Refresh & Restore – September 16, 2021

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.[1]

Ephesians 2:1-10

We are continuing in our But GOD series by looking at life and death in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can find the written devotion here: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/09/15/refresh-restore-september-16-2021/
  1. But GOD — Episode 3
  2. But GOD — Episode 2
  3. But GOD — Episode 1
  4. Sabbath Rest & Teacher Tired
  5. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — FINALE/Epilogue

Greetings, Sojourner!

Over the past week, I have been contemplating our last discussion regarding the good news of the gospel (and the reality of sin and the bad news it brings). Honestly, I cannot imagine life without that “but God” moment – the moment where He crashed into our lives and changed everything.

We have seen this change the life of a man who had never walked until he met Peter and John on their way to the temple. We saw that the greatest change was not his walking away freed from his burdens but running to worship and proclaim what Jesus had done through His followers. Then, we saw the beauty of Jesus’ demonstration of love in His sacrifice on the cross. There is no more beautiful picture of sacrificial love than one who would be willing to die to reconcile – to change the status – of His enemies.

Today, we get the opportunity to look at the same truths from a different angle. It is an awesome thing to see how we were once enemies, but God reconciled and adopted us. It is an amazing miracle for a man to say that He had never walked but God healed him. Now, we are going to look at the amazing miracle that takes place in the lives of every sinner who is saved: we were dead, but God gave us life!

This passage is life and death serious, so I do not want us to miss anything. We are going to dive in sentence by sentence, sometimes phrase by phrase.

Dead in Our Sins

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…. (vv. 1-2a)

This is an extremely tough reality. It is tempting to excuse Paul’s talking about death here as merely a metaphor to talk about just how bad sin is or as an illustration that could happen. It is tempting but untrue. Death did not exist until sin was first committed. In fact, the verse that immediately follows last week’s passage states clearly that “just as sin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned” (Romans 5:12).

When everyone’s ancestors Adam and Eve sinned against God by breaking His commandment, they were exiled from the garden, removing their access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23). That exile meant death, which was what God promised in Genesis 2:17. Adam and Eve never ate of the tree of life again, and, even though he was 930, “he died” (Genesis 5:5). All of his sons were sinners after him, and so on and so on until you and I lived. All of his sons after him died, and so on and…well, you get the picture. Sin and death continued and will continue until Jesus Christ comes again and restores everything as He said He would (Acts 3:21).

If you are in Christ, this is supposed to be what you “once walked” in, but death is the reality that everyone faces because of the reality of their sin. Paul uses two words here to describe the sin. Understanding them brings the terrible nature of our sin to bear more than simply looking at their English translations. The word for “trespasses” basically means to step off of a path or “fall by the wayside” [2]. It works out of the understanding that God, being holy and righteous and the Creator of all things can prescribe a way that is best. Our “trespasses” occur when we seek our own way instead of His. The word for “sins” was an archery term that meant missing the mark or bullseye. The reality is that, in our sin, we are “missing the true end and scope of our lives, which is God” [3].

…in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…. (v. 2)

Again, it needs to be reiterated that – for those who profess to be saved, to be born again through Jesus – these realities should fall into the “once walked” category. If one’s life is still plagued with unrepentant sin, it is necessary to look at how the current reality may be evidence that the fruit of your life is not of Christ but of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air”.

The “course of this world” has become more and more fallen since the Fall in Genesis 3. And, more and more with each passing year, people are captivated into following after Satan – whom Paul calls a “prince” here (“ruler of this world” – John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11; “god of this world” – 2 Corinthians 4:4). Sin continues as those aligned with Satan’s agenda (and their own selfish agenda of indulging their own sin), and death seems to reign.

…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind…. (v. 3a)

Here again we see Paul contrast the new life in Christ with what should be our former life when he says “among whom we all once lived”. He illustrates how the lives of the dead and living are in different spheres. Those living “in the passions of [their] flesh” are not concerned with pleasing God but with “carrying out the desires of [their] body and the mind”. In Romans 6:23, which I find myself quoting often describes the end of living for sinful passions – “the wages of sin is death”.

…and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (v. 3b)

To be a child of wrath is the opposite of being a child of God, but every child of God was once under God’s wrath (Romans 5:9-10). That is a result of our “nature” – descending from Adam. But that does not mean that it is Adam’s fault. No, to paraphrase Tyler Perry, we can do bad all by ourselves. Our sin occurs when we find ourselves, “like the rest of mankind”, tempted by our “own desire” and falling into the reality that when “desire…has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

Sin and death is clearly our beginning, but, thank God, it does not have to be our end.

Alive in Our Savior

But God, being rich in mercy…. (v. 4a-b)

I cannot read through today’s passage without vv. 4-5 causing my voice to be filled with excitement. Paul sharing the reality of but God here is such a needed contrast to all of the death and bad news of vv. 1-3! Not only that, it is how God changes the reality of death to the hope of eternal life; He is “rich in mercy”!

Church people talk a lot about grace being undeserved favor, but this passage is a particularly good example of the beauty of mercy. Mercy is also undeserved but not because it is favor. No, mercy is the undeserved withholding of punishment that we do deserve. The first three verses of this chapter show how much we deserve death, but that only highlights how rich God is in mercy – He abounds in it. He lavishes it on us.

But God…because of the great love with which He loved us…. (v. 4a, c)

I often find myself wondering why God would spend His mercy – even though He is rich in it – on a sinner like me. He gives mercy because He loves. He gives grace because He loves. And His love is as great as He is rich in mercy and grace! This resounds throughout the Bible, throughout Jesus’ teachings in the gospels. Time and again, passage after passage He tells us He loves us. There is no greater love (John 15:15)!

