“And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.”
John gives three advantages for exercising a life of love (vv. 19-23). The first benefit is assurance of salvation. The preceding urging by John may awaken misgiving in the hearts of his readers.
And by this we know
“By this” refers to verses 17 and 18. Tangible love demonstrates true character and true love. The Christian knows with assurance that he engages in the reality of the Christian life when he loves sacrificially.
The future tense of “know” conveys logical progression. Confidence in the truth comes by progressive understanding of the principles of the Word. The middle voice indicates that the believer benefits from a knowledge of the truth. The indicative mood indicates the reality of his confidence in the truth.
Note the repetition of the word “know” (3:5, 6, 14, 15, 19). This is a person who knows with confidence that he is lined up with the plan of God. The plan of God is “the truth.” He has confidence that he is in compliance with truth.
The result of genuine love is an assured heart in relation to God.
Sometimes the conscience censures the Christian. At times this censure comes involuntarily. None of us is totally blameless. This attack on us by our conscience may be valid or invalid depending on whether it is subjective or objective. Physical illness can cause subjective guilt resulting in ineffective Christian living. This comes from Satan, not God. It is vague and without objective content. Attacks from a strictly emotional mood with no apparent cause is not a message from God.
Conviction that comes from commission of sin is objective guilt. This is a valid guilt. Giving way to an explosion of anger, indulging in a sexual lust or wounding the reputation of someone are all valid reasons for objective guilt. We know these things to be wrong because the Bible explicitly says that they are wrong. Genuine Christians bear an authentic guilty conscience from these things.
The answer to a guilty conscience is not to subjectively feel bad about our sin but to deal with it biblically. God’s answer to guilt is to accept the penalty that Jesus paid for our sin. By faith we believe that Jesus suffered all that needs to be suffered for that sin. Thus, we confess our sin acknowledging that the sin violated God’s standard of holiness and that the solution lies in Christ’s death on the cross (1 Jn 1:9).
Knowing the truth of our relationship with Jesus Christ is the most important feature to freedom from a guilty conscience. We need to “know that we are of the truth.” The genuine Christian will never face condemnation from God (Ro 8:1).
We cannot measure our censuring conscience unless we know the truth (3:18). We know that we have engaged with the reality of who God is by actively, sacrificially loving fellow Christians. By this we know that the Spirit of God is operating in us. The starting place for confidence is our relationship with God.
Self-examination may cause us concern about how we stand before God. Our conscience is our inner court. Our inner court may concern itself with God’s court. Everyone falls short of God’s standard for us. None of us loves like we should. Therefore, our heart’s inner chamber may condemn us. If we avoid facing ourselves, we will get into deeper spiritual hot water than if we do not deal with ourselves.
Thank God that our inner court is not the ultimate court. God will pronounce a final verdict in His higher court. “Search me, Oh God and know my heart and see if there be any wicked way in me.”
If our heart condemns us because we do not love fellow Christians, we will lose assurance of salvation. Nothing will sour a Christian more than reaction to a censorious spirit. It will sour the soul. It will shrivel the soul. Some Christians developed the habit of criticism toward everything going on in the church. They are critical of everything and everyone. Simply because others do not fit into our preconceived mold (things can get moldy if we do this!) Robotically they are wrong, “I am the only one right.” This person takes on the idea that they are infallible in their judgments.
Many of us do not know how to offer constructive criticism. God puts us under an obligation to love others even though we do not agree with them. Love tempers our attitude and our speech toward fellow Christians.
God obligates us to love each other whether they are right or wrong. He expects us to love them whether they deserve criticism or not. He wants us to love them although they may criticize us constructively or destructively. Love always tempers what we say, how we say it, and when we say it. You may irritate your wife but she still loves you.
Have you ever met anyone who said, “My biggest flaw is that I love too much”? None of us loves like we should. We can always grow more in this area. Very few of us love like we ought.