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The IVP New Testament Commentary Series – Reassuring Confidence in Prayer (3:21-22)
Reassuring Confidence in Prayer (3:21-22)

But, in fact, the Elder expects that their hearts will not condemn them. He does not want Christians to dwell in the realm of anxiety and doubt, but rather to be assured of their relationship with God and so to be instilled with con fidence. The words if our hearts do not condemn us do not imply that Christians never fail or fall short, much less that they are unaware of such failings. Indeed, the necessity of confession (1:8, 10) implies their full awareness of sin. But sin is no barrier to our having confidence if we come to God in confession, and even at those times, when our assurance is perhaps lowest, we can come confidently, since our advocate is Jesus Christ himself (2:1-2).

Just as boldness and confidence characterize children who make re quests of their parents, so too boldness and confidence are to distinguish the children of God as they approach God in prayer. The Elder speaks of this boldness in the strongest possible language when he states that we receive from [God] anything we ask. Similar promises are found in 5:14-15 and in the Gospel of John (14:13; 15:7, 16; 16:23, 26). Typically these promises have some sort of qualification: asking in Jesus' name (Jn 14:13; 16:23, 26) or according to God's will (1 Jn 5:14), abiding in Jesus (Jn 15:7, 16) and keeping the commandments (1 Jn 3:21). In some sense, certain "conditions" must be met for us to be given anything we ask. But what is the nature of these conditions?

What all these "conditions" (praying in Jesus' name, doing God's will, abiding in Jesus) have in common is that they are expressions in the life of the believer of an already existing relationship of love between God and the believer. They are not conditions that one must strive to meet with the hope of getting a hearing with God. Thus to pray "in Jesus' name" means that prayers are offered through the mediation or interces sion of Jesus (2:1-2). Prayer according to God's will (5:14) is prayer that understands what is pleasing to God (3:20) and makes its petitions accordingly. The present verse assures us that our prayers are answered because we obey his commands and do what pleases him. And by now it is apparent in 1 John that "obeying his commands" is not a prerequisite to fellowship with God, but rather the manifestation of that fellowship.

We do not come to God as strangers pleading for special favors, but as those whom God calls "children." Just as requests and petitions com prise much of the language of children to their parents, so petitionary prayer constitutes much of the address of Christians to their heavenly Father. When we are told that we receive . . . anything we ask, we are not promised that every item on our wish list will be granted to us. We are, rather, reminded of the intimate bond that we have with God, a bond that makes it possible for us to bring our petitions to God at all. For petition does not bring about intimacy, confidence and trust; rather, intimacy and trust elicit petition. We can bring our requests to God with confidence because we indeed belong to the truth: we belong to God.

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