1 John 5.13-21
Have you ever wondered why studying theology is important? Do you think that it should be relegated to the classroom? Why would one care about such things when we are called to action? I hope to convince and encourage you with the truth that theology is extremely important for daily life. In fact, you already live your life "theologically." The crucial point for the Christian is to ensure that we are thinking and living correctly according to God's Word. And before your eyes glaze over and you tune me out because I mention words like "theology," let me also suggest that you might actually find that you will be excited about this text - and about theology.
This morning, we conclude our study in the epistle of 1 John. It has been a fascinating study (for me at least). I hope that you also have benefitted from this portion of God's Word. To recount, we noted that John has set out to do two things primarily - to point out to his readers the false teachings from those who had departed from their midst and to encourage those who remain by providing assurance of their relationship to God.
In this pursuit, John refers to three tests in order to make distinctions. He uses doctrinal tests surrounding the person and work of Jesus Christ. And it is belief in this Jesus Christ, our obedience to his commands, and our love for our brothers and sisters that will demonstrate that we are in relationship with God. It is not based on "empty" confession, but our actions will confirm our confession. And, for the false teachers, the obedience and love were absent. But for those who remained, John says that their actions should encourage them because they confirmed their relationship to Christ.
And now John concludes his letter. Largely, John sums up much of the letter. And in so doing, he will ground all of his remarks based upon what they know. Something that I want to continue to emphasize is that "right living requires right thinking." Note that it is possible to think correctly without living correctly. Somebody can pass a theological exam and not follow through with obedience. But we cannot live properly without thinking properly.
We are in 1 John 5.13-21 this morning. Please turn there with me. And we will read it before examining God's Word together. READ.
We will look at this final portion of the letter in four points. First point is the Theology of Assurance. Can we be assured that we are saved by God? And are truly his children? I will begin and end with this line of questions. Would your understanding of the assurance of salvation change (or maybe confirm) your perspective on life? How you view circumstances and struggles with sins? Would it provide hope for you and encourage you? I think and hope that you would respond with "yes."
Let's investigate the Theology of Assurance. We see this in the opening verse and the concluding verses - verses 13 and 18-20.
Many of these verses will include John's saying that "we know." Did you hear it as we read it together? I find it quite interesting that it is now fashionable to speak words without conviction. In other words, it somehow is perceived as humility if we speak indefinitively, offering opinion, asking questions, and (whatever you do) do not promote absolutes or indicate that someone else may be wrong.
It is true that in this lifetime we will never have complete knowledge. We will have eternity to learn more of our great God and his ways. This goal in unachievable here and now. However, God has given us his Word in order to communicate with us. And in his Word is the expectation that we will understand it and obey it. One of the primary directives it to teach and preach God's message to mankind. If we are so "humble" to not declare anything with certainty, what does that say of God? Either he is not able to communicate effectively or he is not to be taken seriously.
The apostle John was convinced that God had given him the authority to proclaim truth confidently. And in this section it is clear that he believes in objectivity. And that will be demonstrated in his numerous references to "we know." I find this tremendously encouraging that we can "know" truth about God.
Let's begin in verse 13. In this verse, John points out the reason that he has written this letter. And I believe that when he says that he writes "these things," he is referring to the entire content of his letter. Some of you may recall something similar that he had written in his Gospel. Do you remember that he did the same thing there? In John 20.31, he says "but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." John's gospel was written evangelistically (that people may believe). John's epistle was written to those who do believe. "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God.
From elsewhere we know that salvation is only to be found in the Son of God - Jesus alone. Despite outside pressures and strong temptations to be more inclusive, God alone determines how people may be reconciled to him. Jesus said that he was the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father, but by him. In the Book of Acts, Luke records the words of the apostle Peter as he was filled with the Holy Spirit saying that "there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved." To believe in the "name" of Jesus is to believe in his full person - all that the name stands for. In fact, this is what much of this letter is about - a correct understanding of the person and work of Jesus. He is God come in the flesh to save people from their sins.
