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Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24


Well, turn with me again to 1 John, chapter 3, as we continue to work our way through John's first letter to the churches there in Asia Minor that he served in the latter years of his ministry. This week, I read about a very interesting part of the archives in the Library of Congress. There, in that collection, there is a small blue box that is simply labeled this, “Contents of the President's Pockets on the Night of April 14, 1865.” When Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford's Theater in Washington, DC, on that very night, he was carrying several things in his pockets.

Here were the contents of his pockets on that fateful night: there was a linen handkerchief embroidered, “A. Lincoln,” there was a watch fob, there was an ivory pocket knife, two pairs of spectacles, interestingly enough, and you can see this online, but one of them repaired with string where it had become, you know, unscrewed where it meets the temple, and he'd repaired it with a piece of string, and lens polisher. And then in addition, there was a brown leather wallet, and in the wallet there were two things, both of them, I think, quite interesting. One of them was a $5 Confederate note; that was the only money he had on his person. And likely that came from probably a souvenir that was given to him a few days earlier when he went after the fall of Richmond to see what had happened there. But the other item that was in his wallet was the most interesting of all to me, and that is eight worn newspaper clippings. The clippings were about him; they were mostly favorable and even positive portrayals of him and his leadership. One of them even records part of a speech by a contemporary in which he called Lincoln, “One of the greatest men of all times.” You know, as I read that, I found it both touching on the one hand, and sad on the other to think that President Lincoln, because of the many adversaries that he had, obviously on the other side of the Civil War, but even within his own party, that he had to seek comfort and confidence from old newspaper clippings, perhaps by candlelight, alone at the White House.

As I thought about that, it occurred to me that it is even more sad that some Christians seek their assurance of salvation in the same way that he sought assurance and confidence of his leadership. Some Christians rehearse old flattering news from their past to try to reassure themselves that they're truly Christians. But that's not God's way of gaining assurance of our salvation. As I noted to you last time, there are two primary means that God gives us to gain assurance. One of those is to “Believe and rest in the promises of the gospel,” and that ought to be a major focus of our lives, the Puritans used to say, “For every one look at self, there ought to be ten looks at Christ.” So obviously, that's crucial; we need to believe and rest in the promises of the gospel. But secondly, we also need to “Examine the evidence of regeneration in our lives;” have we been born again, is there evidence of the Spirit of God? And two chief ways we can mark that evidence is: do we have “Love for God and His people?” And are we characterized by “Obedience to God and His Word?”

So, as I noted for you last week, amazingly, the biblical means of assurance are actually, as it turns out, the three tests of eternal life that we have found in1 John. And that makes perfect sense; if these are the three tests, if faith in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel, love for God and His people, and obedience to Christ and His Word, if those are the three tests of eternal life, then it makes sense that if we pass those tests, we can enjoy (What?) assurance. So, they're both, tests of eternal life and the biblical means of gaining assurance. In the passage we're studying together, John describes these biblical means by which we can legitimately gain assurance of our salvation. It's in 1 John 3, verses 11 to 24; that's the larger passage we're studying. And in that passage, John explains for a second time in this letter, the test of loving other Christians. We can know if we are genuine Christians who actually possess eternal life, if our lives are marked by genuine boots-on-the-ground, practical love for our fellow Christians.

Now, in these verses, verses 11 through 24, John presents several crucial conclusions about how loving other Christians or not loving them, confirms our true spiritual condition. We've looked at it together and I'm not going to walk back through that except to just give you the major outline points. We discovered that loving other Christians is “Required by our Lord's Command. It is completely “Absent from an Unbelievers Heart,” and yet it is “Crucial for a Believer’s Self-Examination.”

We find ourselves studying the fourth conclusion that he makes here, and that is loving other Christians is “Essential to the Believer’s Assurance.” This is the last paragraph in this larger section; it runs from chapter 3, verse 19, down through verse 24. And so far, this is what we've learned together. First of all, “Loving Others (a true love for other believers) Produces Assurance of Salvation.” Look at verses 19 and 20, we will know by this, that is verse 18, by our loving others in “truth.”

We will know by this that we are of the truth, (That is, that we're truly believers, that we are connected to the true gospel.), and (we) will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.

