Does confidence in actions invalidate grace?
When life’s confidence comes from things we do, does that mean salvation is by works? Certainly not. Confidence and salvation are not the same things. They are not equivalent. Rather, salvation is still only through the acceptable sacrifice of Jesus. The only entryway into God’s kingdom is through the cross. John is not writing about this issue as much as about those who have successfully entered the kingdom only to worry that they haven’t.
He is saying, “see you are different now. Even the world sees that and hates you for it. Look at your circumstances and from them know your place in the family. If that is tough then in faith remind yourself that the chief justice is God. Rest there and ignore the arguments the prosecuting attorney of your mind and of Satan provide.”
The advantage of assurance
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; (1 John 3:21–ESV)
I sat at lunch with a friend recently, and he spoke to me of his golfing son. The young man is incredibly skilled for his age, but a bad hole? He takes a long time to recover. A disaster-hole often becomes a disaster-round. My friend fears that his son will miss out on golfing opportunities because of difficulties with the mental game. So what is more important for this young man: a sports psychologist or a swing coach?
In this letter, John is a spiritual psychologist. In verse 21 he says that a life lived with the proper perspective of purpose, Providence, and eternal position is of great advantage. We exist because of God’s design, his intention for all things. There is no higher goal of God than our salvation and our march toward maturity. The march is lived out in living like Jesus, leading like Jesus, expressing godliness in all of the activities that play out in the seconds, minutes, and hours of time God infuses into our lives.
When we understand these things, grasping the permanent atonement our sins are condemned in us. When we live like that then confidence for life and living, that is, confidence before God happens. A life lived like that plays out in the world. “And yet a new command I give you,” John says, and John Piper points out that this is the true light already shining. That is bringing God’s ways to the world now. That “now” is the beginning of forever. That is confidence before God and represents the great advantage of assurance.
Confidence flows forward to answered prayer
22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:22–ESV)
Many times we have said that the world notices godliness. In verse 13 of this chapter, John reminded his readers that world witnessed godliness evokes hatred of the Christian.
Let us not rehash that perspective, but let us turn it back to our awareness. A Christian when living in godliness also sees how they contrast from the world. When a person keeps their way pure by living according to God’s word they change and that for the better. It may be associated with some unpleasant things and may even be attended by persecution and other negatives, but accompanying such negative is the positive of peace and rest.
Knowing the peace and rest God gives we desire that others know and embrace it as well. What result comes from that? Asking; prayer. That is what verse 22 means to me. Rephrasing it: a life lived in confidence before God shows us how to pray for others. Praying from that perspective leads to answered prayer. Guess what? The cycle happens again and again: Obedience => Assurance => Confidence in God => Prayers which get answered in the affirmative.