…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…. (v. 5)

The most amazing aspects of His love is the timeline. He loved us “when we were dead in our trespasses”. Indeed, God “shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)! He meets us where we are, amid sin and death, and offers us salvation. Those who respond to His loving offer in faith are saved from sin and death by His grace alone. More than that, it is eternal life (John 3:16) to be spent with Him – “alive together with Christ” – who can promise life after death because HE IS ALIVE!

…and raised us up with Him and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (vv. 6-7)

Jesus paid the price for our sins, knowing fully that we “were dead in [our] trespasses” (Colossians 2:13) and fully intending to forgive “us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” by “nailing [them] to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)! He offers the opportunity to move out of the realm of “this world” and “the prince of the power of the air” to be “seated…with Him in the heavenly places” where He will continually “show [us] the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness”! That’s good news! What’s more is that He paid the price for our sins by bearing our sins “in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) – by dying in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21), yet “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24)!

But there is hope for those who are saved by Him. There is a life on earth for those with the hope of eternal life between the time of salvation and heaven.

Living for & Walking with Christ

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (vv. 8-9)

It is important to note when talking about the good works – the fruit (Galatians 5:22-23, Matthew 7:15-20) – that accompanies being saved. Salvation is clearly the result of what God has done for us in Christ and not His response to how good we are. Just as we cannot clean ourselves up and come to God but come in weakness and sin to be cleansed by Him (1 John 1:9), our boast needs to be in what He alone has done (2 Corinthians 10:17, Galatians 6:14).

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (v. 10)

Our works do not earn our salvation. But “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). When God saves us and we are “born again” (John 3:3), He has more for us than a humdrum life waiting to die and go to heaven. As my favorite octogenarian, L.G. Schmitz says often: “God has a plan for your life!” He does! We get to spend the rest of our lives on earth sharing His Life with others! We are supposed to be “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14), not to set ourselves apart and put ourselves on a pedestal but to give an example of the love, grace, and mercy that Jesus showed (and still shows) us. Once you are saved, you begin realizing that you “are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). This was not a purchase of a slave but the price to be adopted as God’s child (Galatians 4:4-5)! And we have the privilege and responsibility to plead with everyone we can with the Word and the works God gives us to “implore [all God allows us to meet] on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20) – to let them know that there is mercy, love, and life greater than our trespasses and sins!


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eph 2:1–10.

[2] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[3] Ibid.

Refresh & Restore — August 26, 2021

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”[1]

Matthew 11:28-30
We are continuing in our But GOD series by looking at life and death in Ephesians 2:1-10. You can find the written devotion here: https://justkeithharris.com/2021/09/15/refresh-restore-september-16-2021/
  1. But GOD — Episode 3
  2. But GOD — Episode 2
  3. But GOD — Episode 1
  4. Sabbath Rest & Teacher Tired
  5. Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — FINALE/Epilogue

Greetings, Sojourner!

I. Am. Tired. And, chances are, you are too – even if you aren’t a teacher. We all have work at our jobs and work to do at home and work to put into…well, more work.

I use the idea of “teacher-tired” because of the amount of pressure that teachers put on themselves. Many teachers view what they do as more of a calling than a career. They get to mold young minds and influence the entire future of the students they teach. At the same time, there are other pressures that simply come with the job and compound with that internal stress. And, just like many of you have felt, it just seems like there is no way to get everything done. It feels like we are inadequate for the task, and that can be discouraging.

So, maybe you need to hear what I have to tell myself: it’s okay. It is! There are times where I am just not enough, and that’s okay, too. It’s okay because I have a reminder in Christ that He never expected me to be enough – and how I need a constant reminder that He is enough.

No matter what your work is, it is important to have the appropriate balance. Work is important and has a role in the world, but it is not one’s world. Many times we point to God’s cursing the ground and Adam’s “pain” in working among the “thorns and thistles”, focusing on the “sweat of [his] face in laboring (Genesis 3:17-19), but God had already given Adam responsibility to fill the earth and dominion over it before the Fall (Genesis 1:28, 2:19-20). So, work is not the problem; we are.

Lord willing, today’s devotion is meant to help you see that Jesus is enough and that He is able to help us when we feel we do not measure up – to put our work in the right perspective. That’s why I put His words from Matthew 11. They show His heart for us. They show His care for those who work and are weighed down with pressure, expectation, and responsibility. They show the hope that comes from putting our cares and burdens on Him and taking up His rest. And, as always, it is my prayer that His words will refresh and restore you.

Identity in Christ Over Ability

26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”[2]

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

Part of our problem – or at least what I have found to be true for me – is that sometimes we allow our work to become our identity. When we allow what we do to define who we are, our entire identity begins to crumble as soon as struggle sets in. As a teacher, there is a pressure to want every period of every day to go well – for every child to fully get everything I teach. Then again, I felt the same pressure when I was a full-time pastor, and I found myself completely burned out at nearly thirty years old. You see, I was my who-I-was ended up wrapped around my what-I-did, leaving every other aspect of who God had called me to be as His disciple, my wife’s husband, my children’s father, etc. woefully ignored. My entire identity was wrapped up in being Pastor Keith, and, when I quit, Pastor Keith stopped existing. I felt like I stopped existing.

