WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson LXXXIX) 11/15/21

3:19 Then we will know for sure, by our actions, that we are on God’s side, and our consciences will be clear, even when we stand before the Lord.

John then tells us that the place where we need assurance the most is “before Him.” Some mistakenly take this as saying “before God’s judgment seat.” However, we do everything in God’s sight. “Before Him” can also be expressed as “before God’s eyes.”  God knows the worst in us, yet He still desires our fellowship. The Greek adverb emprosthen implies that God is “watching” or “within His view.” This is the believer in fellowship, living in the Spirit-filled life. They know with assurance that they walk with the Lord. Thus, conviction and certainty come from what the Lord gives us, not what we do for ourselves.

Now, the Christian who understands the grace principle knows that they do not have to compensate for their sins. They know that they are not required to pay independently for their sins, that is, chastise themselves. This Christian understands that Jesus took all the punishment and penalty for their sins on Himself. They know that vowing never to do it again is misplaced. They can do this after forgiveness, but not as a substitute for forgiveness. They know it is not necessary to attend mid-week worship services for a year, join a Bible study, or say an extra prayer each day to make up for their sins. Their confidence is in the Lord, not in themselves.

COMMENTARY

Bede the Venerable (672-735 AD) agrees that when we do godly works, it becomes apparent that we are following God’s truth because we are copying His perfect love to the best of our ability. When we love our neighbors by fulfilling our promises, we see that we are reassuring our hearts in the light of God’s supreme truth. Whenever we want to do something, we think it over long enough to persuade ourselves to do it. Those who want to do something wicked also want to hide it from God as much as they can, but those who want to do good have no hesitation about reassuring themselves that they want to do this good in the sight of God.[1]

Martin Luther (1483-1546) states that we ought first to know that there are no good works other than those God commanded, even as there is no sin except that which God has forbidden. Therefore, whoever wishes to know and do good deeds needs to know nothing more than God’s commandments. So, as the Anointed One said, “I always do what pleases Him.”[2] And the Apostle John, “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.”[3] Again: “Those who are God’s children do not continue to sin because the new life God gave them stays in them.”[4] If this is true, then all they do must be good. However, if they are guilty of wrongdoing, they must quickly seek forgiveness. Luther then tells everyone, “The reason I exalt faith so highly is to attract good works into it and reject all deeds that do not flow from it.”[5]

Jacobus Arminius (1560-1609), the Dutch Protestant Reformer, was openly against the teaching of Predestination for the following reasons: Because it is not the foundation of Christianity, of Salvation, or its certainty. In his mind, this doctrine was not formed using the Gospel. Arminius also finds it repugnant to God’s goodness. In other words, God’s affection and willingness to communicate His good so far as His justice considers it fitting and proper because He saved us, and that’s all He needed to do. When it comes to eternal security in salvation, says Arminius, we recognize that “God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things.” And although a person may judge themselves to be righteous, there is no self-justification because it is the Lord who decides for them.[6] Arminius confesses that he is not willing [on what he just said] to give the same assurance [or certainty] on the same level by which we know there is a God and that the Anointed One is the Savior of the world. However, it is proper to explore the boundaries of this assurance in our conversations.[7]

In verses eighteen and nineteen, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) takes what John says here to show the distinguishing signs of truly gracious and holy affections. First, they consider Christian practice as the best evidence of the sincerity of those who profess to be Christians around them. Then they observe that the Scriptures also speak of Christian practice as distinguishing and sure evidence of grace to persons’ consciences. John made this very plain earlier in his epistle.[8] And the testimony of our consciences, with respect to our doing good for others, is spoken of in verses eighteen and nineteen as that which assures us of our godliness.[9]

In his commentary on the revival in New England in the 1700s, Edwards points to some particulars that concerned all believers in general. One of them was the practice of fasting and prayer. The next was the way God poured out His blessings during such a time of fasting and praying. Of course, it is much better than believers spending their time in fruitless disputing and trying to answer those who opposed and judged them. But another thing was that God’s people should not get so wrapped up in fasting, praying, attending worship services that they forget the moral duties that result in acts of kindness, truth, humility, forgiveness, and love toward one another and those around them.[10]

He then asks everyone to realize that they don’t own what they have; they are only temporary stewards. Our goods are lent to us by God, to be improved in such ways as He directs. Therefore, you don’t own yourselves; otherwise, the price Jesus paid for our redemption would be canceled.[11] Next, Edwards notes that whatever we do to help neighbors in need, we do to God, and what we deny them, we hold back from Him.[12] We follow this by considering that there is an absolute necessity of our complying with the demanding duties of religion. In other words, it is not an option; it is a duty.

