Saturday, 29 September 2012

The Verse - 1 John 3:19

For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything.
(1 John 3:19)

I came across this verse the other day and found it immensely encouraging, so I wanted to share it with you. Probably all Christians doubt their faith at one time or another. Was my repentance really sincere? Can Jesus really forgive all my sins? I just don’t feel close to God. However, this verse clearly states that regardless of what our heart tells us, God is bigger than our heart.

Luke and I have been doing some really hard-core theology recently. The church we are now attending is Calvinist, and so we have been sort of exploring the Calvinist vs. Arminian debate, something neither of us have ever paid much attention to before.

I found this verse in the section about unconditional election. Unconditional election means there is essentially nothing in us that is deserving of God's grace and love. It has been called "unconditional" because God's choice to save someone does not hinge on anything inherent in the person, or on any act that the person performs or belief that they exercise. This fits in nicely with another doctrine of Calvinism: the idea of total depravity, which means the influence of sin has so inhibited the individual's volition that no one is willing or able to come to or follow God unless He first regenerates the person's soul to give them the ability to love Him. Hence, God’s choice in election is based solely on God's own independent and sovereign will, and not upon the foreseen actions of man.

This kind of theological debate is quite daunting for a lot of Christians and I must admit I still feel very much out of my depth when reading about them. However, it has been so good to really think about these things, question what I have always taken for granted, and turn to the Bible to see what it teaches.

The idea of unconditional election also has a wonderful power of releasing unnecessary burdens from Christians who feel like their salvation is dependant on their closeness to God. Michael Horton writes in his book For Calvinism: "It is God's commitment to us, not our commitment to Him, that brings us to faith and keeps us in faith to the very end."

Martin Luther wrote regarding unconditional election:

"But if we have been chosen in him, we shall not find assurance of our election in ourselves; and not even in God the Father, if we conceive him as severed from his Son. Christ, then, is the mirror wherein we must, and without self-deception may, contemplate our own election."

It's when we look to ourselves for assurance of salvation that we stumble and start to doubt its security. Horton adds to this point: "Since we were chosen in Christ, it is only in Christ - not our speculations, experiences, or works - that we discover our election."

A lot of Christian literature points towards the fruit of faith as evidence of salvation. For example, our love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ can show we are saved. 1 John 3:17-19 says:

By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 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? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him;

However, in reality the Gospel is our only true assurance. This is because our experience and fruit can be stronger or weaker at different points in time. The very next verse acknowleges this: "For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and He knows everything." In other words, the key to gaining assurance of salvation is to look to Christ and His finished work on the cross, not to our own experience, actions, or selves. Even the good works which are the result of our faith were created for us by God beforehand, and He enables us to walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). The more we look to Christ and meditate on the Gospel, the more we will desire to do good works according to His will, not to gain His approval but in joyful response to the grace we have been given.

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