WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER THREE (Lesson XCVIII) 11/26/21

3:21-22 But, 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?[1] 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?[2] 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.[3]

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.”[4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]  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.[10] 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[11] uses it here in a sense not unrelated to its earlier occurrence.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[15]

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.[16]


[1] Matthew 21:21-22

[2] 1 John 3:22; cf. 5:14-15

[3] Anderson, Sir. Robert: The Silence of God, Appendices, Note 10, p. 107

[4] Dryander, E: A Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John in the Form of Addresses, op. cit., pp. 129-130

[5] John 15:7

[6] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., pp. 300-301

[7] 1 John 3:22

[8] Brockett, Wayne: The Riches of Holiness, The Way into the Blessing, pp. 96-97

[9] Hebrews 9:9, 14; 10:2, 22

[10] Ibid. 10:19

[11] 1 John 2:28; cf. 4:17

[12] Bruce, F. F., The Epistles of John, op. cit., (Kindle locations 1870-1880)

[13] Snaddon, Daniel C., Plymouth Brethren Writings, 1 John, op. cit., loc. cit.

[14] 1 John 3:21a

[15] Yarbrough, Robert W., 1-3 John (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 212-213

[16] Kruse, Colin G., The Letters of John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, op. cit., Kindle Edition

About drbob76

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