There is a way in which to live the Christian life that results in a strong sense of consistent inner assurance that things are well between you and God. There is another way in which to live the Christian life that is lacking that sense of assurance. You may be surprised that the Father desires for each of His children to awake each day and close their eyes each night with no question of whether or not it is well with our soul. Our security in Christ is not dependent on our sense of it. If we have confessed Jesus as Lord, trusting in His sacrifice on the cross to atone for our sins and repenting of those sins, then the Scripture is clear that we have been granted eternal life. By God’s grace we are saved through faith in Jesus. He secures us instantly in salvation. Our experience has taught us that there are times when we are operating in 100% confidence that this is true for us. At other times, most of us have wondered if we truly are saved. Usually, when we are lacking that assurance of our salvation, it is because we are focusing on our own falling short in righteousness. Suppose that we acted in a way that was clearly out of alignment with who Jesus is and what He has called us into as His followers. We sinned. In the aftermath of those moments, we are sometimes subject to doubt of how we could possibly be a child of God if we still struggle sometimes to speak in righteousness, think in holiness, act toward others in love, or submit to God in obedience. The little book toward the back of our bibles called First John is so helpful for us to be able to measure the authenticity of our faith in Jesus. This little book also calls us to live with assurance and confidence all the days of our Christian journey until Jesus returns. Four times, the word confidence appears in First John. I have listed each of those four times below, and I have unpacked what we must learn from what John writes about confidence toward God. Here is an opportunity for us to learn afresh how to guard our sense of assurance that our standing before God in Christ is secured.
“And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming. If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him.” – 1 John 2:28-29
We are called to abide in Jesus. This means that we are committed to daily live in intentional alignment with who Jesus is and (what He has said) according to His power through the Holy Spirit. We live in an awareness of our fellowship with Him. We pursue intimacy with Jesus and refuse any and all things that might interrupt that abiding in Him. The fact that this abiding requires our intentional cooperation should not leave us feeling like we are toiling and striving in the flesh in some frantic perfectionism. Simply put, to abide in Jesus means that we love Him supremely and long to stay near Him. When we live like this, the verses above declare that we will not be afraid of His return. Shame will not be an active part of how we feel when we imagine ourselves in His presence. This loving, obedient intimacy with Jesus evicts shame and guilt from us and produces a confidence about where we are now in our relationship with Him. This abiding includes the practicing of righteousness that is a characteristic of those who have been born again. Sometimes, when we lack assurance and confidence, it is simply because we are allowing our intimacy with Jesus to be interrupted by unrighteous thoughts, words or deeds. It is a hard truth, but sin undermines our sense of internal assurance. This is part of why we are called all throughout the bible to come apart and separate ourselves from sin. Our confidence in our standing depends in part on how we are living our daily lives in the arena of righteousness.
“For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him.” – 1 John 3:20-22
Here, John highlights again how our daily lifestyle can either enlarge or reduce our confidence with God. He mentions the need for us to keep God’s commandments and to do the things which bring Him pleasure. There is too much ground for me to cover concerning what those two statements mean in this blog but, summarizing, John is simply telling us that the assured, confident Christian is the one who proactively lives his or her life with the constant goal of pleasing the Father. We want to make Abba Father happy. Our disobedience opens the door for the enemy to accuse us. Satan exploits our weaknesses, sins and failures. He tempts us to act independently of the Holy Spirit’s leadership and then, as soon as we do so, Satan and his demons immediately engage in the feverish ministry of accusation against our souls. Even if the enemy did not accuse us, many Christians already suffer from perpetually guilty consciences and shamed hearts. When we listen to the voice of accusation, we live with a sense of condemnation. Sadly, condemnation works hard against our confidence that Jesus’ sacrifice for us is sufficient. We begin to focus on all that is wrong with us, and we lose our sense of assurance that His grace abounds above our sin (Romans 5:20). John says that, if we refuse to allow condemnation to anchor in our hearts, we will live with confidence before God. Sin robs us of that confidence. We see that our resisting and refusing sin is not merely a matter of keeping some religious rules – no, declining sin is part of how we protect our own assurance that we are in fellowship with the Father. We refuse to act independently of God because we cannot bear the thought of anything taking away that sweet sense of confidence that all is well between him and us.
“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as He is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” – 1 John 4:17-18
Again, John ties us living in intimacy and obedience to our sense of assurance that we are secured in Christ. It is noteworthy that John says that, as we live in unity with Jesus in this world, our spiritual confidence can be strong within us all the way up unto the day of judgment. We do not need to fear standing before Jesus and having our entire earthly lives evaluated and rewarded. God is not an intimidating Father. He is kind to His children and does not want us to live in unhealthy fear of Him. As we mature in our confidence about His love for us, our fears about Him are cast out of us. When unhealthy fear of God is evicted from us and we are delivered of any sense of inward dread, we can live in absolute assurance of His goodness toward us. We can live in total confidence that we have nothing to fear when we stand before Him on that final day.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him.” – 1 John 5:13-15
John’s final use of the word confidence in this little letter has to do with our assurance that our prayers will be heard by God. When we are assured that we have eternal life through faith in Jesus, we are much more confident in releasing our prayers to Him. We know that He is for us – you do believe that, right? We pray and expect Him to answer us. Sometimes, we learn that our prayers have been off target by degrees. We have all asked for things outside of His will, and we learn that He is wise to decline those prayers from us. Yet, we should still be confident in continuing in praying about anything and everything. We are assured that He is a Father who delights in our coming to Him in humble dependence. We are confident that we are welcome to enter into dialogue with Him about our wants and needs. He has torn the veil and ushered us into His presence. He has made Himself to become our God and Father, and we have perpetual entrance into His presence. When our prayers align with His will, every one of them will be affirmed. When our prayers do not align with His will, He will decline our requests, but it is not in the spirit of angry denial from Him. He shows us a better way, and He deepens our assurance that He is a good Father who is for us.
Father, help us to abide today in Jesus. Help us to pursue those things which bring You pleasure. Help us to refuse temptation to think, speak or do anything that we know is not consistent with who Jesus is and what He has said. Help us to partner with You in protecting our own assurance that it is well with our soul – that all is well between us and You. Help us to partner with You in casting out our unhealthy fears about You. Help us dare to bravely and boldly believe that You really do love us, welcome us, secure us and enjoy us as Your twice-born children. We want to obey, but we want to obey with a motivation of love and not dread. Father, strengthen our confidence in such a way that we can think of standing before You at the end of our days and not feel one single shred of anxiety. You are too glorious a God for us to live in the absence of assurance. Thank You, Jesus, for providing our inheritance of confidence through Your life and Your love. You are worthy of our relentless trust.