So, loving others actually produces real assurance of salvation in our hearts, and we can use it that way.

Secondly, we learned in verses 21 and 22, that “Assurance Produces Confidence in Prayer.” Look at those verses, verse 21:

Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us (if we have assurance), 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.

And then last week, we learned that assurance, the assurance we're seeking, is actually “Based on Those Three Tests of Eternal Life,” here in 1 John. That's the message of verses 23 and 24, which contain all three tests. Look at them again, verse 23:

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 and him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.

Now, as we began our study of these last two verses in this chapter and in this section, we noted that “The Three Tests (of eternal life in John's Gospel) Serve as a Source of Our Assurance.” John includes all three of the tests here in a passage about confidence, about assurance, to make this crucial point. These tests are also the biblical means to assurance of salvation. That's why back in verse 19, he says, “When you pass this test, when you pass the test of love, for example, in verse 19, then you can assure your heart before God in whatever your heart condemns you.” (Paraphrase.) As John summarizes this section in the last two verses, he comes back to the means of assuring our hearts, and he reminds us that not just the test of love, but all three tests together, provide us with this source of assurance. Look at verse 23, “This is His (And ‘His’ in context is God the Father, this is the Father's.) commandment.” (Singular.) John reduces all of God's commands to this one unifying command that has three parts.

And the first part of this commandment that the Father has given, we noted last week, and it is to “Believe in Jesus Christ and His Gospel.” Verse 23 says, “This is the His (Father's) commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ (the Messiah).” We unpacked the rich theological truths in that statement, really a confessional statement about who Jesus is. If you have believed in the name, that is, if you have believed in who Jesus is, and the work that He accomplished, if you have believed that He is God's eternal Son, that He is the historical person, the real human being, Jesus of Nazareth, and you have believed that He is the Messiah, He is the Divine One sent on a mission to save, if you have believed in Him, if you have taken and passed this first test of eternal life, it can bring you real true assurance.

Do you believe in the biblical Jesus and the biblical gospel? If so, rest in the promises of the gospel? When your heart condemns you, remind yourself of promises like, “Those who come to me, I will never cast them out.” Promises that say, “The one who believes in me has eternal life and will not come into condemnation but is passed out of death into life.” Believe those rich promises of the gospel, continue to trust in Christ. This first test asks, “Are you resting in the promises of the biblical gospel about the biblical Christ? And if so, then use that in part to assure your heart that you're truly a believer.

But, listen carefully, as important as resting in the promises of the Gospel is, that should never be the sole means of our assurance. In other words, don't ignore your life and just say, “Yes, I believe the gospel. I'm a Christian!” Because the other two tests are equally important! They ask us to examine the evidence of regeneration in our lives; and only when we have taken and passed all three tests, can we have true, legitimate, biblical assurance. John Stott puts it this way in his commentary:

John the Apostle unites the various strands which he has been unfolding separately in these first three chapters of his letter. No one may dare to claim that he lives in Christ and Christ in him unless he is obedient to the three fundamental commands which John has been expounding, which are belief in Christ, love for the brothers, and moral righteousness. Living in Christ is not a mystical experience which anyone may claim. Its indispensable accompaniments are the confession of Jesus as the Son of God come in the flesh and a consistent life of holiness and love.

So, the three tests, as I've told you so many times before, they’re a three-legged stool. Take away one of them, and you're claim to be a Christian collapse; the three stand together.

So, let's look, then, at the second test of eternal life, and it is at the same time the source, another source, of our assurance. The second test and the second source of our assurance is “Love Other Christians,” love other Christians. Look at verse 23, “This is His commandment (the Father's commandment), that we (1) believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” Now the tense of the verbs ‘believe’ and ‘love’ are interesting, because the tense of the verb ‘believe’ is a form, in the original language, that points back to the time when we initially believed. Of course, we keep believing, real Christians keep believing. But there was a time when we initially believed and the verb here for believe points back to that time. But the verb translated ‘love’ here is in the present tense in the Greek language, literally, you could translate it this way, “Be loving one another.” For all genuine Christians, love is a continuous unfolding attitude and daily practical response to fellow-Christians. John's already made this clear. Go back to chapter 2, verse 10:

The one who loves his brother (the one who is loving his brother) abides (is remaining) in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother (And by the way, notice there are only two categories. If you're not loving, you're hating your brother.) is (you are) in the darkness and walks (walking) in the darkness, and does not (you don't) know where (you're) going because the darkness has blinded (your) eyes.

