1 John 5:13-21
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. (1 John 5:13-15)
Unless you’ve been sleeping through First John, you know John has an agenda. This isn’t a chatty little news-letter to catch you up on all the hometown gossip, this is an epistle with a point. John wants you to know that you have eternal life.
In fact, it’s especially interesting to read this passage side by side with his purpose statement in his Gospel. In John 20:31 he writes, “But these are written 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 is written to non-believers, that they might read this testimony of God about his Son, that they might believe in him because of the testimony, and believing receive eternal life.
• This letter, on the other hand, is written to believers – not that they might believe and receive eternal life – but that having believed they may know they have received and be confident they have eternal life.
I’ll have to tell you, after my #1 concern of worldly people who don’t give a flip about God and couldn’t care less about eternal life, comes my #2 concern: Christians who go to bed every night wondering whether God still loves them and question whether they have done enough to make it to heaven.
• Not long ago I saw this license plate: IMHATED How bad must a person feel about himself to announce to the world on a vanity plate, I am hated?
• God writes it across the heavens, he engraves it in our hands, he painted it on the cross in the blood of his only Son: You are loved.
• And John wants us to have that confidence.
• Over the years we’ve battled our religious neighbors over the doctrine of “once saved always saved” to the point that we’ll only grudgingly allow, “if saved barely saved.” I guess we’re afraid if you’re too free in giving away God’s grace that people will take advantage of it.
Confidence in your salvation is not a license to live however you want. Knowing your salvation is secure is a vote of confidence in the Savior who died for you and the God who poured out his grace on you.
There are a lot of forces in this world working to undermine that confidence and tear down that relationship that God is working to build with you. The world chips and scratches and hammers away at it, John talks about the false teachers who claim you can’t know God without their brand of illumination, ultimately it is Satan who is working to destroy what God has created. John wants us to know, absolutely know that we have eternal life.
There is a second confidence that John wants us to have. When we pray, God hears. In fact, John says that “if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” and if he hears us, it’s as good as done. Listen to how John worded that – “whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” John says pray as if God has already answered your prayer. Pray with the kind of confidence that anticipates the answer as a done deal.
That’s part of our problem with prayer. We approach God with this apologetic, weak-kneed attitude that he probably won’t hear me anyway. James had something to say about that – “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:5-7)
Or listen to the writer of Hebrews: “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Heb. 4:16)
Now let’s make sure we hear what John isn’t saying. God isn’t a magical genie in a lamp – you rub the lamp, say the right words and poof – you get anything you ask for. The key to this is that phrase “according to his will.”
Illustration: There is a shrine in the French Pyrenees where people come to pray for healing. A war veteran who had lost a leg made a trip to the shrine to pray. As he hobbled his way along the street to the shrine someone said, "Look at that silly man! Does he think God is going to give him back his leg?" The man overheard the remark and turned towards the speakers and said: "Of course I do not expect God to give me back my leg. I am going to pray to God to help me live without it."
Illustration: John R.W. Stott on prayer: Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or for bending his will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to his. It is by prayer that we seek God’s will, embrace it and align ourselves with it. Every true prayer is a variation on the theme, “your will be done.” (Stott, The Letters of John, p. 188)
Having talked about the power and the effectiveness of prayer, John now calls us to use it – If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (1 John 5:16-17)
Satan leaves victims strewn across the spiritual battlefields in his war against God. Those brothers and sisters who have been maimed and disabled by sin need our prayers. He says if you see a brother in sin, (and the tense here is future – not that you should ask but that you will ask) and God will give him life. It is not John’s command, but the Christian’s inevitable and spontaneous reaction. The way to deal with sin is to pray.
But John makes a distinction here between sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death. Apparently they knew what John was talking about, but you can only imagine what the different biblical scholars and commentators do with this passage.
• Of course, from Tertullian in the 4th century on, this prompted scholars to make lists of major sins and minor sins – some could be forgiven, with others you might as well be packing your asbestos underwear – you could never be forgiven.
