We have all had this scary moment: we are driving down the road in our car and the “Check Engine” light comes on. Some of us ignore it, some of us panic, some of us wonder if there is something wrong with that particular light. Those lights on the dashboard of our car are called “Warning Lights” because they are to warn us of any impending danger.
Well, God has wired every individual with an internal warning device to alert us to sin, and that warning device is called a ‘conscience.’ That is the purpose of the conscience; to produce guilt or concern to allow us to confront sin. Some people ignore their conscience, like the check engine light, and have no concern over indwelling sin. Some panic when their conscience accuses them of wrongdoing and they begin a spiral of doubt, depression, and sorrow. It is to these people that this article is directed.
The book of 1 John was written to believers to examine themselves to see if they were truly in the faith. If they examined themselves and found that they passed the test, then they would be blessed with assurance. John says, “these things I have written…that you may know that you have eternal life.” This book is to be the soothing balm to those with a hyper-sensitive conscience. Instead of driving us to despair when we sin, the book of 1 John is to give us assurance and confidence that we really do know the Lord.
In chapter 3 verse 19 it says, “We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him.” What is the ‘this?’ It primarily refers to his message about loving others (3:14-18), but also in the broader context, it refers to practicing righteousness (3:4-10). So, if we are loving others in the way Scripture says to, and if we are living a life of righteousness, then that is how assurance can come to us. Of course there are always times when we are not perfectly loving others, and we don’t always live righteously, but where is the general direction of our life? If the habits of our life are pointed towards love and righteousness, then we can have assurance. If you are on a long road trip, you will have to pull off the freeway to make stops. Sometimes you may even have to drive a mile or two away from the freeway to find gas or food. But the overall direction of your journey is toward your destination, even if there are turnoffs along the way. The same is true in our spiritual life.
John also says in 3:21 that we can have ‘confidence’ before God. I’m sure there are some reading this with an overly sensitive conscience who might balk at this statement. But if we have been forgiven by God, justified by God, redeemed by God, born again by God, then we can have confidence before God. The next verse (v 22) tells us that he is speaking about prayer. We can confidently approach God in prayer, and ask what we want according to His will, and He will answer. What a tremendous privilege!
Now, in no way am I advocating a flippant or loose lifestyle that just casually ignores the warnings of the conscience. Like a pendulum, we never want to swing completely to one side. Sometimes our conscience warns us of serious sin we didn’t know of before, and we must listen and repent. But as believers, we do not need to live in a constant state of spiritual dryness, of sorrow, of feeling unworthy. Guess what? We all are unworthy! That is what grace is all about; giving blessings to the unworthy! Look at your life, are you headed toward the direction of loving others and practicing righteousness? Then, be assured and be confident when you approach our holy God. He has qualified you to be able to do such things.
Pastor Mark Scialabba