God's Word For You is a free Bible Study site committed to bringing you studies firmly grounded in the Bible – the Word of God. Holding a reformed, conservative, evangelical perspective this site affirms that God has provided in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, a way of salvation in which we can live in his presence guilt free, acquitted and at peace.



© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

Note: Both translators and Bible teachers/writers struggle with these verses. Translations differ, and convey different meanings. Commentators differ, sometimes quite strongly, in what they say these verses mean. The notes below attempt to understand these verses in the context of what John says elsewhere in this letter, and also in a way that is consistent with the New Testament teaching about the salvation freely given to those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

John’s statements about hate and love in 3:11 – 18 have potential to unsettle Christians with sensitive hearts, and Christians with high levels of honesty.

If we were all sensitive, or if we were all very honest, there would probably not be one of us who would claim that we loved our fellow believers as Jesus Christ loved us. His great, self-denying, sacrificial love exposes the limited nature of our love. And in addition to sensitivity and honesty, our increasing knowledge of God and his love continually reveals the poverty of our love. The more we know him, the more we know ourselves, and the more we realize the discrepancy between his love for us and our love for others. We are constantly challenged by Jesus’ command ‘Love one another as I have loved you’. The more we understand the ‘I have loved you’ the more we realize how impossible it is for us to obey the ‘as ...’ in our relationships with others.

And so ‘our hearts condemn us’. [Notice that John includes himself in this – he refers to ‘our’ and ‘us’.] There are times, many times, when our hearts will accuse us, telling us that we have not loved ‘with actions and in truth’ (v.18). There is not one of us whose heart never condemns us. The word translated ‘condemn’ is kataginosko (= ginosko – know + kata – against). We all know that we do not love as we ought. We all know something against ourselves. We all know that we are sinners who sin. As we have seen earlier, in 1:8 & 10, John outlawed any claims to sinlessness. So when John says ‘if our hearts condemn us’ he is not referring to something bad, something that excludes us from salvation, but to an honest self-knowledge that is consistent with the truth of the gospel: that we are sinners who sin, sinners who at every moment need the Saviour and at every moment need his saving work. Sinners who have such a high perception of the love of Christ for us that we feel ourselves unable to ever love anyone just like that. [And perhaps this is why Peter, in John 21, when he said ‘you know I love you’ chose to use the word phileo, rather than the word Jesus used – agapao – in his question ‘Do you love me?’]

In 1:7 – 2:2 John gave us strong reassurance in the presence of our real sin and sinfulness: that even though we should not sin, when we do sin there is forgiveness (1:7, 9) through the advocacy of Jesus Christ (2:1) and his atoning sacrifice (2:2).

Now in 3:19 – 24 John similarly encourages us to apply the gospel to our self-condemning hearts and to live in the freedom from condemnation that is ours in Jesus Christ. There is something that will ‘set our hearts at rest’ – that is, reassure us, give us confidence – when our hearts condemn us.


Just as he did in chapter 2 John here seeks to reassure his readers. There he had said ‘The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him’ – 2:4, but then he assured his readers that they did indeed know God (2:13, 14).

Now, having stated ‘We know that we have passed from life to death, because we love our brothers’ and that ‘anyone who does not love remains in death’ (3:14), and having by these words unsettled us because we know we have not loved our brothers with the kind of love he has described, he says:

‘This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ (2:19, 20 – 2011 NIV).


A.1 Where does this condemnation come from?
There are several sources of self-condemnation, several sources of guilt-feelings.

[1] As indicated above, there is our honest awareness of our real sin and sinfulness. We know we have done things worthy of blame and condemnation. This generates true guilt.

[2] There is self-blame that comes from an over-sensitive conscience. Our conscience may be over-sensitive for a range of reasons, making us blame ourselves for things that are not actually sins in God’s sight. For example, our sensitive personality, our negative self-image, our state of physical or mental ill-health, our difficult or dysfunctional relationships, our upbringing and past experiences, pressure from our peer group, our church culture and expectations – all of these and more can condition our hearts/consciences to condemn ourselves and to carry a heavy burden of false guilt.

