David recollected that as a young lad, with long unruly hair and a ruddy complexion, sleeping out in an open pasture under a starry sky after watching his father’s sheep all day long; how he would take his little harp and sing to the God above all gods. Looking up, he saw the sky as a huge tent with the sparkling stars as lights that lit up the night. He may have even tried to count them once or twice. But what really impressed him was that each night every star was in exactly the same place, not one of them was missing. He was so overcome with awe that he penned a hymn to the creator of that starry universe.
“O my LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius, as You display Your grandeur all over the heavens for all the world to see. For through these small and tiny dots of light You communicate as a way of countering those who don’t take You seriously; yes, You do this to silence the doubter and unbeliever. When I look up into the sky and see the galaxies Your hands created, the stars and the moon You put into orbit I ask, “What role do humans play in this vast universe; why do You care and fuss over them?” Then I realized, You created them a little short of being angels; endowing them with attributes of honor and dignity; making them the smartest and most influential creatures on earth; putting them in charge to being stewards of Your handiwork, even taking care of the animals, both domestic and wild, including the birds that fill the sky and the fish that fill the sea. O LORD Eternal and heavenly Master, Your awe-inspiring works mark You as a genius for all the world to see.” Psalm 8:1-9
Reflection: Back in the days of the hippy movement I sat in a coffee house in Stuttgart, Germany talking with a long-haired flower-child about God. The young man was respectful but adamant about his doubts concerning God’s existence because he couldn’t see Him or talk to Him. At that moment the Holy Spirit gave me an inspiration, so I pointed to a picture hanging on the wall beside our table and asked the young man if he believed that picture came into being due to an accidental collision of paint and paper. He laughed and said, “That’s ridiculous; that picture was painted by an artist.” I responded that I wasn’t convinced because I couldn’t see the artist in the picture; how did I know that maybe one day it just appeared on the wall by accident. The young fellow looked at me for a moment and then admitted that even though I couldn’t see the artist in the painting, I had to accept the fact that an artist painted the picture because it just makes sense. I told him that in the same way, one must exercise faith to believe an unseen talented artist created such a beautiful portrait, we can also believe an unseen God created the beauty of the universe. The magnificence of God’s creation shows His responsibility for man’s existence, and man’s responsibility to acknowledge God’s handiwork. The young man smiled somewhat embarrassingly as he bowed his head and said, “Okay, you got me on that one.” I asked him if we could have prayer for him to have faith, but he wasn’t sure. As he went away I asked the Holy Spirit to go with him and open his eyes to the truth.
3:21-22But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trust and get whatever we ask for because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.
Sir Robert Anderson (1841-1918) asks: What value does prayer have? Furthermore, does it have a place in the believer’s life? How should we understand what Jesus said to His followers about faith in prayer? Not only that, but many in earnestness claimed such promises and reaped bitter disappointment, shaking their faith! It is easy, of course, to explain the failure when people read into the promise conditions of one kind or another that the Lord did not include.
But people will ask, says Anderson, is not the promise of answered prayer repeated in John’s First Epistle? No, it does not. Instead, the apostles received a unique sense empowering them to act and pray in the Name of Jesus according to the leading of the Spirit. Today, some Christians end their prayers with a sigh of frustration, saying, “according to Your will.” But Christians too often makes their longings, or supposed interests, and not Divine will, the basis of their prayer. Still, they go on to persuade themselves that God will still grant their request. They regard this “faith” as a pledge that God heard them. Finally, when the issue contradicts their confident hopes, they become bitter in unbelief. True faith always prepares for a refusal. Some, we read, “through faith,” “obtained promises; but, no less “through faith,” “others were tortured because it was God’s will not to deliver them.” We call them “Martyrs” for the Anointed One.
Ernst Dryander (1843-1822) comments that from the context, the Apostle John says, “God is greater than our heart” as his way of bringing comfort. In doing so, he points to the unfathomable mercy of God. On Him rests the foundation of our salvation. He is our refuge – our unfailing refuge. Because God’s capacity to love is more significant in quantity, quality, and quota than our heart, which is poor and narrow, therefore, His presence in us helps calm and soothe our soul even when it condemns us. Here, John leads us again into the world of inner experience. In God’s presence, we may calm our conscience.
Dryander notes that every person undergoes a quiet self-examination once their heart is provoked to accuse and condemn them. When John speaks of the heart, he does not differ between the individual workings of the heart and soul. On the contrary, he conceives the inner person as one whole, which every person has within them – the silent voice to listen to as often as they examine themselves. And when John speaks of a heart that accuses and condemns, we are to understand that to be the voice of conscience – the voice which declares to us a better verdict. He bids us listen to its accusation, and see whether we are in the spiritual condition that our spiritual-self demands.
But for this, notes Dryander, John requires something more than those conscience alerts that an earnest-minded person feels because of daily shortcomings. Instead, a deeper, hushed, moral condemnation becomes audible to the sensitive, mature heart. It takes place when the conscience summons that inner, deep, mysterious personality in mankind so often ignored and of which some scarcely conscious. And to this hidden, spiritual being, the solemn question is put, whether it is “of the truth.”
Robert Law (1860-1919) says that the principle expressed in “because we keep” is not immediately apparent to the reader. Any idea of merit is irrelevant to the thought of the whole passage and opposed to Christianity’s fundamental truth. Equally, to be rejected a priori is the notion that by our obedience, we acquire such favor with God and such influence in His counsels that He cannot refuse what we ask. We find the key to the interpretation of the present passage in John’s Gospel where Jesus said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, you may ask for anything you want, and it will be granted.” What our Lord said is not some random physical act but a necessary fundamental condition for successful prayers. Our requests are answered because our will is inward harmony with God’s, the evidence of this being that we “keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight.” In our actions, we prove that God’s will is our will so that when we pray, our will does not change.
In speaking about a believer’s consecration, Henry E. Brockett (1936-1994) says it is impossible to exercise full sanctifying faith in the wonderful promises for entire sanctification unless the believer has unwavering confidence that God will hear and answer their prayer. But how can we have this assurance if we knowingly displease Him in any matter in our lives? Disobedience paralyzes faith. We may have a perfect mental grasp of the theory of entire sanctification, and yet be unable to put it into practice wholeheartedly. It is only “when we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight” that “whatever we ask, we receive of Him.” There must be a complete yielding to God on all points. But even when there is a consciousness need for a complete yielding to God, there is often one more obstacle. It is unbelief, Satan’s poison injected into the heart, that terrible soul disease that incapacitates faith and renders the believer powerless to benefit from God’s promises.
F. F. Bruce (1910-1990) tells us that when God assures us forgiveness for our sins for the Anointed One’s sake, we enjoy peace of mind. The accusation of conscience must always be treated seriously, for only when the pardoning proclamation of God overrules it can its voice be appropriately hushed. The writer of Hebrews insists that the cleansing from every sin that the blood of Jesus procures for us is cleansing the conscience. A sin-stained conscience is the most effective barrier between mankind and God; where the stain is blotted out, the barrier is removed, and instead of separation from God, there is “boldness toward God,” that is, comfortable in His presence. Then, in terms of particular interest, the writer speaks of “confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus.” John, who has already spoken of the believer’s “boldness” or “confidence” (Greek, parrhēsia, literally “freedom of speech”), is the believer’s attitude to the Anointed One at His return uses it here in a sense not unrelated to its earlier occurrence.
Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) sees the Apostle John describe a believer who has a clear conscience before God. It is not a person who has been living sinlessly, but one who has confessed and forsaken their sins. By doing this, they have confidence and boldness in prayer. Therefore, when John says, “Whatever we ask, we receive of Him,” such a statement could only apply to one who was living in close union with the Lord. Living this way, we get to know the Lord’s will, and knowing His will, we would not ask for anything outside of it. So, that, when we ask something, we know that it is His will, we receive it.
Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) believes that when the Apostle John addresses his readers as “beloved,” he speaks to those whose hearts no longer morally condemn them. At first glance, this is a shock since, in the previous verse, he writes, “If our hearts do condemn us.” That raises the question, are their hearts combative? The answer may lie in a shift of perspective. Verse twenty assumes the reader feels convicted regarding lack of love for fellow believers and is dealing with a tortured or at least troubled soul. Verse twenty-one implies that the afflicted person has now availed themselves of the assistance concealed in acknowledging God’s greatness and benevolent omniscience. With those uplifting truths in view, believers can move from a defensive mode to a receptive one.
