19 And in this we know that we are of the truth, and before Him shall assure our hearts.1 John 3:19-22
20 For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things.
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God.
22 And whatsoever we ask we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.
We come to the rub of John’s argument as to how the believer can be assured in their heart of their acceptance before God. He gives us another if/then argument as the way to assure our hearts that we are “of the truth.” If your heart condemns you, God is greater than any real or imagined condemnation you face; He knows all things after all. He knows all the truth about you, and still offers Christ to you to be your dwelling place (2:6), righteousness (2:28), Advocate, and Propitiation (2:1-2).
The if/then argument in verse 20 is intended to flow into the if/then of verse 21:
-If your heart condemns you, then God is greater.
-If your heart doesn’t condemn you (because God is greater), then you have boldness to come to God.
It is vital to notice that condemnation is a legal term. This picks up on the legal language earlier regarding Christ as our propitiation and Paraclete, the one who comes alongside us to plead our case. Here the heart lays a charge against us. While there is an emotional component here, the legal terminology should lead us to think not in terms of subjective feelings but objective fact.
Does your heart condemn you? Whose heart doesn’t? After all, we bear the guilt and shame of our sin. Our heart bears witness against us that we are violators of God’s Law. Our heart is deceitful (Jer. 17:9). Our heart is stone (Eze. 36:26). But God is greater. Sweeter words have never been spoken.
How do we know that God is greater? It is all founded on the prologue, the Word has been made manifest. This is leading up to the gloriously simple litmus test of salvation in chapter 4 & 5: those born of God believe that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh (4:2), and that Jesus is the Christ (5:1). Jesus dwells in you, as you dwell in Him by faith (2:24). He stands there, by the Spirit, to tell your condemning heart to hush. When the believer’s heart is silenced by the indwelling presence of the Great Triune God, it then has boldness, confidence, and courage to ask of God for whatsoever.
Now, as we ask we know we receive what we ask because we are keeping God’s commandments. As we walk in the light as He is in the light we are inclined to ask for the very things which will fortify and equip us to carry out His commandments, to do those things which are pleasing to Him. His love has been lavished upon us (3:1), and so we are compelled to love the brethren, and when we see our brethren in need (3:17-18) we will be compelled to ask God for such things as are necessary to assist our suffering brother.
This boldness in prayer is not to be done to spend on our lusts, as the Apostle James teaches (Jas. 4:3); but we also must be careful not to so narrowly limit what the Apostles’ frequently make broad. The saint is entitled to ask for whatsoever, and as they are walking with the Lord their requests will not be amiss or improper or carnal, but will be the sort of requests that please the Father. Boldness in prayer is a mark of true evangelical faith. A clear conscience (by walking in the light and keeping His commandments) produces a fearlessness to make our petitions and requests known to our Father.
A.A. Hodge, in one places, teaches that, “Full assurance, therefore––which is the fullness of hope resting on the fullness of faith––is a state of mind which it is the office of the Holy Ghost to induce in our minds. […] [The Holy Ghost] gives origin to the grace of full assurance––not as a blind and fortuitous feeling, but as a legitimate and undoubting conclusion from appropriate evidence.”1 Assurance isn’t a feeling, it is a legal standing. This passage is the crown jewel of God’s evidence to the saints of their assurance of welcome. Christ has quieted their condemning heart by His great love, and now they have boldness to ask their Father for grace & mercy to help in time of need (Heb. 4:16).
1 Hodge, Archibald Alexander. The Westminster Confession: A Commentary. Edinburgh, Scotland: Banner of Truth Trust, 2002. Pg. 242
- 1 John 5:16-19 | The Sin Unto Death
- 1 John 5:13-15 | Big Prayers
- 1 John 5:9-12 | God on the Stand
- 1 John 5:6-8 | The Threefold Witness
- 1 John 5:1-5 | Swept Up Into Victory
- 1 John 4:17-21 | Bold Sons & Fearful Slaves
- 1 John 4:11-16 | The Offensive Love of God
- 1 John 4:7-10 | God is Love
- 1 John 4:4-6 | Overcoming Swarms of Devils
- 1 John 4:1-3 | Stranger Danger