[3] The evil one, whose name, Satan, means ‘the accuser’, plays with all of the above – both our real guilt and our false guilt – in his efforts to deceive and destroy us. He is called ‘the accuser of our brothers and sisters’ (Revelation 12:19). He does not visibly confront us with his accusations, but corrupts the thoughts of our hearts and minds, making us focus on ourselves and our sins (and supposed sins), luring us away from confidence in Christ and his cross.

[For a detailed study on dealing with guilt go to this study  ]

Self-assessment: What kinds of things cause you to condemn yourself?
True guilt:


False guilt:


Satan’s accusations:



Not one person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ is perfect. We are all guilty; we are all worthy of condemnation, and, if we attempted to stand in the presence of God apart from Christ, would be utterly rejected. This is one thing that God knows, and he knows it far more clearly and accurately than we know it. He knows exactly who we are and what we are.

But there are other things that God knows, things that we cannot actually see, things that we grasp onto only by faith. To God these things are as sure and as certain as God himself. Importantly -

God knows those who are his. He sees not only the things that we can observe, but also the inner thoughts and feelings of our hearts and minds. He sees true faith, even where human observation and human fears might conclude that faith has failed.

God knows the complete sufficiency and efficacy of the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. He knows that by that death he has forgiven all of our sins, set us free from all that held us bound, reconciled us to himself, so that nothing stands, and nothing ever will stand, between him and us. No sin will separate us from him ever again. Once-for-all. Forever.

God knows the perfect justice of this gracious salvation. He knows that no accusations against us, even if they are actually true, can legally stand, because all accusations, all condemnation, all punishments, justly due to us, have been borne, in full, by his Son, the Righteous One.

God knows that he has placed us ‘in Christ’. He knows that ‘in him’ he no longer relates to us on the basis of our personal sin or personal righteousness, but always and only on the basis of the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, our Advocate with the Father. That we, hidden in Christ, are just as accepted by the Father as Christ, the Son, is accepted by the Father.

Read these verses. How do they assure you that God knows you are his?
John 10:14

John 10:27 – 30


Read these verses. What does God affirm about condemnation?
John 3:17

John 5:24

Romans 8:1


Read these verses. What do they teach about how God sees the person who is ‘in Christ’?
Romans 1:17

Colossians 1:22

Hebrews 10:10


B.1 Examples of this tension between our faith and our self-condemnation
In the Old Testament King David is an obvious example of a person of faith confronted by his sins. We have looked at him in relation to John’s ‘if we confess our sins’.

Here in this section we will look at four passages that report on this problem – one about the eleven faithful disciples; two about Paul, and one about Peter.

Read these verses. How do they help you to understand the tension between our failures and our secure relationship with God?
Matthew 26:29, 31 – 35, 41b


Romans 7:13 – 8:2


Philippians 3:12 – 14


John 21:15 – 19


In the above references;

In the Matthew 26 texts it is obvious that Jesus knows that these eleven men are people of genuine faith in him. He looked forward to the day when they would be with him ‘in my Father’s kingdom’ (26:29). But he also knew their weakness (verses 31 – 35 & 41). He knew that in their ‘spirit’ they were committed to him, but that there would be times when they would not follow through with that commitment; times when their love and their observable faith would fail.

In Romans 7 Paul describes his personal, inner conflict/tension between what he really wanted to do, and what he ended up doing: ‘in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind ... What a wretched man I am! (verses 22 – 24). But even knowing this extreme tension, he knows also that God has rescued him from the accusations – ‘there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ (8:1). And he has already taught earlier that, because we are justified by faith, ‘we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 5:1) – a heart, a conscience, at rest in the presence of God.