Colin G. Kruse (1950) feels that the Apostle John wants to encourage generosity in his readers. He does so by addressing them as “dear friends,” drawing attention to his affection for them. John then asserts, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God. This conditional statement means that if the readers’ hearts respond to calls on their generosity, they will experience “confidence” (Greek parrsia) in their relationship with God. John’s type of confidence is disclosed in the following clause: “receive from Him anything we ask.” When they do not yield to the callousness of heart, they will experience confidence before God when approaching Him in prayer; confidence that God will hear them when they pray and will grant their requests.
John knows that believers have this assurance before God because they obey His commandments. The present tense forms of the verbs “to obey” and “to do” indicate that John’s suggested action is ongoing. Doing what God commands and so pleasing Him is what stimulates confidence when believers pray. And the command we obey when we respond to fellow believers in need are related to the demand to love one another because it pleases God. God is more significant than our meanness and is Himself generous, and it pleases Him to see His people acting generously and being like Him.
3:21-22But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trust and get whatever we ask for because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.
John Bunyan (1628-1688) talks about the judgment of the wicked and sees the Book of Life produced as evidence that will decide the prisoner’s fate. So, the first thing to consider is whether their name appears in this book. If so, it will show their conversion and faith in the Savior. Also, there will be a record of their service to Him, along with the things He was able to do through them with the help of His Spirit. They will also see the work of a broken and contrite spirit and walking with God, as living stones,  in this world.
But unfortunately, notes Bunyan, unrepentant sinners will see that these things are missing in their record, but it’s too late for repentance. It will be like the remorseful criminal with the rope around their neck when the trap door beneath their feet suddenly opens. It will be a tragedy that the glory of heavenly things will appear to them too late. They will see the Anointed One and the true nature of faith and grace, but it will occur when the gate to salvation is locked, and the fountain of mercy stops flowing. They will pray and repent most earnestly, but it will be as they sink in the great flood of eternal wrath when they cannot run to Him.
Well then, says Bunyan, tell me, sinner, if the Anointed One were to come now to judge the world, would you survive a trial by the Book of Life? Are you confident that your claim of conversion, faith, and all other graces you think you possess are made of gold, silver, and precious stones? Look out! He comes as a refiner’s fire and as fuller’s soap. Could you endure the melting pot or the cleaner’s scrubbing? Look at yourself ahead of time, declares Bunyan, for “Anyone who follows the true way comes into the light. Then the light will show that whatever they have done was done through God.”
John Gill (1697-1771) draws a line when it comes to whatever we ask of God expecting an answer. He says that the answer will come only when what we ask for is in accordance with His promise. That is to say, that you who believe in God’s Son will know without a doubt that you have eternal life. And how bold and free you become in His presence, freely asking according to His will, sure that He’s listening every time you call on His Name. That way, by faith, you’ll know that whatever He gives you will be in harmony with His will.
In showing the characteristics of gracious and holy affections, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) states that it is plain to see that the Anointed One gave rules to all Christians on what to look for when distinguishing between born-again sheep and those masquerading as sheep led by the Great Shepherd, Jesus. And, says Edwards, whereas the Apostle Paul says, the Spirit bears witness with our reborn spirits; the word “spirit” here means our “conscience,” which is called the spirit of mankind. Elsewhere we read, “I can say with a clear conscience that it is true.” And the Apostle of John says here, “Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. Even if we feel guilty, God is greater than our feelings, and he knows everything. So, we can come to God with bold confidence without feeling guilty.”
In speaking about what the Apostle John says here about how our actions will show that we belong to the truth, which will help when we stand before God, John uses the illustration of Cain and Abel and their sacrifices to God. As we know, Abel’s sacrifice was accepted, while Cain’s was not. Abel offered his sacrifice in faith, while Cain gave his out of convenience. Abel’s sacrifice cost the life of a lamb, while Cain’s fruit of the ground was expendable without any animated life taken.
Then, Edwards quotes God’s message to Cain, “If you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you.” Not at Cain’s door, but God’s door. As Edwards sees it, Cain’s wicked ways lay, as it were, at the entrance of God’s temple, to prevent Cain’s admittance and reconciliation with God: they stood as a partition wall between God and Him. So likewise, humanity’s evil sins are a cloud through which their prayers cannot pass and hinder their offerings from being brought into the holy place: they are a thick veil before the opening of the Holy of Holies, to block access to God.
Charles Finney (1792-1875) says that there has never been, and there can never be, sin without condemnation. God will not repeal the law because He did not enact it based on a random thought. It is as unchangeable and cannot be annulled as is His divine nature. God can never revoke nor alter it. He can for the Anointed One’s sake dispense with the execution of the penalty when the subject has returned to complete obedience to the law, but in no other case, and upon no other possible conditions. To affirm that He can prove that God can alter the immutable and eternal principles of moral law and moral government, which is impossible even for God.
On the subject of how an approving heart has confidence in prayer, Finney uses verses twenty-one and twenty-two here in this chapter. Finney writes that if our heart does not condemn us, it is because we are conscious of being conformed to all the light we have and of doing the whole will of God as far as we know it. While in this state, it is impossible to conceive Him as condemning us for not having the correct view of His character. Our intelligence rejects the supposition that He does or can blame us for our present condition. Nevertheless, we may be deeply conscious that we have done wrong and feel guilty, knowing that God would disapprove of our past sins even now. However, the pardoning blood of the Anointed One intervened, pardoning us for past sins through His redeeming blood. And about the present, the apparent truth is that if our conscience fully approves of our state, and we are aware of having acted according to the best understanding we have, it contradicts all our ideas of God condemning instead of loving us. He is a father, and He cannot but smile on His obedient and trusting children.
Alexander L. R. Foote (1805-1878), Minister of the Free Church, Brechin, Scotland, talked about the connection between faith and the state of the heart. He tells us that there is a particular blessing or privilege here spoken of, “then have we confidence toward God.” Confidence is expressive speech. It is one of the principal ways confidence displays itself; the heart is bold, the mouth opened, and the whole soul pours out its feelings without restraint and disguise. It is a very remarkable part of our nature, especially when we are motivated to persuade those we love and in whom we confide the sacred treasures of our heart from God’s Word.
Consequently, says Foote, as confidence grows, hesitation disappears like winter’s frost in the warm rays of spring’s sunshine. And just like man-to-man communication, so is man-to-God communion. The degree to which we are willing to reveal all our sins, wants, and sorrows to Him will depend on our confidence in Him. It is a most blessed state of mind a believer can have and experience. There is a firm foundation laid for it in the Gospel; the atonement realized by faith will produce this in the soul as nothing else can.
Robert Candlish (1806-1873) tells us that the Apostle John presents us with the highest possible model or ideal to imitate. “This is how we know what real love is: Jesus freely gave His life for us. So, we should be willing to give our lives for each other as brothers and sisters.” Then immediately, by way of contrast, John offers a way to energize one of the most uncomplicated and familiar ways to exercise human compassion. He questions: “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?”
It looks a lot like irony or sarcasm, says Candlish. Unconditional love for fellow believers should be capable of being unselfish enough to give everything, including one’s life, for them. Yes! And it would, if that were necessary, to save them for sure destruction. So, you might say or think, what happens if someone has a comfortable lifestyle, sees a brother or sister in need, and decides to shut the door of compassion to them? John makes it clear that God’s love has no place in their heart? That is not the way God loves.
 See Malachi 3:2; cf. Proverbs 25:20; Jeremiah 2:22; Note: the Hebrew verb kāḇas means “to wash.” The “fuller” was usually the dyer, since, before the woven cloth could be properly dyed, it must be freed from the oily and gummy substances naturally found on the raw fiber.
3:21-22But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trustand get whatever we ask for because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.
Now we come to the second benefit of a confident heart. We have the confidence to ask things from God in prayer. The idea here is continually asking day after day. John qualifies this phrase by the following conditions. God grants answers to prayers that comply with His will. Firstly, the prayer must follow the principles of the Word, and secondly, the prayer must seek to please Him. The believer in fellowship wants to please the Lord. They do not demand from the Lord. Their prayers are according to God’s will, so God answers them as the fulfillment of His will. The principle here is that obedience to God’s will and desire to please Him is the conditions, but not the merit for answered prayer.
