The Epistle of first John
Lesson Number 6
"16Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? 18My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth. 19And hereby we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before him. 20For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things. 21Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. 22And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. 23And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment. 24And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." (1 John 3:16-24, KJV)
Spiritual knowledge is fundamental in the matter of salvation. By that I mean a personal acquaintance with the truth of the Gospel is imperative. It is not enough to merely have our minds exposed to the truth, although that is imperative. The knowledge of the truth must be embraced by the heart. It is at that point the individual becomes capable of believing. It is, after all, "with the heart" that we believe (Rom 10:10). When the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip what was hindering him from being baptized, he was told, "If you believe with all your heart, you may" (Acts 8:37). This type of knowledge is mentioned a number of times throughout Scripture. When it is lacking among professed believers, it is a point of "shame" (1 Cor 15:34). It is the knowledge that is appropriated in salvation (2 Cor 4:6). It is also the knowledge that is attacked by the temptations of the wicked one (1 Cor 10:5).
In its most precise sense, this is the "knowledge of the Son of God," or a personal familiarity with Him (Eph 4:13). Because it is a life-long pursuit, all things competing with it must be abandoned, as affirmed in both the word and life of the Apostle Paul (Phil 3:8), a "pattern" for us (1 Tim 1:16). .
The "knowledge of God" is the means through which grace and peace are multiplied unto us (1 Pet 1:2). It is also the appointed agency through which the personal appropriation of "all things pertaining to life and godliness" is realized (2 Pet 1:3).
Extends Beyond Intellectual Learning
In the Kingdom of God, "knowing" extends beyond mere intellectual learning. Those who really "know" the truth actually experience it. It becomes a part of themselves, being woven, as it were, into the fabric of their being. The Scriptures call this "tasting," or experiencing. It also involves a trust, or reliance, upon what is known. The Psalmist put it this way, "Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!"NKJV (Psa 34:8). In referring to his personal knowledge of God's Word, the Psalmist wrote, "How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!"NKJV (Psa 119:103). By this, he means he had actually experienced the life-giving properties of the Word of God. It had become a part of him. Jeremiah said it this way, "Your words were found, and I ate them, And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; For I am called by Your name, O LORD God of hosts"NKJV (Jer 15:16). There is no substitute for assimilating the Word, the means of maintaining life. (Matt 4:4)
The Involvements of the New Birth
The new birth involves the experience of the good things of God. In a telling text concerning falling away, the Spirit refers to new life in Christ in this manner. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come . . . "NKJV (Heb 6:4-5). This is involved in "knowing the truth," which thereby (by knowing it) makes us "free" (John 8:32).
Another view of this aspect of the Kingdom is seen in our Lord's experience of death in its fullest sense. "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone"NKJV (Heb 2:9). Our Lord underwent death, "tasting" of it.
The Objective of this Epistle
All of this has a great deal to do with our study in First John. The word "know" is used at least twenty-seven times in this epistle. The Holy Spirit has moved John to write in order that we might have fellowship with the Father and the Son-a spiritual experience (1:3). He has also written in order that our joy might be full-a spiritual experience (1:4). His intention is also that we "sin not"-a spiritual experience (2:1). The objective is that we might "know" we have "eternal life" (5:13)-a spiritual experience.
Apart from this higher form of knowledge, it is not possible to live by faith. Those, for example, who lack this type of participation only "believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away." The person so characterized is described as one who "has no root in himself" (Matt 13:21; Lk 8:13). Such a one has not drawn water from the "wells of salvation" as faith demands (Isa 12:3).
An aspect of this knowledge that will be addressed in this text is PERCEIVING, which often, in Scripture, is an alternate word for "know." While there are a number of different words from which "perceive" is translated, the one in our text is evgnw,kamen (from ginw,skw), which means discerning knowledge, or understanding. Some have chosen to call it experiential knowledge. It speaks of discerning, distinguishing, able to identify, recognizing, and apprehending. It involves taking hold of the truth declared, and thereby profiting from it. Settle it in your soul, that no truth of God, particularly relating to Christ and salvation, can profit us unless we take hold of it by faith, see it, and perceive something of its nature.
It is certainly in order to give thanks to the Lord for not leaving us to our own surmising. Rather than simply affirming the Gospel, then leaving it to us to arrive at our own conclusions, the Spirit reasons with us. He shows us what God has intended, opening the truth of the Gospel to us. He constrained holy Prophets to tell us what God was going to do in for men. He then gave the glorious Gospel to announce that those intentions are fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. But He did not stop there. He further expounds the Gospel to show us the extent to which the Lord is committed to bring us all the way to glory. This, among other things, is what He is doing in the Epistle of First John.
PERCEIVING AND RESPONDING
The Lack of Perception
When Isaiah was sent to Israel, the Lord prohibited their perception of his message. "And he said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not" (Isa 6:9). Later, the Spirit affirmed the same condition in these words, "For the LORD hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered" (Isa 29:10). Again it is written, "They have not known nor understood: for He hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand" (Isa 44:18).
When God sent Ezekiel to the children of Israel, He said they would not give heed to him. In explaining the situation, the Lord spoke of their inability to see, or perceive. "Son of man, thou dwellest in the midst of a rebellious house, which have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house" (Ezek 12:2).
When Jesus ministered among the people, He often spoke in parables. While sophists imagine that He did so to simplify the truth, bringing it within the reach of the listeners, He affirmed this was not the case at all. Teaching in parables, He declared, fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy concerning not perceiving. "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive" (Matt 13:13-14).
After Jesus returned to heaven, and the Gospel was preached, Paul encountered some who rejected the good news. One particular account explains the obtuseness of the people by siting the words of Isaiah. "And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not. And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive" (Acts 26:24-26).
In his explanation of the current status of the Jews, Paul also referred to their lack of perception. He attributed it to Divine judgment. "According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompense unto them: Let their eyes be darkened that they may not see, and bow down their back alway" (Rom 11:8-10).
Brief Observation on Spiritual Blindness
Spiritual blindness, or the lack of perception, is an infinitely serious matter. It reveals a deplorable situation that has been brought on by unbelief and hardness of heart. In Isaiah's explanation of the "deep sleep" God poured out upon Israel, he said, "Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, even a marvelous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid" (Isa 29:13-14).
The Glorious Condition of the Saints
All of this emphasizes what a marvelous work has been wrought in the people of God. When the Scripture says "Hereby perceive we," it at once separates us from all whose hearts are hard, and upon whom God has poured out a spirit of deep sleep.
Because of the accomplishments of Jesus Christ, God has given those who receive His Son a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek 36:26). The presence of that newness gives believers the capacity to perceive and understand what is otherwise hidden to them. Now the Lord can open the "eyes of our understanding" (Eph 1:17-18) to behold His magnificent love.
Perceiving the Love of God
The love of God, while immense and effectual, is not readily apparent. It is as high above human love as the heavens are above the earth. The love of God is declared throughout Scripture. In this regard, He stands in stark contrast with the false gods of this world. His love is not only general, but is declared to be particular, being focused on special individuals. Perhaps a few examples will suffice.
"And because He loved thy fathers, therefore He chose their seed after them, and brought thee out in His sight with His mighty power out of Egypt" (Deut 4:37). "But because the LORD loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt" (Deut 7:8). "And David comforted Bathsheba his wife . . . and she bare a son, and he called his name Solomon: and the LORD loved him" (2 Sam 12:24). "The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (Jer 31:3). "When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt" (Hos 11:1). "I have loved you, saith the LORD" (Mal 1:2).
Even though the Lord affirmed His love clearly and repeatedly, yet His people, with very few exceptions, did not perceive that love to any satisfactory degree. Their hearts were not changed, and thus they failed to perceive the love of God-even though, from our perspective, it had been abundantly confirmed in His dealings with them.
Perception is Necessary
The underlying point being developed in our text is that God's love MUST be perceived in order for us to benefit from it. It is true, there are general mercies enjoyed by all men, whether they are saved or not. As it is written, "He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt 5:45). Our text, however, is bringing us to a much higher level of spiritual awareness. The recognition of our Lord's general mercies will not enable the perception God requires.
Here is a perception related to faith, which comes by hearing the word of Christ (Rom 1:16). Remember, this chapter began with a summons to "Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us" (3:1). This is a love that cannot be perceived with the eye, or any other human sense. The only way it may be known at all is through Divine proclamation. And that is precisely what the Gospel does-announce the great love of God toward humanity. Through it we gain an understanding of God's profound love.
