Condemnation or Confidence (1 John 3:19-24)

Is your relationship with God characterized by feelings of condemnation or confidence?

If you’re at all like me—in other words, if you’re an ordinary Christian—your answer to this question is probably, “Both.” Sometimes I feel guilty and ashamed of my sins. Knowing that I’m a sinner, I feel like I should be condemned. Other times, however, I feel like I’m in sync with God and his purposes for my life. In those times, I feel God’s love for me, have hope for the future, and approach him confidently in prayer.

These wavering feelings are my issue (and yours), not God’s. God is constant in his love for us. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” And 2 Timothy 2:13 adds, “if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” The key word in both verses is faithful. Our feelings for God may fluctuate, but God’s commitment to us does not.

So, the question we ought to ask is, what do we do when instead of feeling confidence before God, we are plagued by feelings of condemnation? First John 3:19-24 provides an answer:

This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

According to these verses, when plagued by feelings of condemnation, we should first and foremost think about God. “God is greater than our hearts,” John tells us. He is faithful to the faithless. Indeed, “his Son, Jesus Christ” is the demonstration of his love for sinners (1 John 3:16). And he “lives in us” through “the Spirit he gave us.” The work of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit) confirms God’s constant love for us and is the foundation for moving from feelings of condemnation to confidence.

Knowing God’s constant love for us motivates us toward greater faith and better works. “And this is his command,” John writes: “to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.” Whenever you feel condemned, believe in Jesus Christ and produce the good works which faith in him inspires. The more you turn to Jesus (which is faith) and act like Jesus (which is love), the more confident you will feel in your relationship to God.

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