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Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24


Well, it was my joy over the Christmas season to step away from our study and to look at the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. I enjoyed the study of Isaiah; I trust it was an encouragement to you as it was to me. But I am also excited about getting back into our study of John's first letter, and I invite you to turn there with me again this morning, 1 John, chapter 3. For those of you who are our guest, we are working our way verse-by-verse through John's letter, and we find ourselves in John, chapter 3; 1 John, chapter 3.

Now, I don't think it comes as a surprise to any of us to think of the reality that, when we sin, that sin produces in us a continuing sense of guilt. Every one of us knows the experience of guilt because of sin. I think that's perfectly illustrated in a trial that happened a number of years ago in San Diego. The San Diego Union, the paper there, described exactly how this trial unfolded. Two men were on trial for armed robbery. Near the end of the trial, a key eyewitness took the stand, and in the process of examination, the prosecutor asked the witness a series of questions. And this is how it's recorded in the paper.

Were you at the scene when the robbery took place?


Did you see a vehicle leave at a high rate of speed?


And were you able to observe the occupants of that speeding vehicle?

Yes, there were two men.

Now at this point, as often happens in a courtroom for dramatic effect, the prosecutor turned away from the witness and looked out across the courtroom. And he asked the all-telling question:

Are those two men present in the court today?

In response to his question, the two defendants raised their hands. True story; actually happened! Of course, they sealed their fate and revealed that, you know, criminals are not always the smartest sword.

As I thought about that story, I remembered the reality that in a very real sense, there is a court room inside each of our souls. And even as believers, in response to the condemnation of our own hearts, we raise our hands and admit our guilt. And at times, if we're honest with ourselves, even those of us who have repented of our sins, believe in Jesus Christ, live lives that desire to obey Him and follow Him, at times, we are tempted to question our faith, and our assurance wavers because of the condemning voice of our hearts. So, how can we legitimately, biblically, reassure our hearts in the face of that condemnation? Well today, we begin our study of a passage in 1 John where John teaches us exactly how to do that.

Now, let me just remind you since it's been a month since we've studied this letter, and some of the folks who are with us are new, that there are three movements in this letter of 1 John. And in each of those three movements or sections, John lays out in each of them three tests, the same three tests of eternal life are found in each of the three movements. Those tests are, “Obedience to Jesus Christ in His Word.” Secondly, “Love for God and His People.” And thirdly, “Faith in the Biblical Jesus and the Biblical Gospel.” Those are the three tests of eternal life. Where those three tests are passed, you can be assured that you are a genuine believer.

We're studying the second movement in this letter, and we're in chapter 3, studying the second test, that is, “Love for God and Love for His people.” This section begins in 1 John 3, verse 11, runs all the way down through verse 24. And as I've already told you, this section, these verses explain that true Christians are no longer filled with hate but are marked by genuine love for one another. This is one of the three tests. Do you love other Christians because they are Christians? Does your heart respond to them because they are your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Now in these verses, John presents several crucial conclusions about how love or its absence confirms the true condition of the heart that says, “Yes, I'm a Christian, yes, I belong to Jesus.” You want to know whether that's true or not, just look at your love for other believers. Now, his first conclusion is that loving believers is “Required by the Lord's Command.” We learned this in verse 11, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” That was our Lord's consistent command to His followers. And so, doing this, loving other believers, is simply mandated, it's “Required By our Lord's Command.”

Secondly, we learned in verses 12 and 13, that loving other believers is “Absent from the Unbelievers Heart.” You won't find a love for believers because they are believers in a single unbeliever’s heart. Why? Because an unbeliever is still bound by sin; his father or her father is still Satan, and therefore they hate. That's the point of verses 12 and 13. Cain is the perfect example. He killed his brother. Why? Because his brother's righteous deeds rebuked his own sin, and that's how it always is with unbelievers toward believers.

