1 JOHN – SERIES : NR 15
Scripture : 1 John 5 : 13 – 21
Theme : Reassurance!
From 1:1 – 5:12 the Apostle John had only one long argument:
He is warning the churches to whom he is writing about certain people who had been part of the churches before but began to follow certain false doctrine and heresy and then broke away from the churches. They continued however to pester the members of the churches and confuse them. Consequently, the people began to doubt their salvation. “Can it be that I am a child of the Lord?”
The Apostle is warning, therefore (on the one hand) against the falsehood, but (on the other hand) he wanted to reassure the church members of their salvation.
Important for all Christians to have the assurance of their salvation. And they CAN have it. Because assurance of salvation is not anchored in anything inside a person. It is anchored OUTSIDE the person in God’s promises and God’s faithfulness. That which is WRITTEN and that which Christ perfectly did on the cross, THAT is the anchor of our assurance.
Listen for example to a verse like John 1:12 > “Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God…”
Here in verse 13 of our passage of Scripture, the Apostle John is saying what the purpose of his letter is in so many words.
READ VERSE 13 AGAIN
The words SO THAT surely indicate the PURPOSE of his letter. And KNOW means to have assurance!
“I write these things to you (not all people) who believe in the Name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you HAVE eternal life (now already)!”
In other words: Upon what should the Christians build the assurance of their salvation? Answer: Upon that which is written. Upon what is written in this letter. Upon all the Scriptures (not only 1 John). NOT upon their feelings. But on what God has said.
If someone reliable sends you a WhatsApp message and says: “I am coming to have tea with you on Tuesday at 4 o’clock”, then you immediately have the assurance that the person will turn up at 4 o’clock and you start making preparations and look forward to it. Where does that assurance come from? You believe that person’s promise which he/she wrote black on white. The trustworthy person’s WORD is your assurance! It is not a feeling inside yourself. He/she said so. And I believe it. And the assurance which I have automatically produces fruit: I make preparations and see that I am at home. The assurance spontaneously leads to action.
The trustworthy WORD of God is my assurance that I – who began to trust upon Jesus’s death on the cross – have eternal life already. He is saying so in His Word black on white: Whoever started to build heart-assurance upon Jesus’s death on the cross (belief in His Name) HAVE the eternal life! And the fact that His “WhatsApp“ is my assurance, spontaneously leads to action.
Verses 13-21 of chapter 5 does not have the same tone/style as the foregoing 1:1 – 5:12. Because the Apostle’s main argument and His discourse against the false prophets are concluded. All that remains is a couple of closing remarks about the requirements within the specific churches in Ephesus to whom he is writing. They need encouragement. And he wraps the encouragement up in several assurances.
He assures them that they certainly have eternal life. He assures them that God answers their prayers. He assures them that God shall keep them safe from a life of continuous sin. He assures them that they do know the truth.
Come let us walk through these assurances verse by verse. We have already looked at verse 13. Next verse 14 and the rest.
READ VERSE 14 AGAIN
Just think about this: Whoever has eternal life and assurance about it, also has great confidence to approach God in prayer. Not a hope-so attitude, but confidence! The word in the original means: freedom of speech. Like the people in a democracy can freely express their opinion about something. The Christian can go to the Lord in prayer in a similar way.
There is just no better way to pray than over an open Bible. Meaning, to pray that which the Scriptures say black-on-white. To pray it back to God. Scripture and prayer should walk hand in hand. That way one is praying according to the will of God. And if you pray His will, you are heard. That is the explicit promise of verse 14.
Verse 15 confirms that.
READ VERSE 15 AGAIN
Excellent verse and wonderful truth.
Of course, prayer is not only about ASKING. But in this specific verse, is about ASKING.
If the Christian-believer ASK something that is the will of God according to Scripture, then you RECEIVE it and you can KNOW that you have received it – even though there is no visible sign or realization or feeling that you have received it. If the Scriptures say this-and-that is the will of God and you pray about it, then the matter is settled. You know with assurance that you have received it because this verse says so, and God keeps His word.
READ VERSE 15 AGAIN
Practical example: Do the Scriptures say that you must accept Jesus Christ as personal Deliverer and Saviour? Yes! Where? John 1:12.
