19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives 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.
(1 John 3:19-24 NIV)
John has given us the principles of living in fellowship with one another (chapter 2, verses 18-27). John now focuses on practicing those principles in our everyday lives (chapter 2 verse 28 through chapter 3 verse 24). John reminds us that the Lord is not honored by our knowledge, but by our obedience.
John has laid out three tests for us to examine our hearts and check if our practice as a Christ follower is in agreement with the principles we say we believe:
- the test of righteousness – do we demonstrate that we love God by obeying His commands?
- the love test – do we love other Christ followers in word and in deed, or are our words just words?
- the Holy Spirit test – do we have God’s Holy Spirit living inside us, as evidence that we are Christ’s follower?
John addresses this third point in today’s passage.
John begins with the test of our conscience as evidence of our walk with Christ. John is not referring to our moral, ethical, or societal conscience, which changes with the tide of nationalism or public opinion. John is referring to our God-consciousness, of having peace with God through Christ, where our hearts can be at rest in God’s presence (v. 19).
In verse 24, John tells us that the source of our God-consciousness is God Himself, through His Holy Spirit living in us. We know that only Christ-followers have His indwelling Holy Spirit – it is the gift and promise that God Himself gave us (v. 24).
So what is the test to show we have the Holy Spirit indwelling our lives? John says that God, through His Holy Spirit, is either condemning our hearts (v. 20) or confirming our hearts (v. 21).
Does this mean we never sin? No, not at all. John is saying that we have an advocate, a coach, a mentor in the Holy Spirit to assist us in our daily decision-making and attitude toward God and toward others.
And what is God’s command? What is He asking us to do? To believe in (trust in, have faith in) His son Jesus as Messiah, and to love one another as Christ loved us.
Remember that our obedience is not our means of salvation. Our righteousness is like filthy rags, like dirty diapers in God’s sight. Only Christ’s righteousness can take away our sins and make us right in God’s sight. Our obedience is simply our gratitude to Christ for all He has done for us.
May our walk match our talk and give God the glory for all He has done for us through His Son Jesus Christ.
Life is busy and often crowds out our time with the Lord. May we each intentionally set aside some time to let our souls breathe, to give the Holy Spirit a quiet place to minister to our hearts. The rest of life’s busyness will take care of itself when we put the Lord first.