What I Know for Sure
Every week Laura and I sit down and plan a menu of meals for the week before we go grocery shopping. I ask, what do you feel like eating this week? It’s been a while since we’ve had tacos. How about spaghetti? Most Saturdays I make pizza. Sometimes we mix it up during the week. Turns out, I might not feel like making and eating pizza on Saturday. Maybe I feel like eating something different. That’s all okay. Its food. I think I’m allowed to have changing feelings about what I want to eat from time to time.
But what if I came home one day and said, Laura I just don’t feel like being with you anymore. (That’s hypothetical, I don’t actually do that.) but that’s a whole different kind of feeling. And changing what I do based on those feelings is a whole lot different than changing my dinner menu based on what I feel like eating.
Here’s the thing. We all have feelings. And we all have a tendency to change and shift in our feelings from time to time. Sometimes those changing feelings are rather innocuous and don’t impact much. Sometimes those changing feelings carry deep ramifications and greatly impact many other people. So, what role do feelings have in our faith? And what happens when those feelings about our faith change every now and then?
Recap of 1 John context
We’ve been working through 1 John for a while now. For those of you keeping score we’re just over half way through the letter. The verses that we are going to see today are a sort of pause in the letter for John to regroup his audience. So, let’s take a moment along with John this morning to back off a bit and remind ourselves of where we are going.
It might be good to remember that John is writing to a church that sees itself in despair. They are facing unrelenting persecution. On top of that, John is writing to warn them about false teachers among them who are trying to lead them astray. They are being attacked from the outside. And they are being attacked from within. Here is a group of people who feel defeated. They feel shaken. They feel overwhelmed. They feel insecure and vulnerable. So, it may be only natural for them to begin to question if their efforts are worth it, if they are making any difference at all.
This was the first generation of Christians that existed after Jesus ascended to heaven. These are people who would have been crazy excited and passionately driven by the events of the resurrection. This movement that Jesus started, which appeared to be snuffed out by the Roman empire and the Jewish religious authorities on the cross, not only survived but came roaring back with missionaries traveling and starting new churches all over the place. They were on fire. They had momentum. They were living in the truth that not even death could stop Jesus. And they were triumphantly marching forward in that truth.
But as time went on, things began to change. The Jewish authorities began to step up the pressure to make this Jesus movement go away. Christians were being arrested and persecuted. The wind which once appeared to be at their backs was now blowing straight into their faces. And it seemed that their momentum was grinding to a halt.
Things began to change | Do you know what that feels like? Family | coworkers | health
Do you know what that feels like? I bet you do. We all do sometimes. A group of friends at school which seems to be going so well suddenly turns with a new dynamic and now you’re left out. A family relationship becomes distant and unresponsive. The company is going through some changes and you suddenly start seeing a bunch of your coworkers getting laid off; and you wonder if you are going to be next. The doctor’s report comes back with a diagnosis that will probably change the rest of your life in some way. We all know what it is like to have life punch us in the gut and completely knock the wind out of us.
This is what John is writing about. These are the people to whom John is writing this letter. And John is trying to build up and encourage those in his church who feel this way. Here’s what he says today:
1 John 3:19-24
1 John 3:19–24 (NIV84)
19 This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20 whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.
This then | will know
This then. Stop there. What is this? John is referencing to everything else before in chapter three. He is talking about the difference between those who walk in the light and those who are in the darkness. He is talking about the difference between Cain and Abel in verses 12-15. And if you know that story from Genesis, then you know that even though Cain was the bad guy filled with hatred, it didn’t turn out too well for Abel in that story. So, don’t be like Cain—filled with hatred. But does that mean we are relegated to be like Abel? Helplessly murdered by those who live out of hatred? How are we supposed to live? What does walking in the light of truth look like for us in today’s world? Because those first century Christians were quickly coming to the reality that walking in the light of truth did not mean phenomenal success and growth and prosperity. For them, it was looking more and more like it meant suffering.
John writes, “This then is how we know that we belong to the truth.” A quick note about the Greek of this passage. This is actually a future tense verb. John is saying this is how you will know that you belong to the truth. John is urging us to keep looking ahead—not behind, not stuck upon your current circumstances.
hearts = feelings, passion, emotion
John continues, “and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.” What does John mean about our hearts? The heart is a reference to the place where emotions arise. The heart was about passion and feeling. And remember, this is a church that was feeling pretty beat up and discouraged. They were feeling shaken. They were feeling overwhelmed. They felt as though they had lost all confidence. Their hearts had lost confidence in the gospel. Jesus did not feel like a victory for them.
We know this too. In all honesty, each one of us would have to admit that there are times when our faith feels pretty weak. We don’t always feel confident and assured about what God is doing in us and through us. Sometimes our hearts condemn us too. And John writes to them and writes to us as well.
skip ahead | vs 21 pray for anything
So how do we live in that truth even in times when we don’t feel it? Let’s skip ahead a little and see where John takes it. In verse 21, if we have confidence then we receive anything we ask in prayer, if—and this is a big if—we keep his commands and do what pleases him.
