At the end of John’s first epistle, in chapter 5 vs 13 he writes that he has written these things “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.” That’s the overarching reason for his letter, to assure the Christians in the early church of their salvation. It would seem that the false teachers who were disturbing them by their false doctrine, were also inferring that they could lose their salvation, or just never be sure of it. But John says that you can know that you have eternal life. The essence of eternal life, if you think about it, means that it cannot end, or be lost. It must be enduring if it is to be eternal.
So John has written this epistle to address the Christian’s assurance of salvation and many other concerns taught by these false teachers. But particularly in this passage his intention is to give them assurances of their salvation. Notice how he brackets this passage with the phrase, “by this we know…” in vs 19 and then again in 24. That shows us that all that’s within those brackets are dealing with the same principles.
We find six assurances that John lists here so that the believers might have confidence in their salvation. And of course, these assurances are applicable to us today as well. A common downside to a strict preaching of the gospel is to sometimes cause Christians to doubt their salvation. When we speak about sin and righteousness and the need for holiness, for a lot of sincere people it can make them wonder if in fact they are saved, because they don’t feel like they measure up in some way, or they know that they sometimes fall into sin. So I think that the Apostle John wants to assure our hearts that we are in fact children of God and if that’s true, then it will never change. God will never renounce His children. 2Tim. 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.”
So in this passage, John gives us six assurances of our salvation. The first assurance of our salvation John speaks of is because we love the brethren. He says in vs 19, “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him.” Now translators have some difficulty with a few of these verses in this passage, but it’s safe to say that the word “this” refers both forwards and backwards. In other words, “this” refers back to vs 18, and it also refers to what is going to follow vs19, which are the other five reasons for assurance.
So in vs 18 we are told, “let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” A sacrificial love for the brethren emanates from a new nature, which is the nature of Christ imparted to us in salvation. The same nature that caused Christ to lay down His life, is the same nature that encourages us to lay down our lives for the brethren.
That nature that loves the brethren is not natural. It’s spiritual. And John says it’s indicative of a new birth. So if you have an inclination to love the brethren with the same kind of love that Christ had for the church, it’s because you have been born again. The presence of love in our hearts should serve to assure us of our salvation.
Now we talked last week a lot about love, what it looks like, and how it operates from a Christian perspective. So I don’t want to go over that again today. However, I do want to stress one aspect of Christian love though that I don’t think I emphasized enough last week. And that is this – Christian love wants to see souls saved and will do whatever they can, even to the point of sacrificing the priorities of their own lives, for the sake of seeing someone become complete in their salvation. If we really, truly love someone, then the condition of their soul is the most important thing to us. Yes, Christian love also feeds the body, and clothes the body, and houses the body, and ministers to the physical needs of the body as much as is possible. But a greater priority is the spiritual condition of the soul. As Jesus said, “what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” All those material things are necessary for this life, but our primary concern should be telling others about the importance of preparing for the next life, and showing them how they can know that they have eternal life. That is by far the most important aspect of loving the brethren.
I see parents so often who obviously love their children, make the case that they want their children to be happy, and they want them to have a good education, to have a good job, to be able to buy a nice house and so forth. They want them to be healthy. And it sometimes seems like some Christian parents are willing to settle for that stuff, and neglect the most important thing of all – the condition of their soul. Let us not love the way the world loves, but love the way Christ loved us, by bringing us to salvation.
So we have confidence in our own salvation because we love the brethren like Christ loved us. And then secondly, John says we have assurance of our salvation because of a quickened conscience. He says this in vs 19,20 and 21; “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”
God has given all men a conscience. The conscience is given to men to make them come to the realization that they are sinners, they they have done wrong, that they’ve transgressed against the commandment of God. But the conscience can become dulled. The conscience can become calloused.
The Bible has a lot to say about the conscience. Paul speaks of it in Romans as something that God gave to make men come to recognize they are sinning against God. He says in Romans 2:15 “they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.” So the conscience is something that theologians call a common grace, which means a gift of God that is given to all men for their benefit.
However, the conscience can become defiled. It can became calloused. And to some extent, it is informed by one’s environment. 1 Timothy says that the conscience can become seared. When something is seared, there forms a callous which makes it hard to feel what they are supposed to feel. 1Tim.4:2 “by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” And then Titus 1:15 speaks of defiling the conscience; “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled.” They believe a lie, and as such their conscience is defiled. It no longer operates according to the truth.