Paul again, in Philippians 3, says that ‘forgetting what is behind’ (which included the things his conscience would condemn) he presses on, secure in the righteousness of Christ credited to him, secure in his knowledge of Christ – 3:7 – 9, and secure in the truth that God has called him ‘heavenward in Christ Jesus’ – 3:14. He does not for a moment doubt his salvation. He does not conclude that it’s all too hard, and give up because he is not perfect. Rather, he is amazed that such a person as himself, has been freely given in Christ the promise of eternal life. The certainty and the immensity of the promise far outweighs the pain of his knowledge of his past and present sin.

Jesus, in John 21:15 – 19, talks to Peter. Peter’s three responses to Jesus’ question ‘do you love me ...?’ indicate Peter’s understanding of Jesus’ knowledge of his heart: ‘you know that I love you ... you know all things, you know that I love you’. Despite his three denials of Jesus, despite the feelings of guilt with which his conscience would have been plaguing him, Peter has a strong, underlying confidence: Jesus knows that he loves him. And that strong confidence meant that, despite his weakness and failure:

It was Peter who, with John, ran to the empty tomb – John 20:3 – 5.
It was Peter who went into the tomb first – John 20:6.
It was Peter who jumped out of the boat and swam to the shore in his rush to be with Jesus – John 21:4 - 7.

His condemning heart did not keep him away from Jesus in fear and guilt; rather his strong faith in Jesus’ knowledge and understanding of his true heart drew him eagerly towards Jesus.

So John writes: ‘if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’. So, John says, ‘we can set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us’.



What John says is the way we can set our hearts at rest when our hearts condemn us, is the same as what he says is how we know that we belong to the truth: the confidence that God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.

God knows whether or not our love for him and for others is ‘with actions and in truth’, or mere words (3:18). The person who knows God knows this. As John will point out in his next chapter, the person who knows God and knows God’s love has no fear of God’s judgement (4:18). The person who knows God by knowing Jesus Christ – who is our Advocate with the Father, and the atoning sacrifice for our sins – has confidence in the presence of God – confidence of forgiveness, confidence of cleansing from sin and unrighteousness, as John has stressed earlier in this letter.

This was true of Peter, who, despite his failure, knew both Jesus Christ and his love. But it was not true of Judas who, though he associated with Jesus and the other disciples, did not really know Jesus Christ, and did not have faith in Jesus Christ (read John 6:64, 70,71). Peter’s conscience accused him, but it did not drive him to despair; it made him run to Jesus because he really did know and believe in Jesus. Judas’ conscience also accused him, but, uninstructed and unaided by knowledge of Christ and trust in Christ, it drove him to despair.

So John says: we know that we belong to the truth when the destructive accusations of our accusing hearts (regardless of their cause) are silenced by the truth: by our knowledge of God and of the salvation he has given us in Christ.

John’s reassurance here is a repetition of his earlier reassurance:

‘If anybody does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father - Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins...’ – 2:1,2.

‘This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, is how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything’ – 3:19, 20.

Our sins, our self-condemnation, might suggest to us that we are not saved, that we do not ‘belong to the truth’, but God knows differently. He knows us. He knows that we love him. He knows what he has accomplished for us through the work of Jesus Christ.

C.1 ‘If our hearts do not condemn us ...’ – 3:21 – 22
John has, right through his letter, positively identified those who believe in Jesus Christ. He says that Christians are people who:

Have fellowship with God (with the Father and with the Son) – 1:3, 6.
Are, walk or live in the light – 1:7; 2:9, 10.
Are purified from sin and unrighteousness – 1:7, 9; 3:5.
Are forgiven – 1:9; 2:12.
Know God – 2:3, 13, 14.
Are, live, remain, continue ‘in him’ (‘in the Son and in the Father’) – 2:5, 24, 28; 3:6.
Have overcome the evil one – 2:13, 14.
Have an anointing from the Holy One – 2:20, 27.
Know the truth – 2:20, 21.
Are promised eternal life – 2:25.
Are taught all things by the ‘anointing’ – 2:27.
Are greatly loved by the Father – 3:1.
Are ‘children of God’ – 3:1, 2, 10.
Are born of God – 3:9.
Have passed from death to life – 3:14.
Belong to the truth – 3:19.

