Sermon 7.9.17 Pentecost 5

1 John 3:19-24    Pastor Kenneth Frey
Pentecost 5    7/9/17

1 John 3:19-24 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

How can sinners dare to approach God in prayer?
1.  God’s command
2.  When our hearts condemn us
3.  We can have confidence in prayer


Do you expect that God should accept you the way you are?  Do you assume that God would never punish you?  I don’t sense any awe of God with American Christians.  We seem to take God’s grace for granted, a sense of entitlement with God.  It’s like we feel that God owes us a nice life and good things.  
There is a false security in which people can live.  It’s the security people have when they don’t see the sinfulness of their own lives and they don’t understand the holiness of God.  Such people really make a false god in their own minds, a god who does not exist, and they might just as well carve a god out of wood or stone.  They will live happily in their false security until the gates of hell open to swallow them up for eternity.  
On the other hand, do you live in fear of God’s judgment?  Do you feel that God does not love you?  Do you fear death and what eternity might bring?  John is not writing to those who are living in false security, but to those whose hearts are in turmoil over their sin.  He is writing to those who ask, “How can sinners dare to approach God in prayer?”
John wrote, And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.  What is God’s command to you?  Believe in Jesus.  Simple as that.  We, Lutherans, like to emphasize salvation by faith.  And we should!  Jesus accomplished our salvation by his perfect life, innocent death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.  When he said, “It is finished,” he meant it.  Nothing more needed to be done for our salvation.  Jesus completely paid for the sins of the world.   Your sins are paid for in the blood of Jesus Christ.  Believe that.
But that was not the whole of God’s command.  He also said to love one another.  Today we are beginning a summer series on Luther’s Small Catechism.  Each week we are focusing on one of the six chief parts of the catechism.  This week we focus on the Ten Commandments.  When God tells us to love one another, certainly the question should come up, “How do I do that?”  The commandments tell us how to love God and our neighbor.  We love one another by obeying our parents and others in authority.  We love one another by helping each other.  We love one another by giving generously and by keeping a tight reign on our tongues.  
Notice how John ties faith and love together.  It’s not two commands but one command.  Believing and loving go together.  For example, I can’t say that I am a believer and then live with someone outside of marriage.  That’s not love, but selfishness.  It is taking advantage of someone without the commitment. Or how can I say I believe in Jesus and not gladly hear God’s Word every opportunity I get?  That’s not love of God and where there is not love, can there be faith?  
How can you say you are a believer when your Facebook posts are continually negative and full of cuss words?  How can you say you are a believer and continue to talk about people behind their back?  John ties faith and love together as one command.
John had been writing about the importance of helping those in need.  And he realized that some of his readers might have had hearts condemning them for their selfishness.  What about you?  As we look into the law of God, do we recognize just how little we really love?  Then when times of trial come, we may wonder if we are believers.  The heart loses confidence.  It prays, but its prayers are like a cry that is swallowed up by the wind.  It feels like God is far, far away.  
When an anthill is disturbed, insects scamper in every direction.  Our conscience is like that when the law strikes with its accusations.  Our conscience, stirred up with fear, doubts our faith, doubts God’s love.  And what does John say to this?  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.   God knows.  His eyes see much deeper than yours.  He sees far better than you the abundant evidence of spiritual death.  He sees how your sorrow over sin and your faith are still just a pitiful patchwork and how you are still captive to your sinful nature.  Yes, God knows.  If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.   
Did God know the ways of your heart in eternity?  Most certainly.  Even then he knew the ways of your heart and your whole life.  He knew your heart, what it was and what it would be like, down to the most hidden depths.  He knew all this about you when he brought you to himself in baptism.  He knew how much you would waver and stumble, how you would rejoice in him one moment and then forsake him the next.  He knew how you would trust him fully, but soon mistrust him again.  Yet he did not prevent the baptismal water from conferring on you the grace of adoption.  
So, has your unworthiness undergone any change?  Not at all.  But does your heart still doubt your standing with God?  Remember that your heart is not the court of last appeal.  Your standing with God does not depend on your heart’s feelings.  We make a great mistake when we look for the certainty of our salvation in our own heart in any way.  Where does John direct us?    This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.   God is greater than our hearts.  
God’s righteousness will not be abolished.  The righteousness, which he had Christ gain for you through his suffering and death, will not be removed.  Our heart may tell us that Jesus did not die for us, but God’s Word tells us that he did.  Now which of the two should we believe?  
When asked whether he felt his sins were forgiven, Martin Luther said, “No, I do not feel that my sins are forgiven, but I know it just as sure as that there is a God in heaven, for feelings come and feelings go, but the Word of God shall stand forever.” (Quoted in Becker, The Word Goes On, p. 132)  It’s not a matter of what our heart feels, but what God has said.  Faith believes the Word even when the heart doesn’t feel it.  
So when the accusing voice of conscience brings turmoil to your heart, listen to God’s Word.  This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.   
And then, with our hearts at rest before God, we can have confidence to pray.  John said, Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him.  Listen to that amazing promise again:  we will receive from God anything we ask.  Sinners though we are, we can have confidence that our prayers are heard and answered.  
Why?  Don’t look into your heart for the answer.  Look into God’s heart, bleeding and dying for you on the cross.  Listen to his Word and not your feelings.  That’s how sinners can dare to approach God in prayer.