And so John says here also that to those who believe in the name of the Son of God, you may know that you have eternal life. Remember that he desires to encourage his readers in their Christian walk. He has stated previously that "And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments" (2.3). "We know that awe have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers" (3.14)." In so doing, John wants his readers to be confident in Christ and not to listen to the false teachers who were trying to deceive them into thinking differently. The false teachers did not believe in the name of the Son of God because they denied some of his core attributes. They had fabricated a god in their own image and likeness and not believed in a biblical Jesus.
One commentator notes that "It was his [John's] readers who manifested the authentic marks of those who have eternal life: they were the ones who continued in the teaching first proclaimed by the eyewitnesses; they were the ones who continued to obey the commands of the Lord; and they were the ones who loved the children of God, which is the essential mark of those who have eternal life." Do these things characterize your life also? If not, do a reassessment of your confession. If they do, be encouraged that you can know that you possess eternal life and not eternal death.
Note also that John says that we already have eternal life. We may often think that eternal life is something that will be granted when we breathe our last breath. But the reality is that the believer in Jesus Christ presently possesses life eternal.
Look now at verse 18. John writes that "We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him." I want to first focus in on the last part of this verse. Do you hear the assurance in this phrase? "he who was born of God protects him and the evil one does not touch him." Whereas John's first reference to "born of God" refers to the Christian - the one who has believed in Jesus, the latter one speaks to Jesus himself. And he uses a verb tense here (aorist) to speak to a specific event in history - namely the incarnation of Jesus.
John says that Jesus protects that one who has trusted in him. What better hands can you find yourself in? And this concept of the believer's protection is found elsewhere. Perhaps you remember Jesus' lengthy high priestly prayer in John's Gospel when he recalls to the Father: "While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled (John 17.12).
And from the apostle Peter we read, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Pet. 1.3-5). And remember the words from Jude who wrote, "Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy" (Jude 24).
And when it is God who keeps and protects, the evil one is powerless to change the believer's position with God. Do you remember a chapter earlier? "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" (4.4). And so we have assurance that not even the most powerful of enemies can jeopardize our salvation.
Now look down to verse 19. John again begins with "we know." We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. It's one or the other. You either belong to God or to his enemy. John's use of "the world", as you probably know by now, refers to the human society that is antagonistic to God and his people. Regarding this, John Stott says that "the world is not pictured as struggling vigorously to be free but as quietly lying, perhaps even unconsciously asleep, in the embrace of Satan." (cf. John 12.31; 14.30; 16.11)
Verse 20 says "we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. We know that we belong to him precisely because he has given us understanding. The gospel and Christianity make no sense unless we are given understanding into it. Paul has said that the message of the cross is foolishness to those perishing. But for those being saved it is the power of God. He goes on to say that we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Gentiles, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1 Cor. 1.18ff) And because we have been given understanding by him, we know that he is true. In fact, we are in him who is true. We are in Christ Jesus.
So, again the question: If we are assured that we are in Christ, protected by him (from even Satan), assured of eternal life with him, how does this affect you personally? Practically? This is essentially the gospel. We have been granted eternal life in Jesus Christ because he died for our sins and earned God's favor for us by our faith in him. No longer do we need to strive to earn favor with God. Unbelievers and believers alike continue to think that it is in our works that we gain some merit before God. The gospel says that you can do nothing to merit this. But for the believer, it is because Jesus has.
So now, the believer lives a life of obedience because he is already accepted by God and will remain accepted by him for all of eternity. Our salvation does not rely on our performance. We do not need to feel the weight of guilt any longer. Can you see how the gospel eliminates both pride and despair? We cannot earn God's favor and become proud. And yet because Jesus earned God's favor for us, we do not have to obsess about whether or not we work to keep our salvation. It is only by grace that all of this is possible. So, you performance-driven perfectionists out there - rest in his grace.
But we do have to balance this out. Our very brief second point is Theology of Sanctification. This could be a sermon unto itself; however, I will limit the discussion proportionate to John's argument here. Refer back to verse 18 with me. We already concluded that Jesus protects the one who is born of God - the Christian. Notice the outworking of the one who is part of the family of God. John says that the Christian does not keep on sinning. This is because of our position with him. Do you see that? To continue in ongoing sinful patterns would demonstrate that you are not born of God, Jesus does not protect you, and you remain with the Enemy.