Thirdly, we learned that this love for other believers is “Crucial For a Believer’s Self-Examination.” If you want to know if you're truly Christ’s, if you belong to Him, then this is a key part of that examination. Now, as we unfolded this concept of the examination of our own hearts, we started with “The Evidence of Love.” In verses 14 and 15, loving believers is evidence of eternal life. It's directly stated positively in verse 14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.” And it’s stated negatively in the second half of the verse, “…He who does not love abides (or remains) in death.” So, love for other Christians is clear, incontrovertible evidence of eternal life.

And then in verse 15, he argues that by saying “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” You don't have to kill somebody to to bring out the moral equivalent of that in your heart, you just have to hate them, you just have to want their harm, you just have to be angry with them, as we saw together. So, the evidence of love, loving believers is evidence of eternal life.

Secondly, we looked at “The Example of Love.” We are to love, and what's the pattern of that love? Jesus’ love provides the definition and pattern of biblical love. Look at verse 16, “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us.” And Jesus’ love provides the moral obligation for our own love. Verse 16, concludes, “…and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” So, the evidence of love shows if we have eternal life, the example of love is Jesus Christ and His sacrificial death.

Now, we finished last time by looking at “The Expression of Love” in verses 17 and 18. True biblical love follows the example of Jesus and sacrifices itself; it puts itself out for the real practical help of others. In verse 17, you have “An Illustration of Practical Love.” This isn't the only way to love, it's just an illustration. “But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” You can't be a genuine Christian and not love, and that love always expresses itself practically. Love is not about feeling; it's not, “Well, I just love all those people out there and I post it on my, you know, my site.” No, it has work boots, it goes and puts itself out practically for the for the benefit of others just as Jesus did.

And then you have, in verse 18, “The Command for This Kind of Practical Love.” “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed (That is by doing stuff.) and (in) truth.” If you actually act out on that love and you help another person, you put yourself out, you sacrifice yourself, then it's true love. Short of that, it's just talk; it's empty talk! So, a love for fellow believers is crucial in a believer’s self-examination. If you want to test whether or not you're a Christian, look at your love for other believers.

Now today, we come to John's fourth and final conclusion about how love or its absence confirms the true condition of the heart of the person who says, “I'm a Christian.” Love for other believers, fourthly, is “Essential to the Believer’s Assurance,” love for other believers is essential to the believer’s assurance. Let's read it together. This is the end of this section, beginning in verse 19 and running all the way down through the end of the chapter; you follow along as I read.

We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. 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 the things that are pleasing in His sight. This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us. The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

So again, in these verses, we learn that loving other believers, as it turns out, is in fact essential to our own assurance. Now, let me just warn you, we're not going to make our way through that entire paragraph this morning. In fact, it's going to take three messages to work our way through it.

So, let's start today with verses 19 and 20. And in verses 19 and 20, as he develops this idea of the relationship between assurance and loving other believers, we learn this, “Loving Others Produces Assurance of Salvation,” loving others, produces assurance of salvation. There is in fact, a close relationship between having real practical love for fellow believers and having assurance of your salvation. You say, “What is the relationship?” Well, they're related in a couple of ways. Let me unfold it for you.

First of all, “Love Provides an Objective Proof of Salvation,” love, loving other believers, provides an objective proof of your salvation. John simply restates at the beginning of verse 19 what we have seen again and again in this letter and that is, loving God's people is one of the three tests of eternal life. Notice how he puts it at verse 19, “We will know by this that we are of the truth.”

Let me give it to you, literally, as it translates from the Greek text; this is how it reads. “In this, we will know that out of the truth we are,” in this, we will know that out of the truth we are. Now “in this” or “by this,” John normally uses that expression to refer to what follows, what he's about to say. But here and a few other places, he uses this expression to refer to what he just said; what he said about actively loving other believers back in verse 18. Look at it. “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and (in)truth.” So, “by this” here, means, “by our loving other believers, in deed and in truth, we will know.”