Therefore if you pray – with your finger on that Scripture – placing your trust upon Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, what has happened? Answer: God says that you have become a child of God. How do you know that? Must you be able to feel it? Must you wait for a thrill? No, you believe the word of God that says – whatever we ask according to His will, we know that we have what we asked of Him!
The same applies to something like the fulfillment of the Holy Spirit. Is it the will of God that I should be under the control of the Holy Spirit? Yes. How do I know that? Eph 5:18. Therefore if I pray to be filled with the Holy Spirit, what do I receive? Answer: The fulfillment of the Holy Spirit. How do I know that? Because He says that – if whatever we ask is according to His will, we shall receive what we ask for!
Verses 16 & 17 now give one practical example of praying according to the will of God.
READ VERSES 16-17 AGAIN
Naturally, they are not of the easiest verses to understand. It is clear that the first readers knew exactly what the Apostle meant and that is why he does not explain, but we in 2021 must ponder it a while. Fortunately one cannot err by taking the context into account. There are two contexts: The context of the letter itself and the broader context of the entire NT. Indeed the golden rule is: The Scriptures explain the Scriptures! If you come up against difficult passages, then there will be other passages that will cast light on them.
Prayer does not first focus upon oneself, but on other people, says the Holy Spirit through the apostolic pen. It is the will of the Lord to pray for other people. Particularly to pray for their salvation. With “brother” in this instance is not meant fellow-believer, but something like “neighbor“. The person who is prayed for, do not yet have life (in Greek it does not say “eternal life”, but just “life”). God may give that person life.
In other words, you may know of someone who does not know the Lord and who is living in sin and you pray that he/she may receive life. To pray for the salvation of people is within the will of the Lord, therefore God certainly shall hear our prayer.
But some for whom you are praying, are not saved and are lost in the end – their end is death. God does NOT give them life – even though you have pleaded for their salvation. Your intercession – in their case – was – by your judgment –in vain. In this case, also, you have prayed within the will of God and He did hear – though he answered that He does not give such a person life. That is what Jesus calls the “sin against the Holy Spirit“ – where a person perseveres right to the end with resistance against Christ and eventually dies in that state (See Matt 12: 31-32). If we compare Scripture with Scripture, then there is only one sin that leads to death (become lost) and that is to not be subject to Christ.
By nature, all people sin against the Holy Spirit. Not one single person will turn to God for salvation unless God decides to give you life. Excepting the giving of life, all people shall continue to sin against the Holy Spirit until their death – the sin that leads to death – which is not to repent and begin to trust and hope in Christ! It is only the giving-of-life that checks you on that road and makes you turn around.
Some people, therefore, continue to do THAT which they have done since their birth until the end of their earthly life – committing the sin which leads to death. And that sin is to persist in unrepentant unbelief.
There is only ONE sin that leads to death – and that is to remain unrepentant until your dying moment. EVERYONE does it by nature and will continue with it UNLESS God gives life to some. The giving-of-life causes repentance and faith in Jesus Christ in that person. That is exactly what has to be prayed for.
However, if God does not give life, that person will persevere in the sin against the Holy Spirit until death and receive eternal death. THAT too is an answer to prayer. And here of course the Apostle has the false preachers/Gnostics – lead by Cerinthius – in mind. They are busy sinning against the Holy Spirit.
People who commit the sin that does not lead to death – are therefore people who commit the sin that leads to death – who have been forgiven/pardoned by God and to whom He gave life.
People who commit the sin that leads to death – are people who commit the sin that leads to death – and whom God – in absolute righteousness – leave in that state and to whom He does not give life. Indeed He is not obliged to anyone for their salvation.
Believers, therefore, pray for unsaved people. It is the will of God. In the case of some, it is as though there is no prayer at all because the person does not come to life.
The praying believer should therefore know: The will of God is ABOVE everything. For some, you will pray and they will receive life. For others, you will pray and they move on towards death, and to you, it seems like a prayer to no purpose. But it is not. Because the Lord’s will shall be done and He uses your prayer towards it.
The Apostle is therefore NOT saying that the pray-er must decide who is committing what sin and which sin can be forgiven and which not. And when you judge that THIS and THAT thing which a person does, is unforgivable, then you might as well stop your intercession, because what is the good of it?! No, immediately one can hear that such a thing is contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures.