In fact, the conditions for answered prayer rest on six principles:
The prayer must be offered in Jesus’ name (John 16:23-24)
The prayer must be for God’s glory (James 4:2-3)
The prayer must not be for sinful purposes (Psalm 66:18)
The prayer must be from a forgiven soul (Mark 11:25)
The prayer must be asked by faith (Matthew 21:22)
The prayer must result in doing God’s will (1 John 3:21)
There are some things that we do not give our children because it would be indulging them. That is the prerogative of the parent. It is for their good that we do not provide them with everything they request. God cannot afford to give some of us success because it might corrupt our Christian witness. Therefore, God answers every prayer that has to do with a believer’s development or spirituality, prayed in harmony with His will.
The key to all this is because we follow His commandments. What parent would reward a disobedient child for not obeying? The word “because” in verse twenty-two gives the reasons God answers prayer. We can have confidence that God answers prayer according to two conditions: 1) we “keep His commandments” and 2) we “do those things pleasing in His sight.” God’s commandments are His principles for living the Christian life.
The believer who applies the principles of God’s Word to what they know receives answers to their prayers. But, does this mean that God answers prayers for a quid pro quo? “If I give something to God, He will give something to me.” That is, does God give us according to how much we offer Him? He does not provide as an exchange of favors. Therefore, we can make no bargains with God. No, God answers prayer because they are according to His will. The more we fellowship with Him, the more we know His will. God does not grant answered prayer and give us certain benefits because we think we measure up to His expectations but because we meet His conditions for prayer. God never promises that we will receive anything we ask. We would be making God’s decisions for Him. Thus, God would have to rearrange the infinite universe to answer a finite prayer. Therefore, what we do off our knees is essential to what we say on our knees.
Some people pray regularly, but they do not receive answers to prayer because they do not know the principles of the Word. We cannot pray effectively without knowing the Word. We cannot pray effectively without walking in the Spirit. Furthermore, we need to “pray in the Spirit.” God does not answer the prayer of someone who is a Christian in name only. How we live has a direct bearing on answered prayer. This is not to imply that God’s answer to our prayer is conditional on obedience. God answers prayer because we formulate our asking according to His will. God always answers prayer according to His will. We know His will by what His Word reveals.
The praying believer desires nothing but to follow God’s principles and to please Him. Doing what is “pleasing in His sight” goes beyond applying the specific directions of the Word. These are spontaneous acts and services born out of a spirit of reverence or desire to please God. It goes way beyond a mere sense of duty or responsibility.
The words “in His sight” in verse twenty-two are different from “before Him” in verse nineteen. “Before Him” emphasizes pleasing the Anointed One as obedient and loving servants as He looks on us. Whereas the phrase “in His sight” emphasizes our confident attitude as we look to Him. In other words, the spiritually alive Christian lives to make the Lord smile. Many of us make Him frown. Our ambition is to please the Lord. Our passion is to please Him because He began our relationship with Him. All prayer should come from the motivation of pleasing the Lord, not acquiring selfish things for ourselves.
David Legge (1969) wants us to take a good look at this confident Christian that we find beginning here in verse twenty-one. Suppose your heart condemns your conscience, bring your heart and mind to God, and believe the Bible truth of the Gospel that the precious blood of the Lamb can cleanse you from all sin. In that case, you confess your sin, and you seek, as the Apostle Paul said, “I always try to maintain a clear conscience before God and all people.” If you do that, take it to Calvary, confess it, repent of it, and desire to have a conscience void of offense toward God and others: you will develop God-given confidence in your Christian life.
Where in that progression of things have you gone wrong, asks Legge? Where have you stalled? When did you stop? Many people cease at the moment of salvation – after kneeling at the Cross and being washed in the blood of the Lamb, they don’t proceed any further. They’re not interested in practicing the fruit of the reborn spirit in their lives. So, these tests often go by without any notice. They don’t recognize them, maybe because they’re not reading the Word of God. But this confidence does not come when you visit the cross, confess your sins and repent of them, but when you seek by the Spirit’s power to live a life before God that is pleasing to Him and conduct before others that do not unnecessarily offend them.
Theophylact of Ohrid (1050-1108) makes an insightful comment on whether we will always receive what we ask God to give us? The Apostle John puts it plainly: If we obey God’s commands, then our obedience will bear fruit, for we will receive whatever we request from Him. In other words, if God were to give us everything and anything we ask for whether we submit to His will or not, then there would be no need to seek God’s approval by obeying Him. Thus, compliance produces fruit, and one of those fruit is answers to prayer.
On the subject of prayer and how it can be a continuous exercise of faith with daily benefits, John Calvin (1560-1609) recognizes that sometimes what we want does not match what we need. The Apostle James teaches this distinction: “Are any of you suffering hardships? You should pray. Are any of you happy? You should sing praises.” Therefore, common sense itself dictates that when we become spiritually lazy, God must stimulate us to pray earnestly whenever the occasion requires.
One of the requisites of legitimate prayer is repentance, says Calvin. The Scriptures declare that God does not listen to the wicked; “They burn incense and love their worthless idols. They choose their ways, and they love their terrible idols.” God had already told them that when they raise their arms to pray to, He will refuse to look at them. They will say more and more prayers, but He will refuse to listen because their hands are covered with the blood of idol sacrifices. The prophet Jeremiah also had a similar message, “Although they cry out to me, I will not listen to them.”
Hence, says Calvin, the words of James, “When you ask, you don’t receive anything because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your enjoyment.” Indeed, faithful and obedient believers do not always trust that the words they use to tell God what they want are sufficient. They take what John says here in verse twenty-two seriously. Ulterior motives shut heaven’s door. We must agree that not all sincere worshipers of God pray perfect prayers. That is why everyone who prepares to pray without being honest with God cannot do so without repentance.
Indulge is used here to signify “giving in, giving way to, yielding to,” a child’s begging when it isn’t to their benefit.
Quid pro quo is a Latin term that means something that is given to you or done for you in return for something you have given to or done for someone else.
3:21-22But, dearly loved friends, if our consciences are clear, we can come to the Lord with perfect assurance and trustand get whatever we ask for because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.
The Apostle Paul makes a distinction between always following our conscience instead of God’s Word. He said he didn’t know of any wrong he had done, but that did not make him right. The Lord is the one who must decide what pleases Him. But Paul could say with a clear conscience that everything he did in this world, he did it with an honest and pure heart before God. And he did this by God’s grace, not by the world’s idea of being good. And that’s why if we do make a wrong decision or a mistake in judgment, with Jesus as our high priest, we can feel free to come before God’s throne where there is grace. There we receive mercy and kindness to help us when we need it.
So, it is apparent that John received the same instruction as a beloved disciple of the Anointed One. Therefore, we need not go to the Anointed One for forgiveness as though we are back under the condemnation that followed the sin of Adam and Eve. We are, after all, God’s children. So, we go to Him as our heavenly Father, seeking forgiveness for not listening to Him. That’s why He is more than willing to forgive as long as He knows we come to Him with a sincere heart and mind.
King David is a witness that our Lord knows the difference between the pleas of sinners and the prayers of saints. And it wasn’t something David imagined; he responded to God’s open invitation. As a result, God does not feel interrupted or inconvenienced when His children come to Him for reconciliation. David’s son Solomon certainly learned this truth, so there is no use in looking for a shortcut to God’s throne. He can see your heart before you even speak a word to Him and knows whether you come in humility or pride. It became part of the prophet Isaiah’s message to the people of God. And the prophet Jeremiah passed this truth along to those who needed wisdom and guidance from God. And when we are sincere, and God sees that we desire His complete will to be done in our lives, He will always have something new to teach us.
Now we can see the background and root cause of why Jesus was ready to tell His disciples to continue asking God for what they need, and He will give it to them. They are to go on searching, and they will find what they are looking for. And persist in knocking until the door opens for them. Yes, whoever keeps on asking will receive. Whoever does not stop looking will find. And whoever does not cease knocking will have the door opened for them. First, however, they must believe and have faith that they are praying to a prayer-answering God for this to work.