Hereby We Perceive
Because the Spirit is expounding the love of the brethren, He deals with the supreme example of love. This example is to serve as a definition of real love. "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us."NKJV He is referring to the Son of God specifically, and to God generally. While it was "the Man Christ Jesus" who laid down His life for us, it was the Divine nature that determined it should be done. This Acts 20:28 refers to "the church of God which He purchased with His own blood."
The determination to lay down His life was made BEFORE the Son of God came into the world. Thus, before He entered into the world, it is said of Him, "Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: 'Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.' Then I said, 'Behold, I have come; In the volume of the book it is written of Me; To do Your will, O God'"NKJV(Heb 10:5-7).
It is important to note the phraseology of this verse. He does not say we perceive, or know, love because Christ died for us. Rather, it is because He LAID DOWN His life for us-and there is a difference. The emphasis here is the voluntary nature of His death. Elsewhere, the necessity and legality of Christ's death is the point (Rom 5:8; 1 Thess 5:10). But here, the personal regard for His brethren is the point. From a personal point of view Paul said it this way, "the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).
The precise point made here is also stated in Hebrews 2:14-15. "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage."NKJV
The death of Christ is a complex fact, with sweeping results. Through His death, sin was punished, or "condemned in the (Christ's) flesh" (Rom 8:3). By means of this death, Satan was "destroyed" (Heb 2:14). The world was "reconciled to God by the death of His Son" (Rom 5:10). However, the death of Christ itself is not the point of this particular text. Rather, it is what led to that death: He "laid down" His life for us. We have the testimony of Jesus Himself on this matter. "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father"NKJV (John 10:17-18). But this was no heartless obedience. When Jesus "laid down His life for us," His heart was in the matter.
In another expression of this perception of the death of Christ, the Spirit drives the point home with unusual power. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich"NKJV (2 Cor 8:9). It is not possible "perceive" this aspect of Christ's death by mere intellectual assessment. Nor, indeed, were the multitudes that saw Jesus die aware that He had become "poor," that we "through His poverty might become rich."
What kind of love would move the Lord of glory to divest Himself of Divine prerogatives, enter into this world, become a servant, and lay down His life? It is the only kind of love that is acceptable to God! From our point of view, it is seeking the welfare of another at the expense of personal inconvenience and sacrifice. That is how extensively God loved us. We "perceive" it in our Lord's willingness, yea eagerness, to offer Himself to God in our behalf.
Nowhere is this love more evident than on the eve of our Lord's betrayal. His heart was now acutely aware of the involvements and consequences of His imminent death. In agony he prayed, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." Two more times He prayed, "O My Father, if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done"(Matt 26:39-42). Right there is where He made the committal required to lay "down His life for us." He "offered Himself without spot to God," as a Lamb to be sacrificed for the sins of the world (Heb 9:14). Jesus left that garden in control of the situation, ready to make the sacrifice required to take away the sins of the world.
Notice the contrast between Cain and Jesus. Cain took his brother's life to benefit himself. Jesus forfeited His life to benefit us. Therein is revealed the nature of the devil and that of Deity. As Jesus said, "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly"NKJV (John 10:10).
We Ought to Lay Down Our Lives
In another place, Paul writes, "Therefore be imitators of God as dear children"NKJV (Eph 5:1). Paul also admonished, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Cor 11:1). Now, the Spirit spells the matter out even more clearly.
Remember, the Spirit is opening up the matter of loving the brethren, an indisputable evidence that we have passed from death unto life, and are born of God (1 John 3:14; 4:7; 5:1). Laying down our lives for "the brethren" is preferring them above ourselves. As it is written, "Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honor preferring one another" (Rom 12:10). Again, it is written, "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil 2:3). Just as all religious strife comes from the pursuit of selfish interests, so true benefit is brought to the saints by the abandonment of such interests. It is with great disappointment that we just acknowledge a serious lack of this type of love among those professing the name of Christ.
If we find it difficult to highly regard the interests of our brethren, let us ponder the high regard Jesus had for us in laying down His life for us. Such considerations confirm the reasonableness of pursuing the needs of our brethren.
The Teaching of Our Lord
During the last evening our Lord spent with His disciples, He buttressed this truth with a most remarkable action. The incident is the more extraordinary when you consider He was about to make "His soul an offering for sin" (Isa 53:13), enduring the curse of God (Gal 3:13). Earlier, He had told these very men, "Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him" (Mark 10:33-34).
Rather than dismissing His disciples, and spending the evening alone, He had told them, "With desire I have desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer" (Mk 22:15). Now, seated with them at the Passover table, our Lord "rose from supper and laid aside His garments, took a towel and girded Himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded" (John 13:4-5). It was a tender occasion, indeed!
Following a personal word to Peter, who saw himself as unworthy of such personal attention, Jesus riveted the event in the memory of His disciples. "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:12-15). Our lord lived out the love of the brethren in an apparent way, placing His own personal interests in the background. In doing this, He revealed the compelling nature of love; how it can triumph in the most excruciating trials and difficulties.
As if this was not enough, Jesus also told of a coming time, when He will again serve His brethren. It would not be a permanent arrangement-that is, He will not always serve us. However, it will set the tone for the ages to come. Here is what he said. "Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them" (Lk 12:37).
Suffer the Word of Exhortation
"And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren." This is the manner of the Kingdom. It has been demonstrated in the life of Jesus. It has been shown in God sending Him to lay down His life for us-when we were enemies. How much more reasonable is it for us to forfeit our own interests in consideration of "the brethren?"
The phenomenal disregard of the saints that exists among professing believers is remarkable. This is particularly true since so much has been said on the subject. It is even more true since our very salvation is an vivid portrayal of the profit that comes from such love. Let reach of us see to it that we "love one another fervently with a pure heart," and with great consistency (1 Pet 1:22). Such love will yield enviable benefits in our brethren. It will also be the occasion of the experience of much grace by those loving the brethren. Any other posture is unreasonable. The Spirit gives us no other alternative. We are to love one another fervently.
SHUTTING UP THE FLOW
The example of Christ confirms to us that real flow flows out from the one possessing it. That is its nature, or tendency. However, as we will find, that flow can be stopped by the obstinance and inconsideration of the individual. This is a very poignant view of quenching or grieving the Spirit of God.
Having This World's Good
Now the Spirit speaks of the one who has "this world's good." While other versions use the word "goods," the word is actually in the singular (bi,on). The literal meaning of the word is "this world's means of subsistence, property, goods, or ones living. Barclay-Newman Greek Dictionary There are two realms, or two worlds. One is heavenly, and the other is earthly. Both have commodities required to sustain life in those occupying them. The heavenly realm requires "all spiritual blessings" to sustain life (Eph 1:3). The earthly realm requires things to eat, drink, and clothing for the body (Matt 6:25; Lk 12:22, 29-30).
Not all people-even brethren, are blessed with these things, even though the Father knows we "have need of them" (Lk 12:30). For some, that is a contradiction of thought. But we must take time to consider Lazarus, a "beggar full of sores," whose life was spent desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from a rich man's table. Upon his death, he is described as being carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom, and there being comforted (Lk 16:22-25). There were also saints of old who "wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" (Heb 11:37-38). These very oppressed people "obtained a good report through faith" (Heb 11:37).
For that matter Jesus spoke of the day of when the sheep and goats would be separated-the ungodly from among the godly. He affirmed the eternal destiny of both the sheep and the goats would hinge upon their regard for His people. Because He was alive in His people, the Lord declared the actions toward even the least of them revealed how He Himself was regarded. In that discourse, He spoke of His people as being "hungry," "thirsty," "a stranger," "naked," "sick," and "in prison" (Matt 25:34-40). It is obvious He knew nothing about the guaranteed health and prosperity that is ignorantly declared by many. Such teaching simply is not true.
The Good Samaritan
An excellent example of the type of love declared in our text is found in the word of our Lord concerning the Good Samaritan. You will recall a "certain man" coming down from Jericho fell into the hand of robbers. The heartless thieves "stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead." Two religious men, a "certain priest" and a "Levite," were first afforded the opportunity to minister to this man's need. They both chose to "pass by on the other side," leaving the man with his need.
