CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD
1 John 3:18-24
INTRODUCTION… TRUTH AND A QUESTION
As we begin this morning looking at 1 John 3, I first would like to share a truth with you and then a question. This truth and important central question will lead us right into 1 John 3:18-24.
TRUTH: GOD IS BEYOND AWESOME
We serve a God who is beyond awesome. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnitemporal, omnipresent, omnibenevolent, omnific, and any other “omni” words we can possibly invent to try and describe Him. Because of this, the people of Israel were absolutely petrified most of the time to be in the presence of God. They didn’t even want to hear His voice. Most of the time they did not even want to be around the holy things of God like the Ark of the Covenant or the Tabernacle. Those were the holy things of God and with them came a level of fear. God Almighty who is the Creator of the Universe and Author of Time is so far beyond us in power and knowledge and presence. There are several examples in Scripture where the people of God were rightly petrified of the Lord:
* Exodus 20:18-19 states: “They trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, "Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
* Numbers 17:12-13 states: “The Israelites said to Moses, "We will die! We are lost, we are all lost! Anyone who even comes near the tabernacle of the LORD will die. Are we all going to die?"
I think the people of God were beyond fearful of the presence of God because He is holy and righteous and powerful and we as human beings are unholy and sinful and frail. His presence reveals to us how small we really are and how frail our bodies are. Our God is beyond awesome.
QUESTION: HOW CAN WE HAVE CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD?
I would like to ask that question and fill it out some by sharing four very brief stories from the Bible:
Travel with me if you will in your mind to Exodus chapter 3. In Exodus chapter 3, we find Moses tending the sheep of his father-in-law (Exodus 3:1). Moses is literally minding his own business, when BAM! the angel of the Lord appeared to Him in flames of fire from within a bush. The bush is on fire with holy fire, but not burning up. The presence of God was in the bush! (Exodus 3:4). Not only was the bush burning with heavenly fire, but the presence of God Almighty from the bush called his name specifically… “Moses Moses!” In verse 4, we are told that Moses responded with, “Here I am.”
What on earth would give Moses the willingness to speak in such a situation?
How would Moses have any sort of confidence to speak with God?
Travel with me some chapters later in Exodus to chapter 19. Exodus 19:16-17 says, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.” God descended on the mountain. The earth was shaking. Lightning and thunder were crashing because of God’s presence. Even more smoke filled the mountain and the surrounding area. Imagine that things are shaking and blasting and lighting and rumbling and in the middle of all of this havoc we have verse 19: “Then Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him” (Exodus 19:19).
What were the Israelites thinking and feeling as God descended on the mountain and they experienced all that?
How would Moses have any sort of confidence as he spoke with God?
Travel with me in your mind to 1 Samuel chapter 3 where the setting is the temporary house of God. Verse 1 shares with us, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions” (1 Samuel 3:1). A little boy named Samuel is sleeping in the house of God because he was a servant to the priests who lived there. He was sound asleep when he hears his name called and goes to aid the old ailing priest Eli (1 Samuel 3:4). It was not Eli who called him. This calling is repeated several times as Samuel hears his name audibly in the house of God. The old priest Eli realizes that it is God calling Samuel (1 Samuel 3:8) and instructs him to answer, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9). Samuel’s name is called again and this time he answers God properly and appropriately as he was instructed.
What on earth would give Samuel the willingness to speak in such a situation?
How would Samuel have any sort of confidence to speak with God?
Travel one more time with me in the Scriptures to 1 Kings 8 where the setting is the newly completed permanent house of God. King Solomon, son of David, has just completed building the temple of God that was commanded. 1 Kings 8:1 tells us, “Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the LORD's covenant from Zion, the City of David.” Solomon gathers as many people as possible and puts the Ark of the Covenant in the Temple. He offers prayers and sacrifices. At some point in the process, the priests of God leave the temple. Verse 10 tells us that as soon as the priests left the holiest part of the temple, a cloud filled the whole temple. The cloud and light was so bright none of the priests could continue what they were doing. Everybody escaped out as the power and majesty and glory of God filled the building. I imagine everyone standing there in awe and confounded. Among this display of power and glory, Solomon starts talking. He says (1 Kings 8:12-14): “The LORD has said that he would dwell in a thick cloud; I have indeed built a magnificent temple for you, a place for you to dwell forever. While the whole assembly of Israel was standing there, the king turned around and blessed them.” Notice verse 14. Solomon turns and then speaks to the people. Who is he talking to before that while God is filling the temple with His unimaginable glory? Uh, that’s right, God.
