Need Assurance? Look Inside Yourself
by Pastor George Van Alstine
John the Apostle is believed by tradition to be the only one of Jesus’ twelve disciples to live to old age and die a natural death. He preached and taught for decades in the western part of what is now Turkey, and he emerged as the key leader in the area. Traditionally, he is believed to have been the first bishop of the great city of Ephesus, and in this role he gave spiritual guidance to all the churches scattered through that region. During a time of persecution under the Roman Emperor Domitian, John was arrested and sent to live in exile on the obscure island of Patmos, which had a large military fortress and a few small villages. It was there that John received his famous apocalyptic visions, recorded in the Biblical Book of Revelation. After his release from exile, John became an even more imposing figure in the early church, inspiring younger believers not to waver in their faith.
His Epistle known in our Bible as First John is a small letter of encouragement to average church members who were having a hard time dealing with persecution. As the pressure continued, they had to face daily ridicule for their belief in Jesus’ promise of Eternal Life. Sometimes doubts would arise and their confidence would waver. It was natural that they would look to their great leader John for support and reassurance. The Epistle of First John is his response.
It’s interesting to note what John didn’t say to them. First, he doesn’t focus on their persecutors, the enemies lined up against them or the power of evil itself. He dismisses all these negative forces with a simple statement:
“Little children, you are from God, and have conquered them; for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (4:4)
Most strikingly, John doesn’t use his rank or long Christian experience as the basis for reassuring them. He doesn’t say, “Trust me, I’ve walked and talked with Jesus as his disciple.” He doesn’t appeal to his authority as bishop or his earned reputation as a survivor of exile. Nor does he appeal to his visions, saying, “God revealed himself to me and told me that he would soon destroy all your enemies with a terrible judgment.”
His message of reassurance is summarized in these few verses:
“By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. . . . There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (4:13-16, 18)
The proof is all in us! Each individual believer, bishop or milk maid, has the source of confidence within, in the presence of God’s Spirit.
A central idea in John’s bold claim of confident faith is embodied in the word love. When we’re going through the ultimate tests of our personal faith, profound rational thinking will not lift our confidence; neither will all the great leaders and elaborate creeds of church history. But love, the love in our own hearts, will enable us to stand firm in the hour of our greatest trial.
This is the word of an old, battle-scarred saint who had lived it in all circumstances: “Don’t trust what you see in me; trust what you see inside yourself!”