1 John 5(13–21)

Verses 13 to 15

Near the end of John’s gospel, he tells us that he wrote his gospel 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. So, John wrote his gospel and recorded for us all the things the Lord Jesus said and did in order that we might believe in him and receive the free gift of eternal life. That’s why he wrote his gospel. And near the end of his first letter, he tells us why he wrote this letter. Why did he write this letter? He tells us in the first verse of today’s passage. Take a look at verse 13. He says to us: ‘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.’ That’s why he’s written this letter. He wrote it so that those who believe in Christ may know that they have eternal life. So, he wrote his gospel so that his readers might believe and have eternal life. And he wrote his letter so that believers might know that they have eternal life. In other words, he wrote this letter to give believer assurance. Or we might even say re-assurance. He wrote the letter to reassure believers about eternal life.

You see, these false teachers, these antichrists, had come along and they had confused the people by the things they taught. The false teachers denied the Lord Jesus. That is, they denied that Jesus is God in the flesh who came into the world as one of us to give up his life to pay for our sins. And it seems they claimed that sin was unimportant and that it was possible to have a relationship with God and to keep on sinning. And so, you can have fellowship with God who is light and still walk along in the darkness of your sins. And it seems they claimed that we are under no obligation to obey God’s commands including his command to love one another. And no doubt they were saying lots of other things which confused the believers and made them doubt their salvation. And we can imagine the believers, thinking to themselves: Do I really have eternal life? Once I was sure, but now I’m not so sure. Now I have doubts in my mind and I’m not really sure what is true and what is false and whether I should listen to these new teachers who have come; or whether I should listen to the message of the apostles. What should I do? Who should I believe? And do I really have eternal life?

And so, John wrote his letter to reassure his readers. Right at the beginning of the letter, he reminded his readers that the apostles heard the Lord Jesus and they saw him with their own eyes and they looked on him and they even touched him with their own hands. And the apostles have now proclaimed what they had seen and heard. They were eye- and ear-witnesses to all that Christ did and said. And that puts the apostles in a far better position than the false teachers. And so, instead of listening to them, instead of listening to the false teachers, John’s readers should listen to him and to the other apostles who saw and heard the Lord Jesus when he was on the earth.

And throughout the letter, John has been saying to his readers that this is how we know we’ve been born again and have eternal life. Do you believe in Jesus? Do you believe he is God in the flesh and that he came to save sinners by giving up his life for them? And do you love God? And do you love God’s people? And are you trying to do what’s right in God’s sight? If you believe in the Lord Jesus and if you love God and if you love his people and if you’re trying to do what’s right in God’s sight then you can be reassured that your salvation is real and that you’ve been born again of the Spirit of God and that you have eternal life. And so, 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. And all those who know they have eternal life know that the grave is not the end, but it’s the doorway into God’s presence where there is perfect peace and rest forever. Just as Christ died and was raised, so all who believe in him will be raised from the dead to live forever. That’s the hope that we receive whenever we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of the world.

And not only do we have eternal life, but we also have confidence when we pray. I’m now looking at verse 14. The NIV omits the word ‘and’ at the beginning of this verse, which is unfortunate, because John is saying that he wrote this letter to you who believe so that you may know that you have eternal life and that you may know this confidence when you approach God in prayer. And what is the confidence which believers have when we approach God in prayer? It’s this: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And when he says that God hears us, he means that God pays attention to us and he’ll do what we have asked. People hear us all the time. They hear what we say. They hear our requests. They hear our complaints. But they don’t do anything about it. They listen to us, but perhaps they don’t have the ability to help us, or perhaps they don’t really care. They nod their head and they perhaps say sympathetic things to us. But they don’t help us. But believers have this confidence when we pray according to God’s will: he pays attention to us and he’ll do what we have asked. And we know that’s John’s point because he goes on to say in verse 15 that if we know that he hears us — whatever we ask — we know that we have what we have asked of him.

Of course, this only applies when our prayers are ‘according to his will’. So, he won’t give us what we ask for if our prayers are sinful or foolish. Human parents will not give their children everything their children ask for, because often the child will ask for something which is not suitable for them or which might be harmful. And in a similar way, our loving Heavenly Father will not give us what we ask for if what we ask for is wrong or foolish. And he always knows what’s best for us, doesn’t he? He always knows what’s best for us, because he knows everything about us and he knows what we need and what we don’t need. But this is the confidence believers have: we can approach God in prayer knowing that we’re not coming to someone who hates us and who is reluctant to give us what we ask for. We’re coming to someone who loves us. We’re coming to our loving, heavenly Father who loves to hear the prayers of his children and to answer us.

And so, those who believe know we have eternal life in the presence of God. We can look forward to that. Death is not the end. The grave is not the end. It’s the doorway into God’s presence. That’s what we can look forward to. But as well as that, we know that right now in the here and now we can come into the presence of God in prayer and ask him for what we need.