Now, the Greek word for ‘know,’ there are a couple of different Greek words that are primarily used in the New Testament. This word is often used to refer to ‘knowledge gained by experience.’ And he uses the future tense of this, “We will come to know by experience.”

Now don't misunderstand, he's not saying we're never going to know in this lifetime, we will know, you know, only when Jesus comes or at the judgment. That's not what he's saying. What he means is, “We will come to know, by experience, when we meet the condition, when we see our active love for other believers.” But what exactly is it that we'll come to know? Verse 19, “We will come to know, by experience, by our love for other believers, that we are of the truth, we will know our true spiritual origin, that, literally, we are out of the truth.”

Now, that expression is a very uncommon one; John only uses it to other times in his writings. He uses it in the interchange between Jesus and Pilate in John 18, verse 37. Jesus says this to Pilate, “…I have come into the world, to testify to the truth.” And of course, by that He meant the truth about Himself and the Gospel. All truth, but He's centering that on the revelation about Himself and the good news that He'd come to accomplish. And then Jesus adds this to Pilate, “…Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice,” everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. So, in other words, to be out of the truth means that you have heard the message of Jesus Christ about Jesus Christ and His gospel, and you believe that message.

Same idea is in 1 John 2:21, where he uses this same expression again, “I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is out of the truth.” So, when the word ‘truth’ occurs with the definite article, and this whole idea of being out of the truth, it is referring to the truth of God as ultimately revealed in His Son Jesus Christ, and in the gospel. So, He's saying, “You can know that you have truly embraced the real Jesus and the real gospel, you can know when you see your love for fellow Christians, you will experientially know that you are a genuine believer. That’s what he's saying. This is exactly what he says in chapter 4, look at verse 7; chapter 4, verse 7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”

Now, why is it that loving other believers is such an amazing test? I like the way John Stott describes it in his commentary. He writes this:

Love is the final objective test of our Christian profession. For true love, in the sense of self-sacrifice, is not natural to human beings in their fallen state. Its existence in anyone is evidence of the new birth and of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

And that's especially true when it comes to loving believers because they are believers. As I noted to you, some unbelievers love believers, maybe they love them because they like certain things about them, maybe because they're married to them, maybe because they're their child, or parent. But unbelievers never love believers because they are believers. And so, when you find this in the heart, it is an objective proof of salvation.

But secondly, and another way this unfolds, love not only provides this objective proof of our salvation, but secondly, “Love Provides a Practical Tool for Our Assurance,” a practical tool for our assurance. In other words, the knowledge that we love other believers becomes a tool in our tool bag to help bring assurance to our hearts. Now, that's not immediately obvious to us, alright? So, let's see how this unfolds. Let's ask several questions about this point and let John answer them here.

First of all, let's answer this question, “How? How is love, that is loving other believers, a tool for our personal assurance of salvation?” And the answer is, “We can use it to assure our hearts.” Look at verse 19, “We will know by this that we are of the truth,” and “by this,” that is by our genuine love for other believers, we “…will assure our heart before Him.”

Now notice by using the plural ‘we’ and the plural pronoun ‘our’ with the singular heart, you have some strange things going here. We wouldn't ordinarily say “our heart,” we would say “Our (What?) hearts.” But notice, again, the ‘we.’ John is, by using these expressions, emphasizing that the continuity between all believers. All believers, including the Apostle John, share this experience. We “…will assure our heart.”