But when we are born of God, we have understanding regarding our sin and the ability to grow in our faith - otherwise known as "sanctification." Apart from Jesus, we are unable. Paul says in Ephesians 2 that without Christ, we are 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. He goes on to say that we merely follow our sinful desires. We are helpless in this condition. But God made us alive and raised us and saved us by his grace through faith. Suddenly we have the Spirit of God residing within us and convicting us of sin and empowering us to live victoriously over sin. Not completely - but gradually and progressively.
Let me ask this: Does the understanding that the Holy Spirit residing within you and Jesus protecting you... Does this affect the way that you view sinful temptations and respond to sinful temptations in your life? The times you are tempted to lie or lust or gossip or act selfishly or proud, or give in to the fear of man, do you come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit? And do you realize that in the time of temptation, you are under no obligation to give in to it?? One of the greatest and most practical promises in Scripture is found in 1 Corinthians 10.13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."
If we truly believe God's Word, we would readily admit that we do not live up to the potential that resides within us. I am not advocating some new age concept here. I am challenging us to consider the resources we have when we are in Christ. Because we know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. Let's live as though we believed that this were true. Can you imagine if we would all do away with the fear that affects us? We often fear our fellow man and the Enemy. We are children of God! And he has given us everything that we need to live lives of obedience and holiness for his glory. Joel Beeke has said that "Assurance that does not lead to a holier walk is false assurance." I think that the apostle John would agree.
Let's look next at a Theology of Prayer. Back up to verses 14 and following. John says that "this is the confidence that we have toward him that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him."
So, what does all that mean? Perhaps it means that because we are children of God that he will give us whatever we want. And we can claim this promise every time we pray and be assured that we have all these things that we've asked for. No. However, too often Christians find themselves reacting so strongly against a "name it and claim it" approach that we find ourselves not praying in faith for anything. I will admit that in my own life I had reacted too strongly against such teaching. And I have been overcautious in my requests and perhaps even unbelieving that God would answer them. So, of course we want to know what a biblical approach to praying in faith is - here according to the apostle John.
John certainly indicates that because we have trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, we have a confidence with God. Our position with him has changed. We have gone from being enemies under his wrath to his very children. And what dad does not want his child to approach him and communicate with him? But he also includes criteria in this bold promise. What is it? We have confidence toward God in prayer with regard to those things that are according to his will. I'm not convinced that it is God's will that I would own a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda with a 426 hemi and a four-speed transmission, or a bigger house, or even an easy comfortable life.
So, our pursuit for a more accurate and effective prayer life must be accomplished only as we determine his will. If God has called us to confidence in prayer (even guaranteeing their results), surely we must pursue this with all diligence! As we know, we are not left to a mystical or random approach to discern God's will for us. He has revealed these things to us in his Word. There are things that we can be certain that he will answer. We know that it is God's will for us to grow in our faith. We know that we are called to pray for workers for the harvest. We know that it is God's will that the church persevere in faithfulness. Do you want a more effective prayer life? Immerse yourself in the Word of God!! Misguided prayers do not have the promise of answers - only those who find their fulfillment in God's will.
Smalley writes, “The fundamental characteristic of all truly Christian intercession is that the will of the person who offers prayer should coincide with God’s will.” This does not mean that if a believer is sincere God will answer his prayer. Sometimes our desires are not God’s desires for us. Sometimes what we want is not what our heavenly Father wills. Faith will accept that God’s will is best, and it will trust his plan and purpose, even if it does not understand at the time."
This is the tough part, isn't it? We know that it is God's will that many come to faith. And yet, we don't know whom? Sometimes it’s not those for whom we pray most vigorously. And sometimes it is!! Sometimes it isn't God's will to take away cancer. And yet sometimes it is through the cancer that the gospel is declared most powerfully and people trust Christ. Faith accepts that God's will is best. Charles Spurgeon said, "Brethren, if there be a God, and if this Book be his Word, if God be true, prayer must be answered; and let us on our knees go to the sacred engagement as to a work of real efficacy.”