But for those who have been born again spiritually, there is a quickening of the conscience, which is what I think John is referring to here. Our conscience is quickened by the Holy Spirit, and informed by the word of God, so that it serves an important function in the life of the believer. It serves to help us to walk in the truth, to conduct ourselves appropriately as followers of Christ. It convicts us and causes us to repent if we sin. And so it’s important that we do not sin against our conscience, because it is a tool that God uses to correct us and teach us. If we deliberately sin, our conscience becomes defiled and calloused, and then it does not work anymore as God intends it to work.
But when it is working properly, John says it is one of the means that God uses to assure us of our salvation. If you slip up and sin, and you feel the prick of your conscience, then that’s an indication that you are saved. But if you sin and you have no guilty conscience, then that’s an indication that you are not saved. We have a conscience quickened by the Holy Spirit, and informed by the word of God. And that’s a vastly improved conscience than what the unsaved person has. So we can be assured of our salvation by our conscience.
The third way John gives us that assures us of our salvation is because of answered prayer. John says, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” and then vs22 “and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.”
As a child of God, we have unrestricted access to the throne of God our Father. And if our conscience is clear, then we have confidence as we come before God. Unconfessed sin hinders our relationship with God. Adam and Eve tried to hide in the Garden of Eden because they had sinned. But as John says, God knows our heart. We can’t hide our sin.
David said in Psalm 66:18, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear.” But because we are children of God, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight, we can have confidence before God and whatever we ask we receive from Him. I’m reminded that James says that the prayers of a righteous man accomplishes much. There is a condition to answered prayer, which is a clear conscience, and a clean heart, and clean hands before the Lord.
So then answered prayer is an assurance of our salvation. Now when John says this, he is obviously repeating what Jesus said in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do [it.] If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
That statement that God will do what we ask of Him is always tied to the commandments. Not only does that mean keeping the commandments is a condition for answered prayer, but also it indicates that our prayers must be in keeping with God’s commandments, they must be in accordance with His will. Jesus kept all the commandments perfectly, yet when He earnestly prayed with tears and sweating drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed “not My will, but Your will be done.” So the key to answered prayer is that they are in keeping with God’s will, His commandments, and our answered prayer is an assurance of our salvation.
Now that segues into the fourth assurance of our salvation, which is because we keep His commandments. Vs 22 “and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight.” This isn’t a new point John is making, he’s been saying this since the beginning of his epistle. That you can know, you can prove who is a Christian, by the fact that they keep the commandments.
Back in chapter 2, vs 3 John said, “By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him.”
As we have discussed in previous studies, the desire to keep the commandments comes from a new nature, a new heart. In our natural state, we cannot keep the commandments. We may make a stab at it from time to time, we may think we do enough good to outweigh what we do wrong, but in fact, the Bible says we fall far short of the standard of God.
But as Ezekiel 36 tells us, when God gives us a new heart, we then have the ability to keep the commandments. Ezekiel 36:26-27 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”
So, our desire to keep the commandments of God is evidence that we are the children of God. It’s evidence that we have been given a new heart from our Father, and so we want to do what is pleasing to Him. And if that is true in you, then that’s another assurance that you have been born again.
The fifth assurance of our salvation is because of faith in Christ. This is so basic, and yet it’s so often overlooked, perhaps because of it’s simplicity. He says in vs 23 “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us.” Jesus said in John 11:25 “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies.” He also said ““I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” He is saying He is the spiritual food that gives life, the spiritual water that gives life. He also said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” He is the source of life.
Our assurance of salvation comes from just believing that what Jesus said is true. That’s what it means to believe in Him, by the way. It’s not just believing that He lived, or that He existed on earth 2000 years ago. But to believe in Him, to believe in His name, is to believe all that He said, all that He was, all that He came to do, and all that He promised. And He promised that if you believe in Him, He would give you eternal life.