Look at chapter 3, verse 11, “For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” Verse 14, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren (our Christian brothers). He who does not love abides (remains) in death.” So, faith in Jesus Christ and love are inseparably united. You can't believe in Jesus in a saving way without also loving, loving your Christian brothers and sisters. And you can't love in the biblical sense of the word without first having believed in Jesus. The two go together. Galatians 5:6 says, “…in Christ Jesus (That is, those who are really in Him.) …faith working (works) through love,” faith and love inseparably united. 1 Timothy chapter 1, verse 5, Paul writes, “The goal of our instruction (You want to know why you're sitting here listening to me, why you listen to other men that God has given His Church to teach, and, ladies, you listen to ladies teach the Word of God, you know why you do that? Here it is.) the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (Paraphrase.) We’re to love one another.

Now notice in verse 23, we’re to love one another, “…just as He commanded us.” Now, there's a little bit of question about who John means by ‘He.’ He could, the pronoun ‘He’ could be referring to the Father because, remember it's the Father's commandment which includes this command. But I think the ‘He’ in the end of verse 23, probably refers to Jesus’ commands to love for a couple of reasons. One, because of the nearest antecedent to the pronoun ‘He’ is Jesus Christ. And in his letter, John constantly refers back to Jesus’ command to him and his fellow disciples while Jesus was here on earth. Verse 11 of chapter 3, it's the message John and the disciples heard and repeated to New Testament believers. Verse 16, Jesus is the One who modeled, by His life and death, and Who taught love. In chapter 2, verse 8, John refers to love as a “new commandment,” and that clearly points back to Jesus’ own command in John's gospel when he uses that exact wording, “I give a new commandment to you to love.” So, the Father commands us to love one another, just as the Son commanded us to love when He was here.

Now, a couple of clarifying points about this second test before we leave it. The first question that comes to my mind when I read this section is, why doesn't John mention love for God here? In the earlier section in his letter about love, he mentioned love for God and love for God's people. In the next section, he comes back to love, he'll mention love for God and love for God's people. Why doesn't he mention anything about loving God in this section? And the answer is because the only reason that you and I love our brothers and sisters in Christ is because we love God, and the only reason we love God is because He loved us. So, the two go together. In fact, look at chapter 5, verse 1, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is born of God, and (Notice this.) whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him,” the two go together. That's why he doesn't mention it here, it's understood. The reason you love your fellow Christians is because you love the Father we share in common.

The second question that comes to my mind here is, why is it true that love for one another is a test of whether we have eternal life? Why is your love for Christians a test of whether you're a Christian? Well, John's already dealt with this, but let's look at the next section. Go to chapter 4, verse 12, “No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.” Go down to verse 20, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he's a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” So, you see why this is such a an effective, powerful test. If you love God, you're going to love His people.

Now, how do we apply this second test, this test and basis of assurance, that is, loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ? Here's what you need to understand. Assurance of salvation is not found solely in rehearsing and resting on the promises of the gospel. It's found by examining the evidence in your life of regeneration, of heart change, that you are a new creation, to use Paul's language. How do you know that? Well, one of the key pieces of evidence of regeneration is our practical love for our fellow Christians. So, you look at the evidence in your life. Is there evidence in your life that you love God's people? And I'm not talking about an emotion; I'm not saying, “Yeah, I love them, and I post it online.” No, we saw it in chapter 3; it's practical boots on the ground, I'm going to put myself out for you in the way Jesus put himself out for all of us. Is that the consistent expression of your life? If so, not that you do it perfectly, but if that really marks you, if that describes who you are, then you can use this test of eternal life not only to say, “I'm a Christian,” but to assure yourself when your heart condemns you.