No, John is saying: Pray for the unsaved people, but accept that not all people will come to life. Do not imagine that it is your intercession that is so wonderful and powerful. In some instances, it will seem to you as if your prayer is in vain. But be assured: The Lord’s will is always triumphant. He, therefore, does NOT say: Do not pray for so-and-so! But He does say: Know in advance that not everyone will receive life.
But now what about Christ-believers who still sin? Are they also approaching death? John is aware that – concerning what he has just said, it is a question that can plague true Christians.
READ VERSE 18 AGAIN
This is a repeat of what John already said in the letter: Anyone born of God (to whom He has given life) does not continue in a pattern/lifestyle of sin. Note the verb-tense of “does not continue to sin”. It, therefore, does not talk about sinless perfection, but about a lifestyle of sin that does not exist any longer. Sin does not rule any longer.
In other words: The person who is born of God (received life from Him) does not live in sin that leads to death any longer (verses 16-17). Someone who lives in sin against the Holy Spirit, is living in a lifestyle of sin and is not even aware of it and certainly does not worry about it. But with someone who is born of God, that lifestyle has been broken.
And even more: The Lord Jesus keeps such a person safe. And more: Satan does not have a hold on him/her any longer.
That does not mean that everything will always be moonlight and roses and that Satan will no longer pester such a person. But the eternal destination of the born-again person is guaranteed and sure. He/she is kept safe and Satan does not have hold any longer. Jesus promises in John 10:28: “No one can snatch them out of my hand, because My Father is greater than all”.
It is therefore very clear that there is a huge difference between people to whom God has given life (on the one hand) and the rest of the world that is caught up in the sin against the Holy Spirit. One cannot mistake it.
READ VERSE 19 AGAIN
The person to whom God had given life, has an inner unshakable assurance: I KNOW THAT I BELONG TO GOD. I do not belong to myself or the world system any longer, but I belong to my faithful Saviour (Heidelberg Catechism Sunday 1). I am in the mighty hand of God. And the world system is under the control of the devil. So to those who are religious, live good lives, who are good people, but still sin against the Holy Spirit (sin which leads to death): unrepentant and unsaved.
Verse 19 once more differentiates between the ONLY TWO GROUPS of which the entire humanity consists: Those who belong to God in Christ and those who belong to the world system and are in the power of Satan.
The Apostle is almost desperate to make sure that the churches know with full assurance that they are NO LONGER are in the power of evil. Because they are born of God.
It is not an easy matter, because those Christians suffered greatly. Their life in connectedness with Christ brought great hardship. It sometimes really FELT as if evil had power over them.
But John assures them: It is not true. You belong to the Lord. You are INCLUDED in the Lord. Look at verse 20.
READ VERSE 20 AGAIN
Look carefully at what he is saying! It is the most powerful reassurance! We are IN the true God. We are IN His Son Jesus Christ. Take note of the word IN. That means included/hidden. That is the complete opposite of being in the power of the devil.
That is a truth of which the NT is full. The believer is INCLUDED with Jesus. Difficult to understand that. But God has associated/identified the child of the Lord with Christ. Everything about Him COUNTS for the child of the Lord. It is the closest bond imaginable.
And no, Jesus is NOT an ordinary person who has received a special task from God. He IS the true God and eternal life!
READ VERSE 20 b AGAIN
Children of the Lord do not need to be upset about the fact that the whole world is in the power of evil. They can quietly take their refuge in Christ. Because He gave them the insight to understand and to know God. And whoever knows HIM is in the winning team.
But, do not fall for the false Jesus which the false preachers hold up to you. It is idolatry!
READ VERSE 21 AGAIN
WHAT A SENTENCE TO END SUCH A SIGNIFICANT LETTER!
Is it the end of this letter – with this warning?
Yes, it is.
But it is a summary of the main reason why the Apostle wrote this letter. Because if it was not for the influence of Cerinthius and His gang of false preachers on the churches in Ephesus, John would never have written this letter.
With IDOLS he refers here to the false doctrine of the false prophets which is an adulteration of the true Lord which they taught the people. And that is a breaking of the first two commandments of the Law.
Instantly we see HOW serious false doctrine is in the eyes of God. In essence, it is idolatry. And true Christians should flee from that.
1 John summarized in a nutshell:
Are you born-again in Christ?
Then you should:
1 Have the assurance of your salvation
2 Flee from false doctrine
Translated by Marthie Wilson