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Heart Conditions - 1 John 3:16-24

Just because my own heart accuses me and condemns me when I sin, that does not mean God is doing the same. Conscience is not infallible. Neither is it to be ignored.

1 John 3:16-24; Romans 2:5; Mark 16:14; 1 Corinthians 5:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, 13:5

Sep 07, 2014 12:00 AM

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Yesterday I heard a woman by the name of Shirley Sotloff reading a statement which she sent to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the supreme leader of the Islamic State or ISIS.  She appealed to him for the life of her son, asking him to spare Steven Sotloff’s life and send him home.

"I ask you to use your authority to spare his life and to follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad, who protected people of the book.  I want what every mother wants; to live to see her children's children.  I plead for you to grant me this."

Her appeal was ignored, Mrs. Sotloff’s son was beheaded in the name of Allah, and the video of his murder was posted on the internet as a recruiting tool to encourage others to come and join in the holy war.

Another mom, Jill Tahmooressi, said this in regard to her son, Marine Sgt. Andrew Tamooressi who has been incarcerated in a Mexican prison since March 31st for making a wrong turn at a border crossing :

"... [P]lease President Obama, escalate that level of urgency that you say you’re asking Mexico to expedite, because one more day is one day too many."

Thus far, it appears our President is rather unconcerned with Sgt. Tamooressi.  It seems there has been no serious attempt on the part of our government to assist in the extradition of Sgt. Tamooressi in spite of repeated appeals and petitions from thousands of people and constant news reports.

An Islamic group by the name of Boko Haram has murdered hundreds of non-Muslim people in Africa and kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls for the purpose of selling them as sex slaves.

Recently we saw and heard mobs of people in Ferguson, Missouri demanding justice in the shooting death of Michael Brown.  Once they learned the name of the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown, they began to chant:

What’s his name? Darren Wilson How do we want him? Dead!

These scenarios I have just spoken of tell us much about the nature of men’s hearts.  There is a serious lack, or in some cases, a complete absence of conscience:  Hearts that have no pity, no mercy, no love, no concern for the welfare of others.

In the Bible we also see many examples of the hard-heartedness of men and women.  Adam’s heart was hard and he rebelled against God.  Cain’s heart was hard, and he ignored God’s warning to him to repent.  God condemned the entire world because of the hardness of men’s hearts which thought only evil continually.

The entire nation of Egypt was destroyed because of the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart.  An entire generation of Jews died in the wilderness because of hard-heartedness.  David’s heart was hard and he had Uriah murdered in battle.  Multitudes of fathers and mothers in Israel had such hard hearts towards their own children that they were willing to sacrifice them in the fire to Baal.

The Apostle Paul warns those who refuse to repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ:

But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5 ESV)

The prophet Jeremiah tells us the hearts of men are deceitful and wicked and incurable.  Jesus said divorce is ultimately the result of hardness of heart.  In Mark 3, we read of an occasion when  Jesus was grieved and angry toward those whose hearts were so hard they could not rejoice with people who were miraculously healed because their healing took place on the Sabbath.

In Mark 16 we read that Jesus appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen.

According to Scripture, the heart is the control center of a person’s life.  It is a person’s heart that determines his actions in the everyday world, and in the spiritual realm.  It is in the heart that one’s conscience resides.  So it is because of the condition of the heart or the conscience that a person is deemed good or bad, wise or foolish, responsible or irresponsible, merciful or ruthless, godly or immoral.

If a person has a hard, calloused, insensitive conscience, he is an evil person.  He cares for no one but himself, and for nothing but his own interests.  He is self-centered, satisfying his own fleshly desires in whatever way he can.  The natural, unconverted heart, is in this condition.  Hardness of heart and an insensitive conscience is the curse that condemns a person to hell because hard-heartedness promotes and encourages and reinforces unbelief.  It forbids humility and repentance and faith.

"Hardness of heart evidences itself by light views of sin; partial acknowledgment and confession of it; pride and conceit; ingratitude; unconcern about the word and ordinances of God; inattention to divine providences; stifling convictions of conscience; shunning reproof; presumption, and general ignorance of divine things."

When we speak of salvation and conversion and regeneration, we are speaking of a fundamental spiritual change in a person which involves the supernatural removal of a spiritually hard heart and an insensitive conscience.  It involves the granting of a new heart, a new conscience, a new mind by God.  Consequently it is utterly impossible to be truly saved and remain unchanged.  This is what John has been talking about.  A person’s entire life changes because his heart and mind and conscience, the very control center of his entire life, has been transplanted so that the incurably sick, granite-like heart has been replaced with a heart that feels and a conscience that experiences the pain of guilt because of sin.