Now, on the other side of that experience, I thank God for the burn out. I thank God for allowing my false identity to crumble. Rather than bitterness and hurt, I now understand David’s prayer to God to “let the bones that You have broken rejoice” (Psalm 51:8)! I thank God that He is bigger than my failures. And I can thank Him because when I got out of the way – when I hit the bottom – I found the Rock, Jesus! As embarrassed as I was of what I saw as failure, I found myself echoing the cry of David in Psalm 61:2-3: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.” He had been there all along – my strong tower even when my pride in accomplishment – and employment – was the enemy.

I found myself having to be corrected like Paul did for the Corinthians. According to “worldly standards”, I expected myself to be powerful, noble, and wise. Yet, all the while, I was foolish, weak, and low.

You see, when we pursue “worldly standards”, we boast in our own accomplishments. I remember a seminary professor once saying that we could not simultaneously boast in how awesome God is while trying to convince people how clever we are. The Kingdom of God is contrary to the standards of the world. When we are weak, Christ’s strength can be seen. When we are foolish, Christ’s wisdom can be shared. When we are low and bowed in worship, Christ is boasted in and exalted. Our posture of worship, our identity needs to be based in Him – in who He is, what He has done in our lives, and who He has called us to be.

So, maybe you find yourself feeling like a bit of a failure, but what a joy it is to be able to boast like Paul in the righteousness of God that He shares with His sons and daughters, in sanctification because we know He set us apart for His service fully knowing our flaws, and in redemption where His strength shines through and makes us new in Him!

Faith in Christ Over Feeling Like a Failure

[Humble yourselves], therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.[3]

1 Peter 5:6-7

If you haven’t already, you need to hear this: you are going to fail. I know that doesn’t seem very motivational, but it’s true! We all fail from time to time. I mentioned earlier that teachers put a lot of pressure on themselves to achieve and succeed. Yet every lesson in every class period of every week, day, and year is simply not going to be a homerun. For that matter, even professional baseball players don’t knock it out of the park with every swing – or even once in every game! We often look at failure as humiliating, but I would like to help you reframe your failures as lessons in humility.

Jesus does not expect us not to fail. That’s inherent in His invitation in Matthew 11, recognizing that we will find ourselves “heavy laden” and in need of His “rest”. We just talked about how our identities can be found in the wrong things, but our failures and successes can be wrongly founded, too. When – not if – we mess up, God is not standing in judgment over us to smack or smite us. No, if we belong to Him – if we have been saved by Him – we are adopted into His family. And just like a good Daddy, His hand is waiting to pick us up and dust us off. Now, that does not mean that our Heavenly Father does not meet us with discipline sometimes; in the verses that come before the 1 Peter passage, we are reminded of Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Sometimes His grace grates upon our pride and we find ourselves humbled (not willingly but definitively). Yet in that humbling we find grace. In that humbling, we find the “mighty hand of God”, still bearing the scars of the nails He took for us, reaching out to show “He cares”.

It is in those moments that faith transcends feeling. It is our very hope and foundation. Knowing that He cares for His children no matter what frees us from the fear of failure. Just as my own children have asked me from time to time whether I would always love them, we need to be reassured. Thank God that He wants us to cast all our anxieties – all our insecurities on Him. And, most of all, we should be thankful that He cares for us.

Prioritizing Praise in Prayer Over Problems

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.[4]

Philippians 4:4-7

I don’t imagine it was too difficult to convince you that you have struggles and difficulties and failures, but it may take a bit more convincing that they are something to “rejoice” over! Let me clarify what the command is here in this passage. Paul is not saying that we rejoice in the difficulties but that we find joy “in the Lord” – in trusting that He, in His sovereign will and might, have the situation under control. We rejoice that He is “at hand” – that His return is imminent. And we rejoice in the fact that He cares enough to listen when we bring all our requests – that He will take our burdens (again, Matthew 11) and trade them for His peace. Even though He fully knows everything we need and even what we think and feel, He cares enough to want us to pray to Him about it.

So, where does the rejoicing come in? Well, look at the context of these verses: our “prayer and supplication” are to be accompanied by “thanksgiving”. In fact, He tells us that He expects all our “requests” to be accompanied by thankfulness. When we put our fears, anxieties, and needs up against all He has done and that we know He can do, they pale in comparison. And, based on the verses that follow, we can trust that the “peace of God” (v. 7) comes when we look at, learn from, receive, and hear from “the God of peace” who is with us (v. 9)! Knowing you are not alone helps; knowing that You are loved and watched over by the sovereign God of the universe heals.

Wrapping Up

As I stated earlier, we learn about work from the very beginning in the garden. That is also where we learn to rest. When God “finished His work that He had done”, “He rested” (Genesis 2:2). He did not rest because He was tired or needed a break. He rested because what He had done was good, and that day of rest began to be known as the Sabbath. While God did not need the Sabbath, He knew we would. And the only way we can truly have that Sabbath rest is to trust in what He has done, is doing, and has promised to do. No matter what your job is or what your responsibilities are, God is still God. There’s no work mess up that unseats Him from His throne. There’s no consequence or boss’ wrath that can undo who He says you are. In fact, one day all of the toil and responsibility and struggle will be gone, and only one’s relationship with Christ will matter. One day, all the days of trusting Him through toil and trouble will fade away when we see Him face-to-face. So, it is my prayer that you can come to Him to find rest – that you trade Him your labor and your being heavy laden and rest, and trust, and have faith in Him alone.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 11:28–30.

[2] Ibid., 1 Co 1:26–31.

[3] Ibid., 1 Pe 5:6–7.

[4] Ibid., Php 4:4–7.

Songs for Sunday, August 1, 2021

There are so many things to fear, and this past year and a half has shone us that the effects of fear are as vast as the reasons. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a new wave of fear or a new variant of the same old fear.