Now stop right here again. If we rip just this verse out of context then we might be tempted to walk away with a secret formula for rubbing a lamp and getting unlimited genie wishes. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is not about getting what I desire from God. This is about God getting what he desires from me. He desires for me to walk in the light of his truth. He desires for me to boldly approach his throne with confidence and ask for those things which he instructs of us as his people in the church. He desires to give us those things.
And what are those things? What are those instructions from God? Look at what John says. Two things. Believe in the name of Jesus Christ. Love one another.
believe in the name of Jesus Christ
What does it mean to believe in the name of Jesus Christ? Let me remind you that, in the Bible, names are very significant because they mean something. The name Jesus Christ means something. Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Joshua. The name means savior. Christ is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Messiah. It means anointed one. To believe in the name of Jesus is to believe that he is the one who is my savior. To believe in the name of Christ is to believe that he reigns as Lord of creation—the anointed one. To believe in Jesus is to believe that he alone is savior and Lord.
This isn’t about piety or morality or perfectly following all the rules. This isn’t about checking off boxes on a list of things like going to church and doing my devotions. This is about a life that is totally and completely surrendered to Jesus and him alone because he alone is my savior and Lord. And because Jesus alone is my savior and Lord I naturally want to worship him and go to church. Because Jesus alone is my savior and Lord I want to spend time in his word in devotions. Those things are not checkboxes to prove myself to God. Those things are byproducts of a life surrendered to God. Don’t miss this next part. Some days my faith is firing on all cylinders and I feel the certainty of that truth. Other days I struggle and I don’t feel it. But—don’t miss this—even on days when I don’t feel it, even on days when I am not fully confident in the gospel, it is still true. He is still my savior and Lord.
love one another
And then John says we walk in the truth by loving one another. And once again this is not dependent upon feelings. This is not a love for others that is based upon affect or emotion. It is not about having kind thoughts about other people. This is about action. This is a love for other people that shows up in real tangible examples.
Do you remember what Pastor Dylan said last week about seeing love? He said from last week’s passage that if you want to know what love looks like, look at Jesus. Jesus shows up with love that was more than affect, more than emotion. Jesus shows up with a love that takes shape into action. The self-giving love of Jesus is foundational to the truth of the gospel. This is the path for God’s church to follow so that our lives may declare that some gospel message to those around us. It’s not about feeling like it. It’s about doing it.
Those of us who are married and have kids know about this. Pastor Dylan and Megan are about to wander into this world with their first child. For others of us, do you remember coming home from the hospital with your first child? For the first little bit, we are readily available to get up in the night when needed for the baby. I say to my spouse, “No, you stay in bed. I got this.” But after a few months it turns into, “Isn’t it your turn to get up? I think it’s your turn to get up.” The eagerness and excitement are gone. The feeling fades. And sometimes even the action of loving others becomes something of a sacrifice. Yet this is exactly what Jesus does for us. His love for the world–for you and me–sacrifices everything to show up in action.
God’s love continues to show up in action still today. One of the ways God chooses for his love to show up is through the love and actions of his church. It is the Holy Spirit in us, his people. And John reminds us of this as well. In verse 24 he says that because his Spirit lives in us, we are able to obey his command to love others.
For these people in John’s church, and often for us today as well, we need that reminder of where to return and where to focus and where to start over when our hearts feel overwhelmed and broken. Go back to the basics. Remember and believe in Jesus Christ as savior and Lord. And live out actions that love others the way God loves others. Go back and start there.
back to John | no longer faith that relies on feelings
Let’s bring it back to John’s church, these people who are persecuted, beat up, and defeated. These are people who can no longer bank everything in their spiritual life on feelings anymore. I began this message today by asking if there have ever been areas of your life that have lost their passion and confidence—friendships, family, career, health. And, yes, sometimes our faith loses heart too. Sometimes we admit just like this passage says that our hearts condemn us. We just don’t feel it anymore.
But here is the message that John brings to his church and to us. And this is John’s response to them. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not rise and fall upon how you feel. The power of Jesus is not so fragile and so fickle that it can exclusively swell and work its wonders only when you feel like it. God is not limited by our feelings.
vs 19-20 | God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything
John says to us here today, this is how we will know that we belong to the truth even when our faith feels weak. Verses 19-20, we set our hearts at rest in his presence, even when our hearts condemn us. Because God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Maybe your friendship groups at school are changing and you just don’t feel the same way about your peer anymore. God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything.
Maybe you go to work every day unsure of who will be laid off next or where that next paycheck is going to come from, and this weighs heavy on your heart day after day. God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything.
Maybe you’ve had a bad report from the doctor and you’re worried about what’s happening to your health and you feel stressed about your ability to even have the strength to make it through a single day. God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything.
Maybe some days feel hopeless and your heart sometimes feels weak in your faith. God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything.
One of the documents we hang onto in this church that we find to be useful in teaching and understanding the truth of scripture is a 500-year-old writing known as the Heidelberg Catechism. And the catechism begins its teaching about scripture by cutting straight to the core of this issue. It states that my only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.
God is greater than your heart, and he knows everything.