In the last portion of chapter 3 John begins to open up our hearts, spiritual open heart surgery if you will.
18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 19 And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him. 20 For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 22 And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. 23 And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. 24 Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. 1 John 3:18-24 (NKJV)
In laying this out John follows in the footsteps of Jesus and deals with the fact that not only do we need to manifest the right behavior, it needs to come from a right heart. John leaves no room for a person to claim to be a believer when they do all the right “religious” things with all the wrong motives. Our hearts need to be right and out of a relationship of intimacy with Jesus we need to discern how to invest the time and goods He has invested in our lives. We are called to be good stewards.
A good way to assess whether we are walking in love, this will come up again shortly in chapter 4, is our motive. The great evangelist Charles Finney defined love as ‘disinterested benevolence.’ Terms we don’t normally use today so what do they mean? What Finney meant was that Christian love sought what was in the best interest of the other party without any regard to a personal agenda or personal gain. That is, we seek to do what is right simply because it is right and will help others.
A key aspect John addresses here is that our heart is not always a reliable guide. Our subjective feelings and experiences need to be measured against the word. If we have repented and committed our lives to Him then we can use John’s test of obedience to see if we are truly born again. Then even if our heart has been condemning us we can stand on the truth of His word until we come through to the place of assurance. The words translated condemns and condemn in verses 20 and 21 are the same Greek word and literally mean to “note against” or blame.
What John is trying to do here is reassure those who believe they have failed. He is trying to bring us back to a place of confidence in our prayer lives and relationship with Jesus. He closes this line of thought by saying that, whether we feel like it our not, if we do what He says with a right heart attitude we will come to the place of experientially knowing we are born again via the Holy Spirit’s indwelling inner witness. When we pair an obedient life with abiding in intimacy with Jesus we can then be confident that our prayers are heard and will be answered if we are praying in the Spirit (that is, as He leads). For those of us with many unanswered prayers (yes I have my hand raised) I believe we need to seek to learn how to more deeply lean into His heart and then pray what He lays on our hearts rather than what we would like to see happen, often out of noble motives. After all, this same John wrote of Jesus.
19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. John 5:19-20 (NKJV)
I pray we all see well what our Father is doing so we can come into agreement with His strategic purposes.