In verse 24, John adds the third test, both as a test of eternal life but also as another source of our assurance of salvation. And the third test and the third source of assurance is “Obey God's Word,” obey God's Word. Obedience to God's commands is evidence that you have been saved and that you possess eternal life. Therefore, it becomes a source of assurance. Look at verse 24, “The one who keeps His (This is the Father again. The one who keeps the Father's) commandments abides in Him, and He in him.” Now, “the one keeping” here refers to a person who claims to be a Christian, claims to know God, and, in addition, who is keeping God's commandments as the habit and pattern of his life.

Now you'll notice that in verse 24, ‘commandments’ is plural. What is he talking about? What are these commandments? Well, it could just mean all that God's commanded us, but I think in light of the context, more likely, it means the commands in the previous verse, the command to believe in Jesus, and the command to love God and others. If we love God and others, we are obeying God's commands. Think about that for a moment. What did Jesus say in Matthew 22:37-40? He said, “Here's God's Law reduced to two commands, love God and love others.” (Paraphrase). So, if you are loving God and loving others, you are obeying God's commands. And if we are obeying God's commands, we will love Him and love others. So, you see, the two are completely interchangeable.

We saw this in Romans 13; go back to Romans 13. Some of you maybe came when we were in Romans 13, a while back, Romans 13. I don't know where you mark your time having come to Countryside; but we were in Romans 13 at one point. And look at Romans 13:8, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” You have fulfilled God's Law by loving because, verse 9, commands like:

YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY, YOU SHALL NOT MURDER, YOU SHALL NOT STEAL, YOU SHALL NOT COVET,” and if there is any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. (Verse 10) Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

So, how do you know if you're obeying God? Are you loving Him with all of your heart, and are you loving the people around you? Because doing those things means you are obeying Him. You're not doing the things He's forbidden because you're committed to loving Him and loving others. Galatians 5:14 puts it this way, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’”

Now go back to 1 John 3, because in verse 24, John's point is this, true believers live in a consistent pattern of obedience to God's Word. That’s what he says. He's already said this, go back to chapter 2, verse 3:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.

If you're a Christian, brothers and sisters, we don't obey God perfectly, none of us do, but if you're a Christian, your life is marked by a desire to obey God, and a consistent commitment to do so. And when you fail, you're not happy about it, you don't live and wallow in it; you hate it, you want out of it, you come back to God seeking forgiveness, and to get back on the path of obedience because you want to obey God, and you're committed to obeying Him. That's why 1 John 1 describes us as “walking in the light.” That's the direction of our lives; we live, walking in the light rather than walking in the darkness. Obedience to God's Word, then, is evidence of knowing God and of having fellowship with God.

Can I just stop and say how important this is because you and I live in a part of the country, specifically in the city of Dallas, where it has become popular to say, “If you want assurance of your salvation, just ask yourself, ‘Have you believed in Jesus, did you pray a prayer, did you profess faith, were you baptized?’” And if so, “You're in.” John says, “Wait, not so fast. That is one part of the test you ought to take, but you also have to examine your life to see, do you desire, and do you have a commitment to obey God?” If you don't, if your life is marked by disobedience, if you've never even thought recently about a desire to obey God or walk in His ways, then don't call yourself a Christian, you're not. I don't care what prayer you prayed, you know, when you made a profession, what aisle you walked, who said you were a Christian, you're not; that's by the Holy Spirit's authority and the Word of God. Recognize you need to come and ask God to change your heart, give you a new heart, put His Spirit within you and cause you, as Ezekiel says, “to walk in his ways.” Not perfectly, but as the pattern of your life.

Now, in verse 24, notice how John describes the true Christian’s relationship with God, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him.” That's a fascinating expression. The Greek word for ‘abides’ occurs twenty-four times in this letter, and literally it just means ‘to stay’ or ‘to remain.’ Some interpret this idea of abiding as some elite spiritual level that only a few Christians reach.

You know, when I was growing up, after I was newly converted in college, I was handed a couple of books about abiding in Christ, as if that were this higher spiritual level that now I was a Christian I needed to seek. That's trash, alright! That is wrong; it's error, it’ll lead you astray from the truth. Because the truth is, 1 John makes it clear, that God abides in all Christians and all Christians abide in Him.