Edwards bases this on the fact that the Scriptures teach that God will deal with us as we deal with others. In other words, in accordance with the amount we share with them, God will measure His blessings to us. This the Scripture declares both ways; it asserts that if we have a kind spirit, God will be gracious to us. But, on the other hand, it tells us that if we are not merciful, God will not be gracious to us; and that all our claims by faith will not help us obtain mercy unless we are compassionate with those in need.[13]

Finally, consider what motivating encouragement the word of God gives. You cannot be a loser by your charitable giving to those who are in need. In verses seventeen to nineteen, John mentions it as so essential that the contrary cannot consist of sincere love for God. So also, the Apostle Paul proposes to the Corinthians that their contributions to the supplies for needy saints are one way to prove that their love is authentic, that it goes beyond mere promises.[14] [15] For instance, in performing one’s work, sometimes you may carry around a large key ring with multiple keys attached, knowing that only one key opens a particular lock on a specific door. Only when the key turns and the door is unlocked do they know they have found the right door. The same is true in finding God’s will for one’s life.

Adam Clarke (1762-1832) applies this same principle to the key of truth that unlocks the door of God’s mysteries in the Gospel. Thus, as Clarke puts it, we have the true religion of the Lord Jesus. It assures our hearts – persuaded in our consciences – that we have the truth as it is in Jesus. Therefore, no one can endow themselves with love simply by imagining they have love when they don’t. It will only become empty promises to others. But if they love either God or others, they know it because they can feel it. Unfelt love is words without action. So, the Apostle John offers a test for a person’s Christianity. It is the most substantial and most infallible test available. Anyone who loves feels that love and who loves God and others have true faith. Whoever is careful to show the fruit of this love, in obedience to God and their fellow brother or sister, provides the fullest proof that they have the loving mind of Jesus.[16]

Christopher Wordsworth (1774-1846) translates this verse as “and we shall assure our hearts before Him, in His sight, we will satisfy them and set them at ease, when we examine them, as in the presence of Him who searches the hearts.”[17] This assurance, says Wordsworth, will be produced in us by the visible evidence of Love working in our lives. Furthermore, we may not imagine in our hearts and look for their response that goodness was our intention. Nevertheless, the evidence we see in our lives when tested by the rule of God’s Law may afford a comfortable assurance to our hearts; and such an assurance from our hearts will give us confidence toward God and others.[18] [19]


[1] Bede the Venerable, Ancient Christian Commentary, Vol. XI, Bray, G. (Ed.), James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, p. 204

[2] John 8:29

[3] 1 John 3:19-20

[4] Ibid. 3:9; cf.

[5] Martin Luther: A Treatise on Good Works, The Treatise, p. 17

[6] 1 John 3:19; 1 Corinthians 4:3

[7] Arminius, Jacobus: The Works of, Vol. 1, A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius, ⁋6, p. 220

[8] 1 John 2:32

[9] Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 2, A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, Part 3, pp. 1015-1016

[10] See Matthew 9:13

[11] 1 Corinthians 6:20

[12] See Proverbs 19:17

[13] James 2:13-16

[14] 2 Corinthians 8:8

[15] Works of Jonathan Edwards: Vol. 4, Christian Charity, Sect. 3, pp. 1134-1138

[16] Adam Clarke: First Epistle of John, op. cit., p. 386

[17] See Matthew 28:14; Acts of the Apostles 12:20; Galatians 1:10

[18] See Acts of the Apostles 23:1; Romans 2:15

[19] Christopher Wordsworth: op. cit., pp. 117

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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