Now, the Greek word translated ‘assure’ can mean ‘to convince’ or ‘to persuade.’ It's often used that way in the New Testament. Usually what follows is the content of the persuasion, “I persuaded him that,” and then there's something I persuaded him. But this word is also used to mean ‘to pacify, to set at rest,’ or ‘to assure.’ For example, it's used that way in Matthew 28, verse 14, in the interchange between the Jewish leaders and the Roman soldiers they were trying to buy off. You remember? In that context, they say this, “If this should come to the governor's ears,” this conspiracy we've cooked up that you were asleep on duty, “we (the Jewish leaders) will (Here's our word.) will win him over.” That's the same word, “we will assure him, we will set his mind at rest, that it's okay, and keep you out of trouble.” That's what John means here. By remembering our real active love for other believers, “we can pacify, set at rest, assure, win over our hearts.” As Westcott puts it in his commentary, “We can tranquilize the fears and misgivings of our heart by remembering our true love for other believers.”

And notice, the only peace for a condemning conscience is to deal with it, notice that prepositional phrase, “before Him.” In fact, in Greek, it comes first, “Before Him, we will assure our hearts.” Why is that important? Because John wants to stress that this isn't some assurance we've sort of cooked up in our own brains, “Here's how I'm going to convince myself I'm a Christian.” No, this is something God Himself has given us. We do this “before Him.” It says, “though we were standing before God Himself, and we can assure our hearts using the very test that God Himself has given us in His Word.” So that's how love becomes a tool for our assurance; we can use it to assure our hearts.

A second question, though, is when, when is love a tool for assurance? Notice verse 20, “…(whenever) our heart condemns us, in whatever our heart condemns us.” To condemn means ‘to convict, to declare guilty.’ “In whatever” implies that there are a variety of things that can cause our heart ‘to convict us, to declare us guilty.’ Why is that true? Well, it's because our hearts know things about us that others don't.

Now, when you look at the word ‘heart,’ and according to the leading Greek Lexicon, this word refers to the ‘center and source of the whole inner life.’ So don't think heart like the English use, you know, the Valentine use, it's all about emotion; that's not this word ‘heart.’ It speaks of the thinking, the feeling, and the volition, the will; it's all included. Everything you are is included in this word ‘heart,’ your real self, that's your heart. But sometimes, the writers of the New Testament will use it, not in that holistic sense, but of specific aspects of your inner life, and that's what he does here. Here, primarily, John uses it of the conscience and our thoughts that condemn us. This mechanism of our conscience and our thoughts condemning us, this is present in every human heart.

Go back to Romans, chapter 2, let me show you this. In Romans 2, Paul is making this point in verses 14 to 16. Look at those verses together, Romans 2, verse 14:

When Gentiles who do not have the (written) Law do instinctively the things (that are in the written) Law, these, not having (that written) Law, are (become) a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.

Now what is Paul saying here? Paul's point is that everyone is born, every human being is born with the substance, or the basic requirements of God's moral law indelibly imprinted on his or her heart. Doesn't matter where you go in the world, whether they have the Bible or don't have the Bible, every person has the basic moral requirements of God written on the heart. Not perfectly, but it's there. That's why wherever you go on this planet, there are certain things that are just unacceptable. Where did that come from? It came from the Law of God written on the heart. When Paul says this is true by nature or instinctively, and that it's written on the heart, he means that God implanted this basic knowledge of His will into every human heart. And that becomes clear when you look at our conscience.

Look at verse 15, “…their conscience bearing witness.” Literally, “the conscience bearing witness (with).” The working of your conscience and mine bears witness to each of us about the existence of this Law written on the heart. What is the conscience? Well, Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, called it “The consciousness of a court within man's being.” It's not a bad definition, because conscience is the courtroom in our souls where our moral decisions are constantly on trial.

So, think about it this way, you have a computer; that computer probably came preloaded with certain software. Well, the human soul came preloaded with certain software, and you can't get rid of it, it's there. And here's what's there, our souls came preloaded, number one, with the basic requirements of God's Law, and two, a conscience that evaluates, that's a courtroom in our souls that sits in judgment on how well we're obeying that embedded knowledge. So, the evidence of the Law written on the heart is in our conscience. But notice he adds in verse 15, our thoughts, “…and their thoughts alternatively accusing or else defending them.”