Later, a "certain Samaritan" passed by that way. Jesus said "when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him." This man had "this world's good," and used it to relieve one less fortunate. Not content to let the matter rest there, and before he left the next day, he made further provision for the man's care. Jesus said, "On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you'" (Lk 10:30-35). That is how love expresses itself. It brings benefit to another at ones own personal expense.
The Early Church
The early church, basking in the freshness of sins forgiven and the power of the Holy Spirit, experienced "need" among some of its members. Some, evidencing a genuine love for the brethren, "sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need" (Acts 2:45). Later, when the number of disciples began to swell, "as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need" (Acts 4:35). One of the significant ministries of that early church was superintended by men filled with the Holy Spirit and wisdom. It involved "the daily distribution" of necessities to widows (Acts 6:1). None of the cases involved the slightest hint that a deficiency of faith existed among those with "need"-need of "this world's good."
A Higher View
If we can rise high enough, we will see that God has placed some people in our path who require our need. They are like a test of our faith and love. In fact, the Word of God suggests we can even be visited by angels who appear as people in need. As it is written, "Let BROTHERLY LOVE continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels" (Heb 13:1-2).
The following words sound as though they were written in a modern newspaper. They are a sort of alarm, sounded to the saints. "This office of humanity has also nearly ceased to be properly observed among men; for the ancient hospitality, celebrated in histories, is unknown to us, and Inns now supply the place of accommodations for strangers. But he speaks not somuch of the practice of hospitality as observed then by the rich; but he rather commends the miserable and the needy to be entertained, as at that time many were fugitives who left their homes for the name of Christ." Written in 1853 by John Calvin.
This is, of course, a devastating view to those possessing a merely intellectual religion. Notwithstanding, this is what the Holy Spirit affirms, and it is on the part of wisdom to comport our lives with that in mind. Besides, Jesus said neglecting to minister to the needy was actually a neglect of Himself, suggesting it is not coincidence when we confront such circumstances.
Remember, whatever is born of God does not sin (3:9). There is in the new creation a compassion like to that of God Himself. An affinity with and preference for the people of God are resident in the now heart and new spirit. If, then, a person wearing the name of Jesus, who is in possession of "this world's good," is confronted with a brother that has "need," and refuses to meet it, a deliberate activity has occurred. Such has "shut up" his "bowels of compassion" -the capacity and inclination to minister that came to him when he was born again. He has stifled Divine life, quenched the Spirit, and neglected Jesus!
There is a remarkable expression found in the sixteenth Psalm. Although there are a variety of translations of it, some of which tend to obscure the truth therein expressed, the KJV version does capture the precise meaning. "O my soul, thou hast said unto the LORD, Thou art my Lord: my goodness extendeth not to Thee; But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight" (Psa 16:2-3). The idea of the Psalm is that we do not personally do good to the Lord, but to His saints that are in the earth. They are the "excellent" ones who are our primary source of delight among the sons of men. A revealing verse, indeed.
The Love of God Is Not There
Unwilling to merely make an interesting observation, the Spirit presses the matter. "How does the love of God abide in him?" The question is a rhetorical one, as though He said, "How can the love of God be in him?"NIV Or, "How is it possible for the love of God to be in him?"BBE
The idea is this: It is not possible to entertain the love of God and at the same time neglect His people. When he says "the love of God" dwells in us, he means our love for God. That love has been prompted by His love for us-a selfless love that provoked the Lord Jesus to lay down His life for us. He did this willingly and with zeal, preferring our lives above His own.
Where there is a disregard for the people of God-"the brethren"-it is pointless to talk about loving God. Our love for the Lord must be suppressed before we can neglect His saints. The failure to minister to them when we are able, confirms that is exactly what has happened. A distance has formed between the individual and God, and thus God cannot be truly loved. Were a lively sense of this truth to grip the contemporary church, it would radically transform it.
VALID EXPRESSIONS OF LOVE
In writing this powerful Epistle, the Spirit is not simply urging us to adopt a proper stand-one that can be sufficiently supported before our enemies. There is certainly nothing wrong with that, and such defenses are not to be despised (Phil 1:17). Notwithstanding, that is not the heart of the Kingdom, and it is certainly not the objective of this Epistle. Our words should not only strictly agree with the truth, but with what we exhibit in our lives.
Therefore, we are admonished as the children of God, "let us not love in word or in tongue." He does not mean we are forbidden to say "I love you," or to state this is our desire. The idea is that love is not to be confined to a statement or saying. It is not enough to affirm love with our tongue, if it is not beheld in our deeds.
And what is the difference between "word" and "tongue?" The term "word" emphasizes WHAT is said, while "tongue" underscores WHO said it. Both words, however, refer to mere verbal expressions that are not supported by deeds of kindness. The people of God are exhorted, "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith" (Gal 6:10). Just as God's love for us erupted in ministering what we needed, so our love for the brethren will break forth in ministering their needs. Of themselves, words are not sufficient.
It is fine to spend time proclaiming and defending the love of the brethren, affirming it to be necessary and evidential. Yet, if we do not actually live out that love, we have only condemned ourselves in our doctrine. It will be said unto such talkers, "Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant" (Lk 19:22). What comes from our mouths must be found in our conduct.
Deed and in Truth
In the doing of good, the Spirit does not allow for a mechanical, or heartless, performance of perceived obligations. Salvation makes no provision for heartless expression, either toward God or man. Loving in "deed" is confirming our love by doing something, just as our Lord confirmed His love by laying down His life for us. Loving in "truth" is loving in reality. That is, the deed done is an actual expression of the heart, both genuine and effective. Only a renewed nature can love in this manner. Thus, the admonition is not simply a goal set forth to us, but a challenge to walk in the Spirit, giving place to godly impulses, and subduing ungodly ones. Thus, our hearts are made known.
ASSURING OUR HEARTS BEFORE HIM
Personal Involvement Reqiured
This is the kind of knowledge that requires personal involvement and attentiveness. No disinterested person can obtain it. In the world, knowledge-even profitable knowledge-can be obtained by those with little personal interest in what is learned. Thus a person may become fairly adept at using mathematics without all of his person being involved. It is quite possible for a skilled person to perform meaningful tasks mechanically, while his mind is actually involved in other things.
But this is emphatically NOT the case in the Kingdom of God. No Kingdom benefit can be realized independently of the personal and deliberate involvement of the individual. God has "called" us "into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor 1:9). That fellowship is satisfying to both the Lord and those joined to Him. If it is true that "the secret of the Lord is with them who fear Him; and He will show them His covenant" (Psa 25:14), the necessity of our awareness of Him should be apparent.
In all of this, confidence plays a most vital role. The closer we draw to the Lord, the more His "secret" is perceived, and the more His covenant is comprehended. The catch in all of this is that we cannot draw near if we are not confident. A lack of assurance makes coming to the Lord a fearful thing. That is why it is written, "Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Heb 10:22).
Thus, the Holy Spirit now labors to bring a fuller measure of assurance to our hearts. We will not fight the good fight of faith well if we are not sure we belong to Christ and are welcome in the presence of the Lord.
Here the Spirit again points us to the love of the brethren. When we are able to love Christ's brethren "in deed and in truth," we will gain a clearer understanding of our status in Christ. The love of the brethren, therefore, is infinitely more than an obligation, although it is surely that. At this point, where we exhibit an interest in, and preference for, the people of God, an indispensable confidence and assurance will be ministered to us. Not only is this confidence essential, it is both enjoyable and encouraging.
We Know That we Are of the Truth
What does it mean to be "of the truth." Some versions read "we belong to the truth"NIV, and "we are from the truth"NRSV. This is another way of saying we know we are "born of God." Remember, God, "chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created"NIV (James 1:18). This is when the Word was "engrafted" within us (James 1:21). Through Peter, the Spirit said it this way, "for you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God" (1 Pet 1:23).
A Superior Beginning
In the beginning God "formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" (Gen 2:7). But the new creation is accomplished in a different manner. By means of "the word of truth,"specifically the Gospel of Christ, the new birth occurs. The very life of Christ, declared in the Gospel, is reproduced in the believer, making him "of the truth." Thus we read of "Christ in you," "Christ dwelling in your heart by faith," and "Christ liveth in me" (Col 1:27; Eph 3:17; Gal 2:20). From this view, spiritual maturity is nothing less than Christ being "formed" in us (Gal 4:19). All of this is involved in being "of the truth."