There is so much that is unknown about all we fear, and, perhaps, it is the unknown that we fear the most. But despite all of that, let me share with you some good news:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Hebrews 13:8

Yes, He is still God and still on His throne in the midst of all the trials of today, has been sovereign through all of the trials already faced, and will continue to rule and reign for the rest of time and beyond. None of the variables or variants of our fears is surprising to Him because He is God and always will be.

So, where does that leave us? What does that have to do with the fears, anxieties, and palpable troubles we face today?

He told us that trials and troubles would come, but He did not leave us to fight our way through by ourselves. Let’s look at three passages where Jesus, God Himself, tells us that He has got this under control and will care for us through the trouble:

  • Matthew 11:28-30: Come to me, all you labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
  • John 16:32-33: Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

So, no matter your fears, failures, or finding yourself just trying to make it through, turn to Jesus. He cares for you. He will carry you through. He has already won. And it’s Him and His name that we are singing about this Sunday – what He has done, what He is doing/can do, and what He has promised to do for His people.

Here are our Scriptures and songs:

  • Psalm 113

Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord,
praise the name of the Lord!

Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the Lord is to be praised!

The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!

  • Colossians 2:13-15

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.


We invite you to join us this Sunday at Christ Community Church in Grenada, MS!

We have Sunday School classes for all ages at 9:30a and worship – everyone is welcome – at 11:00a!

If you are concerned about social distancing or are at-risk, consider gathering with us at 10:00a for a small group Bible study in our worship center. There is plenty of room to spread out, but there is also opportunity to gather with others at the same time! No one will crowd you, and you can exit out of our side door and avoid the crowd coming in to worship after the Bible study!

The Mighty Hand of God

Twice this week, I have been taken aback by something my son has done.

He has always wanted to seem bigger and older than he is, which is typical of little boys. He has never liked having to hold someone’s hand whether it be to cross the road or to help him walk when he was first learning. He places a high value on being independent – on showing he can do [whatever] all by himself. Yet twice this week, he has reached up and wanted to hold my hand.

Both times were identical in circumstances. Both times were in Buccees (once going on vacation and the second on the return trip). Now, if you have ever been in Buccees – at least all of the times I have been – it is crowded and busy and loud and boisterous. Picture a gas station with the energy and chaos of a toddler. It is almost too much for me, and, apparently, it was too much for him because he reached up to hold my hand.

Don’t get me wrong here: I was glad to be needed, glad to be a comfort to him. But it threw me nonetheless because my little, independent-not-scared-of-things-he-should-be son was unnerved and a bit frightened. I tried to ask him if he was okay, but he didn’t want to talk. I tried to tell him it was okay to be nervous – that I myself was nervous, too. Both times, his response was the same: “I just want you to hold my hand”. Both times my response was merely quiet contemplation.

Today, we just walked around Buccees hand-in-hand. He slowly came out of his shell and was pointing to this and that as we navigated the crowd to walk where he wanted to walk and look at what he wanted to look. While we were walking, I saw something that filled my eyes with tears then and does now even as I type. I saw the same event between father and son taking place in a different perspective.

The dad was likely in his late fifties or early sixties, dressed as dads of that era do all Americana on vacation. That was not different as I was sporting my generation’s dad travel gear. What was different was that he was holding the hand of his grown son – every bit my age with special needs. They were talking about how Buccees was too much for the son but how everything was okay because daddy was there. And, sure enough, as long as he was holding his daddy’s hand, all was right and all of the frightening and alarming and anxious events taking place around droned out because he had his daddy’s hand in his.

What a beautiful picture. What a sobering and humbling reality.

See, the other dad surely knew what I did – that there was nothing magical about our hands, that there were dangers that we are not enough to battle against as much as we would try. That’s why I tried to talk to my son both times, to help him more that I felt my hand could accomplish on its own. But there is a hand that is stronger than ours.

I have been thinking of 1 Peter 5:6-7 ever since we left Buccees:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you.

The “mighty hand of God” is a symbol of His strength and His power. That strength and power protects His children, but it also disciplines. It chides against enemies but also chastens His children. It is a hand of unimaginable strength, but it is also gentle and loving.

The same hands that formed Adam from dust and Eve from a rib are the same hands that can strike down mountains and nations.

They are the same hands that became small when He came as an infant. They are the same hands that did hard labor as a carpenter.

They are the same hands that were strong enough to carry our cross and bold enough to take the nails in crucifixion.

They are the same hands that eternally bear scars from those nails.

And they are the same hands that will one day wipe away the last tears from our eyes.

Things are often overwhelming, and life is hard. Some things are more than we can bear. Our Father knows that. He does not seek to beat us down but that we would humble ourselves, repent and cry out to Him to be lifted up.

The picture of 1 Peter 5:6-7 is the same that I saw in Buccees, a Father reaching down to His children to lift them up when the world is too much. And, thankfully, I can share with my son about the “mighty hand of God” to carry Him through when my own hands are too weak for the task.

Maybe things are too much for you right now. Maybe you feel like there is nowhere to turn or no one to turn to, but let me assure you there is a hand that will reach down and can pull you out of death and give you life. If you would humble yourself and come to Him, He will lift you up because “He cares for you”. And His hands are strong enough to care for “all your anxieties”.

That’s good news.