• Others will point you to Hebrews 6 where the writer talks about the impossibility of bringing back to repentance those who, having once been enlightened, have fallen away.
• Others talk about Jesus’ condemnation in Matt. 12 of those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit as committing the unforgivable sin.
• Still others point to John’s own letter as naming those false teachers, those antichrists who had rejected Christ and by their “going out from us” showed they were not of us in the first place. They were not apostates, but imposters. Their sin is unto death.
I’ll tell you what – I’m not sure what the sin is that is unto death. I do know that John tells us all wrongdoing is sin and all sin damages our relationship with God. Paul tells us that “the wages of sin are death.” James tells us that “sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”
I’m not wise enough to tell you who has committed this unforgivable sin and thus shouldn’t be prayed for. I don’t know when a person has run so far away from God – their heart so hardened to God – that they are incapable of returning to him. There may be that point when they are beyond hope, when prayer for them becomes useless. I don’t know where that line is.
So, let me make this suggestion – err on the side of praying for too many than too few. Even if there is someone that has crossed that line – bring them before the Father’s merciful throne of grace and let him work it out. Don’t ever underestimate the power of prayer or the lengths to which God’s grace will extend.
John concludes his letter with a powerful series of “we know” statements:
Verse 18: We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. Again, John reminds us to remember whose we are – we are children of God – sin no longer has a place in our life. Sin always damages our relationship with God. It keeps us from experiencing that closeness and intimacy with God that we really desire. Sin is as incompatible with a Christian’s life as drinking engine oil to quench your thirst. Paul says it this way: “we died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”
But John also tells us we are not alone in our battle with sin – it is Jesus, the one born of God who protects us and does battle with Satan on our behalf. When faced with temptation, let Jesus step out and do battle with Satan for you.
Verse 19: We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
John also tells us not to underestimate our opponent. The world is under the control of Satan. And as Peter describes him, Satan is a roaring lion, prowling around “looking for someone to devour.” Do not be complacent in your battle against him. Don’t ever stray far from God.
Verse 20: We know also 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—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.
Jesus has come, and his coming was to reveal God in a new and dynamic way. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples: “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” And he says this God is true, we are in him who is true – and, hold onto your seats – Jesus himself is “the true God and eternal life.” This eternal life that we hunger for is not a place or a time or a state of being – it is a person. When we are in Jesus Christ, then we possess eternal life.
One last note in verse 21: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”
John is not warning them against going down to their local “Idols-R-Us” and picking up a fancy graven image for their mantel piece. He is telling them not to let anything take God’s place in their life.
I’m sure that nobody here considers themselves an idolater. We don’t worship other gods, we don’t offer sacrifices to carved images in our living rooms. But lest you think you’re off the hook, do you remember reading Colossians 3:5 - Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
Paul says greed is idolatry. If you let money rule your life, you’ve made it your idol. Anything that challenges Jesus as the Lord of your life, as the ruler of your priorities -- that controls your schedule, influences your choices, affects your relationships – that is an idol.
And I’m pretty sure there’s something in all of our lives that we have to fight not to let it have that place of priority. And it’s not necessarily something evil and wicked. It might be your job, it might be your recreation. What is it for you that if it competes with God for your time and attention – it will always win? That’s your idol. And John says “keep yourselves from idols.” Don’t let anything become more important or influential in your life than Jesus.
In our Life Journal reading from yesterday, we read Gal. 2:20 – “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
What a statement of complete and absolute commitment to Jesus. Jesus said, “Whoever would be my disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” Who is alive in you and in control of your life?
Have you been crucified with Christ? I’ll have to confess my sinful nature keeps trying to dig its way out of the grave and every day I have to throw another shovelful of dirt to keep him buried. But I want Christ to rule in my life – not money, not an idol, not myself. And so every day I wake up and say, God, today belongs to you – use me however you need to bring glory to your name.
Posted on Sun, November 6, 2011
by John Roberts