Now don't misunderstand, this is not the conscience; conscience functions automatically without deliberate thoughts at all. These are our own thoughts, and our thoughts either accuse or defend. Those two words are common Greek words for the prosecution and the defense in a courtroom. Paul's point here is that our own thoughts sit in judgment; when we think about our past moral actions, our thoughts either accuse or defend us. So, both our conscience and our thoughts about our actions often accuse us. I'm sure if I marched you up here you could wholeheartedly affirm that reality in your own life. That automatic voice of conscience and your own thoughts looking back, sits in judgment and accuses you.

Now let's go back to 1 John, chapter 3. John is talking here about the same reality but in the heart of a Christian. For those of us who are believers, those of us who have repented and believed in Jesus Christ, who are endeavoring to walk in obedience to Him, our consciences and our thoughts still condemn us, they still accuse us. And those accusations can unsettle our assurance of our salvation. See, John's point here is that regardless of how firmly grounded our assurance of salvation might be, our hearts still condemn us; they keep on condemning us. And at times, we need reassurance. In fact, notice that expression in verse 20, “in whatever our heart condemns us,” that implies that this is not unusual and it's not infrequent. In fact, if you're like me, it happens all the time. We frequently feel the condemning voice of our hearts. We feel like my favorite Herman cartoon, you know, the guy is in court, he's standing there in front of the judge, the gavel comes down, and the judge says, “I find you not guilty, but I'm going to give you two years just to be on the safe side.” That's how we feel. And those who've gone before us, stalwarts of the faith, they understood this. In fact, in both the Westminster Confession and in the Baptist Confession of 1689, you find the same words about assurance. Listen to what they wrote:

True believers (And we're talking now about those who are really Christ’s.). True believers may have the assurance of their salvation in diverse (various) ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; (That means it comes and goes. Well, how does that happen? How does my assurance get shaken? How has it diminished? And how does it come and go? Here it is.) as by negligence in preserving of it. (In other words, I don't work hard enough like I'm supposed to use the biblical means to preserve that.) by falling into some special sin which woundeth the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; (Maybe I lose assurance because I'm living in a pattern of sin, and I'm not repentant for that.) by some sudden or vehement temptation, (We've all had this experience, a temptation comes, you don't give into it, you're just tempted. And what do you find yourself thinking? How could any Christian ever be tempted to do that?) by God's withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light, (In other words, there are times when God, for His own purposes, maybe to humble us, maybe to make us more dependent, removes that sense of assurance. “Yet,” here's the key.) yet they are never (utterly) destitute of the seed of God (In other words, what was implanted in the new birth.) and (the) life of faith, that love for Christ and (love for) the brethren brothers, (They're never destitute of those things. …to the extent that) …by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may in due time be revived, and by the which, in the meantime, they are preserved (supported) from utter despair.

In other words, even as we struggle with assurance from time to time, those spiritual realities, because we've been born again, because we have new life from God, those things keep working. You can't keep them from working; it’s who you are. You love your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. You have a sincere life of faith, you love Christ, you have a sincere heart, you have a commitment to obey Him. All those things continue, even as you struggle with assurance. And over time, those things work together to revive that assurance. And that's what they're saying.

So, the conscience and our thoughts about our moral decisions often condemn us. But John says here, don't miss what he says, that in whatever our hearts condemn us, we can still assure our hearts before Him. How? By reminding ourselves of the test that John gives here, by looking at our genuine love for other believers, our active boots on the ground care for others because they're brothers and sisters in Christ, we can quiet our conscience before the Lord.

So, that raises a final question and that is, why? Why is love a tool for our assurance? And the answer is because “God knows more than our hearts.” Look at verse 20, “…for (Because here's the reason it's legitimate to assure our hearts.) God is greater than our heart and (He) knows all things.” We can assure our heart, even when it condemns us because God is greater than our heart. God understands the reality of our spiritual condition and our standing before Him better than our hearts do. “And God knows all things;” that's a comprehensive statement of His omniscience.