Refresh & Restore — May 20, 2021

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 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. 18 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. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.[1]


Greetings Sojourner,

The older I get, the clearer I see that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). How else could words written so far in the past ring so true today? There is no literature that holds truth like the Word of God because the “sum of [God’s] Word is truth” (Psalm 119:160), specifically because God Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ is the Truth (John 14:6). That elevates the words on the pages of the Bible to more than mere literature, surpassing sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and books. We can read it and recognize the truth and beauty in the cry of the psalmist, “give me life according to Your Word” (Psalm 119:25), because that is exactly where we find Life – where we find Christ Himself!

In thinking about the way that today’s passage intersects with our present-day world, a call from the Lord to Israel comes to mind. Jeremiah 6:16 shows us how God called to Israel in the midst of their sin before disaster struck Jerusalem: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” He was calling them to repent – to change their ways – to turn away from their sin and back to Him. Yet their response to Him was simple: “We will not walk in it”.

As we have walked through 1 John verse-by-verse, we have seen how the Holy Spirit through John has pleaded with God’s people down through the ages to examine our lives and know whether or not we walk in the light (1:5, 7; 2:10; 3:10, 14), whether the truth is in us or the Truth shows us to be liars (1:6, 8, 10; 2:4, 9, 11, 22; 3:6, 10), and if we are God’s children with His Spirit abiding in us and us in Him (2:20, 24, 27-28; 3:6, 10, 24). The past two weeks (part 1 and part 2) looking at 1 John 4:7-21 feel like a Jeremiah 6:16 sort of crossroads. We see the ancient paths where the good way is (love), yet it is so easy to turn and follow sinful desires (hate, unforgiveness) in the wrong direction.

Our journey through this particular passage began as we looked at how the command to love one another flowed from Jesus’ original teaching (John 13:14), continued through the apostles into the early church (1:5, 2:24, 3:11), and suggested that it was intended to be lived out in the Church today (3:16-18). We then looked specifically at how the love that Christ showed the Church, His Bride, as “the propitiation for our sins” (v. 10), “and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (2:2). We continue today into the end of the passage, and it is tempting to pass over it, calling it merely repetitive because of similarities to other parts of 1 John. But the consequences could be eternally significant should we pass over these truths.

In today’s section, we see John revisiting the theme of assurance – the idea that we can truly know whether we or not we belong to God. We see v. 13 talk about it similarly to earlier in 1 John: “By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.” We can know we belong to Him because His Spirit is in us, and we know that His Spirit is in us because He bears fruit in those within whom He abides, specifically “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23)[2]. Those who do not bear this fruit – well, they bear fruit of their own sinful flesh (Galatians 5:19-21).

The difference between how John talks about assurance here than earlier in 1 John is how specifically he ties how we can know that we belong to God (are saved, born again, redeemed) to whether or not we love. In fact, one of the toughest and most alarming verses is the end of v. 20 where it clearly says “he who does not love His brother whom He has seen cannot love God whom He has not seen.” Cannot….

It seems here that he is revisiting v. 8 that showed us a lack of love shows a lack of God “because God is love” and v. 11 that shows “if God so loved us (specifically calling back to John 3:16), we also ought to love one another”. Guess what: he is revisiting it because we need to hear it again and again – because we are foolish and, in our selfishness, we forget (sometimes willingly). We do not want to hear again and again that hatred is evidence of not loving God, nor do we want to hear that a chronic lack of forgiveness and, let us call it what it is, blatant hatred of others is evidence of a spiritual problem. At its most severe, it can be evidence of lostness.

For a religion whose foundation is supposed to be love, there are people – individuals as well as groups – who have done great damage using the name of Christ while spreading and feeding their own hatred. I remember being shocked and dismayed when a coworker showed me a picture of Ku Klux Klansmen standing on the “altar” of a “church” (their sponsor, nonetheless), asking me how I could participate in a religion that condoned hatred and was actively evil. In fact, there are too many examples throughout “church” history of more of the same. But neither tradition nor history change the Word of God. The words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things.

The most startling example perhaps is found in our own hearts – yes, mine as well as yours. Now, we would say that our hatred is different, but, then again, that is what we always say when the sin is our own. We have thought it out, rationalized and justified it. But the words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things.

The word “cannot” sounds so final. That is because it is! What we see as a compound word in English is actually two separate words in the original language (not + a word describing ability or power through any means possible). This is significant because it carries much more weight than our simple “cannot”. The original context describes a situation in which there is absolutely no mindset, no set of circumstances, no ability, no power at all. Jesus uses this very same set of words in Matthew 7:18 to say “a healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit”, Mark 3:24 to say “if a kingdom is divided against itself [it] cannot stand”, Luke 14:26-27 to say that one whose ultimate love is not Christ “cannot be [His] disciple”, and John 3:3 to say that “unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God”. If Jesus is truly “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” and “[n]o one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6), how can His cannot be wrong? Can cannot be as final as it sounds? Dear, Sojourner, when God’s Word says it, the answer can only be yes. He gets the final say-so because He is God.

We see here that we have reason to examine our lives, but this should lead us to repentance, not fear. This is why John tells us in this same passage that “perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18). He hails back to ch 2:4 when we see that in keeping and following the Word “truly the love of God is perfected”. If we genuinely believe that ALL “Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), we must not hold only to the teaching and training; we need to submit our beliefs to reproof (God’s Word realigning our beliefs to itself) and correction (of sinful actions or behaviors). If God’s Word is indeed His Word, it must change our lives or else we simply do not believe it. How can one believe that it contains Truth that gives Life if it is impotent to change behaviors in those who claim to follow its teachings?

