1 John 3:19-22
God Is Greater than Our Heart
It is true. Christians struggle with doubt sometimes—perhaps some more than others—but every believer doubts. I am of the opinion that those who do not sometimes doubt fall into one of two opposing camps: Either they are such holy people and so close to God that all doubts have flown away, or they are so lackadaisical and relaxed about their faith as to leave doubts for others that they have ever had a genuine encounter with the true God.
John seems to understand this. He has told us that the Christian is the one who practices righteousness and loves his brother, and the unbeliever (indeed, child of the devil) is the one who practices sin and does not love his brother. This is very simple in theory. But when one tries to work this out, when one examines oneself in the light of John’s standards, one finds oneself on the losing end. We must not understand the Apostle’s previous words as laying a new foundation for works-righteousness; John would have been horrified by that. We must seek to understand John’s words and “tests” in the light of our Lord’s work on the cross if we shall understand them rightly. Otherwise, we shall become tortured souls, always examining ourselves and always coming up short; for, we never are righteous enough, never loving enough, to suit God or ourselves. And, I might add, this is of the Lord that we may ever depend on him for our righteousness.
And so John says, “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before Him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than out heart, and He knows everything.” In other words, God knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees our efforts, pitiful though they be. Yes, He sees our hypocrisy, but He also sees our sincerity as we try to live the Christian life. And He forgives us. And of course, He knows that even our meager efforts are only possible by His Spirit working within us, for as St. Augustine said, when we do anything for the Lord, “God does not crown [our] merits as [our] merits, but as His own gifts” (On Grace and Free Will, 6.15). So, we may reassure ourselves before Him that He is our loving Father. And if our hearts do not condemn us, well then we have confidence that God is exactly as I just stated. And this being the case, we should ask of Him whatever is of His holy will knowing that He is the One working in and through us (Philippians 2:13), and that we may confidently leave all judgment unto the One who in the end will be the Judge of everyone’s heart (1 Corinthians 4:3-5). So John would have us do our best and be at peace, and I think that is good advice.