends and family, the only way to move from a condemning heart to a confident heart is to focus on God’s character – He is great, He is glorious and He is a giver.  And then we must determine to follow God’s commands – to lean on Him, to love others, and to live in Him.

 Are you ready to…?

Focus on God’s character?

Follow God’s commands?

Repent and receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

Ask for forgiveness from someone you’ve wronged?

Grant forgiveness to someone you’ve been holding hostage?

Recommit to your family like you’ve never done before?

Give 10% of your income to the Lord, just like Mitch did?

Participate in Operation Christmas Child and the Caring Closet?

Serve like you’ve never served?

One song came to mind this week that brings it all together.  It’s called “Blessed Assurance.”  As we sing, remember that this was written by a blind woman named Fanny Crosby.  The tragedy that she went through did not keep her from praising her Savior.  Unbelievably, she wrote over 8,000 hymns in her lifetime!  

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

Taking it Home

  1. In what ways is God prompting you to apply what you are learning through the sermon series?  Share with the group and ask them to pray for you as you seek to obey the Lord in a specific way.
  2. Is there a prayer request that you’ve been praying for a long time?  Do you ever get discouraged?  What motivates you to persevere in your prayers?
  3. Does your heart ever condemn you?  What does this feel like?  Discuss the correlation between conviction of sin and the condemnation that the evil one throws our way (1 John 1:9; Romans 8:1 and Revelation 12:10).  
  4. How can you move from condemnation to confidence before God (consider Hebrews 10:19-25).
  5. Doesn’t it seem a bit presumptuous to hear that we will “receive from Him anything we ask” in verse 22?  Jesus said something very similar in the following verses: Mark 11:24; John 11:22; 14:13; 15:16; and 16:23.  Spend some time wrestling with this and ask God to help you pray more boldly.
  6. There are two commands listed in 3:23.  Why do you think these are so near to God’s heart?  Do you find these commands to be burdensome or freeing?  Explain.  See 1 John 5:3.
  7. What does it mean in 3:24 that “He lives in us”?  How does our obedience draw us closer to Him?  
  8. Consider what the Holy Spirit does for believers by reading the following verses: John 14:16-17, 26; Romans 5:5; 8:26-27; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30; 5:18.  Now put all of this into your own words.
  9. This passage lists all three members of the Trinity.  Find these references.  How would you answer someone who doesn’t believe in the Trinity?  See Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14 and 2 Timothy 1:14.
  10. What “audacious” prayer will you and your family begin praying?  Ask each family member what they would like to see God do this fall.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?