The Apostle John heard from Jesus’ lips what He told the doubting and cynical Pharisees after He healed the blind man who went and washed the mud out of his eyes. He said they were wrong in calling Him a sinner, since God does not answer the prayers of those living in sin but only those who worship and obey Him. Furthermore, Jesus informed His followers that anything they ask the Father “in His name” will be done for God to show the kindness of His Spirit through His Son. And the best way for this to happen is that once you are in union with the Anointed One and remain in communion with Him, you will receive the things you need. The Apostle James also expounded on what he heard the Master say about getting what we require when asking God for an answer.
There are great benefits in listening to what Jesus said and taught, even as Jesus found out when He listened to and obeyed what His Father told Him. It was necessary because it took many millennia before the Way, Truth, and Life arrived from heaven in human form to deliver the final covenant between God and mankind. Accepting and receiving this Light of the world will change a person’s life for the good. And this message was not just for the Jews but everyone.
John himself heard the Master say that the thing that pleased God the most is when those who listen to the Anointed One do so because they believe the Father sent Him. That way, such a believer can live the kind of life that honors and pleases the Lord in every way. By doing so, they will produce fruit in every good work and grow in the knowledge of God. So, it was the prayer of the author of Hebrews, who prayed, “That the God of peace will give you every good thing you need so that you can do what He wants. God is the one who raised from death our Lord Jesus, the Great Shepherd of His sheep. He resurrected Him because Jesus sacrificed His blood to begin the new agreement that never ends. Therefore, I pray that God will work through Jesus the Anointed One to do the things in us that please Him. To Him, be glory forever. Amen.”
However, there is still so much more blessed possibility through following this new command for love. If the consciousness of genuine love will sustain us before God when our heart criticizes us, how much more confidence will we have in Him when it does not accuse us. And (as a guarantee that this confidence is not baseless or misdirected) what we ask, we receive from Him. Note the present tense of the Greek verb lambanō (“receive”). Whatever God’s children ask this way, they obtain by that very act or as an inevitable result. It is the ideal condition, for the child of God cannot ask what displeases their Father. And we are His children “because we keep His commandments.” Therefore, we must not conclude that our obedience is the reason God hears our prayers. On the contrary, our obedience shows that we can pray effectively.
John now addresses an accusing conscience versus a clear conscience on the issue of confidence before God. First, he discusses the believer having a clear conscience. Their conscience does not condemn them for hypocritical love only exhibited with word and tongue. The opposite of a feeling of condemnation is “confidence.” The believer in fellowship has the confidence to meet the Lord face to face in personal communion because they genuinely love their fellow Christians. They get no joy out of undermining fellow believers.
“Confidence” is being open, honest, direct, and not hesitant to speak. In the political sphere, the word “confidence” carries the idea of the right to speak in a democracy. It implies openness to truth and sincerity. Here the idea is openness toward God. Openness toward God assumes facing Him with a clear conscience. The believer with “confidence toward God” is free and unrestricted in their fellowship with Him. Their conscience is free because they believe in their acquittal in God’s court. The presence of sinful tendencies in the believer’s life does not prove that they are unchristian or that God’s grace is unavailable. The verdict always revolves around the principles of God’s Word. When Christians gain assurance that God accepts them based on the work of the Anointed One, they possess confidence toward God.
The word “toward” means face to face. It is a word of relationship or closeness. The believer in fellowship always speaks freely with God. They have confidence in prayer, knowing that God hears them. Their conscience does not trouble them. It is why Christians can have confidence before God while on earth and not simply before the Judgment Seat of the Anointed One. We have confidence in prayer. We can rest assured that God accepts us with all our warts and blemishes.
Furthermore, confidence does not come through feelings. Emotions are slippery and hard to nail down. Feelings are as erratic as the wind because they depend on circumstances. They operate more like a barometer than a thermostat. The barometer changes with weather conditions, but the thermostat sets the temperature. The Christian who operates by faith in the Word of God is like the thermostat. They have assurance before God by faith. Thus, believers in union with God have courage when approaching Him without fear of saying what’s in their hearts or on their minds. Therefore, believers in fellowship do not put trust in the flesh. Their certainty is in the Son of God. They glory in the Anointed One, Jesus.
3:20But if we have a bad conscience and feel that we have done wrong, the Lord will sense it even more, for He knows everything we do.
Colin G. Kruse (1950) notes that when the Apostle John says, “this is how we know that we belong to the truth,” he urges his readers to open their hearts towards their fellow believers in need. How else will they know they belong to the truth unless their love finds practical expression in helping those in need? So, to affirm that they belong to the truth, the readers must “persuade their hearts in the presence of God” not (“set our hearts at rest in His presence,” as the NIV has) so they do not yield to any hardness in their hearts and refuse to offer material assistance. They should undertake this persuasion whenever their conscience condemns them, that is, whenever their hearts object to legitimate calls to share when they have something to give.
Now, to assist his readers in persisting in the process of self-persuasion, the Apostle John provides them with a compelling reason: “For God has a bigger heart, and He knows everything.” While the NIV does not translate it as such, this verse is a conditional sentence (literally, “because, if our heart condemns us, God’s heart is more compassionate than ours and knows all He needs to know about us.” In this context, the statement “God is greater than our hearts”). implies that God does not have to deal with the callousness found in some human hearts. On the contrary, His generosity is far more giving; His compassion towards the needy exceeds our feelings of sorrow. Any unkindness of the heart will not go unnoticed by an omniscient God. As was the case among the Israelites, so too here, God knows what His people can do and judges them accordingly.
Bruce B. Burton (1954) states that the vagueness of the statement “God is greater than our hearts” has prompted two interpretations. Some see it as consoling believers whose hearts (or consciences) condemn them of sin in general. Thus, they hold on to the sign of sonship – God’s Love. Others think that the phrase “God is greater than our hearts” intensifies John’s warning. The condemning voice of conscience merely echoes the judgment of God, who comprehends each life. Thus, believers cannot gloss over or excuse their sins as insignificant. In both cases, believers can come confidently to God by claiming God’s forgiveness through the Anointed One, recognizing that His grace and mercy outweigh their guilt.
Because God knows everything, says Burton, Christians can trust that He thoroughly understands and will forgive their sins and help them grow in the areas where they need it most. Then what should believers do with the gnawing accusations of their consciences? They should not ignore them or rationalize their behavior, but they should set their hearts on God’s Love. When they feel guilty, they should remind themselves that God knows their motives and actions. His voice of assurance is stronger than the accusing voice of conscience. God will not condemn His children, for whom His Son died.
Daniel L. Akin (1957) suggests that verse twenty can be tricky and challenging to interpret, at least when it comes to the details. However, its primary meaning is clear. Even though the Anointed One paid the ransom for all our sins by His perfect atoning work, we may experience a condemning heart or guilty conscience, something the great and omnipotent God does not want us to have. So, when our conscience sends us on a guilt trip, look in faith to the God who is more dependable than our hesitant heart and assures us of total and complete forgiveness through the perfect work of Jesus. Thus, we can claim once more the wonderful truth of forgiveness. Therefore, The Apostle John addresses this guilty conscience and the way to deal with it. In verse twenty, he does so in the context of the omniscience of God, and in verses twenty-one and twenty-two, he will do so with the omnipotent God in mind.
Some modern commentators may view these and the following verses as somewhat linguistically complicated. It may arise from the Greek spoken in John’s environment. On the other hand, what may seem to us to be complex Greek may merely be conversational. But whatever the case, we must do what we can with it. By being genuine in practicing love for our fellow believers in the truth, we can know that we are of the truth. It demonstrates our love for the truth.
So Akin points out that once they can be satisfied that their love for their brethren is genuinely hands-on, they can know that they are of the truth. Therefore, they can convince themselves that all is right in their hearts and consciences between them and God as He looks on. Doing so in His presence indicates the whole inner being, including reason, will, conscience and emotions. The point here is not that love for the brethren saves, but it reveals that they are within the flow of truth and love the truth. It is among the faithful brethren that the truth is held and preached, and to love them and not the false prophets is to demonstrate a willing acceptance of the facts they teach.
David Legge (1969) points to verse twenty, where the Apostle John speaks to the condemned Christian. He says: “For if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.” So, let’s first consider the condemned Christian. Pastors and evangelists find it easier to deal with saved believers or unsaved sinners than those unsure about which one they are.