In verse 16, John moves into a more specific form of prayer - intercession for fellow believers. He writes, "If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life - to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that." What is all that about? Let's break this down a bit.
First, John includes the understanding that if someone should see a fellow believer sinning, it should cause us to pray for that person. Note that he does not refer to speculation, but an observable sinning. That's important. It is also noteworthy that John does not communicate this is a command, but a future indicative. In other words, he says that this is just what Christians should be doing. Too often the tendency in the church may be to condemn and judge before praying. This does not mean that there may also be more tangible forms of discipline and restoration. But shouldn't we first pray? Don't we most want restoration and reconciliation?
Recall the similarities from James letter. He writes, "My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins." Here it is said that our asking for the repentance of a sinning brother is restorative and "life-giving." What a gracious act when we are inclined to pray fervently for one another - even in one's sinning.
This is a sin that does not lead to death. John goes on to say that there is sin that leads to death. And I think that the best understanding of this is the sin of "unbelief." This sin is a state rather than an act. In Scripture there is no one specific act people do which results in death, but there is a state of sin, of being in rebellion against God, which John elsewhere calls remaining in death.
The sin that leads to death is likely a specific reference to the false teachers that he is addressing. These were people who denied that Jesus is the Christ come in the flesh, and also deny the significance of the atonement. This would mean that they place themselves outside the sphere of forgiveness, and their sins become sins unto death.
A bit of an ambiguous statement is the one here where John says "There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. There is biblical precedent to withhold from praying for those who sins are so repugnant. Jeremiah records God's words regarding the situation of the nation of Israel. Jesus himself also indicated that he was praying for believers, but not for the world. I believe the best understanding in our context is that John is not saying that one should not pray for such people. Rather, he was rather doubtful that this be a prayer that would be answered affirmatively.
And to conclude this thought and to clear up any potential accusations to a soft approach on sin, he indicates that all wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. The point John makes in these few verses is not to trip over the "sin leading to death" but to encourage believers to pray for those whose sin "is not to death."
The last point I want us to look at this morning is Theology of Worship. And we see this at the conclusion of the letter. Verse 20 and 21 read, "And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols." An interesting conclusion for sure.
Verse 20 includes the word "true" three times in rapid succession. As already mentioned, to be "in Christ" who is true is indicative of the believer who enjoys communion with God. Jesus is the mediator not only of the knowledge of God but also of intimate fellowship with him. John calls his readers to remember what and who is true. Jesus Christ alone is the true God and eternal life - despite what the detractors were saying. He tells them to cling to truth!
And, by way of contrast, John concludes with the compassionate and pastoral command to his little children. "In light of the truth that is in Jesus alone, don't follow after that which isn't true - those idols..." Reject the false and embrace the real. And isn't this true as well today. You may argue, "we don't construct idols and bow down to them like they did then." And my response is "you better believe we do." For sure, they do not appear the same as they did then. But we embrace ideologies that serve as our idols. We worship idols of careers, money, sex, relationships, recreation, and comfort. Anything that supplants the supremacy of God in our lives is, by definition, an idol. God said that we should have no other gods before him. So, does this have any relevance today??
Paul makes the connection also in Ephesians 5, "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. And in Colossians 3.5, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry."
God alone is deserving of our worship and he warns strongly against idolatry. The question I often ask myself is, "why would we go anywhere else for satisfaction that only he can provide." The ultimate fulfillment of joy is found only in him. Let's not settle for anything less. And let us also remember that we are now children of God and called to love and obey his commands to us.
With great repetition and intensity, the apostle John has set out a very helpful letter to help us discern what true Christianity looks like. This provides us with the opportunity to examine ourselves and also to be encouraged in our faithfulness to Christ.
Robert Law sums it up like this: "With St. John the grounds of assurance are ethical, not emotional; objective, not subjective; plain and tangible, not microscopic and elusive. They are three, or rather, they are a trinity: Belief, Righteousness, Love. By his belief in Christ, his keeping God’s commandments, and his love to the brethren, a Christian man is recognized and recognizes himself as begotten of God." Let's pray.