That is good news!  It is the greatest blessing we can possibly receive in this life.  When God grants us deliverance from our own unfeeling consciences and our hardness of heart, we suddenly are able to grasp the truth of the gospel, we humble ourselves, we confess our sinfulness to God, and because of Christ’s blood which was shed for us, we are forgiven and granted eternal life!

But as they say, sometimes we can have too much of a good thing.  While an unfeeling conscience is a terrible affliction, so is an overly sensitive conscience.  It is one thing to never feel guilty.  It is another thing to ALWAYS feel guilty and unforgivable.  As Christians, our consciences can be our best friend or our worst enemy.  In fact, an overly sensitive conscience can be a very effective tool of the devil.

In Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5, you recall how he rebuked that congregation for not just allowing, but approving of a young man who had begun having sexual relations with his own step-mother:

[1] It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. [2] And you are arrogant!  Ought you not rather to mourn?  Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

[3] For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. [4] When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, [5] you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 ESV)

Deliver this man to Satan! In other words, remove him from your midst!  Do not have fellowship with such a person.  Put him out of the church.  And pray for him so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord, and so that he may be restored to the Lord and to you.

Apparently, they did just that.  The man was confronted with his sin and told to leave the fellowship.  Consequently, because God quickened that man’s heart, he repented with godly sorrow.  And we are very happy to know that.

But look with me at 2 Corinthians 5.  This man’s conscience went from being insensitive toward his own sin, to very sensitive, even to the point of becoming a tool of Satan against him.

[5] Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. [6] For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, [7] so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. [8] So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. [9] For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. [10] Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, [11] so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11 ESV)

The true Christian is always in danger of suffering the attacks of an accusing conscience.  This man, in this instance, proved his salvation was real because he responded positively to the rebuke of the congregation.  He repented of his sin.  But Satan took advantage this opportunity to overwhelm him with sorrow because of his guilt and because of the slowness of the congregation to express their love toward him.  His own conscience was used against him by the devil to cause him to despair.

This is one of Satan’s schemes to destroy the people of God: overwhelm them with guilt.  Use their consciences against them.  Cause their own hearts to accuse them of their sinfulness and their unforgivableness, even though they have been forgiven and Jesus Himself has personally paid the price for that sin.

This is the fine line we must walk as believers.  There is a balance we must maintain between dealing with genuine guilt for sins committed, and false guilt which Satan uses to provoke us into an illegitimate state of uselessness and hopelessness and self-pity and unbelief.

But there is a third condition of which we must be wary. First, there is legitimate guilt which our consciences bring to our awareness.  That is good.  Genuine guilt for genuine sin which results in genuine repentance is a great blessing from God.  The Holy Spirit speaks to our consciences about our sin, brings the weight of guilt to bear upon our hearts, and provokes repentance which results in forgiveness.  John has already said if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  That is a difficult, but ultimately wonderful experience when we are granted forgiveness and the remission of our sins.  That is the first, and best condition of our hearts and consciences as believers.

The second condition of conscience is when we have sinned, we have repented of that sin, God has granted us forgiveness of that sin, but Satan uses that occasion to cause our consciences to continue to accuse us.  He sometimes uses it in conjunction with the lack of loving forgiveness from other believers to produce illegitimate feelings of guilt and sorrow and depression.  We need to be mindful of when this is happening and not allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the enemy of our souls.

But the third condition is spelled out for us by John in 1 John 3.  There he says there are times when our consciences accuse us and condemn us with no assistance from Satan at all.  Look with me once again at 1 John 3:16-24

[16] By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. [17] But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? [18] Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

[19] By this [i.e. by loving the brethren in deed and truth] we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him [i.e. God]; [20] for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. [21] Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; [22] and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. [23] And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. [24] Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us. (1 John 3:16-24 ESV)

Q: Does your own heart ever condemn you?  Do you ever find yourself thinking, “Maybe I’m not a real Christian.”  “Maybe I haven’t loved the brethren enough, or as I ought.”  “Maybe I haven’t lived up to the Lord’s expectations of me.  I certainly haven’t lived up to my own expectations of myself.  And if I were a real Christian, how could I sin the way I do?  How could I repeat the same sins over and over again if I have truly repented and believed the gospel?  Have I deceived myself into thinking I’m a Christian when the fact is, I’m not?”  And on and on it goes.