The difficulty comes in pastoral counseling, says Legge, when you get people who claim salvation when it’s blatantly obvious, they do not. Then others doubt their salvation when they have every reason to believe that they are born again. So now John’s writing is all about assurance. John has not only been exposing false teachers whose salvation doctrine is questionable, but seeking to bring confidence to the true sheep of God. This was especially true in churches influenced by false teachers who made them doubt their salvation. Unfortunately, this phenomenon continues until now.
Douglas Sean O’Donnell (1972) finds that verse twenty provides two reasons to put our whole weight on this olive branch of assurance: “God is greater than our heart” and “He knows everything.” When our hearts accuse us (“you failed the love test . . . again!”), God’s caring omnipotence and omniscience provide CPR (“Christ’s Purifying Restoration”). When our hearts are weighed down with guilt, John reassures us that “the great God, the great King above all gods,” eases the burden. When we agonize over our lack of love, “the place to turn is not farther inward but outward and upward toward God.” If our hearts are troubled, we should call to mind the greatness of God, a distinction that descends to offer forgiveness each and every time we confess our sins.
Moreover, recall the God who “knows everything.” While the Bible applies God’s omniscience as a warning to refrain from sin,  here it is a comfort for the sin-stained believer. God is not blind to our unloving actions. He knows every detail of every sin. He knows that even the littlest lack of love carries the weight of eternal condemnation. But (here is the Gospel according to John!) God still forgives. Accept His forgiveness through the Anointed One. Rejoice in the renewed relationship. Pray, and return to practicing righteousness.
3:21-22 Dear friends, if we don’t feel guilty in our hearts and minds, we can come to God in confidence without fear. And we will receive from Him whatever we ask because we obey Him and do the things that please Him.
Again, the Apostle John takes a deep breath and begins making another critical point in his letter. But the reader must understand this verse in its context. Just to believe that when we come to Him without hesitation, He will give us whatever we want is in error. Nothing could be further from the truth. John places a qualifier on that statement by saying that we come to Him without any misgivings because we obey Him and that all we do is done to His honor, praise, and glory. So, whatever we ask of Him must fall into that same frame of mind. You may feel free to ask God for anything but don’t expect any gifts under the spiritual Christmas tree if what you’ve asked for will not bring Him all the glory and praise.
As wise man Job once said, you will find joy in serving the Almighty just by looking to Him for directions and decisions. In fact, the Psalmist said that when God looks at what we are doing or what we want from Him, if it is for our good, especially when we have not been honest and authentic with everyone, then allow us to be dragged into the dust and end up in the grave. That is a powerful statement, but it shows how sincere David wanted to be what the LORD expected him to be. And David’s thoughts were echoed by another Psalmist.
Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) received some negative feedback for what he urged his constituents to do while still recovering from the hardships of war. They complained, “It is impossible to do what is required.” They saw this as the temptation to despair. The archbishop responded, “Despair of yourself as much as you please, but not of God.” He reminds them that God is both loving and powerful, and He will deal with them in keeping with their faith. So, if they have any faith at all, Jesus said you will be able to move mountains. But if they believe nothing, they will receive nothing, and it will be their fault. Remember Abraham, who hoped against hope. Imitate the blessed Virgin, who, when what seemed utterly impossible was told to her, she answered without hesitation, “May it be to me as you have said.”
So do not shut up your heart. It is not that you cannot do what is required of you, it is because your heart is so restricted. It is that you have no desire to comply. You do not wish to have your heart enlarged because you’re afraid it will happen. How can you expect grace to gain entrance into a heart so stubbornly closed against it? All that is asked of you is to surrender calmly in a spirit of faith. Do not feel obligated to include your ideas. In other words, if you yield humbly and gradually, you’ll regain peace through meditation on God’s Word, and everything will work together for your good. What seems impossible in your present state of temptation will become easier to overcome. Then, we will hear you saying, “What? Is this all?” Why so much despair and complaining over something God is working on and preparing so lovingly for your good?
Be careful not to resist His Spirit, for this may cause you to become indifferent and hostile toward God. All the faith you claim to have will prove hollow if you should fail in this essential point. Then, everything will dissolve into indulging in personal tastes and tendencies. May God not allow you to fall away! There is more danger in the risk of resisting God than in the heaviest of other sorrows. Crosses carried with quiet endurance, lowliness, simplicity, and self-denial unite us to Jesus the crucified Anointed One. To reject crosses by thinking too highly of yourselves and through self-will not only separate you from Him, but wither the heart, and gradually dry up the fountain of grace. So, yield humbly without trusting in yourself, the fragile broken stalk that you are. And say, “To God, nothing is impossible.’’ He asks only for one “Yes,’’ spoken in pure faith.
Archbishop Fénelon no doubt recalled the words of the Chronicler in the First Covenant, who advised, “Seek the LORD and His strength; seek His presence continually!” It is especially true when confronted with difficulties above our ability to handle them. And the Apostle Paul transformed such hardships into potential benefits by saying, “We are happy with the troubles we have. Why are we happy with troubles? Because we know that these troubles make us more patient. And this patience is proof that we are strong. And this proof gives us hope. And this hope will never disappoint us. We know this because God has poured out His love to fill our hearts through the Holy Spirit, He gave us.” Paul also advised that “We must not get tired of doing good. We will receive our harvest of eternal life at the right time. Therefore, we must never give up.”
The Apostle James also had something to say about perseverance when he wrote, “Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Instead, let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
The author of Hebrews added, “You need to keep on patiently doing God’s will if you want Him to do for you all that He has promised. His coming will not be delayed much longer. And those whose faith has made them good in God’s sight must live by faith, trusting Him in everything. Otherwise, if they shrink back, God will have no pleasure in them.”
 Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 30-31; Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda
3:20But if we have a bad conscience and feel that we have done wrong, the Lord will sense it even more, for He knows everything we do.
Bunyan continues: The witnesses are ready to testify, beginning with the Lord All-Powerful who says. “Then I will come to you and judge you. I will be quick to testify against those who take part in evil magic, adultery, and lying under oath, those who cheat workers of their pay and who cheat widows and orphans, those who are unfair to foreigners, and those who do not respect me.” The second witness is the prisoner’s conscience. It has a thousand voices who all cry Amen to every word God testifies against the prisoner. Conscience is a frightening accuser; it verifies that everything God says is closer than the width of a hair. Therefore, the witnesses of conscience possess great authority. It demands guilt and convicts every soul which it accuses; and hence John says, “When our hearts make us feel guilty, we can still have peace before God because God surpasses our hearts. He knows everything.”
John Flavel (1627-1691) talks about those souls who feel overloaded with the burdensome sense of sinning. It all depends on the verdict and conviction of a person’s conscience, says Flavel. However, this is not the whole story. “Feeling condemned” is nothing more than applying the Law to a person’s wrongdoing. An individual’s conscience applies the Law’s curse to their guilt as a sinner. It decrees the lawbreaker as guilty under God’s name and authority, from which there is no appeal. The voice of conscience is the voice of God, and what it pronounces as sinful in God’s name and under His authority, He will confirm and ratify.
This is what the Apostle John says here in verse twenty, says Flavel, that when our hearts make us feel guilty, we can still have peace with God because He is smarter than our hearts. He knows everything. It is the kind of anguish no person can endlessly endure. We see its effects in Cain, Judas Iscariot, and Sapphira; it is a real foretaste of hell-torments. It is that worm that never dies.In the same way that malignancy in the body breeds cancer, says Flavel, so do accusations and condemnation of conscience infect the soul with corruption and guilt.
Augustus Strong (1836-1921) quotes Estonian theologian Adolf von Harnack (1851-1930), saying, “There is an inner law which compels the sinner to look upon God as a wrathful Judge…Yet [for them], no other feeling is possible.” We regard this confession as a demonstration of the psychological correctness of Paul’s doctrine of “surrogate atonement.” God has so constituted human nature that it demands His holiness. That the conscience needs soothing is proof that God requires satisfaction. Some have declared that reconciliation is offered only to our conscience in that the Anointed One bore our sins, not in substitution for us, but in fellowship with us. Consequently, the verdicts of conscience are only indications of the higher rulings of God.