But the question is, what is the relationship between those words and the context? In other words, how does it contribute to his argument? Some argue that John is saying this, if you look at the word “for” and what comes after it, he's saying this, “God knows our sin and it's actually worse than the condemnation of our hearts.” In other words, this is a warning; there are those who interpret it that way, and certainly, it's true. God does know our sin, and it is actually worse than the condemnation of our hearts. But I cannot believe that's what John is saying here because it doesn't fit the context. God's knowing our sin is worse than we know it is doesn't provide a basis for assuring our hearts–exactly the opposite is true, right? If I know that God knows that, then it destroys my assurance; it doesn't reassure me. This passage, from beginning to end, and we'll see this more in the next couple of weeks, this passage is about comfort and assurance so that you can know, so that you can have confidence, so that you can assure your heart. This is a passage of comfort, not a warning.

And so, what is John saying here? In context, I think John is making several points. Let me give them to you. First of all, he's saying that “God knows that the condemnation of our hearts is sometimes false.” Sometimes our consciences wrongly convict us, they're not infallible. And when that happens, we can appeal to, we can rest in the fact that God is greater, that He's more knowledgeable than our hearts, He knows the truth, including our motives and our determination and love to obey Him. You see, for us who are Christians, God's omniscience is not a source of fear, but of comfort. That's what David saw. Turn back to Psalm 139, Psalm 139 David writes in verse 1:

O LORD (Yaweh), you have searched me and known me. (You have ransacked my life, You have investigated my heart, and then here's what you know, God, verse 2,) You know when I sit down and when I rise up; (In other words, You know the daily activities of my normal life, You know, when I go to bed, You know, when I get up, You know, when I sit down, You know when I stand up, You know everything about my daily life.) You understand my thought from afar. (God, you know what I'm going to think before I think it, a long time before I think it, and,) You scrutinize my path and my lying down. (That's likely a reference to when I leave my home and I travel in other places; You know, the route that I take, You know the stopping points along the way, and my final destination, You know it all! So You're not just the God of, you know, my little community, you're wherever I go. And then he says,) And are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (God, You know all of my predictable patterns of behavior, You know those that are harmless, You know which shoe I put on first when I get dressed. And You know, the sinful habits in my life as well. You know it all; You know all my ways!) Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, O LORD, you know it all.” (LORD, You know what I'm going to say before I say it! And how do you respond to this as a believer?) You have enclosed me behind and before, And laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it's too high, I cannot attain to it.

You see, David knew he was a sinner, but when he thought of God's omniscience, God knowing him, it didn't drive him to fear, it drove him to praise because he knew God knew everything about him; He knew his heart, He knew his motives. It's what I love about John 21. In fact, turn to John 21, this is one of my favorite passages for a number of reasons, and I don't have time to bring them all out. But let me just point you to one interchange, verses 15 to 17. You remember Peter denied Our Lord at least three times. And after Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus comes to him and asks him the same question three times. This is Jesus’ restoration of Peter. Now, some think there's a major difference because of the Greek words; I don't think that's true. And that's a different message for different time, but regardless, I want you to notice what happens in the third interchange. Verse 17:

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, (Jee Peter said to Jesus,) “Lord, you know all things; You know that I love You.”

I don't know about you, but I find myself here all the time. Lord, you know my sin, but you also know my heart. You know, more than anything else, that I want to love you and obey you and follow you. You know all things; you know that I love you. The Lord knows our hearts, and He knows when the accusations of our hearts are totally inaccurate.