Our own hearts sometimes abuse us.  That is one of the afflictions of an awakened conscience.  And John seems to imply that this happens to us all.  It is a common experience for true believers.  He says, “. . . For whenever our heart condemns us . . . .” He does not say, “For IF our heart condemn us.” WHEN our hearts condemn us. We all experience, as Christians, from time to time, this conscientious self-condemnation and I believe it is the cause of much depression in believers.

But which one of us can say with confidence, “I have lived before God and before my fellow believers flawlessly.  I have walked before God and men in perfect obedience, I have done all that I should do and I have avoided all sin without fail”?  Who can say that?

To put this in context, which of us has always and without fail ministered to our brethren in their times of need out of our own abundance and to the best of our ability?  Let him who is without sin in this matter cast the first stone!  Of course we’re guilty.  And there are those times when our hearts speak to us, reminding us of our shortcomings and failures and, yes, our sins.  So if our own consciences condemn us, we must be truly guilty.  Right?

Notice what John says:  Verse 20 - For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. My conscience is not omniscient.  My heart is not infallible.  Just because my heart accuses me and condemns me, that does not mean God is doing the same.  On the contrary, God knows me better than I know myself.  God understands me fully and completely even if I cannot trust my own heart to tell me the truth.

Conscience is not infallible.  There is such a thing as false guilt and illegitimate accusation from within myself.  The cure is to remind ourselves who God is.  What He has done for me.  I am His child NOW.  And I base that statement

NOT upon my own performance as a believer,

NOT because I live a sinless life as a disciple of the Lord Jesus,

NOT because I have obeyed the commandments of Christ without fail.

I am a Christian and a child of God because He saved me.  Because Christ died for me.  Because the Holy Spirit awakened me to the guilt of my sin and granted me repentance and faith.  And the evidence of that is that I do indeed love the brethren.  I love the Lord, and I love His people.

So when your conscience condemns you, praise the Lord your conscience doesn’t always know what it is talking about.  Yes, I’m guilty.  Yes I’ve sinned against God.  But yes, I have confessed that sin, and yes He has forgiven me, and yes, I belong to Him.  Praise God that in spite of my sin, I am saved.  In spite of my accusing conscience, my sins have been washed away.  God is greater than my heart, and He says He loves me.

Sometimes, we just have to tell our consciences to be quiet.  We have to stop listening to our hearts and start listening to what God has said in His word.  Only then will our hearts stop condemning us.  And notice John says here in verse 22:

and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.

I believe the context implies that one thing we would surely be asking of God is forgiveness.  John says whatever we ask we receive from him.  But when our hearts are condemn us, what do we ask God for?  Forgiveness.  And He grants it.  We receive it.  And that shuts up our obnoxiously overactive consciences.

God grants us peace of mind and heart because the fact of the matter is, WE DO keep His commandments and do what pleases Him!  Contrary to what our hearts would have us believe.  Contrary to the false accusations of our consciences.

Beloved, when was the last time you had questions about your own salvation?  The Scriptures tell us what we should do particularly when we have sinned,

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves.  Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! (2 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)

It is good for us to look at our own lives from time to time with a critical eye and ask ourselves about our own spiritual condition: Why do I think I am a Christian?  Upon what basis can I claim to belong to Jesus Christ?  What is the evidence that would support my claim?

But don’t live there in a state of perpetual, endless self-examination.  What is the conclusion of the examination?  Am I, or am I not a follower of Jesus Christ?  Have I, or have I not been saved by the grace of God?  Our consciences can play very cruel games with us.  There are times when Satan even uses our own hearts against us.  Therefore we must look to what we know to be true, to what the word of God says.  And we must ask ourselves, “Do I, or do I not believe the gospel?  Am I, or am I not trusting in Jesus Christ alone as my only hope of salvation?”  “Has, or has not my heart been changed so that I really do love my brothers and sisters in the Lord?”

Ask yourself that question, and answer it. And put your conscience at ease.  God knows you better than your own heart knows you.  He is full of mercy and compassion and grace, even when our own hearts condemn us.  He forgives us, even when we feel we cannot forgive ourselves.  And if He is willing to forgive, what difference does it make what your heart says to you?  God is bigger than your heart and He knows everything.


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