Sermon Text: 1 John 3:18-24
Date: April 27 & 28, 2018
The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B
1 John 3:18–24 (EHV)
Dear children, let us love not only with word or with our tongue, but also in action and truth. 19This is how we know that we are of the truth and how we will set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God. 22We also receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing in his sight. 23This then is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another just as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps his commands remains in God and God in him. This is how we know that he remains in us: We know it from the Spirit, whom he has given to us.
Our Hearts are Guided by God’s Love
Sometimes our situations in life change, and as a result, what is deemed acceptable behavior changes along with it. The adjustment from living in a dormitory for ten years to living in an apartment as a married man was not the easiest transition (and might actually still be in process), but thankfully, Karen is a patient woman. But it feels weird to have that transition. Things that used to be wrong are now ok; things that were ok now are not. And sometimes our hearts and minds have trouble making that adjustment and we fall into old habits or at least old ways of thinking.
As John writes to the Christians living around about 80 or 90 A.D., he’s encouraging them in their change of life, namely, the change from unbelief to faith. Being grafted into the Vine of Jesus’ love meant changes in both the way they thought and in the way they lived. As such, he encourages us along with them to let our heart be guided by God’s forgiveness in both how it views our relationship with God and how we behave in response to that.
We each are born with a conscience. The conscience is very useful; it tells us what is right and what is wrong. It leads us to feel guilty over our sins and to rejoice in doing good. The conscience is part of that natural knowledge of God that we all have, where we innately know basic right and wrong. Our consciences are generally going to tell us that it is wrong to steal, kill, and commit adultery and that it’s good to help someone in need and protect our families.
But the problem is that because of sin, sometimes our consciences can be wrong. Sometimes our conscience can be dulled. If I steal a candy bar at the store once, I’ll feel really guilty about it. But if I continue to steal candy and never get caught, eventually the conscience is worn down and no longer recognizes that as wrong. The conscience may also just be mistaken. It may not even need to be worn down and start out feeling that my outbursts of anger or self-destructive overindulging in alcohol are fine. That’s likely how you can find serial assaulters or even murderers who seem to have no remorse for their crimes; their consciences just don’t condemn them.
So the conscience is useful, but it’s not a be-all, end-all resource in this world of sin. This becomes even more apparent when someone becomes a Christian. God has declared you and me not guilty. Because Jesus lived a perfect life for us, died for us, and by faith has grafted us into himself, we are forgiven. Our sins are taken away. We are declared not guilty. But, sometimes does it feel like your conscience didn’t get that memo? Perhaps even at this moment you’re thinking over something that you did a while ago, days, weeks, months, years. Perhaps it’s something that you had to apologize to someone for and they forgave you. You’ve brought in your heart to your Savior and asked for his forgiveness. You’ve stood here in church and heard the declaration of sins forgiven and received in the Lord’s Supper his body and blood for the assurance of our forgiveness. Yet, despite all of that, your conscience still plagues you. It still accuses you of this wrongdoing. It still says this is something you need to fix.
Being a Christian doesn’t suddenly make sin ok, but it does mean there’s a solution to sin in Jesus. Except, because our conscience is something that we have by nature, the conscience cannot ever know about Jesus. The conscience can’t process the concept of grace, of God’s forgiveness. So the conscience assumes that you’re always still on the hook with God for your sin, and there’s nothing that can be done to change that. In other words, your conscience that continues to accuse you of your sin is calling God a liar.
John speaks to that directly. When your conscience, when you heart, condemns you and God says you’re forgiven, who should you believe? Who or what is greater, your sin-riddled conscience or God? The answer is clear, but John puts it into no uncertain terms, “If our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” God is greater. He knows everything. He knows your failings but he also knows what he’s done to solve them. If we’re going to trust someone, let’s trust God and not our emotions and conscience.
If you feel guilty, if your conscience plagues you, bring your whole self, conscience included, back to Golgotha. See the Creator of the world lifted up on a cross. See him suffer the condemnation of your sins. Look at his lifeless body—he died. And then journey again to that garden tomb. Make your conscience go in and look where they laid his body—he is not there! His resurrection proclaims the certainty of your forgiveness! Because Jesus was condemned, you will not be condemned. Because Jesus died, you will live. Because Jesus lives again, you will live forever in eternal life!
God’s love shown to us in Jesus guides us in other ways, not just in resolving a guilty conscience. Our whole approach to life is different in the same way that it might change from going from living by ourselves to having roommates. Suddenly, we have other people to start thinking about in the confines of our home, not just ourselves. We have to make decisions and carry out our lives differently than we did before.
It is no different in being adopted into God’s family, being grafted into that Vine. God’s love makes us stop and reevaluate the choices we make and the way we carry out our lives. John puts it this way, “We also receive from him whatever we ask, because we keep his commands and do what is pleasing in his sight. 23This then is his command: that we believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and that we love one another just as he commanded us. 24The one who keeps his commands remains in God and God in him. This is how we know that he remains in us: We know it from the Spirit, whom he has given to us.”
As children of God, we want to do what God commands. What are the commands of God? Trusting that Jesus truly has forgiven us and then loving one another. Jesus found these points so important that he spent most of his last evening with his disciples spelling them out. He commanded them to “love one another” and to “take, eat, drink” for the forgiveness of sins. John seems to have memories of that first Maundy Thursday evening flowing through his mind as he writes these words.
God’s love directs us to love not only with word or with our tongue, but also in action and truth. We want to show love, love in action, to everyone. Our spouses, our neighbors, our children, our parents, our students, our teachers, our bosses, our employees, everyone. And we don’t just say loving things; we do loving things. We love even if we are not loved in return; we love the way we have been loved by God.
That’s the fruit the grows out of us when connected to the Vine; that is the direction God’s love gives to our hearts. We want to love others because we have been eternally loved. No matter what our conscience may say, we are forgiven and are assured of eternal life. In joy, we will love other people in ways that our natural self may not like, but all in ways that give glory to and thanks God. Our eternal future is certain. Thanks be to God! Amen.