Thus, being "of the truth" means that we have been born again through the "word of truth." That truth has liberated us from the guilt and power of sin, enabling us to take hold on eternal life.
Knowing "that we are of the truth" is particularly needful. We are in a world that is filled with delusion, and in which powerful deceptive forces are at work. How can we know we are the product of the truth of God, and have embraced the truth? Is such knowledge to be obtained through scientific and logical proofs? Will we be persuaded we are of the truth through archaeological evidence and powerful apologetical arguments? Will convincing us of the historical accuracy of the Gospel produce this knowledge--knowing we are of the truth?
While these things are all lawful in their place, they are all powerless to influence the heart. Faith does not come by seeing, or by logical thought and convincing proofs. It comes "by hearing"-by exposure to the glorious Gospel of Christ of Christ (Rom 10:14-17).
The Real Evidence
This is a view of evidences that differs significantly from the approach normally taken in religious circles. The evidence under consideration relates to knowing we are "of the truth," belonging to God, and with the life of God.
As simplistic as it may appear, that evidence is found in the love of "the brethren." This is not a love in word or tongue, but in deed and truth. It is not a love confirmed by affirmation, but by demonstration. It involves a preference of the people of God above all others. As it is written, "So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith"NASB (Gal 6:10).
God's View of People
Of all the people in the earth, the saints are the most favored of God. Is it not written, "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people" (1 Pet 2:9a). The NASB reads, "But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION." This truth is taught with remarkable consistency throughout Scripture (Acts 20:28; Tit 2:14; 1 Pet 1:2; rev 1:5-6). That is why w e read of "the people of God" (Heb 4:9), "the household of God" (Eph 2:19), "My people" (2 Cor 6:16), "His people" (Rom 15:10), "His saints" (Col 1:26), and "the children of God" (Gal 3:26).
The evidence that you belong to God is NOT your concern for the lost, although such concern is not to be despised. Our text says it is your love of "the brethren." You cannot view people in a manner contradicting God's view and expect to have confidence you are "of the truth." God has made clear that He regards the saints-His children-more highly than any of the sons of men. They alone receive eternal life, an eternal inheritance, and access to the throne of all grace. They are the subjects of angelic ministry, the intercession of Jesus, and the intercession of the Spirit-none of which are afforded to the unregenerate.
It is a matter of great concern when professed believers prefer the friendship of unregenerate people to that of the people of God. Many who wear the name of Jesus have "best friends" who are, by virtue of their unregenerate state, God's enemies. How can such a practice be justified? Who is the naive soul that will attempt to vindicate a preference for the children of the wicked one over the children of the Kingdom?
Assuring Our Hearts
Here is a Kingdom reality that has escaped many a religious soul. Assurance is more to be desired than information. Too, our hearts are to be the focus more than our intellects. This by no means suggests that information and the intellect are of no value, or that they are to be despised. God forbid! Rather, the heart is like the altar that sanctifies the processing of information. If the heart is assured, God-given information becomes profitable as it pervades the mind, or intellect. However, when the heart is not "assured," little profitable time will be spent thinking about what God has said. In fact, in such a case, there will be a marked tendency to ignore the Word of the Lord.
What Is An Assured Heart?
The phraseology of this verse is thought-provoking. It is "WE" that "assure our hearts," based on the evidence of the love of the brethren. Other versions read, "reassure our hearts"RSV, "set our hearts at rest"NIV, "persuade our hearts"DARBYS, "give our heart comfort"BBE, and "convince us"NJB.
The word "assure" carries unusual strength. In the English, it means to be satisfied, convinced, and persuaded. It is the antithesis of doubt, question, and uncertainty. In the Greek (pei,somen), the word means basically the same: be convinced or persuaded, to be certain of something.
An assured heart is what enabled David to face Goliath, Elijah the 450 prophets of Baal, and the three Hebrew children Nebuchadnezzar. This is why Peter and John could stand boldly before their enemies and affirm they would not refrain from speaking what they had "seen and heard." Confidence (Eph 3:12; Heb 3:6), boldness (Eph 3:12; 1 Tim 3:13), steadfastness (1 Cor 15;58; Heb 3:14), and faithfulness (1 Cor 4:2; Rev 2:10), are all the result of an assured heart! They are blessings to be eagerly sought by every child of God.
The Opposite of a Troubled Heart
This is the opposite of having a troubled heart. Remember when Jesus said, "Let not your heart be troubled" (John 14:1). Again, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" (John 14:27). Whereas a troubled and fearful heart causes one to withdraw from God, an assured one compels the individual to draw close to the Lord.
Here again, we see the real nature of the Kingdom of God. The whole intent of salvation is to "bring us to God" (1 Pet 3:18). Nothing else really counts if that is not accomplished. Jesus summarized the whole of His mission in these words, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me"NKJV (John 14:6). As simplistic as this may appear, it should not surprise you that countless numbers of professed believers are living their lives with little, if any, thought of coming into the presence of God.
Life Must Be Lived Before Him
The life of faith must be lived "before Him." If we attempt to live without a due regard for our Father in heaven, we will fail. There is no chance that this will not happen. The Law rendered us guilty "before God" (Rom 3:19) and redemption enables us to have assured hearts "before Him."
By living "before God," I mean we conduct our lives in an acute awareness of His Person. As regards our text, that awareness is a confident one, producing a undoubting boldness. This is the heritage of every child of God, and must not be viewed as a sort of luxury for only a few. As it is written, " . . . Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through faith in Him"NKJV (Eph 3:11-12).
Do you wonder about the necessity of this kind of confidence, boldness, or assurance? It is necessary if you are going to appropriate the grace you need. It is written, "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need"NIV (Heb 4:16). Do not, therefore, regard an assured heart as something you can do without.
The Marvelous Simplicity
We must not allow our hearts to miss the marvelous simplicity of this truth. By simplicity, I do not mean unintelligent and uninvolved. Rather, I mean without undue complication, unpretentious, and well within our reach. An assured heart can be obtained by duly reflecting upon our love of "the brethren." If we are at home in their presence, we can also be at home in the presence of the One who has begotten them! If we prefer them, God will also prefer us! If we do good to them, God will also do good to us! Our regard for the people of God confirms that we possess the nature of God.
All of this has to do with having a good conscience-something faith produces and requires. The Spirit will now show us that an "evil conscience," or one that is polluted, will drive us from the presence of the Lord. It will not allow us to stand confidently before Him, or to expect mercy and grace from Him. When we stagger with fear before the Lord, we are not able to receive from Him. We sorely need assured hearts before our God.
IF OUR HEART CONDEMN US
If there was no danger in a heart that condemns us, then there would be no need to "assure our hearts before Him." There would, in such a case, be no need for assurance. Thus, the whole reasoning of this passage becomes pointless, and an insult to the spiritual mind.
If Our Heart Condemn Us
Here is an unusually strong statement. A condemned heart is one that forbids us to come confidently into the presence of the Lord. This kind of heart compelled Adam and Eve to "hide themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). It is the kind of heart that prompted Peter to say to Jesus, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Lk 5:8). A most precise explanation of this type of heart is found in the incident of the woman taken in the act of adultery being brought to Jesus. When our Lord challenged her accusers by saying, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first," it is written, "Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last" (John 8:7-9). Their hearts condemned them!
Another phrase unveiling the meaning of a condemning heart is found in Titus 3:11. There, a heretic, or divisive man refusing correction, is said to be "condemned of himself," or "self condemned"NKJV.
The New Heart
That is one of the advantages of receiving a "new heart." The need of being sensitive of our own heart cannot be overemphasized. Satan tempts us to develop and nourish the longings of the flesh, or the unregenerate part of our persons. The Spirit, on the other hand, sheds abroad the love of God in our "hearts" (Rom 5:5). Among other things, this enables us to live with a greater consciousness of our heart than our flesh. After all, that is where God has sent the Holy Spirit-"into our hearts" (Gal 4:6; 2 Cor 1:22). That is where Jesus dwells (Eph 3:17).
When, therefore, "our heart condemn us," it is nothing less than the new nature being repulsed and offended by our conduct.
The Matter of Loving the Brethren
In this particular text, the point of emphasis is loving the brethren. The presence of this love confirms we have, indeed, been born of God. But what if this love is NOT present in the professing Christian? What if there is not due regard for the saints of God? What is they are not preferred, and their fellowship sought and enjoyed? What if the individual is not involved in doing good "especially" to them (Gal 6:10)?