I want to emphasize though that to believe in Christ is to believe what He has said. So many people today claim to be Christians, to believe in Christ, but yet they don’t believe in what He said, what He taught. They don’t believe that He is the only way to God. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me.” But they say Jesus is not the only way to God. When questioned, a lot of professing Christians don’t believe in hell. Yet Jesus preached more about the reality of hell than He did about heaven. Many people today don’t believe in the commandments. They don’t believe in the Biblical definition of sin and righteousness. But yet Jesus said I did not come to nullify the law, but to fulfill it.” Many sophisticated so called Christians today don’t believe in the flood, or in creation as it is presented in the Bible, but yet Jesus spoke of both of those things authoritatively, basing HIs gospel upon them as facts. The point is that a lot of professing Christians don’t really believe in Jesus Christ because they don’t believe what He said. They don’t believe His word. And consequently, for such people, they should not have any assurance whatsoever of salvation.
You don’t get to pick and choose what you want to believe about Christ. You don’t get to define God according to your woke mentality. That’s idolatry, that’s not worshiping God in spirit and in truth as Jesus said was necessary.
Furthermore, John makes it clear that to believe in Jesus Christ is a command. You want to keep the commandments? Start with that one. Believe in Him, in HIs word, in His ministry, in who He said He was. So if you believe in Jesus Christ and all that means, then you can have assurance that you are a child of God, because Jesus said to believe in Him was the way to receive eternal life. You can have confidence, because Jesus promised, and He keeps His promises.
The second part of that commandment is one that John has already given us. To love one another. And we have already said how obeying that commandment is evidence that you have been born again. So we won’t belabor that point again. But it’s important to notice that John ` ties these two commandments together, to believe and to obey. So then to believe in Christ means to obey His command to love one another. And by keeping these commandments, we have confidence in our salvation.
The last assurance which John gives us of our salvation is because of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Vs 24, “The one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. We know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” It’s noteworthy that John ties so much doctrine to keeping of the commandments. He has just said that to love one another is a commandment, to believe in Christ is a commandment, and now it seems that he is saying that we abide in Him by keeping the commandments, and the Holy Spirit is the means by which we keep the commandments.
That’s interesting because the church today doesn’t seem to teach that aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. They don’t seem to recognize that the Spirit is given that we might have the power to do what Christ has commanded us to do. A lot of churches seem to emphasize the Holy Spirit, but only as evidenced by some sort of feeling, some emotion, some ecstatic experience that they think verifies Jesus Christ as being real in their life.
But John is saying that the Spirit is given for much more practical purposes than that. He is given to us that we might have the power to keep the commandments. I’m not sure who said it, and exactly how they said it now, but it may have been Alistair Begg who I it from, but he said; the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant is that in the old covenant they were given the law but no means by which to keep it. In the new covenant, we are given the Holy Spirit who enables us to keep the commandments of God. Now that’s not an exact quote, but I think I’m close enough to the thought.
John is indicating that same principle here. That we can know we are saved by the fact that we have the presence of the Holy Spirit in us and because we have His presence in us, we can keep His commandments. We are of God because we have His Spirit in us. And so the presence of the Spirit is an assurance of our salvation. But we know that we have the Spirit not because we believe we have experienced some gift of the Spirit, but because we keep His commandments. Now I would hope that would be like a light bulb came on for some of you. Because there is this idea in modern churches today that to be Spirit led is the exact opposite of something as legalistic and archaic as keeping the commandments. But we are given the power of the Holy Spirit so that we may do the works of God.
I hope you can read this text with the same understanding as I have. I believe the Spirit of God enables me to understand the scriptures. That’s the other primary ministry of the Spirit of God. He is the author of scripture, all scripture is inspired by the Spirit, so then an accurate interpretation of the scripture then comes from the power of the Holy Spirit to open my heart to understand what He wrote. And that spiritual insight into the scriptures is a further assurance that I have the presence of the Spirit of God abiding in me.
You know, it is a wonderful thing to have the assurance and the confidence that you are a child of God. It’s a knowledge that gives us peace and hope and joy. It’s a knowledge that gives us the courage to face death, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s a knowledge that my sins are forgiven, paid in full. And that confidence in our salvation should be the source of our joy. I hope that you have that assurance. I hope that as you consider these six assurances you are given confidence in your salvation, and that your joy may be full.
However, there may be someone here today that listened to this list of assurances, but they were not assured. Perhaps they recognized that some of those things are not true in their life. If that’s the case with you, I urge you to believe in the finished work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, that purchased your salvation by His death on the cross and provided for you a new life through His resurrection. I would urge you today to call upon Him as your Savior and Lord, that believing you might have life in His name. Today is the acceptable day of salvation. Don’t harden your heart against the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and know the joy of knowing that you are truly a child of God.