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  • Writer's pictureFather Benjamin von Bredow

Confidence before God.

A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity

June 18, 2023 at Holy Communion

1 John 3:13–24

“Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God” (1 John 3:21). In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. ☩ Amen.

What is the most work you have ever put into a project in order to avoid the project you were supposed to be doing? Even though I hope this is an experience that you can’t relate to, I’d be surprised if there weren’t a few avoidance-motivated workers among us. It’s very common. We tend to think that there are procrastinators and non-procrastinators, but in fact there are just unproductive procrastinators, people who seek pleasure when they should be working, and productive procrastinators, people who work on something else when they should be working.

I am in the latter category. In my office I have a little collection of custom prayer books I designed for myself in grad school while I should have been writing papers.

Avoidance is a form of “bad conscience.“ It’s a way that we respond to our own knowledge, sometimes unconscious knowledge, that there is something unpleasant we have to do or think about or face. Avoidance is what makes us tell everyone around us, and perhaps even ourselves, that “We’re fine—totally fine!“ when in fact we are stressed or upset. We don’t admit that anything is wrong because we are not ready to look at it yet: we avoid.

The Christian message is about the healing that is available to human beings because of Jesus’ life, his death, and his presence with his people. That includes the healing of an uneasy conscience. In our Epistle reading, St John holds out “confidence before God” as a blessing of Christian life (1 John 3:21). The gospel message for today is that, if we are willing to bring ourselves entirely into the presence of God, he will bless us with a confident, easy conscience, even in face of difficult things we may need to address within ourselves: our sins and our hurts.

St John describes what it is like to receive this blessing. When we are confident before God, our hearts are “reassured” (1 John 3:19). We become free from shame and self-accusation because “our heart does not condemn us” (v 21). And when something comes up to disturb our easy conscience—a sin we have committed, a painful thought which tempts us to draw back from God—yet even then we are aware that “God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything” (v 20). We have confidence that nothing can disturb God’s mercy towards us: he already knows everything that troubles our conscience, and his boundless forgiveness is more than enough to overcome it.

When we have the blessing of an easy conscience, we also experience prayer as a joy. We enter prayer easily, and we also feel assured that God has heard our prayers and will bless us with an answer that meets our need—as John puts it, “whatever we ask we receive from him” (v 22). God “abides in us,“ and knowledge of God’s presence remains within us through the work of the Holy Spirit (v 24).

Acquiring this confidence before God is, in fact, what the Christian message is all about. It’s a theme lurking beneath the surface almost everywhere you look. Whenever we pray for “peace,” we are asking for settled conscience. For example: “O Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us thy peace.” We pray for the peace of mind which comes from knowing that our sins have been reconciled by the Lamb of God. We also bless one another with a prayer for peace and for the presence of God in our inmost being: “The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.”

So how do we get confidence before God? Our readings provide two counsels for us if we want to get peace. The first is simple. In the chapter before our Epistle reading, St John says, “Now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming” (1 John 2:28). The instruction is “abide in him.” He instructs us to abide in God as if that were something up to us to do. We are able to seek out God and his peace. I’m reminded of what St James says: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

This takes courage. St John is aware that there are things in our lives which cause us shame. We we are able to take the courageous step of opening the door on the the places in our lives where we don’t want to look, and we can go into that room with God. The first step is painful, but the second step is peaceful.

Second, there’s a word of challenge in our Epistle reading, and it has everything to do with the avoidance which began by discussing. When we persist in doing things that would cause us shame in the presence of God, we will naturally begin to avoid him, and so we lose out on the opportunity for peace.

This is why St John is so concerned with whether or not we keep the commandments. He says that we receive God’s peace “because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him” (v 22). It’s easy to misunderstand this. Peace is not the reward for good behaviour. But keeping the commandments is consistent with God’s peace, whereas disobeying the commandments is a violation of God’s peace. We cannot go on violating the commandments while experiencing God’s presence and God’s peace. One side of that equation has to give.

In psychological terms, this is called “cognitive dissonance.” It occurs when our behaviour is out of step with our beliefs and commitments, and it is often a reason for avoidance. We don’t want to face the fact that we are living in a way that is contrary to our beliefs, so we avoid the issue. We avoid God by not praying, nor engaging in other spiritual disciplines. We find ways to keep our faith only skin-deep so that we never have to face our hypocrisy.

That’s the stern warning from the Epistle: if you want to live in the peace of God, you have to be willing to live in a way that can be brought into the presence of God. You don’t have to be perfect—remember that confidence before God also means confidence that God will forgive and accept—but it is impossible to live persistently in a contradiction. It is impossible to abide in God and abide in sin.

We have the marvellous privilege of reaching out to God and receiving his peace. Bring yourself to him. Lay all the contents of your heart out on the table, and invite God look at it—to look at you, truly and deeply. You will experience peace. It will take courage: courage to open doors you don’t want to open, and courage to leave behind patterns which are keeping you distant from God. But it will be worth it.


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