James Morgan Gibbon (1855-1932), an independent minister, notes we’ve all heard about “heartache,” but when did we last hear of “heartease?” Therefore, it is hard to understand the logic in what the Apostle John says here in verse twenty. God’s children, out of spiritual necessity, “do what’s right, and love mercy.” But there are times when the heart bows hushed and silent before God. It’s when conscience lays its trophy at the feet of the Anointed One. Yet, all that is within us stands up to bless the Lord, who forgives all our iniquities. Now in these blessed moments, “we’re no longer accusing or condemning ourselves but are bold and free before God! It allows us to stretch out our hands and receive what we asked for because we’re doing what he said, doing what pleases Him.” It proves that we are one with God because we love what He loves and hate what He hates, and His commandments are our law. And we pray to Him freely, confidently, unhesitatingly, as to One by whose compassion we feel secure.
Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901) comments that the Christian’s spiritual discernment detects what is opposed to His life in us and condemns it. It goes without the saying that God is infinitely wiser because He is omniscient. The new life given to us acts in our hearts with unlimited strength in Him. Thus, with unerring accuracy, it senses any taint of evil in us. In addition, God’s authority exceeds our Christian consciousness. He is the Lord of mankind’s moral nature as an omniscient lawgiver. So then, having a bad conscience would disturb their confidence and peace in God’s presence. Therefore, communion would no longer be joyful; the sinning child would come into His presence with fear of disapproval, expecting to find a frown on His face instead of a smile.
For James Morgan (1859-1942), we learn the connection between active godliness and spiritual enjoyment. Knowing we follow the truth assures our hearts that we have confidence in Him and delight in prayer to remain consistent and holy. It allows us to grow in brotherly love. Listen to the words of Isaiah: “This is the kind of fast day I’m after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I’m interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your families. Do this, and the lights will turn on, and your lives will turn around at once. Your righteousness will pave your way. The God of glory will secure your passage. Then, when you pray, God will answer. You’ll call out for help, and I’ll say, ‘Here I am.’ If you get rid of unfair practices, quit blaming victims, quit gossiping about other people’s sins. If you are generous with the hungry and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out, your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, and I will bathe your shadowed lives in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you an enjoyable life even in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones. You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew, rebuild the foundations from out of your past. It will earn you a reputation as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”
Robert Law (1860-1919) says that the question whether we are “of the truth” is illustrated as a person putting their “heart” (conscience) on trial, with themselves as prosecutor and defendant. It is conducted in the presence of the Omniscient God, who serves as Judge and Jury. There are three elements in the case, (a) Our heart condemns us. We believe that we passed from spiritual death into life in the Anointed One,  but doubts about its validity have risen. When Conscience summons us into the inner tribunal, we are found guilty. By failing to do what was right for God’s children,  or our faith faltered—our vision of the Truth became dim. The evidence of our union with the Anointed One is obscured by inconsistencies that compel us to question whether we are “of the truth” or have deceived ourselves.
The second element is, (b) “Are we “of the truth?” When conscience brings offers into evidence these allegations of insincerity, to what shall we appeal? To this, the Apostle John says: that we have loved “Not in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and truth.” Again, there are things we can point to—not things we have professed or felt or imagined or intended, but things that we have done because of the Love God put into our hearts. Neither spiritual emotions nor vision can tell us anything without the practice of God’s Love. So, in bearing one another’s burdens, in denying ourselves to give to another’s need,  we are on solid ground. As a result of this, we can calm our self-accusing hearts—yes, even in the presence of God. And finally, the third element; (c) “Because God’s heart is greater in capacity than our heart, and comprehends all things.”
Daniel C. Snaddon (1915-2009) says that this verse is difficult to understand. The words heart and conscience seem to be interchangeable. It is serious when our conscience convicts us of our actions. Our conscience fails at times, but God knows everything about us fully and absolutely.
For Robert W. Yarbrough (1948), the Apostle John’s reasons for blessed assurance may include accusations: “whenever our hearts condemn us.” The Greek word kataginōskō translated (“condemn”) occurs only once outside John’s epistle. For instance, Sirach 14: 2 speaks of a person who is blessed because their “heart [psychē] does not condemn them.” Especially if one suffers from humiliation and estrangement from God by internal misgivings and condemnation in connection with a lack of love for others when trying to put things right, then John assures readers that “God is greater than our hearts.”
3:20But if we have a bad conscience and feel that we have done wrong, the Lord will sense it even more, for He knows everything we do.
Although we do not know “all things,” God does. We often unjustly criticize ourselves, but God knows our motives because He is the infallible Mediator. There is a big difference between conscience and omniscience. God is the most excellent witness to our soul’s activities. If we condemn ourselves, we must remember that there is a superior Jurist, and He will always be fair with us. So, believers must accept God’s perfect judgment on them rather than stick to their unproven findings.
Furthermore, God knows that self-sacrificing love is not an everyday thing. Therefore, it is abnormal for people having their reputations undermined to respond with love or return good for evil; that is a dynamic of spirituality. A spiritual person forgives and moves on because of their new life in the Anointed One. However, we all know that this is contrary to human nature.
So, since God knows all about us and loves us anyway, why can’t we accept ourselves as God sees us? It does not mean that we rationalize our sins away, but that we acknowledge the person God sees in us after dealing with them. We cannot base fellowship with God on our feelings; we must build it on objective revelation in His Word. God offers forgiveness if we confess and deal with our sins. Our heavenly Father links His omniscience with mercy. Although He knows every secret of our hearts, yet He understands them all. Don’t forget; it is the work of our enemy to accuse us. Satan will take our sensitive conscience and use it against us. Our confidence comes from the promises of God, not from our open behavior patterns. It is not God’s will that we constantly live in a state of condemning ourselves. He does not want us to get stuck in guilt mud.
For example, aviation technicians put an airplane in an air tunnel to determine whether it is worthy of flying. However, they do not leave the plane in the air tunnel. At some point, they test it in the skies. After the test flight, they do not continue to prove the airplane’s flight worthiness without end. Instead, they get on with the business of transporting people to their destinations. Christians who live in constant self-examination do not live vibrant spiritual lives. Some people constantly raise the question of whether they are genuine Christians. Other Christians never arrive at the point of confidence with God. They live in a state of self-condemnation, “Have I served the Lord enough; am I spiritual enough; have I given what God expects of me?”
There is a point where we must face ourselves and deal with our objective guilt, but there is also a point where we move on. My heart is not the Supreme Court; God sits in the seat of the Chief Justice. I must accept His judgments on things. His verdict is final. My judgment is not absolute, but God’s judgment is ultimate. My subjective guilt is not God’s norm for fellowship with Him or His children.
It is also a distortion in our soul if we splash around in subjective guilt. Objective guilt is one thing, but personal guilt is another. Constantly looking within produces spiritual naval gazing. It puts the Christian into spiritual self-centeredness. Factual guilt is a norm for Christian living. How do we reassure our hearts if we find something genuinely inappropriate in our souls? It is a distortion of immense proportion if we cannot face our spiritual condition. We want to avoid deceiving ourselves or living in deception that we are in fellowship with God when we are not.
A Christian who wants to walk with God desires proof of the evidence against them. They want to know what breaks fellowship with the Almighty. They understand that they tend to sweet-talk their spirituality and thus fool themselves. It is spiritual self-delusion. They prefer not to wait for others to inform them. Their friends may not have the courage to tell them what they need to know.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) found himself confronted with whether the rewards assigned to the beatitudes refer to this life? It would seem that these blessings do not refer to this life; they are happy because they hope for a prize. So, now the object of hope is future happiness. Therefore, these rewards refer to the life to come.
Furthermore, they continue, specific punishments are ordered in opposition to the beatitudes, as we read: “How bad it will be for you people who are full now because you will be hungry. How bad it will be for you people who are laughing now.” Now, these punishments do not refer to this life because frequently, people receive no punishment in this life; according to Job, “They spend their days in prosperity, then go down to the grave in peace.” Therefore neither do the rewards of the beatitudes refer to this life.
But they are not finished. In addition, the questioner says, the kingdom of heaven rewards poverty to guarantee happiness in heaven, as Augustine of Hippo (354-430 AD) says, “We are saved, so we are made happy by hope. And as we do not as yet possess at present, but look for future salvation, so is it with our happiness, and this patiently.” Thus, the doubters claim, according to the Psalmist, “You make me know the path of life; in Your presence is unbounded joy, in Your right-hand eternal delight.” So again, it is only in our future that we will see God, and our Divine kinship will be made manifest, according to the Apostle John. Therefore these rewards refer to the future life.