We know our hearts and our sinful imperfections (Romans 3:10, 23). Sometimes, when confronted with our sinfulness, we find ourselves falling into fear. This is why He gave us v. 18. It is easy to say that “perfect love casts out fear” but another thing entirely to practice it. He goes on to explain that “fear has to do with punishment”. When we are confronted in the Word with sinfulness – specifically hatred in today’s passage, it is good for us to examine our lives. Furthermore, it is good for us to know that hatred is a spiritual problem! But, rather than it driving us to fear – if we say we belong to Christ, it should drive us to repentance. You see, it is when we learned the reality of our sin that we first came to the Savior! Being confronted with sin (again and again) as we spend time in God’s Word, we should be driven to Him more and more.

We do not have to fear punishment because Christ – as propitiation – has “bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). Repentance – specifically turning from our hatred to His love and seeking to exhibit the forgiveness He shows His people – shows evidence of His Spirit (just as a lack of it shows the opposite). When confronted with hatred in my own heart recently, I realized that I first had to confess that sin to the Lord (1:9, Psalm 51:1), then confess the sin to brothers I trust to pray for me and hold me accountable (James 5:16), and genuinely seek the Lord for Him to soften my heart and grant repentance (2 Timothy 2:25).

What should we take from this?

First, we are sinners, and our sin is not to be taken lightly. The reality of Jesus being the propitiation for sin (v. 10) is heavy because that means He bore our sin because He had none of His own (2 Corinthians 5:21)! If you are His, that means His death was in the place of yours. And your Life is because of Him. In Him there is hope for us. We need to be thankful for mighty examples of repentance like we find in Psalm 51 so we can learn to seek after God’s forgiveness, grace, and mercy and ask that He “create in [us] a clean heart…, and renew a right spirit with [us]” (Psalm 51:10). We need to be reminded that if “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) and “if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10), we can love because He first loved us (v. 19) – that we can love others because “God is love” and He is in us and we are in Him (vv. 8, 13, 16, 21).

Second, there are those who have misused the name of Jesus. They have claimed His name and committed all sorts of evil, devastating the lives of people in the fall out. We do not need to ignore those sins nor should we believe that atrocities done in His name will be easily corrected or wounds quickly healed. The words of the Holy Spirit through John answer plainly: one cannot love God and participate in such things. And the true Jesus – as found in His Word, does not need us to defend Him or seek to fix errors that others have made. He has spoken for Himself through John and offers the same hope to all that we have found in His Word ourselves. Christ could have hated us and left us in our sin – and been justified in doing it! But, praise God, He chose grace and mercy “because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses” (Ephesians 2:4-5).

If you are reading this and find yourself standing and the crossroads of love and hate and are offered the ancient paths, the good way of the love of Christ, may you respond in faith and repentance, not foolishly saying as those before us have: “We will not walk in it”.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:7–21.

[2] The English teacher in me would like to note that the lack of “and” at the end of what appears to be items in a series is not a typo. This list is known as the fruit (singular – not fruits) of the Spirit – one Spirit, these collectively are one fruit grown by Him in the lives of those who are born again.

Refresh & Restore — April 22, 2021

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.[1]   

1 John 4:1-6

Greetings, Sojourner!

You have been on my mind a lot over this past week. Thinking through the way that John talks to his audience – little children, beloved – makes me think of the great care he uses when talking to them. As I write to you, Sojourner, I hope you see my heart for you as well – my heart to see you grow closer to Christ through studying His Word and my desire that your relationship with Him become deeper through the process.

In thinking of you this week, I have also been thinking about the assurance that John offered us last week. It is good to be able to know where we stand with Christ and not have to wonder whether we belong to Him because of the hope and truth found in His Word. Part of trusting that the Word we have is true and comes from Him is that we are able to know what does and does not come from Him by how it fits with the Scriptures. This is what John talks about in our passage today – testing the spirits so that we know what comes from God’s Spirit or the spirit of antichrist.

Think back to the way John speaks of the Spirit in verse 3:23 from last week: “And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us”. Today’s passage flows directly out of this, and for good reason. We can be sure that what we are taught through our pastors, Bible teachers, and Christian literature is of God by testing it according to the Word of God and the Spirit of God.

The idea of testing is a little too close to judging for some people’s tastes, but verse 1 here clearly tells us we need to “test the spirits”. The word translated test here means “to try to determine the genuineness of”[2] or “to make trial of [or] put to proof”[3]. Basically, whenever we encounter someone teaching, preaching, or writing about the Bible, we should test it – check its proof/genuineness by what it says about God’s Word. And, before you dismiss this, look at the way that the Berean believers were heralded for doing this very thing in Acts 17:11:

Now these Jews [in Berea] were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the Word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

Yes, they were eager to hear what was being preached, but not so eager as to take whatever was offered as truth simply because a “preacher” told it to them. I fear that we are not nearly as cautious as we should be.  

We have seen warnings like this from John already in 1 John 2:18-27 where he showed us the influx of antichrists – those who are literally against Christ and bring a false gospel to tear up churches and lead people astray. The primary issue with the message of the antichrists was first brought up in 1 John 2 (“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?”) and now emphasized more in today’s passage: “every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God” (v. 3). That word translated “confess” there in verse 3 is the same that is used in Romans 10:9 to describe the declaration or profession that Jesus Christ is Lord that accompanies salvation. Basically, these false teachers are professing false gospel and false truth to keep people from being saved. And anything that keeps people from salvation wants to see them kept in bondage to sin and death. This is serious business because they are presenting a false Christ!