Look at chapter 4, verse 13, “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” If you're a Christian, if the Holy Spirit dwells within you, He abides in you, and you abide in Him. There's no higher level that you want to seek to somehow get this abiding thing. Look at chapter 4, verse 15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God (in other words, every believer), God abides in him, and he in God.”

Burdick writes this:

The word ‘abides’ does not describe a closer more intimate relationship with Christ, sometimes referred to as ‘the abiding life’ enjoyed only by the more devoted Christian. All believers are in Christ and abide in Him.

This concept of ‘abiding’ actually comes from our Lord’s teaching in the Upper Room Discourse. Turn back to John 15 for a moment. I wish I had time to really settle here; I don't. But look at John 15, and notice what Jesus says, verse 1, “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.” And then He says there are two kinds of branches; there are real branches that really belong, and there are branches that appear to belong, but don't really. Notice how He describes it, verse 2, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may (will) bear more fruit.” How does He prune us? Verse 3, “You are already clean (Same word, “You're already pruned.”) because of the word which I have spoken to you.” And then He says in verse 4, if you're really a Christian, if you really belong to Me, you keep on staying in Me, keep remaining in Me, and I in you, just keep on believing, stay attached to me. (Paraphrase.) “…As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide (remain) in me.” Keep on believing, keep on following.

I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. (Verse 6) If anyone does not abide (stay) in Me (remain in Me) he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.

What's he saying? He's saying there are professing Christians who were never really Christians at all, who prove over time not to be genuine. The Father notices they're dead, there's no life in them, there's no life of Christ in them, and He cuts them off and throws them in the fire. It's talking about judgment. These are false Christians, those who never truly believed at all. Verse 7, “If you abide in Me (if you remain in Me), and (Here's the key.) My words abide (remain) in you (You keep on obeying.), ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. And in this, verse 8, “…you…prove to be My (true) disciples.” So, the analogy of the vine and branches then teaches us that Christ is really and spiritually connected to all His disciples; He dwells in us, and we in Him.

But how exactly does this work? How does God, back to our text in verse 24, of 1 John 3, how does God exactly abide in us? And the answer is the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9:

You are not in the flesh but in the Spirit (That is, you’re a true believer, not dead.), if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.

So, if you're a Christian, you have the Spirit. And if the Spirit dwells in you, you abide in God, back to our text, verse 24, and God abides in you. I wish I had time to develop this, this may surprise you, but the truth is, Scripture teaches that all three members of the Trinity have an abiding presence with you, Christian. Did you know that? It's not just the Spirit; it's all three members. The Father abides in you, 1 John 4:15, “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” The Son abides in you. John 14:23, “Jesus…said… “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We (Father and Son) will come to him and make Our abode with him (We will dwell with him.).” And the Spirit abides in you as we'll see in a moment.

But in the first half of 1 John 3, verse 24 here, we learn that God dwells in us and we in Him, and the condition of this mutual indwelling is our obedience. Verse 24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He and him.” It doesn't mean you earn the indwelling of God by your obedience; it means your obedience is evidence of the fact that you are indwelt by God because He produces obedience to His Word. John 15:10 “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love.” So, there are the three tests then as the source of assurance. Are you believing in Jesus and the Gospel? Are you loving other believers? And are you obeying the Word of God? Assurance is based on passing those three tests of eternal life, and then being able to assure our hearts with that truth.

Now, at the end of verse 24, we discover not only are the three tests a source of our assurance, but so is the Holy Spirit, “The Holy Spirit is a Source of Our Assurance.” Notice how verse 24 ends, “…We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” So far, John has only alluded to the Holy Spirit in this letter. He's talked about “the anointing” back in chapter 2, he's talked about “being born of God” which is something the Spirit does. But this is the first explicit reference to the Holy Spirit in this letter. There are going to be others; we’ll see it in chapter 4, Lord willing, next week.

But notice how John introduces his comment about the Holy Spirit here in verse 24. “We,” that is all Christians are knowing. In other words, this is the shared common knowledge that all true Christians have. “We know by this that He abides in us.” Literally, that “He (That is, the Father.) is remaining in us.” We know that He is remaining in us (How?) “…by this.” Now, ‘by this’ could mean, we know the Father is remaining or abiding in us because we keep His commands. Or it could mean, we know the Father is remaining in us by the fact that He gave us His Spirit.