This truth to which we belong, this light in which we live and walk, teaches us not only about ourselves (that we are sinners who sin), but also about Jesus Christ – who he is, what he has done for us. And in knowing him we also know God. This knowledge of God the Father revealed in the person and work of God the Son, means that even though our hearts condemn us, we know that God does not condemn us. The truth, the light, in which we live and walk, relieves us of the condemnation, because God has diverted it all onto his Son.

The truth tells us: The blood of Jesus cleanses us from ‘all unrighteousness’ (1:9). As we saw in section B.4 of Study 6, ‘unrighteousness’ is legal guilt, the opposite of legal innocence. Paul referred to this removal of our legal guilt as ‘justification’ – being ‘justified by faith’, and as ‘a righteousness from God’. This declaration of legal acquittal stills the anxious thoughts of our self-condemning hearts. When we remember this, even though our hearts may be right in condemning us, the condemnation ceases. We who have come to Christ rest from our burden of guilt and condemnation. Knowing that we are acquitted, justified by faith, we have peace with God, for we know that he has made peace through the blood of his Son (Romans 5:1; Colossians 1:20).

To believe otherwise, to live outside of this truth, to try to live with on-going self-condemnation, would be to walk in the darkness from which the gospel has redeemed us. To believe otherwise would be to deny the Son and the Father.

What do these verses say about this freedom from accusation in which the believer lives?
Matthew 11:28 – 30


Romans 8:31 – 34


Hebrews 9:9 – 14


Hebrews 10:1 – 10


Hebrews 10:19 – 22


In these verses we learn:

[1] That when we come to Jesus and learn from him we ‘find rest for our souls’ (Matthew 11).

[2] That all accusations and condemnation are outlawed by the work of Jesus God’s Son. No one, not even our own heart, has the legal right to bring any charge against those whom God has justified. No one, not even our own heart, has the legal right to condemn those for whom Christ died, and for whom Christ is the Advocate with God. It is, in fact, the height of arrogance to presume the right to accuse or condemn those who belong to Christ who bore the condemnation (Romans 8).

[3] The Old Testament sacrifices could not cleanse the conscience of those who offered them, but the blood of Jesus cleanses our consciences, setting us free to serve God (Hebrews 9).

[4] It was impossible for the Old Testament offerings of the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins; but through the once-for-all sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ we have been made holy (Hebrews 10).

[5] Because of Christ’s death and advocacy we have confidence to draw near to God, to enter the very presence of God, without inhibition, without prohibition - without the barrier caused by our sin (Hebrews 10).

And so John wrote: ‘... if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God’ (3:21). This freedom from condemnation, this confidence in God’s presence, does not arise because we are without sin (John has outlawed that possibility in 1:8 – 10). It arises from the truth about Jesus Christ that we have heard and that we have received. It is part of walking in the light; it is part of being, living, continuing ‘in him’.



The freedom from condemnation that we have in Christ means that ‘we have confidence before God’. Instead of standing in his presence with all of our sin and guilt upon us, we stand before him ‘in Christ’, acquitted of our guilt, clothed in his righteousness. This is the light, this is the truth, in which we live.

This confidence is seen at a number of levels.

D.1 Prayer – 3:22 – 23
It would be easy to think that John has written an open cheque when he says that we ‘receive from him anything we ask’. But in 5:14 he puts a limit on this ‘anything’ by stating ‘if we ask anything according to his will he hears us ...’

John also puts a boundary around this ‘anything’ when, in verse 22, he states that the reason we will receive from God ‘anything we ask’ is ‘because we obey his commands and do what pleases him,’ and then explains that there are two commands that we, as believers in Christ, obey:

To believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and
To love one another.