Wherever this condition exists-a lack of the love of the brethren-the truth of God is so powerful it will, if believed, bring great conviction upon the individual. Their heart will, in such a case, condemn them. It will drive them from the presence of the Lord just as surely the sin of Adam and Eve drive them from the Divine presence.
There Is A Remedy
I am swift to say that a remedy for this condition is provided in Christ Jesus. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" NKJV(1 John 1:9). "And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous"NKJV (1 John 2:1). Yet, such confessions require a great deal of faith and fortitude, as your own conscience will confirm.
If the love of the brethren is a primary evidence of being born of God, then the absence of such love is a confirmation of the lack of Divine life. What is being revealed to us is that serious.
God Is Greater Than Our Heart
If our heart sees our failings, what do you think God sees? If our own heart refuses to commend our deeds, what do we imagine the God of heaven will do?
The ultimate judge is God, not the heart. Yet, the new heart does reflect God's assessment of things. It is imperative that we be sensitive to its reactions.
Nothing Is Hidden From God
By saying "God is greater than our hearts," the Spirit confirms we cannot hide anything from His view. As it is written, "all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do" (Heb 4;13). Living in an acute awareness of this will take the edge off of temptation, and weaken the influence of the flesh upon us. Your own experience in Christ will confirm this to be the case. You simply cannot sin while you are looking to Jesus, meditating upon the truth, or drawing near to God.
God Cannot Gloss Sin
We also learn from this text that God cannot gloss sin-even in those who are in His Son. That is why he dealt so harshly with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11) and the disrespectful Corinthians (1 Cor 11:30). It is the reason for chastisement, that we "be no condemned with the world" (1 Cor 11:32).
God Considers What Men Ignore
God takes account of things men tend to ignore. Many a soul is not even convicted by a disregard for the people of God. But for those who are, God's view of their transgression is even greater than their own. He sees the fulness of such an attitude, knowing the reason for its presence and the extent of its defilement.
God Knows All things
The very fact that this is written confirms it can easily escape our attention. Think of it. We only know some things, and yet our heart can condemn us. What can be said of God Who "knows all things"?
The awareness of this fact prompted Peter's response to our Lord when he was asked about his love. "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You" (John 21:17). Oh, for more of this frame of mind, that we might bare our hearts before the Lord, knowing He already sees them fully.
This is what moved the Psalmist to say, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa 139:23-24). He knew God "knows all things," and turned it into personal advantage.
It was this very truth that prompted Paul not to rely upon His own assessment of himself, even though he took account of such knowledge. "For I know nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God"NKJV (1 Cor 4:4-5).
It is not often that any person can confess he knows nothing against himself-but Paul did. He was so dominated by faith, and lived so fully unto the Lord, that he was "not conscious of any wrong" in himselfBBE. Yet, he made no boast in this, knowing that he only "knew in part" (1 Cor 13:9). He will wait for praise until "the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God." His faith would not rest in a personal assessment of himself. He would also wait to receive praise from God Himself.
Corruption Remains In Us
While we remain in the body, we will find "another law in our members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members" (Rom 7:23). By the grace of God, we are not given to see the fulness of the remnants of corruption within us. Methinks it would cause us to faint were we able to see it thoroughly.
We can not afford, therefore, to ignore the cries of our heart for spiritual sustenance. Neither, indeed, can we refuse to hear its condemning warning when "straight paths" are not being made for our feet (Heb 12:12).
All of this particularly has relevance in the matter of loving the brethren. If we ever find ourselves withdrawing from them, or not regarding and respecting them, we are in a danger zone of greatest magnitude. There is no acceptable excuse for refusing those God has received in Christ.
All Is Not Hopeless
As always, faith turns this knowledge into an advantage. Because God is "greater than our heart," we must run quickly to Him-as soon as our heart cries out of offence! You just not allow your sin to keep you from God, but in faith come to Him for cleansing. He is "faithful and just to forgive your sins, and cleanse you from all unrighteousness." When this occurs, your heart will condemn you no longer. The blessed of this provision is wonderful!
IF OUR HEART DOES NOT CONDEMN US
If Our Heart Condemn Is Not
First, we must rejoice that such a condition is not impossible. Here the spirit has confronted us with two "Ifs." "If our heart condemns us," and "If our heart condemns us not." Here are two alternatives, and every believer must take one of them. The result of an uncondemning heart will confirm its value and indispensability.
What Is A Heart that Does Not Condemn?
Here we touch upon the conscience, and the necessity of it being "good." There is a sort of spiritual intuition related to life in Christ Jesus. From one point of view, it is mystical. Yet, from another view, it is cognitive, involving things that can be, in measure, recognized and understood.
Faith brings with it a higher level of understanding. Through it, we are persuaded of realities than cannot be explained or confirmed on an earthly level. One of the premier examples of this is Abraham. When given a Divine promise that defied logical explanation, it is written that he "contrary to hope, in hope believed" NKJV(Rom 4:18). The text before us is dealing with that type of thing. Even though ALL of the facts are not before us, nor do we have the capacity of beholding them if they were, yet we are able to obtain a persuasion that God has received us.
A heart that "does not condemn us," is one that does not prohibit us from coming into the presence of the Lord. It is a heart that is not burdened by the commandments of the Lord, nor does it faint when chastened by Him. The uncondemning heart can stand in the blazing glory of God without being harmed or repulsed by it.
A Good Conscience
Here is something much to be coveted-"a good conscience." while such a conscience is not infallible, nor is it to be the object of trust, yet is yields indispensable benefits. Such a conscience provides some understanding of a heart that does not condemn us.
There are many remarkable things about Paul stated in Scripture. Not the last of these is the confession concerning his conscience. "I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day" (Acts 23:1). Although, at one time, his conscience was imperfect, yet his refusal to violate it eventually led to his rescue from condemnation. After coming into Christ, he affirmed the maintenance of such a conscience. "And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men" (Acts 24:16). An enviable state, indeed!
The value of a good conscience, or a heart that does not condemn, is also expressed by Paul in Second Corinthians 1:12. "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward."
The Objective of the Commandment
Paul told Timothy he had been made an Apostle of Jesus Christ "by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope." He then revealed the purpose of that marvelous "commandment." It was not merely for his personal benefit, although that
was integral to it. The marvelous intention of the commandment is stated in this manner. "Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith" (1 Tim 1:1,5).
This is the precise focus of our text. The love of the brethren, John writes, becomes the evidence of our birth from above. Because of that, it can only be accomplished from a pure heart and a good conscience-that is, a heart that does not condemn us.
Other expressions of a good conscience include "a pure conscience" (2 Tim 1:3), "a conscience without offense" (Acts 24:16), a "purged" conscience (Heb 9:14), and "conscience toward God" (1 Pet 2:19). All of them have to do with a heart that does not condemn us. Such a heart allows us in the presence of the Lord, where there is refreshment and fulness of joy. It is what brings delight and boldness to the believer.
Then we Have Confidence
It is important to note the revealed result of a heart that does not condemn us. Carefully, the Spirit does not ascribe to such a possession things beyond the will of God. He does NOT say, If our heart condemn us not, we have eternal life. Rather, He affirms that those so blessed "have confidence toward God." By this He means we have "access to God with confidence" (Eph 3:12). We come into His presence by faith, knowing we have "peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 5:1). We are not His enemies, but His sons, and that by His grace.
At once a difficulty looms in this text. Who is the individual that can say their heart has not troubled them, or that it has never condemned them? The Spirit has already told us, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1:8). And again, "If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us" (1:10).
Our text confirms that faith makes us intensely sensitive. That sensitivity is spiritual, and is directed toward both God and His people. Even when deficiencies are found in our persons, yet we acknowledge they are against our will, and that they exist without our consent. Yet, even though they are present, we find ourselves loving those who have been begotten of God. While own advancement does not satisfy us, and we continue to press toward the mark, yet our preference for the saints of God emboldens us to come into the presence of the Lord.
There is yet another truth to be seen here. Our heart not condemning us, and possessing confidence before God, are not a perpetual and uninterrupted states. Your own experience will confirm this to be the case. However, when such confidence does dominate us, and we are expectantly rejoicing in the Lord, we may come without hesitation into His presence. The following verses will confirm this to be the emphasis of the text.