Now, both of them are true; but since John already made the first point in the first half of verse 24, I think it's likely, in the second half of verse 24, he's making the second point. So, look at the end of verse 24, let me read it with that interpretation, “We know that the Father is remaining in us by this, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” You see, Jesus promised that He and the Father would send the Spirit. I wish I had time to take you to the Upper Room discourse, because in John 14, John 15, John 16, again and again, Jesus says, “I and the Father are going to send you the Spirit. We're going to send you the Spirit.” (Summary paraphrase.) So, the indwelling Spirit, then, is a gift of God's grace to every believer. In fact, the end of verse 24 reads, “…whom He gave us,” literally, “…whom He gave us.” This happened at a point in the past.

So that raises the question, “When? When did God give us His Spirit?” And there are two answers. The first, “Historically, God gave the New Testament Church the Spirit at Pentecost.” Read Acts 1, Jesus says, “Go back to Jerusalem after my ascension; stay there praying, and I will send the Spirit.” (Summary paraphrase.) Read chapter 2, He sends the Spirit. So, the Spirit comes in a unique way to the New Testament Church in Acts 2. Clearly, the Spirit was present in the Old Testament: He had to save, He had to regenerate, He had to sanctify, He had an abiding presence of some kind with Old Testament believers. But there is some change and I can't parse that change out for you in total, but Jesus says, “He has been with you, He will be in you.”

So, He came historically at Pentecost, but personally, God gives every Christian the Holy Spirit at regeneration. Notice what he says in verse 24, literally, “He gave us,” He gave us. So, John writes to all the Christians in that whole area, and he says, “God already gave every believer the Spirit.” Now, if that's true, if every believer, regardless of how long they had been a Christian, already has the Spirit, when did He give the spirit? At regeneration, at the moment of salvation, and that's what Ezekiel 36 says, right? It says that He will put His Spirit within us in regeneration and cause us to walk in His ways.

So, the second question that comes to my mind is, “How then does the indwelling Holy Spirit bring assurance?” How does He bring assurance or to use the words of Romans 8:16, how does the “Spirit testify with my spirit?” How does the Spirit grant us assurance? Historically, there have been three answers to that question; you know I'm building to the one I believe, right? Let me give you the two I don't believe. First of all, some have said “He gives us a sense of internal confidence.” “I just know I'm a Christian,” and that's the Spirit, “I just know.” The problem with that is, it's certainly not infallible because Matthew 7 says there are going to be people at the judgment who say, “I'm a Christian,” and Christ is going to say, “No, you're not.” So, confidence is not a very good assurance.

A second answer that's been given to this is that the “Holy Spirit assures us through a mystical inner voice speaking directly to our hearts.” So, think of it like this; it's like the Holy Spirit's inside of you and at some point, He whispers to your soul, “You're a Christian, you’re a Christian,” and you just feel this sense of relief, and you know you're a Christian. There are obviously serious problems with this. This makes that inner voice more important than the Scripture in determining my relationship to God. In addition, it makes assurance subjective, completely inside of me, and therefore, always uncertain, because I can never know where that voice is coming from. Is that me? Is that my flesh? Is that the devil who wants to damn me? How do I know that voice is the Holy Spirit? Another problem is the Spirit’s pattern is is to work through the Word, and this is completely outside the Word.

So that brings me to number three and what I obviously believe the Scriptures teach. The “Holy Spirit assures us through the Scripture alone.” Remember where we are, 1 John 5:13, “These things I have written to you…that you may know that you have eternal life.” The Holy Spirit grants us assurance through the Word of God. Yes, from the Spirit of God but working by, in, and through the word of God; I wish I had time to develop this. You can look at this slide later and sort of unfold this. But in 1 John, the Holy Spirit's role in assurance is objective, outside of us. Here's what we learn about the Spirit; “He teaches us the biblical gospel and produces faith in us through our hearing and understanding of the Word.” We're going to see it next week. The Holy Spirit directs us through the gospel to the truth.