Secondly, back in our text, “God knows that He has forgiven the sins our hearts condemn us of, and that we are still as children.” You remember chapter 2, 1 John 2, we saw this so clearly here, 1 John, 2:2, “…He Himself (Jesus) is the propitiation (the satisfaction of God's just wrath) for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Listen, God knows that. God knows when your heart condemns you, believer, that He has forgiven those sins because of the sake of Jesus Christ, because of the sacrifice of Christ. He knows that the gavel of His justice has come down in the courtroom, that you are declared forever righteous, forever forgiven. He knows that. He knows you’re His child. I mentioned the first question in the Heidelberg Catechism; listen to the sixtieth question. “How are you righteous before God?” I love the answer; listen to this:

Only by true faith in Jesus Christ; that is, although my conscience accuse me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and (that I) am still prone always to all evil, (even as a believer) yet God without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sin, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.

That's the gospel, brothers and sisters. If you're here this morning and you're not a follower of Jesus Christ, listen, you don't have any hope. You're already condemned. That's what Jesus said in John 3, because you haven't believed in Him. It's not a matter of what's the verdict going to be at the judgment; the verdicts already been rendered, you are guilty, and you will be punished forever for your rebellion against your Creator. Your only hope is Jesus Christ, and His perfect life lived in the place of those who would believe in Him, and His substitutionary death in which He paid for the sins of all who would believe in Him so that God could forgive their sins. My plea with you today is that you would respond to Jesus Christ; that you would repent of your sins, you would turn from your sin, and you would put your faith and confidence in Christ and His finished work alone.

There's a third thing I think that he's saying God knows, and that is that “God knows that our active love for other believers proves that we've been born again in spite of the sins that condemn us.” This is really the context. Right? Go back to 1 John 1, verse 7. You remember, if we are walking in the Light, not perfectly, not without sin, “but if we walk (are walking) in the Light, as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another.” In other words, we're believers, and we truly know Him, and we have fellowship with Christ and “…fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses (keeps on cleansing) us from all sin.” D. Edmond Hiebert writes:

While He knows our failings and shortcomings, He also understands our true motives and desires, the innermost yearnings of our heart. His omniscience is also linked to His unchanging love and sympathy. He remembers His saving intentions and purposes for each of us. It is to that perfect knowledge that the conscience-stricken believer can appeal.

Let me summarize verses 19 and 20 for you; here's the argument, okay? Four basic propositions. First, love for believers is clear proof of genuine salvation; loving other believers is clear proof of genuine salvation. Number two, by understanding that and by speaking the truth to your heart, you can assure your heart when it condemns you. Number three, and that is valid to do because the omniscient God is greater than your accusing heart. And number four, He Himself has assured us in His Word, that self-sacrificing love for other believers is true evidence that you have eternal life. It’s a powerful passage!

But there are two crucial lessons I want you to leave here with this morning. Lesson number one, “Stop listening to yourself and talk to yourself.” If you've been around countryside any time at all, you know that this is one of the most important spiritual lessons I have ever learned. I learned it from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Here's the idea, stop listening to where your mind goes, stop listening to the wrong ideas that your mind keeps telling you, those sinful habits of thinking. When your mind keeps going down a certain course and it's not what's in the Scripture, tell yourself to “Shut up.” Literally, I do that. I mean, if you see me riding down the road, you’ll watch my lips move; “Pennington, Shut up! That's not true!”

And then, talk to yourself with the truth of Scripture. This isn't about some self, you know, affirmation. This is about, am I thinking what's true, or am I not? And if I'm not, then shut up and what is the truth and preach the truth to yourself? This is Ephesians 6:17, “…take (up) …the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” It's interesting in that passage, the word is not ‘logo,’ it's ‘rhema.’ It speaks of a short statement, a short proposition.

You see, when your heart accuses you, when you're in the battle, when Satan's attacking, we can't use the whole Bible. You can't pick up your Bible and say, “Take that Satan;” throw that at him. Well, you could, I guess, if you're Martin Luther, but most of us don't do that. What do you do? You have to grab on to specific statements that God has made and remind yourself of the truth. Preach the truth to yourself. That's exactly what Jesus did, you remember, in the temptation with Satan. What did He do three times; “It is written, it is written, it is written,” and they were short statements about the truth. And that's how He defended Himself against the attack of Satan. That's how you and I have to defend ourselves against the attacks of Satan and our condemning hearts. What is the truth? Preach the truth to yourself and stand firm.