I cannot leave this section without noting the nature of this confidence. It is not self-confidence. Nor, indeed, is it the mere absence of fretting. It is confidence "toward God." More contemporary translations read "before God." That is, when we are conscious of His presence, THEN we are confident. Or, when we sense our need of the Lord and His blessing, THEN we are undoubting and assured we will obtain mercy and find grace to help in the time of need..
This represents the basic posture of the believer-"toward God." The Lord Himself is our basic consideration. While we also, in a sense, live toward men, doing good to them, and seeking their welfare, yet our fundamental bent is "toward God." That circumstance is what gives value to all good works. It is also what causes the "love of the brethren" to flourish among us. God will not accept the second posoition.
I will approach this text knowing it is a precise statement of the case, and that God cannot lie. Any difficulties associated with receiving what it affirms are evidences of unbelief, and are to be overcome.
Further, I thoroughly repudiate any notion that the Spirit is here referring to some first century benefit that is no longer available to the sons of God. Such an approach to the Gospel is nowhere declared in Scripture, and is everywhere contradicted by Divine utterance. What is said here has to do with the revealed intentions of this Epistle. Allow me to state them again, for they are integral to the understanding of what is being affirmed.
Whatsoever We Ask
This promise directly relates to having confidence before God. It is intended to elaborate on the marvelous results of possessing such confidence. We will find the Spirit's statement very weighty. Some versions connect verse twenty-two with verse twenty-one, making them a single sentence. This, in my judgment, does reflect the intent of the promise. " . . . if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him" NASB. " . . . if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and we receive from Him whatever we ask"RSV " . . . if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask"NIV
We must not allow unbelief to rob us of this promise. Remember, we become "partakers of the Divine nature" through the "exceeding great and precious promises of God" (2 Pet 1:4)-and this is certainly such a promise! It must not, therefore, produce questions within us, but be perceived as something to be appropriated. If we do not approach the statement in this spirit, we are acknowledging we are convinced it has no relevance to us. Were that the case, of course, we have happened upon an unprofitable text of Scripture, which thought is the epitome of absurdity (2 Tim 3:16-17).
This is not the first place "Whatsoever we ask" is mentioned in Scripture. Later John will write, "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him" (5:15).
Jesus said to His disciples, "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it" (John 14:14). Again He promised, "And in that day you will ask Me nothing. Most assuredly, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in My name He will give you" (John 16:23). The expression "in My name" is to be equated with "according to His will." The idea is that the prayer is in harmony with the Lord's Person and purpose.
Not For the Apostles Alone
It may be that some will conclude these magnificent promises were given only to the Apostles-even though there is not the slightest hint that this is the case. It seems better me to reason that John, in writing our text, is fulfilling the mandate of Jesus. "Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matt 28:20).
While it is to be acknowledged the Apostles possessed special measures of these things, the promises themselves were not exclusive to them. Peter confirms this in his second Epistle. "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours in the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet 1:1).
A Divine Guarantee
Speaking of the tenacity of faith, Jesus promised, "Ask, and it shall be given you . . . For every one that asketh receiveth" (Matt 7:7-8). Again, Jesus promised, "If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you" (John 15:7).
Underlying all of this is the supposition that abiding in Christ, His word abiding in us, and a heart that does not condemn us, impacts upon our desires. The righteous are prone to want the right things when they are in the right place with God. Trivialities have no place in the presence of God or the heart that is pure. Given the existence of these conditions, we will be directed to ask for proper things, and not ask "amiss" (James 4:3).
It is comely for the saints of God to strive to live in the "whatsoever we ask" realm, not floundering around in the flesh, where it is impossible to please God. Just as surely as living in right spiritual domain brings answer to prayer, living in the wrong one shuts heaven to the sons of men.
We Receive of Him
To be sure, there are times when we ask and are denied. Elijah asked to die, and did not (1 Kgs 19:4-5). Paul asked for a thorn to be removed, and it was not (2 Cor 12:7-10). Our Lord Jesus Himself sought for the appointed bitter cup to be removed, and it was not (Matt 26:39-44). These, however, were all struggles with temptation. While such prayers are very real, they are not the subject of our text.
Here we read of answered prayer. The answer is not "No!", or "Wait!," which answer has been experienced by all saints. This is an affirmative answer that finds the requester receiving what was requested. "Whatsoever we ask we receive from Him." Whatever you may think at first about this statement, you must acknowledge there is a pleasant ring to it. What soul is there that does not desire the fulfillment of such a promise? Of course, that is what gives the promise such power-the sensitive soul is attracted by it.
God has often promised such a reaction to the prayers of His people, so this commitment should not surprise us. "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me"NKJV (Psa 50:15). "He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him"NKJV(Psa 91:15). "Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know"NKJV (Jer 33:3). It is no wonder the Spirit affirmed, "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).
Casualness in Prayer
The average assembly is characterized by an uncomely casualness in prayer. Too often this glorious benefit is approached while men are laden with the cares of this world. They do not come confidently before the Lord, and often even lack seriousness. It is time for the body of Christ to seek a strong confidence, and then to relate it to prayer.
Because We Keep His Commandments
You will observe the care with which the Spirit approaches the promise of answered prayer, or receiving what we request. He will now confirm to our hearts that those living at variance with the revealed will of God are not to expect their prayers to be answered.
Not only does the Spirit relate receiving our petitions to the possession of confidence, He also associates it with the retention of "His commandments." This is not synonymous with obedience, or the doing of the commandments, which is mentioned later.
The word "keep" is an interesting one, and can easily be overlooked. It literally means to observe, pay attention to, and keep in custody.Barclay-Newman Greek Dictionary It also carries that meaning in English: to watch over, maintain, or cause to remain in a given place.Merriam Webster
But we can get this meaning from the Word of God itself, which is the best procedure. Frequently the Law spoke of keeping the commandments AND doing them (Lev 22:31; 26:3; Deut 7:11; 13:8). David also spoke of keeping the commandments AND doing them (1 Chron 29:19). Nehemiah did as well (Neh 1:9). The very text we are considering also approaches the commandments in that manner. "Because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
This is a heart matter. It involves a preference for the commandments of God, and a great delight in them. Like David, the one keeping the commandments hides them in his heart, that he might not sin against the Lord (Psa 119:11). From the standpoint of the New Covenant, this is letting the Word of Christ "dwell" in us "richly" (Col 3:16). This circumstance causes the commandments to no longer be grievous to us (1 John 5:3). It is no wonder the Spirit said, "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters"NKJV (1 Cor 7:19).
When the commandments of God are not welcome in our hearts, or do not occupy a prominent place in our thinking, our prayers become useless. David spoke of looking "into all" of God's "commandments" (Psa 119:6). That is involved in keeping them: paying attention to them, pondering and meditating upon them.
Do Those Things Pleasing in His Sight
While this does involve obedience, it goes beyond simply doing what God commands. This by no means suggests that NOT doing what God commands is ever excused. God has pledged Himself to destroy all who "obey not," and He will keep that word (2 Thess 1:8). There simply is no place for disobedience in the Kingdom of God! Those whose manner it is to disobey are called "children of disobedience." Satan is said to work uninhibitedly in them, and the wrath of God will come upon them (Eph 2:2; 5:6; Col 3:6).
Our text, however, does not say we receive what we ask because we do not disobey. Neither, indeed, does it say our petitions are granted because we always do what we are told. Rather, the cause is "we do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
Doing, But Not Pleasing
It is possible to do what God says, yet to displease Him in the doing of it. The feasts kept by the Jews are a case in point (Amos 5:21-23). The stilted approach of Ephesus to spiritual life is another example (Rev 2:1-5). Heartless religion is a ruination to the sons of men, for God will not receive it.
Therefore, the Spirit speaks of "doing those things which are pleasing in His sight." Such doing comes from the heart, and is an expression of faith. It is also the very life of Christ expressing itself through the faith of His brethren. Our Lord once used this very language in reference to His spotless life: "I do always those things that please Him" (John 8:29). He will do not less when He dwells in our hearts by faith.