What on earth would give Solomon the willingness to speak in such a situation?
How would Solomon have any sort of confidence to speak with God?
Let’s go now to 1 John 3:18-24 which is a passage which speaks to us having confidence before God. I still want to answer the question:
QUESTION: HOW CAN WE HAVE CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD?
How do we have confidence before God to even speak to Him when we pray?
How do we have confidence before God that we are in fact saved?
How do we have confidence before God that our sins are forgiven when we ask Him?
How do we have confidence before God that He is for our good and blessing us?
I mean… how do we have confidence before God about anything?
READ 1 JOHN 3:18-24
“Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 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.”
As I was reading this passage over and over, I realized that having confidence before God is not something we can achieve on our own. Confidence before God is a gift He gives us just like grace or forgiveness or comfort. The only way any of us ever have confidence before God is because He allows us to know Him and speak to Him.
QUESTION: HOW CAN WE HAVE CONFIDENCE BEFORE GOD?
The Apostle John answers that question in this passage and gives us three areas in our lives that we might cultivate which produces the ability to come to God with some type of confidence. Having that confidence in our lives produces in us strength and depth in our relationship with God.
CULTIVATE LOVE (Verse 18)
First, in verse 18, the Apostle John informs us that we should cultivate love at our core. I find it interesting that John does not define “love” as an attitude. He does not define “love” as an action or even certain type of words. “Love” as defined by John in verse 18 as a concert of words, actions, and attitudes which lead us to love as defined in the Bible. We know this to be true. When it comes to love, we doubt it if someone loves us if they never say it. When it comes to love, we doubt it if we do not feel it. When it comes to love, we doubt it if there are never loving actions. We never doubt love that is felt, expressed, and acted upon.
What does cultivating love do for us? In verse 19, John tells us that we can have confidence that we belong to the truth. Having confidence that we belong to God is a huge relief in our lives. Belonging to God and being His children is who we are as believers. Sometimes we may doubt that. Sometimes we might not be sure that we belong to God. John says that actively cultivating love in our lives confirms inside of us that we belong to God. How can you be sure that you are a child of God? How can you be confident that you are saved and belong to God? Love.
ILLUSTRATION… adapted from Bill Hybels, Too Busy Not To Pray, IVP, p. 113.
Confidence that you belong is powerful. Sometime when you're in an airport, observe the difference between passengers who hold confirmed tickets and those who are on standby. The ones with confirmed tickets read, chat with their friends, and some even sleep. They are at peace. They know when the call goes out from the airline to board that they have a confirmed seat. The people on standby hang around the ticket counter, pace back and forth, and keep looking at the flight information. They only hope they belong on the flight and are not sure. The difference is caused by confidence.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be confident before God that I am saved and that I belong to Him. I don’t want any doubts as to my status before Him… especially in this crazy world we live in which seems to be coming apart at the seams with shootings and anger and protests. I must cultivate love and in return I have confidence I belong to Him.
CULTIVATE HONESTY (Verses 19-21)
Second, in verses 19-21, the Apostle John informs us that we should cultivate honesty before God. We serve a God who already knows all things about us. He knows the face we show the world and He knows the face we keep hidden. He knows all our secrets. He knows our successes and He knows our failures. Since we belong to the truth, we should act in truth. There is no reason whatsoever to lie to God.
Cultivating honesty before God means that we do not pretend.
Where we fail, we should be honest and confess.
Where we doubt, we should be honest and confess.
Where we are doing well, we should be thankful and feel blessed.
What tempts us, we should acknowledge and be proactive in avoiding it.
It does no good spiritually to pretend on the outside to be something when in fact it is not true on the inside. Jesus said in Matthew 23:27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Cultivating honesty before God means we are honest about our insides and we move from that point of honesty to become more Christ-like.
What does cultivating honesty before God do for us? In verse 19, we are told that as a result of cultivating truth with God, we can rest in His presence. As I read over those words, that means we are not plagued by trying to be faithfully fake. We are not nervous that God will find out we are not someone we claim to be. We are not keeping up lies and a façade of someone we simply are not. I also think that means we don’t say “life is grand” to absolutely everyone when perhaps we are struggling with something. Starting from a place with honesty with God is a good thing that means we can honestly have Him help us.
ILLUSTRATION… Babylon Bee Tweet, 07/12/2016
As I was writing this sermon, I noted a tweet by the Christian satire site Babylon Bee. It seemed to fit along the lines that I am thinking.