Secondly, “Assure your heart when it's condemning you with the divinely inspired tests of eternal life that are here in 1 John.” When your heart accuses you, when you're doubting your salvation, John calls you to assure your heart by remembering the truth of God's Word. We're not talking about creating your own rubric; we're not talking about, “Well, I wrote my name in the front of my Bible and the date I prayed a prayer.” Listen, that's not going to help you get assurance; that can be a lie.

So, where do you get assurance? You get assurance from the assurance God has given us; you take the tests of 1 John, and God says, “Pass those tests; your mine!” This isn't self-deception. This isn't a lie. This is, “Can I trust God or not?” To your condemning heart, rehearse the three tests of eternal life in this letter, and remind yourself here in our own context, remind yourself that your genuine active boots on the ground love for other believers proves the reality of your faith, and you didn't make that up, that's what God said, that's what Jesus Christ said through His Apostle! Jackman writes this, “Our comfort is that God knows that the love we do have is irrefutable evidence of the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we have been born of God, that we have crossed over from death to life.”

Brothers and sisters, can I urge you to thank God, not only that He saves us, but that He wants us to know, that He wants us to have assurance of that? Not a false assurance based on our own little syllogisms, or our own little ideas, where we try to convince ourselves that we're Christians, but His inspired Word. That's what this letter of 1 John is here to do. Look at 1 John 5, verse 13, “These things (these three tests) I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” There's where our assurance is found.

Let's pray together. Father, we are overwhelmed with your kindness, not only in saving us, but even in this life, wanting us to know, wanting us to have assurance of that. Father, forgive us for pursuing assurance in all the wrong places, forgive us for creating our own sort of mindless syllogisms that we convince ourselves we're Christians. Lord, help us to come to Your Word, and to believe You that when these three simple tests are met, we have eternal life.

Father, for those of us who, not perfectly, but look at our lives and see that we do love other believers, practically we care for them because they're our brothers and sisters in Christ, we're in their lives and they're in our lives. Lord, help us to assure our hearts before You when the heart condemns, that we're Yours.

Father, I pray for those who are here this morning who failed the test, either this test or one of the other two, Lord, show them the reality. Lord, my heart labors under the fact that everybody in North Texas thinks they're a believer. Don't let anybody sit in this congregation and convince themselves wrongly, contrary to the clarity of Your Word, that they're a believer because of some prayer they prayed years ago, some aisle they walked. Father, help them to take the test that You've given; and when they fail those tests, Father, help them to truly repent and truly believe. Open their eyes, Oh God, to Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray, Amen.


Love as a Sign of Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

More from this Series

1 John


An Introduction to 1 John

Tom Pennington 1 John

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Apostles' Proclamation - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:1-4

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 4

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The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 1:5-2:6

The Believer's New Relationship to Sin - Part 6

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The Priority of Love

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:7-8

Loving One Another - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

Loving One Another - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:9-11

A Child of the Father

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:12-14

Do Not Love the World

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:15-17

It Matters What You Believe - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

It Matters What You Believe - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:18-27

The Christian's DNA - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 2:28-3:3

The Christian's DNA - Part 4

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The Christian's DNA - Part 5

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Oil & Water

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:4-6

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Researching Your Spiritual Ancestry - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:7-10

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love as a Sign of Life - Part 6

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Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

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Recognizing False Teachers - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 5

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 6

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This Is Love - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 4

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:7-21

This Is Love - Part 5

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The Nature of Saving Faith

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:1-13

The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 2

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The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 3

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The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 4

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The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 5

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The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 6

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The Nature of Saving Faith - Part 7

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Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 2

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21

Real Christians & Deep Fakes - Part 3

Tom Pennington 1 John 5:16-21