The Expository Files


“God Is Greater Than Our Heart”

1 John 3:19-24

We are saved by grace. Ephesians 2:5 says so explicitly. There should be no question on this fact. We are saved when and if God chooses to save us. Certainly we have duties and responsibilities, both before and after our sins are forgiven. But any Christian who thinks he has somehow earned a place in God’s favor by being baptized, preaching the gospel, feeding the hungry, or any other good “work”, he has no concept of the Bible’s teaching regarding salvation.

But still, we do have duties and responsibilities. And we fall short from time to time — not because we’re “human”, as is often said; that pushes the blame off on God, since He’s the One who made us “human”, warts and all. No, we fall short because we are weak. And if we have the idea when we come to the Lord that our weakness will wash off in the waters of baptism, we are quickly informed otherwise. And consciousness of sin leads to feelings of guilt; we know we have let God down, and that we have only ourselves to blame. Thankfully we have a Savior who will continue to forgive us when we continue to repent (1 John 1:7).

But as our failures multiply, feelings of guilt can become feelings of inadequacy. We get angry at ourselves for our continued missteps. We get frustrated at our inability to control our passions. We begin to think we are never going to “get it right”. And our heart condemns us at that moment. It causes us to question or even doubt our salvation, to think we are not “good enough” to be in God’s service.

But then again, we were never good enough. That was the whole point. Jesus did not die on the cross to save good people; He died on the cross for sinful people. We came to Him because we realized we were inadequate on our own, that we needed help. And He offered it to us. It is really quite arrogant on our part to think that now, with our new lease on life, we can just work a little harder and finally live our lives the right way — as if we are saying to the Lord, “Thanks for the bailout, I’ll take it from here.”

God does not want us boastfully asserting our independence and sufficiency, nor does He want us wallowing in doubt and anxiety. We have to find middle ground. We need to get to the point where we appreciate God’s continual role in our salvation, as well as our continual role in seeking Him out. John writes, “We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and shall assure our heart before Him, in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart, and knows all things” (1 John 3:18-20). As God’s truth takes more and more hold in our hearts, we appreciate more and more that we truly are saved by grace. In no way does this mean that our actions, including our sins, are inconsequential. It simply means that although it may seem like our heart is breaking over our sin guilt, there is no guilt that is too much for God to overcome. God knows the problems we face. God knows the mistakes we make in dealing with them. God knows the hurt that this causes us. And God does not want that to get in the way of our peace of mind or our hope of heaven.

If we can overcome our heart, we can more fully appreciate the role God plays in our everyday lives, working His will in us and through us. The same context continues, “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 the things that are pleasing in His sight.” We still find ourselves working out our own salvation “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). But now our heart does not chip away at our confidence. We know that despite our sin, God is still there for us, listening to our prayers and answering them.

This is what “walking by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) is all about — believing in God’s saving power instead of our own. That’s why God commands us to believe. (Yes, choosing to believe in Jesus is itself a work.) If we can live our lives before Him in faith, and live our lives before our neighbors in love, we show God that He has taken possession of our lives. “And the one who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And we know by this that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us” (1 John 3:24). The Spirit-inspired word gives us the encouragement we need so that we know we are doing what we can to please Him, and that He is doing what He can to help us along the way.


By  Hal Hammons
From Expository Files 17.6; June 2010