Secondly, “He creates love in us for our fellow Christians.” In chapter 4, verses 12 and 13, where does that love come from? Well, it's produced by the Spirit of God. Galatians 5 says that (Right?), “The fruit of the Spirit is love...”

Thirdly, “The Spirit produces righteousness in us using the Word of God.” In chapter 2, verse 29, it talks about the new birth, the new birth is the work of the Spirit, and that's the means that He uses to produce obedience in us. He writes God's Laws on our hearts, as Ezekiel says, and causes us to walk in His ways. So, the Spirit does those things. Then, listen carefully, the Spirit uses the presence of those realities in our hearts and lives, the test that He Himself gave us to bring assurance, but it's not by whispering in your ear. It's not by saying, “You’re a Christian.” No! it's instead, through the Word of God. I I look at 1 John, I read it, I understand it through the work of the Spirit. He gave me the Word of God, I understand it, I grasp it, I take the test. And He then affirms to me that I'm a Christian as I pass those tests in and through the Word of God. Burdick writes this:

One of John's main purposes in penning this epistle was to give grounds for Christian assurance. Some have superficially insisted that assurance is to be based solely upon a profession of faith; to call upon evidence such as acts of righteousness is thought to be dangerously approaching the fallacy of salvation by works rather than by faith. John would agree that the grounds of assurance must include faith in the incarnate Christ who made atonement for man's sin. But the Apostle places beside faith as a ground, not for salvation, but for assurance, the evidence of a changed life. This ethical test stands alongside the doctrinal test. More specifically, the changed life involves a habitual practice of righteousness and continuing love for fellow believers.

That's what John is teaching us here.

So very quickly, how do you apply this? What do you do with all of this? What are the legitimate ways to use the Spirit-inspired tests to gain assurance? Number one, understand that the three tests in 1 John are also intended to be the primary means of assurance. As I showed you at the beginning, believe and rest in the promises of the gospel, and examine the evidence of regeneration in your life, your love for God and His people, and your obedience to Christ and His Word.

And secondly, if you take those tests, and if you pass those tests, then it's legitimate, verse 19, to assure your heart even when it condemns you. Here's how it works. This week, maybe some sin from your past, even before Christ, that just is a blight on your life, and you're often reminded of it, maybe that sin comes up and you condemn your heart and you begin to say, “How could any Christian have ever done that?” Maybe a temptation comes and you think, “How could any Christian be tempted to that?” Or maybe you actually sin and even though you hate that sin, you seek the Lord's forgiveness, you desire to turn from that sin, the weight of it just becomes condemning and crushing? What do you do? You come to 1 John; you remind yourself of the tests of eternal life, you take the tests, and if you pass them, then it's legitimate to assure your heart before God. This isn't something I made up; this is something the Spirit of God gave us as a means to assurance. An author writes this:

If we would set our hearts at rest when they accuse and condemn us, we must look for evidence of the Spirit's working, and particularly whether He is enabling us, one, to believe in Christ; two, to obey God's commands; and three, to love our brothers.

And as you assure yourself, what verse 24 says, is that the Spirit in and through the Word of God will come alongside and assure your heart as well that you are His.

Let's pray together. Father, thank You for the truth of Your Word. Lord, for those of us who know and love You, who imperfectly but consistently pass these tests that You've given us, Lord, help us not only to know that we have eternal life, but to be able to use these tests to assure our hearts when they condemn us. Lord, don't let us go back and read ‘the old newspaper clippings’ about something we did once, but, Father, help us instead to rely on the tests You've given us, tests that are contemporary that are, right now, a snapshot in time of who we are in Christ. And may Your Holy Spirit use Your Word to assure us even when our hearts condemn us.

For those who may be here who are not in Christ, Lord, help them to see the reality, strip away the facade, strip away the false claims, and, Lord, help them to see they failed the test and that they are not Yours. And may they cry out even today for the change that only Your Spirit can bring. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Love as a Sign of Life - Part 6

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Love As a Sign of Life - Part 7

Tom Pennington 1 John 3:11-24

Recognizing False Teachers - Part 1

Tom Pennington 1 John 4:1-6

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1 John


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