Look at the way that Danny Akin puts the issue:

“If [Jesus] is just another enlightened religious teacher, He is permitted and tolerated as one opinion, one option, among many. If, however, He is the very incarnation of God, then the gospel and only the gospel is true and He is the only viable option for salvation amid the multitude of imposters.[4]

Basically, altering the truth of who Jesus is according to the Bible alters the gospel. An altered gospel holds no power – it points away from Christ, away from His life, death, burial, and resurrection. And anyone who preaches “a gospel contrary to the one you received” in the Word of God, that preacher is “accursed” – lost, damned, and devoid of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 1:9).

It is tempting to begin to list some people who I believe are marketing a false gospel here, but I believe it best to let God’s Word and His Spirit handle that Himself. Instead, I want to point you to the Truth – to Christ. Look at how verse 4 tells us “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them”. Christ is already victorious over these false teachers, and, if you are in Christ and have received His Spirit – “He who is in you is greater than He who is in the world” (v. 4). Christ is greater than the false prophets. Christ is greater than the antichrists. Christ is greater than the Antichrist. Christ is greater than Satan. He has won, is winning, and will ultimately reign forevermore over them – “they will make war on the Lamb, and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). The Jesus of the Bible – the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world – is greater.

If you are His, you have nothing to fear from false prophets. But, even though there is nothing to fear, we need to spend more time in the Word of God in order to “rightly [handle] the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15) and adequately test the spirits – to know the difference between “the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (v. 6). To help with this, I would like to show you some more warnings in the word of God regarding these antichrists, false prophets, and false gospel preachers:

  Jesus’ WarningsMatthew 7:15-20: 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Matthew 24:11-14: 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Mark 13:21-23: 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.
  Paul’s WarningActs 20:28-30: 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
  Peter’s Warning2 Peter 2:1-3: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
  Jude’s WarningJude 4: For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

I urge you to take these warnings seriously. There are many voices that try to speak and have influence over you, and we need to be more and more vigilant and guarded over who we let speak truth in our lives. One of the gifts that God has given us is His Church. Our Christian walk is personal between us and our Savior, but it is not meant to happen in solitude. We are made to be members of the body of Christ (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12, 27; Ephesians 2:19). And God has called pastors to these churches to make His Word known and shepherd the “flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2, Ephesians 4:11). Sitting under the teaching of these pastors – Bible in hand following the example of the Bereans in Acts 11 – we get to hear from God.

If you are not a part of a local church, I urge you to find one where the Bible is preached, and Jesus is proclaimed. As much as I love you and enjoy writing – as much as I hope that these writings help you get closer to Christ, they are no substitute for being a part of a body of believers in a local church who will hold you accountable and walk with you (Hebrews 10:23-25). If you do not have a church family, feel free to contact me, and I would love to help you find one where you live.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 4:1–6.

[2] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 331.

[3] Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000).

[4] Daniel L. Akin et al., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (Nashville, TN: Holman Reference, 2014).

Refresh & Restore — April 15, 2021

18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

19 By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.[1]

1 John 3:18-24

Greetings, Sojourner!

It has been a few weeks since we have been in 1 John together, and I think that today’s passage is quite an appropriate diving board for us to get back into the swing of things.

Part of the purpose of 1 John is to help people know that they have the Life of Christ, that the Light of Christ has shone on them, and that the Love of Christ has been extended to them. That knowing is called assurance, which basically means that we can be sure –  we can truly know – that we are children of God. Throughout the first half of 1 John, the idea of walking with Him in the light “as He is in the light” (ch. 1:7) and abiding in Him and His truth (ch. 2:27) is used to help us see what it means to be God’s children who do not have to “shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (ch. 2:28). Today’s passage continues that in helping us have confidence in His promises to know who we are in Him, and more especially whose we are – His, even in the presence of doubts.

Doubt, believe it or not, is not necessarily a bad thing. It can keep us real and honest. It can make us double-check our motives. But it can also freeze us up and make us ineffective. There are five truths in today’s passage that can either help overcome our doubt or show us that we need to repent – both of which are blessings in and of themselves. If, through the reading of God’s Word, His Spirit lets you know you have no reason for doubt, you will no doubt feel blessed. But, if through reading He shows you that you are not His, this is a more gracious blessing than we could understand in the moment.

It is my prayer that whichever you find – doubt or repentance – that you, ultimately find yourself closer to Him.

Truth #1 – Love Reassures Our Hearts (vv. 18-19)

Verse 18 is like a hinge of a door, opening up from John’s discussion about the love of Christ and how it does (or does not) show up in our lives. I believe that we underuse this verse and just kind of tag it onto other verses to prove what we want to say. Look at what it says about how we should love – it does not exist in “word or talk” but in one’s actions, “in truth”. I work with kids every day who are not fooled with the words of love – they understand what love is through experience, through truth.

In the case of the love John speaks of here, it is the love that comes from Christ (Romans 5:8, Galatians 2:20). Those who are in Christ (who is Himself the Truth – John 14:6) have experienced His sacrificial, never-failing, never-ending love. And part of being in Him is sharing the love that He has given us with others –
“He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (ch. 3:16). Loving others with Christ-like love trumps any “I love you”, it triumphs over any promise or lie but is true through and through because He said it was:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)

The Truth has spoken on the matter, and, when His love shows up in our lives and practices, our doubting hearts can be reassured that they belong to Him.

Truth #2 – God is Greater Than Our Hearts (v. 20)

Rather than diving into an analogy or illustration, I think we need to get down to the truth regarding our hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts lead us to sin. Despite what we would want others to believe, we enjoy sin (just not necessarily the consequences that come with committing it). Sin is the sum of our heart’s desires. Yet the most common advice I hear given to people who are seeking truth or counsel on big decisions in their lives is for them to follow their hearts!