On the contrary, notes Aquinas, Augustine also says: “These promises can be fulfilled in this life. For no words can express that complete change into the likeness even of an angel, which is promised to us after this life. For that all-embracing change into the angelic form, which is promised after this life, cannot be explained in any words.”
But, says Aquinas, love is something between the lover and the loved. Therefore, when we ask if we can have perfect love for God, there are three options. First, the Greek adjective holotelēs (“wholly”) meaning, “completely or perfectly,” can refer to the thing loved. Thus, God should receive our unconditional love. Secondly, it may understand holotelēs as a quality of the person loving: God ought to be wholly loved since humankind should love God with all their might and credit all they have to God’s love. Thirdly, we can compare the one loving to the thing loved so that the one loving is equal to the manner of the one loved. But this is impossible: since a thing is lovable in proportion to its goodness. Therefore, having endless love for God is impossible, since His goodness is boundless. So, no creature can have unlimited love for God because the ability of all-natural creatures is finite.
John Calvin writes on repentance as explained in what he calls the “illogical jargon of the Roman Catholic professors,” which is widely different from the purity required by the Gospel, of confession and satisfaction. Calvin is especially disturbed by the definition of repentance given by these lecturers who express the nature of repentance as asking forgiveness for past sins and the pledge of not doing them again. It is more like regret, remorse, sorrow, and grief that they committed such sins. As Chrysostom said, Repentance is a medicine for the cure of sin, a gift bestowed from above, an admirable virtue, a grace surpassing the power of laws.”
However, Calvin says that all these things could not heal the wound any more than moldy bread smeared with honey. At first, it might taste good, but the poison will still penetrate the vital organs before its bitterness is detected. Sinners heard the alarming voice calling out from the scriptures, “Confess all your sins,” but the dread of being punished cannot be alleviated even after being consoled. The Apostle John answers that God is greater than our feelings even if we feel guilty since He knows everything.
John Bunyan (1628-1688) envisions the judgment of the wicked. He sees the Apostle John’s presentation in a court of law, with everyone seated in their proper place. His honor is on His throne with the attorneys, and the prisoners are ushered in to stand trial. Immediately, a mighty firestorm blazes out from the throne and encircles His Honor with protection to keep the prisoners a safe distance from His heavenly Majesty. Everything has come to order, and the Justice, along with His attendants as well as the prisoners, all stand with frightening fear of what is about to happen. Finally, the books are opened, and their status is examined by what was written inside.
 Aquinas, Thomas: Summa Theologica, Vol. 3, pp. 353-354
 The Catholic Dictionary explains satisfaction consists in the penitent’s willingness to accept the penance imposed and its actual fulfillment. The effect of these two elements is to remove more or less the temporal punishment due to the sins confessed.
 Chrysostom, John: Homily 8, On Repentance and Almsgiving
3:20 Even if in our hearts we feel guilty about doing something against our conscience, God’s heart is bigger than ours, and He knows what’s actually going on.
Many people don’t understand or are too stubborn to accept that God knows a lot more than they do. He sees the world and universe as a macrocosm – the large picture, while they only see it as a microcosm – as a small picture. It’s the same as looking through a telescope as opposed to a microscope. That’s why the Israelites made such a wrong choice in worshiping what God created instead of the Creator Himself. What sometimes aggravates believers is that God shows them their wrongdoing up close and personal. This was something that King David requested of God to purge such sinful tendencies out of his life.
The prophets shared such lessons, reminding God’s people that He looks deep into one’s heart and mind, so He can decide what action to take. And don’t try to hide anything from Him because that’s impossible. Some people think that if they don’t tell God something, then He won’t know it. However, the Apostle John knew full well from experience that Jesus did not need anyone to inform Him about people’s thoughts because He could read their minds. And even the Apostle Peter couldn’t fool Him. So, later in his revelation, John heard God say, “I am the One who searches hearts and minds.”
At this point, the Apostle John looks back to review what he has already written. When it comes to “love,” there are several key points that stand out above others. It starts with loving God by loving our brothers and sisters in the Lord. In doing so, we prove that we are keeping His commandments to continue our unbroken communion with Him. This, in turn, gives further evidence that we truly know God. This is so important because we need not fear being ashamed when God or others judge us.
When John says, “our heart,” he means our “conscience,” not affections, which would be our inward parts or bowels. If we are conscious of sincere and characteristic love within us, this will calm us when our conscience accuses us of failure. God is “greater” than our hearts. John uses a familiar Greek adjective megas meaning tremendous, and is used pretty much in the same way as the derived English prefix mega from the enormity of physical size to largeness in number,  festive elaboration,  width,  effect,  joy,  social clout,  et cetera.
Some might ask whether this means that God is more merciful or more rigorous. Neither one. It means that, although our conscience is not infallible, God’s is. Our hearts may be deceived; He cannot be. God knows all things. It is an awful thought for the unrepented but blessed and encouraging news for the repented that God not only knows all our faults and failures, but He also knows our temptations, struggles, sorrow, and love.
But, what does it mean if our heart convicts us? The Greek verb kataginōskō (“condemns”) [Not to be confused with katakrima] portrays the idea of “finding fault, to blame, make accusations.” We know ourselves better than others do. Our “heart” is a self-reflecting court over our lives. This court can be fair or unfair. It can excuse or accuse. It depends on the standard we use. The principle to follow here is that God wants us to operate on objective, not subjective guilt.
So, we must apply this truth to our lives by self-examination, which can cause us to be alarmed about the condition of our souls. We may see ourselves falling desperately short of God’s holy standard of living. It is especially true in the sphere of loving fellow Christians. Our conscience is not infallible, and neither is the judgment of other Christians against us. We are often unjust with ourselves and excuse our sin. Also, other Christians can judge us unfairly for personal or spiteful reasons.
We must admit that there is a delicate balance between justifying sin and an unjust conscience. God never overlooks or minimizes sin, so neither should we. But, on the other hand, being convicted of sin is the result of the Holy Spirit reminding us of our genuine belief in God and His Word. It is called “objective guilt.” Objective guilt is good, but subjective (personal) guilt is terrible in God’s economy. We cannot determine truth by experience. Our only basis for assessing our relationship to God always rests on His objective and eternal Word. Believers should not be harder on themselves than God is. Feelings of self-condemnation and inadequacy are enemies of the Christian life. Subjective guilt is not a norm or standard of God.
Often, our hearts take a low view of ourselves when we think that we do not measure up to a set of required standards. In this case, we are our accusers. We hold a trial in the inner court of our being and then develop a feeling of false guilt. This misrepresents the soul. Such is especially true in the sphere of loving fellow believers. It is subjectively difficult to measure love, so it is hard to determine whether we love enough. So, it is possible to be too easy or too hard on ourselves. God is the ultimate judge of our hearts. We can overcome feelings of subjective guilt by remembering the nature of God. God’s knowledge is omniscient. He knows our true motives.
Our “heart” is a vessel God uses to reign over our souls, so His wisdom exceeds our judgment. His assessment is more accurate and absolute than ours. He knows the true nature of our sin; therefore, we can have the assurance that God deals with us in accuracy and compassion. God is not sympathetic toward us. Instead, He takes extenuating circumstances into account, right motives, and conscientious efforts in assessing our souls. This verse does not say, “God does not excuse us even if our conscience condemns us because of these things.” No, the issue is; God will confirm the accusation of our heart or will pardon us according to the standards of His omniscience. He knows if genuine love dwells in our hearts or not. That is why we must love in “deed and truth.”
In the final analysis, if our conscience condemns us, it does not necessarily suppose that we are backslidden or out of fellowship with God and other believers. Neither does it mean that we are still in complete harmony with God’s will. God can distinguish between objective and subjective guilt. That’s why His heart is more incredible than ours.
Therefore, if our conscience is correct in judging us, then God will discipline us if we do not confess our sin in due time. If our verdict is incorrect, then He will overrule our findings in favor of His omniscient grace and justice. Ultimately, we cannot put absolute trust in our conscience. We cannot trust these things to our feelings. Our primary assurance lies in the written Word of God. So, if our heart condemns and criticizes us because we know that we have not loved as we should, it is the Word of God that forms a true conscience in us.
