- Have you ever struggled with a condemning heart?
- What should we do when our hearts condemn us?
- How do we set our hearts at rest in God’s presence?
Look closely at these words
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (I John 3:19-21).
- Do you know you belong to the truth?
- Do you set your heart at rest in God’s presence?
We know that we don’t experience these things – “Whenever our hearts condemn us.”
The possibility of a condemning heart threatens the certainty and tranquility we need. Sometimes our hearts send messages of condemnation that disturb our assurance in God’s presence.
- How do we overcome a condemning heart?
Truth in context
There were clearly external influences stirring up these uncertainties (i. e. “those who were trying to lead them astray” 2:26) and there were obviously internal struggles of perhaps guilt and doubt that contributed to their condemning hearts.
A practical path for setting their hearts at rest in God’s presence
A complimentary truth is found in the command and promise of Philippians 4:6-7.
- “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
The peace of God guarding our hearts is one part of “setting our hearts at rest” in God’s presence. Yet the concern in 1 John 3 is not as much an “anxious heart” as a “condemning heart.”
A condemning heart is a deeper problem because it calls into doubt our confidence before God.
When our hearts condemn us, “setting our hearts at rest in God’s presence” can have more than one dimension.
- A positional dimension—based on salvation through Jesus Christ.
God as our judge forgives, declares and adopts. Rehearse these truths often: Salvation is a gift of God’s undeserved grace (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9) through Jesus Christ (John 1:12-13; 14:6; Acts 4:12; I Timothy 2:3-6)– not based on our works (Titus 3:4-7). Salvation is eternally secure in Jesus (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; Romans 8:38-39; Philippians 1:6). Salvation received by God’s grace is the motive for godly living. Salvation is what God did by grace, not what I do to keep myself worthy of grace. Even faith itself is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29).
- A practical dimension—based on issues of obedience/disobedience.
God as our Father disciplines His children (Hebrews 12:1-15). This entails a life transformation response to a condemning heart that we will see below.
The important connection:
The previous verses in I John 3: 16-18 connect both dimensions with verses 19-21:
- Positional dimension
“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (I John 3:16a). Our salvation is in this truth: “Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Our eternal security can only be based on this fact. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…..I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” (John 10:11.17-18). Jesus is “the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). As the Swedish hymn says, “More secure is no one ever than the loved ones of the Savior.”
2. Practical dimension
“And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (I John 3:16b-18).
Verse 19 makes the connection
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.”
How? By practicing the sacrificial love of Jesus that secured our salvation.
We must not overlook the practical side to assuring our hearts before God. Based on Jesus’ final sacrifice, we are called to authentic actions of sacrificial love.
Following the example of what Jesus did for us through acts of sacrificial love is a strong means for assuring our heart before God.
Assurance is not a static propositional truth we remind ourselves about.
It is a fact of history that “Jesus Christ laid down His life for us.” It is the truth on which we base our eternal salvation.
But the connection between I John 3:16-18 and 3:19-21 reminds us that assurance is experienced in the active transformed life of Christlike love (see: John 13; Philippians 2:1-11).
Sometimes our “hearts” or “consciences” send legitimate and needed accusations to us. And sometimes our hearts send false messages of guilt and condemnation.
We need to respond to all messages of condemnation as objectively as possible, “in God’s presence” – before God! – recognizing that “God is greater than our hearts and knows everything” (I John 3:20). God is the final appeal for assurance and security.
But if you’re struggling with a condemning heart, don’t wait for a feeling to lift you out of it. Engage in acts of loving sacrificial service for others!
Live as Jesus lived.