WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XCI) 11/17/21

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.[1] What sometimes aggravates believers is that God shows them their wrongdoing up close and personal.[2] This was something that King David requested of God to purge such sinful tendencies out of his life.[3]

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.[4] And don’t try to hide anything from Him because that’s impossible.[5] 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.[6] And even the Apostle Peter couldn’t fool Him.[7] So, later in his revelation, John heard God say, “I am the One who searches hearts and minds.”[8]

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.[9] 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[10] from the enormity of physical size[11] to largeness in number, [12] festive elaboration, [13] width, [14] effect, [15] joy, [16] social clout, [17] 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][18] 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.[19]

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.[20] 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.”


[1] Psalm 44:20-21

[2] Ibid. 90:8

[3] Ibid. 139:1-4

[4] Jeremiah 17:10

[5] Ibid. 17:23-24

[6] John 2:25

[7] Ibid. 21:17

[8] Revelation 2:23

[9] 1 John 3:17

[10] Megas occurs 211 times in 201 verses in the Greek text of the New Testament.

[11] John 21:11

[12] Mark 5:11

[13] Luke 5:29

[14] Matthew 22:36

[15] Ibid. 7:27

[16] Ibid. 2:10

[17] Ibid. 20:25

[18] Romans 8:1

[19] Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:3-4

[20] 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.

About drbob76

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