May 2, 2015
1 John 3:19-20
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence if our hearts condemn us. We know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Let your conscience be your guide. We hear stuff like that all the time. People readily equate the work of the Holy Spirit with one’s conscience. It’s not so.
Just as John began his sermon dealing with the deception of the self assured people who claimed to have no sin, now he turns to another group of potentially self deceived people on the other side of the fence. In today’s text, John addresses people whose conscience may be deceiving them.
Consider this hypothetical situation:
The preacher at First Sinners Church preaches a sermon in which he strongly confronts the congregation on their lack of care for people in need. Most of the people have one of two very different responses. One group agrees with the preacher’s assessment and immediately heap shame on themselves for their failure. The other group rises up in pride-filled indignation that the preacher would say such a thing to them.
Group #1, the self shamers feel as though they should have done more. They slink downward in a type of self-condemnation that masquerades as their conscience. Group #2, the self justifiers rise up in stiff-necked self defense.
What I want us to notice is that the responses of group #1 and group #2 are the same; they are two sides of the same coin. Both responses revolve around a self oriented way of thinking: self abnegation on the one hand and self assuredness on the other. Both have a completely different yet totally related way of dealing with the issue. The shame people think they are bad. The pride people think they are good.
The massively glaring problem is no one is actually thinking about people in need because they are completely self absorbed in thinking about themselves.
It’s why we should trust neither our confidence or our conscience. John exhorts us to examine the evidence. Just because a person feels like they have cancer doesn’t mean they have cancer. There’s a simple way to find out. It’s called a biopsy. Just because a person feels like they have a healthy heart doesn’t mean they have a healthy heart. There’s a simple way to find out. It’s called a stress test.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence if our conscience condemns us.
So what is the “This?” It’s actually the prior “This,” in verse 16. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. . . Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
We know we belong to the truth if our “love” is characterized by the inside-out dynamic of truth. Truth is ever asking the question, “Is our inward reality of love becoming the outward activity of love?” If it is not, then we can question whether we belong to the truth.
It’s not a question of how much is enough. That’s the misleading math of the conscience. We can always do more. The issue isn’t quantity of activity but quality of activity. If we are measuring quantity, it’s usually about what we’ve done. If we are measuring quality, it’s more about who we’ve helped.
Both now and in the end, we can trust God. As John closes today’s text:
We know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
Bottom line: Be honest with yourself. Do your best to love others. Trust God with the rest.
J.D. Walt writes daily for Seedbed’s Daily Text. He serves as Seedbed’s Sower in Chief. Follow him @jdwalt on Twitter or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get the Daily Text delivered to your inbox fresh every morning. Subscribe HERE.