If it is true that prayers can be "hindered" by a husbands inconsideration of his wife (1 Pet 3:7), how will they be obstructed by doing things that bring God displeasure? Do not suppose for a moment that God is not displeased with certain conduct. God killed Onan because what he did "displeased" Him (Gen 38:10). On another occasion, when the Israelites complained, it so "displeased the Lord" that He "consumed them that were in the uttermost parts of the camp" (Num 11:1). When David sinned with Bathsheba, it is written, "But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD" (2 Sam 11:27). Indeed, there is no person capable of displeasing God with impunity.
But we must not allow our attention remain on the effects of displeasing God. Notice what occurs when we "do those things pleasing in His sight." "Whatever we ask we receive from Him!"
Lest we be tempted to imagine perfunctory obedience will bring this blessing, let us consider a saying of our blessed Lord. "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do"NKJV (Lk 17:10). You will search in vain for a single promise of good or Divine consideration for an "unprofitable servant!" They are always presented asa unfavorable.
If you only express yourself toward God when you are told to do so, you are not doing what is well pleasing in His sight. There must come a time when you focus on those higher and more concise commands that cannot be fulfilled in a single deed. "Be perfect" (Matt 5:48), "Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might" (Eph 6:10), "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness" (Matt 6:33), "Set your affection on things above" (Col 3:1), etc. There are areas of Divine good pleasure that require preference, longing, and participation. They all involve being guided with the Lord's eye, as compared with a bit and a bridle, reserved for the recalcitrant (Psa 32:8-9).
If the time has not yet arrived, there will come a time when everything will hinge on the effectiveness of your prayer. It may be yourself sinking in the stormy deep like Peter. It may be time when you are pleading for your own little child like Jairus, or for your servant, like the Centurion. But when that time comes, keeping the Lord's commandments and doing those things that please Him will pay big dividends. You have a Divine commitment on this, and your faith can take hold of it. "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
Do not philosophize on this! This is a matter for faith, not philosophy. Take hold of the truth, and it will take hold of you. Believe this text in the fullest sense possible, firmly resisting the tendency to weaken its power. It is possible to please the Lord in what you do. Christ has provided all of the resources required for this, and man has provided none of them. Further, if you have a fervent desire to please the Lord, it will not be long until you will be doing precisely that. The largest part of pleasing God is a will to do so.
THE SUPREME COMMANDMENT
While the Spirit has mentioned "His commandments," He will not speak of them as a single command. This is the same manner in which the Law was addressed. Moses wrote, "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might" (Deut 6:4-5). Again he wrote, "And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul" (Deut 10:12). In this summation, the spirit of the law was captured.
Solomon also provided a summation of Divine requirements. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man" (Eccl 12:13). Here again, the nature of human responsibility was expressed.
Once, when asked "Master, which is the great commandment of the Law?", Jesus answered, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matt 22:36-38). Again, our Lord stated the spirit of the Law.
But a summation of the law is not the highest expression of Divine commands. On the eve of our Lord's betrayal, He spoke of His commandment-not commandments. Here is what he said. "This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you" (John 15:12). Here, the commandments are expressed in an even more concise manner.
Now, John will declare "His commandment" with regard to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Moses summarized the commandments from the standpoint of the Law. Solomon summarized the responsibility of man. Jesus summarized them from the standpoint of the consideration of His people. Now John will declare the impact of redemption upon the matter. The Law was summarized in both a primary thrust Godward and a secondary one manward. Now, as a result of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, the matter of keeping commandments will become even more focused. Both the Godward and the manward thrusts will be more definitive.
Believing on the Name of His Son
You may recall that the law did not require faith. It gave no commandment to believe. Solomon did not state a requirement for faith either, but rather of fearing the Lord. Now, however, much is made of the Son of God. It is no longer a matter of fulfilling obligations. Now the issue is being born again, or becoming a child of God.
Thus it is written, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:11-13). In fact, believing in the name of the Son of God is very issue on which men are either saved or condemned. Jesus said, "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God" (John 3:18). So what does it mean to "believe in" or "on the name of the son of God?"
In fact, this very Epistle is written to "unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God" (5:13). This is, then, a most critical point, and we do well to comprehend it.
The Meaning of Believing On the Name
Right here, there is a phenomenal amount of nonsense being taught in the name of the Lord. For, some, this is a matter of pronouncing a mere formula-saying "in the name of Jesus." For others, this is an affirmation of a single person Divine Person who has acted as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Those embracing this balderdash say that God is conducting business as under the name of Jesus today. Were it not for the tragic divisions these views have caused, we would simply dismiss them with the laugh of derision.
First, the spirit has spoken with Divine precision. He has declared, "And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ." By "His," the Spirit means God the Father, for Jesus Christ is "His Son." The "name" of His Son is not the appellation Jesus, or Jesus Christ. That is not the sense in which this is written. It is true "His name shall be called Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). Text includes that, and more.
Throughout Scripture "name" stands for the person himself, and for the character of that person. When referred to Deity, "Name" is a synonym for Who God is and what He does. This is illustrated in God's dealings with Moses. This great servant of God asked the Lord, "Show me Thy glory." In response, the Lord said, "I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But He said, "You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live." Notice the interchangeable use of "name," "glory," "I," and "Me." They are all speaking about the Person of God. This is confirmed in the way in which God revealed Himself to Moses. "Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation'" (Ex 33:18; 34:5-7). Thus, the "name of the Lord" referred to the revelation of His Person, of His character and manner of work toward the sons of men.
In the text before us, "the name of His Son Jesus Christ" refers to His Person as affirmed in the Gospel. Later, this will be called "the record God has given of His Son" (1 John 5:10, or how He has been made known through the Gospel.
Believing on the name of the Son of God is embracing Him as Savior, and as the exclusive means to God. It is trusting to His defeat of the devil and the work of reconciliation He has accomplished through His death. Believing on the name of the Son of God is not relying on Him to resolve personal problems. While we should bring such matters to the Lord, believing on His name has to do with receiving the atonement He has accomplished. It has do with trusting what He has accomplished for us, and receiving what He has appropriated for us. If we are hesitant to do this, we are to remember it is "His commandment" to do so.
From the very beginning "the name of His Son" has been identified with salvation from sin. "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins" (Matt 1:21). The Person of Jesus perfectly agrees with that "name." Only those who have embraced Jesus as the remedy for sin have really believed on His name. That is the first and fundamental issue addressed by Him. Until sin is resolved, nothing else matters.
Loving One Another
He does not say love the world, but "love one another." He does not say love our neighbor, "but love one another!" Every person, therefore, that does not love the brethren is living in disobedience, regardless of religious affiliation.
"One another" refers to all who are joined to the Lord, for they are all "members of one another" (Rom 12:5). I am emphatic in saying this does not refer to members of our denomination sect. God does not make us members of any denomination-even a major, fundamental, and doctrinally sound one. God has "set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased" (1 Cor 12:18). Being in that "body" is what makes the each individual "one another." That is, they are as part of the whole.
KNOWING HE ABIDES IN US
From one point of view, it is simplistic. From another, it is complicated enough to require extensive self-examination. You may rest assured, however, that a close inspection of our manner of life will bring great joy if we are, in fact, in the Lord. If the examination confirms the absence of the required qualities, provision is made in Christ for forgiveness and cleansing.
He that Keeps His Commandments
The "commandments" in reference are the ones just given: Believing on the name of the Son of God, and Loving one another. We must not take this further than that, else we will cause the saints to waver. For those in Christ Jesus, all other commandments come under these primary ones. It simply is not possible to keep these commandments and prove deficient in the other ones. Obedience here guarantees obedience in all other matters.
Neither, indeed, must we consider these words synonymous with "obey all of His commandments." This does not allow for disobedience in any degree. It does, however, focus upon the heart, where the commandments are actually kept. This type of language concentrates on the desire and preference of the believer, recognizing that we do come short of perfectly doing what we desire. As it is written, "For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please" (Gal 5:17). We do the saints no favor by bludgeoning them for coming short of their own spiritual desires. It is our business to encourage them to nurture those deep cravings, seeking grace to fulfill them. God has a controversy with those who harm His people by approaching them as though they were His enemies. Better to follow the example of this text, encouraging them to look within, and derive great comfort and benefit from their desire to believe on the Son and love the brethren.
Dwelling in Him
And what will be said of those who have "fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before" them, and "love one another"? They are dwelling in Him! The word "dwell" means abide, continue, and remain. They are staying where God placed them-"in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:30). Be assured, this is no small accomplishment. It reveals hearty effort on the part of the believer, and powerful support on the part of God.