ERIE, PA—The results of Pastor Mike’s informal survey are in: every single member of Bayfront Methodist Church is doing either “fine,” “good,” or “real good.” When the pastor pressed for details, members responded with some combination of, “No really, I’m doing great,” or else, “Yeah, things are good, things are good.”
The survey was conducted as the pastor faithfully stood at the doors of the church after the Sunday service, shaking the hands of each churchgoer as they left and asking how they were doing.
“It’s really quite spectacular,” the pastor told reporters Tuesday. “You would think, given the state of our fallen world, that at least one person would be going through a crisis or battling some kind of indwelling sin that they need help with. But not at this church—we’re all doing fine it seems. Praise the Lord!”
Prayer requests for the week included several reports of distant friends and family that were struggling with sin, but nobody in the church reported needing prayer for themselves. “Prayer? Me?” one congregant said to Pastor Mike, a puzzled expression on her face. “No. I mean, you can pray for me generally, but really I’m not in much need of anything right now. I’m doing awesome, really.” She was later spotted at a coffee shop, bawling her eyes out over some personal struggle, according to sources.
Reporters then asked Pastor Mike how he was doing. “Who, me? Oh yeah, I’m doing just fine,” he confirmed.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be confident before God that He knows me. I don’t want to be a faker when it comes to my faith. I don’t want to have hypocrisy be at the core of who I am as a believer in Jesus Christ. I want to start with God from a place of honesty and truth that He might mold me to be more like Him.
CULTIVATE OBEDIENCE (Verses 22-24)
Third, in verses 22-24, the Apostle John informs us that we should cultivate strong faith and obedience. 5 times alone in 1 John the apostle tells us to obey God and to follow the commands given by Him. For the Apostle John, obedience to God is a huge doorway for confidence before God. In the Bible, obeying God’s commands and His way of life is directly linked to showing God we love Him and remaining inside the boundary of our relationship with Him. God knows that this life offers many alternatives to the moral path He has laid out. God knows that our sinful nature longs to do what we want when we want how we want. All the alternative paths and selfish ways lead us away from God towards self-destruction and a broken spirituality.
Jesus in John 15:9-11 says, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
What does cultivating obedience do for us? In verses 22-24, we are told many results of our obedience. We can be confident that we will receive what we ask for in prayer when we are obedient (verse 22).
We can be confident that God’s presence resides with us and in us when we are obedient (verse 23).
[similar idea, but different words] We can be confident that the Holy Spirit is leading us (verse 24).
So much of the Bible describes our spiritual lives as believers as “abiding in Christ” or “remaining in Him” or “walking the narrow path” or “being part of the body”… all of which start with obedience to God which produces for us authentic confidence before God in prayer and with His presence in our lives.
ILLUSTRATION… Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p. 242
Imagine, if you will, that you work for a company whose president found it necessary to travel out of the country and spend an extended period of time abroad. So he says to you and the other trusted employees, "Look, I'm going to leave. And while I'm gone, I want you to pay close attention to the business. You manage things while I'm away. I will write you regularly. When I do, I will instruct you in what you should do from now until I return from this trip." Everyone agrees.
He leaves and stays gone for a couple of years. During that time he writes often, communicating his desires and concerns. Finally he returns. He walks up to the front door of the company and immediately discovers everything is in a mess--weeds flourishing in the flower beds, windows broken across the front of the building, the gal at the front desk dozing, loud music roaring from several offices, two or three people engaged in horseplay in the back room. Instead of making a profit, the business has suffered a great loss. Without hesitation he calls everyone together and with a frown asks, "What happened? Didn't you get my letters?"
You say, "Oh, yeah, sure. We got all your letters. We've even bound them in a book. And some of us have memorized them. In fact, we have 'letter study' every Sunday. You know, those were really great letters." I think the president would then ask, "But what did you do about my instructions?" And, no doubt the employees would respond, "Do? Well, nothing. But we read every one!"
I don’t know about you, but I want to walk through this life knowing for sure that God hears me when I pray and is constantly with me every step of the way. To have that confidence, I must make an effort to obey Him and be part of what He is already doing.
I want for each of you to be confident before God. I want you to confidently know you belong to God. I want you to confidently believe that when you pray that each and every time God hears you. I want you to confidently feel that God is working for your good. I want you to confidently be assured that your sins are forgiven before Him.
Love. Honesty. Obedience.