1 John 3:19–21
And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
This passage seeks to assure our hearts before Him by saying that it’s okay either way, whether our heart condemns us or not. This is a sophisticated point, so let’s start unpacking it.
First off, “by this” is referring to 1 John 3:18. My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
That’s how we know that we are of the truth. Just paying lip service to love doesn’t mean much. One must love in their actions.
And our heart means our conscience; it’s a standard colloquialism. But why would our conscience condemn us? And if that happens, why is it okay? What does John mean by our heart condemning us? What does he mean by our heart not condemning us?
Taking these in reverse order helps. Someone who isn’t condemned by his heart would not be someone who thinks he’s perfect, but someone who feels comfortable with his spiritual state. Much of 1 John is written to make people comfortable with their spiritual state.
These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. — 1 John 5:13
So, those are not the people the passage is written to comfort. No, the target audience is those who are condemned by their hearts. While an active conscience is a good thing, the pain of guilt can get severe. John comforts these people by noting that God knows everything our hearts know and more, and He is greater than our heart.
His forgiveness is final.
One of the cornerstones of Christian theology is that forgiveness is not the same as acquittal. Forgiven people knows they’re guilty. Notice how Jesus handles this with the woman caught in adultery.
And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” — John 8:11b
There’s no hint that her actions were okay. The condemnation is gone, though the guilt remains.
The English word for this, “grace,” is such a lovely word. The Greek word for grace (χάρις “car-iss”) is equally lovely. The first definition in the BDAG lexicon is, “graciousness, attractiveness.” The second is, “favor, grace, gracious care or help, goodwill.”
His forgiveness isn’t just good; it’s beautiful.
These Monday—Friday DEEPs are written by Mike Slay. The Weekend DEEPs are written by Matt Richardson. To subscribe to all the DEEPs click here:
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.