Consequently, our conscience can then consist of two opposing dimensions: 1) our norms formed from human values, and 2) God’s values formed from the Word. Thus, the believer shapes their standards from a divine, not human, perspective. We may pursue a course of action, but that action may be contrary to God’s Word. Our heart judicially condemns us for this. It is a violation of God’s norms. God will not bless us when we knowingly rebel against one of His standards. The Almighty’s standard is more significant than ours. His value is greater than our value.
Once the believer accepts the fact that they violated God’s standards and confesses their sin, then God accepts them back into fellowship. Love for other Christians assures us of our connection with God. However, even though Jesus manifested His love to us, we do not always love Him as He loved us. There are times when we do not come close to God’s kind of love, which may cause doubt about our union with Him. We cannot gauge our relationship by subjective experience. If this were the case, we would never know for sure whether we are acceptable to God. If we determine our fellowship with God by faith derived from His Word, then He bases His judgment on us by looking at our faith. Confidence by faith is the basis for moving forward in the Christian life. If we did not have confidence that God hears our prayers, we would not pray.
Just remember, while God accepts us with all our failures, He will not justify our failures. He loves us through Jesus, the Anointed One. Jesus paid for our sins, so God extends forgiveness to us because of Him. Our authority for continued fellowship rests on Jesus, not on our apparent moral behavior. Thus, we can approach God without fearing that He will reject our prayers. It allows us to pray with confidence because we come to the Father “in Jesus’ name.”
 The “economy of God” is a quotation from 1 Timothy 1:4, according to the Greek word oikonimia, which primarily signifies household management, household administration, arrangement, and distribution, or dispensation. The word “economy” is used with the intention of stressing the focal point of God’s divine enterprise, which is to distribute or dispense, Himself to mankind.
3:19Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when standing before God.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) says that corrupt governments, divested of God’s light because they love darkness, are no more likely than other unlawful efforts to find a cure for such an unethical predicament of alleviating conviction and guilt for wrongdoing through legislation.
William Edward Jelf (1811-1875) says that a Christian whose heart is burdened with a sense of weakness and unworthiness, causing them to become unsure about their salvation, must not use that as a reason to stop loving God and doing good for others. On the contrary, if we are conscious of having loved our brothers and sisters, we can use it as evidence contrary to our heart’s condemnation to reassure ourselves. Anyone who has experienced doubts and fears springing up in their heart from time to time will feel the need to test their faith for reassurance. It is the same notion as that of the Apostle Paul, “The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” However, in the doubting Christian’s case, John represents one’s spirit as hesitant and accusing until persuaded by the evidence that the presence of practical love in daily life assures them they are a child of God by having God’s Spirit.
William Barclay (1907-1978) points out that the Apostle John goes on to say something which, as far as the Greek text is understood, can mean two things: 1) Although our hearts may condemn us, 2) God is greater than our hearts. So, the question is: what is the meaning of the last phrase?
(1) It could mean: since our hearts condemn us, God must condemn us even more. But, if we take it that way, it leaves us only with the fear of God and with nothing to say but: “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” That is a possible translation, and no doubt it is true; but it is not what John is saying in this context, for here he is thinking of our confidence in God and not our dread of Him.
(2) The passage must therefore mean this. Our hearts condemn us – that is inevitable. But God is greater than our hearts; He knows all things. Not only does He know our sins; He also knows our love, our longings, the nobility that never fully works itself out, our repentance, and the greatness of His knowledge gives Him the sympathy with which He can understand and forgive.
Robert W. Yarbrough (1948) says that in the aftermath of a stern command against the hypocrisy of a do-nothing love in verse eighteen, John extends an olive branch of assurance here in verse nineteen “And by this.” It probably looks back to the previous verse and offers a positive response to it. By loving others with integrity, “we will know.” Ethically speaking, confirmation relating to the Anointed One comes by compliance with His commands.
By the same token, in the realm of reason, says Yarbrough, a deepened understanding results if one does the things appropriate to complete the full circle of faith. What will John’s readers know as a result of loving each other? They will see that they are of the truth. This could have a social meaning. The previous section placed people in two groupings: “children of God” or “the devil’s brood.” Cain was “of the evil one.” So, to be “of the truth” would mean to be among those whose spiritual vitality grows out of the truth by being God’s child.
It harmonizes with Johannine usage elsewhere: Jesus said He testified “to the truth” and that “everyone who is of the truth listens to Him.” John is writing in this epistle to readers who “know the truth” and recognize that “no lie comes from the truth.” To love, then, in both word and deed, is to know more clearly that the source of one’s identity and life as a believer is the truth – which is to say, in John’s frame of reference, the Anointed One. Thus, John’s first word of assurance points readers to Jesus.
W. Hall Harris III (1953), Senior Professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, states that the prepositional phrase “by this” refers to verse eighteen. Thus, by doing these righteous deeds, these expressions of love for one another, Christians assure themselves that they belong to the truth because the outward action reflects the inward reality of our relationship with God. Another way to say this is that conduct is the clue to paternity. Here in verse nineteen, however, the same principle is used to reassure believers rather than serve as criticism against the opponents of the true Gospel (whose misconduct shows they do not have a genuine relationship with God). In this case, John’s readers – do indeed have this authentic relationship.
Daniel L. Akin (1957) supposes that the Apostle John used verse eighteen as a “hinge verse” to connect two related passages that have a common subject. The subject is love. When we love “with truth and action” (verse 18), this reassures our hearts before God that we are of the truth (verse 19). Assurance will sprout in the heart, and blossom in the conscience, when we demonstrate genuine and authentic love for others. It assures us that we are God’s children. Loving others as God in the Anointed One loved us strengthens our hearts and gives us confidence. Indeed, by loving others in truth (verse 18), we come to know we belong to the truth (verse 19).
However, says Akin, we must be honest. Loving others is not always easy. After all, at the heart of love is serving others as Jesus serves us. Sometimes this service is public, noble, and newsworthy. Sometimes it is unknown, unrecognized, and unnoticed. It can be a challenge. Yes, love requires service. Service involves humility. And loving others in humble service assures us that we belong to Jesus. That sounds like a life worth living, a path worth following. By this knowledge and truth in our minds, assurance is planted and flourishes in our hearts.
David Legge (1969) tells us when looking at verse nineteen, we read that the Apostle John says: “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence.” In verses ten through eighteen, John stated that one of the tests of whether we belong to the Anointed One is not whether we are in fellowship with Him. Instead, the test to assure our hearts is whether we love our brothers and sisters in the faith. So, John reiterates that if we love our fellow believers, which confirms we are in union with God, it gives us assurance and more certainty that we are God’s children. But of course, the opposite is true: if we do not love our brothers and sisters, or if we hate one brother or sister, in particular, that is an assurance that we are not a child of God. It is reason enough to make a person unsure and cause us to doubt our heart’s eternal security.
3:20 Even if in our hearts we feel guilty about doing something against our conscience, God is greater than our hearts, and He knows what’s actually going on.
Now the Apostle John says something astounding. Even though we do not know God’s mind, He knows ours. And when we feel we have failed Him, He knows why and His Spirit communicates to us that He understands. He is more interested in saving than losing us. That’s why we can still stand true to our faith, knowing that God will help us find a way to make the necessary corrections in order to be obedient to His will and continue our walk on the highway of holiness. The Apostle Paul knew that mistakes and errors do not cancel our salvation. He told the Romans that when sin increases, God’s grace intensifies even more. This does not apply to sin in the world but wrongdoing in our lives. That’s why John was able to say that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and understanding and will forgive us of our sins.
Again, Job told his accusers that God knows a lot more we do, whatever we or others say about our conduct. Even Jesus said that though His disciples failed Him in faith and faithfulness, they were a gift from God, and no one could steal them out of His hand. And when God makes a promise, nothing can overturn His decision. Does that mean after a believer is born again, they can live as they wish and do anything immoral, they want to do? No! After all, that’s what kept the Israelites out of the Promised Land; the five bridesmaids prohibited from entering the wedding banquet,  and condemnation of the servant who failed to invest the silver given to him.
 Carlyle, Thomas: Latter-Day Pamphlets, [April 15, 1850.] No. IV. The New Downing Street.