If we are obeying these two commands that define believers, then our prayers will all be in line with these two commands – we will be praying only for those things which uphold and honour the name of God’s Son, and we will be praying only for those things that are consistent with love for one another.

John thus modifies the ‘anything’ with three boundaries:

Petitions that God grants are in keeping with God’s will (5:14).
Petitions that God grants are in keeping with God’s honour, God’s name (3:23).
Petitions that God grants are in keeping with his kingdom principle of love (3:23).

Read these texts. How do they demonstrate these three boundaries?
Matthew 6:9, 10


Luke 18:18 – 23


Matthew 26:36 – 46


In these texts:

In the Lord’s prayer, in the first three petitions we commit ourselves to the honour of God’s name, to God’s will and to God’s kingdom. Having stated these priorities, we cannot then pray for anything contrary to these priorities.

The rich ruler sought eternal life, but he did not get it. He did not submit to the authority of Jesus Christ (he did not believe in his name), and he did not prioritise the kingdom principle of love for others. He prioritized himself, both in his request for personal eternal life, in his refusal to obey Christ, and in his inability to give away his wealth. He broke the two commands listed by John in 3:23.

Jesus, on the other hand, despite his personal desire to avoid the impending suffering, submitted himself to the will of God, prioritizing both the will of God and love for us.

D.2 We keep God’s command – 3:23
John says that the reason we have confidence before God is ‘because we obey his commands and do what pleases him’, which sounds like a contradiction of the Gospel of grace. But then John clarifies his meaning: ‘And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us’ (3:23).

The first, to believe in the name of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, is the one critical thing apart from which we are still separated from God, banned from his presence, and under his judgement. Apart from Christ we do not have ‘life’, we are not ‘saved’.

What do these texts say about this one, essential belief?
John 8:24

Romans 10:9

1John 5:12


The second, to love one another as he commanded us, is, as we have already seen in John’s letter, and as we will see again, the evidence of the first: those who believe in the name of Jesus Christ will love another. A life that is not characterised by love is a denial of any claim to believe in Jesus Christ, any claim to be ‘in him’. [John will have much more to say about love in chapter 4.]

D.3 We are in Christ and Christ is in us – 3:24
Those who believe in Christ, with genuine faith that is validated by love, are participants in a mutual indwelling: they ‘live in him, and he in them’. The word translated ‘live’ is meno which we have noted previously is variously translated ‘live’, ‘continue’, ‘remain’. Previously, using this word, John has referred to believers living ‘in him’ (2:6; 3:6), living ‘in the light’ (2:10), remaining ‘in the Son and in the Father’ (2:24), continuing ‘in him’ (2:28).

Now he adds an additional truth, which he will repeat in chapter 4, that God lives in us.

John has already alluded to this amazing truth that God lives in us, in his references to the ‘anointing’ which those who believe in Christ have received (2:20, 27). Now, having stated it clearly, he confirms it by saying ‘And this is how we know that he lives (meno) in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us’ (3:24).

What did Jesus teach about this mutual indwelling?
John 14:15 – 24


John 15:1 – 10


John 17:20 – 25


What does the New Testament teach about the confidence communicated by the indwelling Spirit of God?
Romans 8:14 – 16

1Corinthians 2:10 – 16

2Corinthians 1:21 – 22

2Corinthians 5:4 – 6

Galatians 4:4 – 7

Ephesians 1:13, 14

God has made us his dwelling place (1Corinthians 3:16; 6:19), and he is our dwelling place. He lives in us, and we live in him. This is true of every person who has, in truth, believed in the name of God’s Son. This is, or should be, the confidence of every believer.

But the false teaching had not only undermined the truth; in undermining the truth it had also undermined the believers’ confidence. Our next study looks at John’s second direct exposure of the contemporary ‘antichrist’.