In the context of today’s passage, John talks about the heart acting as our conscience. This can be a good thing, but, remember, the heart is “deceitful” and knows how to trick you better than anything else because it is truly and foundationally you. Why else would our hearts lead us to sin that leads only to heartbreak? Why else would pursuing the “loves” (word and deed) that end up being lusts?

Sometimes, our heart – our conscience – cues us into something wrong. And, in those times, it serves us well. But, sometimes, our heart merely aches because we do not get what we want – that missed opportunity, that time you chose this over that, that time you could have gotten ahead and could have prevented so many struggles. Jeremiah 17:9 ends with a question: “Who can understand [the heart]?” Today’s passage answers that: “God is greater than our heart” (v. 20).

You see, when one repents and believes in Christ and becomes born again, God performs a heart transplant. He gives a “new heart” and a “new spirit” to replace “the heart of stone” (Ezekiel 36:26). I have already said that our hearts give us what we want whether or not it is what we need, but the new heart that God gives us beats for Him and what He knows we need. He alone is the one who “search[es] the heart and test[s] the mind” so that He can know who we are and whose we are (Jeremiah 17:10).

So, if your heart – your conscience – is condemning you because you have sinned, it is God working in you to bring you to repentance. But, if your heart is doubting and dragging you back into former sin, be reminded that “God is greater than your heart” and what He says about you is what matters into eternity.

Truth #3 – Prayer and Assurance Go Together (vv. 21-22)

I remember vividly receiving my first Walkman[2] and Garth Brooks’ debut album. If I close my eyes, I can take myself back to walking around the yard and having the music pour directly into my brain (no doubt too loud). There was a song on that album whose lyrics try to speak to me even some thirty years later: “Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers…”. While this is a song about a man reminiscing on an earlier love not coming about in the light of his current romance, it illustrates John’s point here. How we pray and what we pray for – counting our motivations and desires and hopes – shows our hearts and can either reassure us that we belong to Christ or not.

John, here, illustrates that those who are in Christ have “confidence” to come “before Him” that leads to an openness in prayer (v. 21). That confidence is not in ourselves or our actions but in the fact that He has produced a change in our lives that led us to “keep His commandments and do what pleases Him” (v. 22). When you pray, are you seeking the Lord’s will and wanting what He wants? The answer to that question will either reassure us, drive us to repent, or condemn us. May we find confidence in what He has done in us.

Truth #4 – Biblical Beliefs Produce Biblical Results (v. 23)

Truth in the world today is subjective. I hear more and more people saying things like “this is my truth” or “it is the truth to me”. True truth does not work like that. And Biblical truth does not deviate from what the Bible says because it shows Jesus saying that He is the Truth (John 14:6) – that He is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). And, if it is lying about Him, nothing is true.

John references “His commandment” in verse 23. He speaks of this with respect and authority, almost as if acknowledging Jesus’ authorship of the Word in the way He says it. Jesus’ commandment here is two-fold: 1) “we believe in Jesus Christ, and 2) we love one another (“just as He has commanded us”). If you have doubts and need reassurance, this truth gets to the heart of the issue. If you do not believe that Jesus is who the Bible says He is, you cannot be saved (Romans 10:9). He is strong enough to take our questions and our doubt, but what His Word says about Him is true or it is not. The way that John writes this in the original language shows how we can truly know if we believe this: love. Belief, or faith, in Christ is an action that is defined by whether we continue on (ch 2:19, 3:10) in Him, whether or not His love shows up in our lives. This is where it gets tough and ,trust me, I have to wrestle with this more often than I would care to admit, because it is easier to hate others or love myself than love God and show His love to people.

Ultimately, you know how this plays out in your life. Does it lead you to reassurance or repentance?

Truth #5 – Only His Children Have His Spirit (v. 24)

As I type this section, I can hear my father-in-law singing John 15 as a song; look at verse 5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in Him, He it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” The final truth to reassure our hearts is whether Christ – His Spirit – abides (lives, dwells) in us. Paul says it thusly in Galatians 5:16, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh”.

John here carries out the same analogy that Jesus did in his gospel. He shakes our tree to examine our fruit. If He is not abiding in us, our fruit is sinful, rotten, dead. If His Spirit is in us, His fruit is evident – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Are you connected to Christ? Are you rooted in Him? Is the fruit of His Spirit growing in your life?


I stated at the beginning of this week’s devotion that rooting out doubts would either lead to being reassured – finding renewed confidence in Christ – or it should lead to repentance. Maybe, after reading through 1 John 3:18-24, you have come to realize that you do not belong to Christ. Maybe the fruit – the proof of His Spirit, His love – is not in your life. Let me assure you of this: it can.

The Bible tells us that “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). So, if you have found that you do not have Him and want to receive Him, call out to Him and be saved.

If you read these verses and find that you are in Him but need to repent of sin and walk with Him in love and truth again, let the words of the writer of Hebrews be a comfort and guide to you: “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). No matter how far you have strayed, He has not moved. He is still on His throne. And His throne is one of grace where you can surely receive mercy and find grace – where you can surely find Him. Beloved Sojourner, know that I am praying for and love you. If you need to talk, need someone to listen, or would like to pray, I am here for you and would love to point you to the throne of grace today.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Jn 3:18–24.

[2] For those of you too young to know what I mean, Google it. It was a portable cassette player (cassettes fit in between records and CDs in the time line), had head phones, and was a symbol of cool and a source of music.