"Dwelleth in Him" is directly related to abiding in the vine (John 15:4). It is the practical view of "eternal life," which is knowing God and Jesus Christ (John 17:3). When we are raised to walk in newness of life, we are "joined to the Lord" (1 Cor 6:17). He becomes our primary Residence. How succinctly David states it in 2 Samuel 22:3. "The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, My stronghold and my refuge . . ." Again it is written, "God is a refuge for us" (Psa 62:8), "You are my hiding place" (Psa 32:7), "You are my hiding place and my shield" (Psa 119:114).
It is challenging to consider that we actually "dwell" in God. Nevertheless, this is the affirmation of the Spirit, and we do well to embrace it with zeal.
In the next chapter, the fact of us dwelling in God is again affirmed upon the basis of evidence. "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (4:15). Again, "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (4:16).
In a prophecy of this aspect of salvation, Isaiah declared how God would provide a hiding place in a "man," even "the Man Christ Jesus." "A man will be as a hiding place from the wind" (Isa 32:9; 1 Tim 2:5). Although the primary meaning of our text is that we dwell in God, the truth of being "in Christ" is also declared repeatedly. "Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?" (Rom 6:3). "For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Gal 3:27). "But of Him (the Father) you are in Christ Jesus" (1 Cor 1:30).
This is germane to our text, because we cannot consider the Father apart from the Son. To be effectually identified with One is to also be identified with the Other.
Indwelt by Him
As if we had not been challenged enough, the Spirit further declares the marvelous reality evidenced when we keep His commandments and love the brethren. "Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He (God) in him (the one keeping the commandments and loving the brethren)."
This language emphasizes the oneness with Deity that is accomplished in salvation. Not only do the saved dwell in God, He also dwells, or makes His abode, with them. Jesus revealed this aspect of new life when He said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him" (John 14:23). The promise is addressed to "anyone" meeting the requirements.
This is an aspect of the New Covenant that is to be declared to the saints. "If we love one another, God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us" 1 John 4:12). "Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwelleth in him . . . " (4:15). "I will dwell in them And walk among them" (2 Cor 6:16). Time spent meditating upon this reality will be time well spent, and will yield unspeakable benefits to the individual.
While it is apparent to faith, it should again be stated that union with God produces undeniable change in men. It does not change God. It simply is not possible to dwell in God, and God dwell in us, without a spiritual change being wrought. That is why our text is so firm in what it says.
By saying that God dwells in us, the Spirit has gone to the root of the matter. He does not do so independently of His Son or the Holy Spirit. Jesus has provided a just reason for God to dwell within us. The Holy Spirit is the appointed means of that indwelling. All of this is language addressed to faith. It cannot be deciphered with the human intellect, but it can be believed with the heart. The heart is the aim of the text.
How We Know He Abides In Us
We must not content ourselves with taking a theological position concerning the indwelling God. We must look for solid evidence of it in order that confidence may rise in our hearts. Thus our text concludes, "And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us."
While the statement itself is simplistic, the weight of it is staggering. The Spirit does not seem to say enough about the confirmation of God dwelling within us-at least not for the flesh. Christendom is divided over the whole matter of the Holy Spirit. People take sides, choosing the opinions of men as their foundation, and argue about the presence of the Holy Spirit. These are greatly diverse, ranging from an outright denial that the Spirit is given to us at all, to the development of external proofs of that presence, imposed upon those who believe. With zeal, we must abandon such approaches to Scripture. They dishonor God, do despite to the Spirit of God, and rob us of things required for "full assurance."
The proof that God dwells in us is stated as though it were abundantly evident: "by the Spirit whom He has given unto us." He does not go into a list of things that proves the Spirit is in us, but simply states the case. Many a soul is wholly dissatisfied with this explanation.
Further, the text does not say that He WILL give us the Spirit, or that He CAN give us the Spirit. With the full spectrum of truth before Him, for He "searches the deep things of God" (1 Cor 2:10), the Spirit declares that God "has given" Him "unto us." He does not speak of a possibility but a reality. His testimony is to be believed.
Ponder how often this truth is expressed. " . . . the Holy Spirit who was given to us . . . Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God . . . who also has sealed us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee . . . Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee . . . Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit . . . By this we know that we abide in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit . . . And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!" (Rom 5:5; 1 Cor 2:12; 2 Cor 1:22; 5:5; 1 Thess 4:8; 1 John 4:13; Gal 4:6).
The New Birth
The underlying supposition of this statement is that the new birth itself is effected by the Holy Spirit (John 3:6,8). Also, new life is the result of His influence-as evidenced in the keeping of His commandments and the love of the brethren. What God requires of His people cannot be accomplished through the energy of the flesh. It is ever true, "the flesh profiteth nothing" (John 6:63). That is, when it comes to doing the will of God, the natural part of us is impotent. Unless we are infused with life by the Spirit of God, we will not be able to do the will of God.
That is why the Scriptures say, "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Rom 8:13-14),. "strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man" (Eph 3:16), "the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us" (Rom 5:5). Believers are reminded they have "obeyed the truth through the Spirit" (1 Pet 1:22), "through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith" (Gal 5:5), and "abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit" (Rom 5:13).
While many choose to reject this basic postulate of Scripture, there is simply too much said about the subject to excuse such unbelief. It is God "who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil 2:13). Let every believer take delight in this arrangement and look for the confirming evidence of the Spirit within. His work in you loudly declares that God abides in you. What enlightened soul is there that does not rejoice in this glorious reality? God is, after all, "able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us" (Eph 3:20). But it is foolish to ponder what God is able to do apart from Him doing it in the saints. A lack of personal involvement removes the benefit.
That work is never more evident than when you maintain your grasp of the commandments of God, and love the brethren. Admittedly, flesh will not be able to capitalize on those things, making them unique characteristics of a denomination. Many views of the Holy Spirit are nothing more than distinctive doctrines of a religious sect. Nevertheless, the retention of the commandments of God, and the love of the brethren will give you the confidence required to successfully make the journey from the cradle to the grave, or the day of the Lord, whichever comes first.
But what are we to look for? While we are not to avoid considering the absence of things required of us, that is not our primary focus. It is quite true that we pray with David, "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psa 139:23-24). But we are not to end there, for that is not the highest form of inquiry. We do have something David did not have-something He desired, but which was withheld from him because of the time in which he lived. We have received benefits of a much higher order. They include the indwelling Christ, witness and intercession of the Holy Spirit, the multiplication of grace and peace, a new heart, and a new spirit.
We are primarily to look for evidence that we do possess new life from God. Herein is a significant difference between Law and grace, or faith and works. Under the law, the individual had received nothing more than a rule of conduct. It was a valid rule-one that effectively defined sin (Rom 3:20), and stopped every proud mouth from boasting of achievement before God (Rom 3:19). But the Law brought no resources, or power to do what it commanded. Further, it dealt more with the evidence of sin than with its root, and never with blessings received.
The New Covenant differs significantly. First, it makes demands that far exceed that of the Law: i.e., "Be strong," "Be perfect," "Love one another as I have loved you," "Lay hold on eternal life," "Submit yourselves to God," "Resist the devil," and "Let the peace of God rule in your heart" (Eph 6:10; Matt 5:48; John 13:34; 1 Tim 6:12; James 4:7; Col 3:15). If that is not enough for you, add "Come boldly unto the throne of grace," "Draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith," "Cast not away your confidence," and "Keep yourselves in the love of God" (Heb 4:16; 10:22; 10:35; Jude 21). These are matters of such magnitude that when they are done it confirms God is with us.
The Spirit often reminds us of the work of God within. "Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen" (Heb 13:20-21). Your effort will be involved, to be sure. But when the commandments are kept, and you really do love the brethren as Christ loved you, a confession of the work of God will be made. In the process of beholding the confirming work of the Lord within you, you will become assured that you have eternal life. You will capitalize on fellowship with God and His people. With joy you will draw water out of the wells of salvation (Isa 12:3). Sin will not only be more repulsive to you, there will be an experience of confidence and strength that will make you superior to all of the powers of darkness.
Blessed is the person who becomes convinced, by incontrovertible evidence, that God dwells in him, and he has passed from death unto life. That is an enviable position, indeed, and yet it is something that is available to every person who is in Christ. In fact, you will find it to be indispensable in obtaining victory over the world. Look for the evidence, and you will find consolation.