You sit down and start to pray. As you begin interceding for an unsaved friend, a thought pops into your head, “Are you qualified to pray for anyone? Your life is so inconsistent. You’re no better than they are. In fact, you’re a hypocrite because you don’t even practice your faith.”
Is it possible to have confidence about our relationship with God? Is it possible to come into God’s presence with boldness? These are questions that many of us wrestle with. The apostle John answers these questions with a strong statement of assurance, “By this we know … we have confidence before God … by this we know” (1 John 3:19, 21, 24). He explains that when we love God by loving others, we enjoy a clear conscience and an effective prayer life.
In the previous passage (11-18), John explains the importance of loving one another. He states that love is not murder, hatred, or indifference. Instead, love is sacrificial. The evidence of love is not in our words, but rather in our actions. By loving other people, we demonstrate the fact that we truly love God.
When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence before God (19-20). By stating, “By this we know that we are of the truth …” John is building on his instruction in verse 18 to love one another. Loving others demonstrates we are followers of Jesus. This fact will provide reassurance when our conscience pricks us.
Someone once said there are three types of people: (1) Those whose consciences are seared or in the process of being repressed into silence. They feel no guilt at all. (2) Those whose consciences are attuned to a taskmaster God who is impatient and never satisfied. They labor under a load of false guilt. (3) Those who consciences are attuned to a God who is holy and also compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. They deal with their guilt by confessing their sins and enjoying God’s forgiveness.
When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence in prayer (21-22). Once our hearts no longer condemn us, we can have confidence before God. We can come boldly into his presence knowing that he hears and answers our requests. However, the promise of answered prayer is directly related to our obedience and willingness to please God. Power in prayer does not come from occasional bursts of obedience, but from lives of habitual obedience.
When we love God by loving others, we gain confidence about our relationship with God (23-24). John reminds his readers that there is only one central command—believe in Jesus and love others. You cannot believe without loving nor love without believing. The Christian life demands an essential union between faith and love.
John closes this section the same way he started. He uses the phrase, “by this we know …” The primary evidence of our mutual abiding experience in God is the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This statement prepares John’s readers for what follows in 4:1, testing the spirits.
When we love God by loving others, we can enjoy a clear conscience and an effective prayer life.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church on April 2, 2017. It is part of a series of sermons on The Letters of John. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.