So, we don’t need to worry about eternity, because we know that we’ll spend eternity with God. And we don’t need to worry about the present, because in the present we can turn to our heavenly Father for whatever we need. And so, the believer doesn’t need to worry about anything at all. In fact, when we go to God in prayer, we don’t even need to worry about asking for the wrong thing, because God will not give us anything which will be bad for us. And all his gifts are good.

Verses 16 and 17

In verses 16 and 17, John continues to write on the theme of prayer, but he’s now talking about a specific kind of prayer. If anyone sees his brother — that is, his Christian brother or sister — commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. And then he goes on to make clear that he’s referring only to sins that do not lead to death, because there is also a sin that leads to death. If someone commits that sin — a sin that leads to death — we’re not to pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, John says, and there is a sin that does not lead to death. And when a fellow believer commits that kind of sin, a sin not leading to death, then pray for that person.

What is the sin that leads to death? No one really knows. If you read the commentaries, there are lots of different options, but no one really knows, because John does not tell us. The most obvious option is that he’s referring to what the Lord Jesus calls blasphemy against the Holy Spirit which is the unforgivable sin. However, the commentators don’t think that John is referring to the same sin here. So, we don’t really know what sin John is referring to. Since the whole letter has been written as a response to what the false teachers were teaching, I suspect the sin that leads to death is something the false teachers were doing. So, the sin that leads to death may be to deny the truth about Christ. And whoever does not believe the truth about Christ will surely die in their sins, unless they repent, because they have not believed in the only Saviour of the world.

However, we don’t really know what the sin that leads to death is. But, in case anyone is worried about some sin you have committed and you’re afraid that it’s the sin that leads to death, then it’s important to remember what John has said before that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. And God is able to forgive us because the Lord Jesus offered himself on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. And that means he suffered the wrath of God in our place for what we have done wrong. He took the blame for us. And because of him we have peace with God. And so, whatever sins you have committed, you can rest in the knowledge that if you’re trusting in Christ as your Saviour, you have been forgiven by God and you will never ever be punished by God, because Christ was punished in your place.

But, having admitted that we don’t really know what the sin is that leads to death, let’s not lose sight of our duty to pray for our fellow believers when we see them commit a sin. That’s the main point of verses 16 and 17 and it’s easy to become distracted by the sin that leads to death. The main point is that we’re to pray for our fellow believer who has committed a sin.

I heard another preacher (Eric Alexander) make the point that sometimes when we see a fellow believe commit a sin, our first response to not to tell God, but to tell it to others. Instead of praying for our fellow believer, we criticise him and we complain about him to other people. Did you hear what so-and-so did? Have you heard what she did? What he did shows what he is really like. So, we criticise one another and we gossip about each other. But what we’re supposed to do is not that. We’re not to talk about it to other people, but we’re to talk about it to God. We’re to pray for our fellow believer who has sinned, asking our Father in heaven to do what is necessary so that our fellow believer will turn from his sin and seek God’s forgiveness. If our fellow believer continues in his sin, who knows where he will end up? And so, we want to ask our Heavenly Father to do what is necessary so that our fellow believer will return to the Father. That’s what you’re to do for your fellow believer who sins. Just as Christ our Saviour is interceding for us in heaven, so we’re to intercede for one another here on earth.

Verses 18 to 21

And so, we’re to pray for one another. And in the final verses of John’s letter, he tells us about three things we know and one thing we’re to avoid.

In verse 18 he says that 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. Notice that he refers firstly to ‘anyone born of God’ and then he refers to ‘one who was born of God’. He’s referring first to believers and then to the Lord Jesus.

Believers are those who have been born of God. God the Spirit came into their lives to make them new and to enable them to turn from their sin in repentance and to trust in the Saviour for salvation. And so, they began to live a new life as one of God’s children in the world. And since they are God’s children, what they want to do more than anything else in all the world is to obey their Heavenly Father. They want to obey him, because he’s their Father and they love him and they’re grateful for all that he has done for them. And so, anyone who has been born of God does not continue to sin. That is, they no longer make a practice of sinning. They no longer want to sin. Before they were born of God, sinning came naturally to them and they did not mind it or worry about it. But now that they have been born again and are God’s children, they hate it when they disobey their Father in heaven and they want to obey him and to honour him in all they do and say.

So, believers are those who have been born of God and they no longer want to sin. And then, the one who was born of God is the Lord Jesus. And John says that he keeps believers safe and the evil one cannot harm us. The evil one is the Devil. And the Devil attacks us with his wicked schemes by which he tries to lead us astray and by which he tries to crush our faith. And in the context of this letter, which is all about the false teachers, then John is perhaps thinking of how the Devil tries to lead us away from the true gospel. And so, John is reassuring his readers that the Lord Jesus Christ himself will keep us safe from the Devil’s wicked schemes and from being led astray by the false teaching of the false teachers.

And then in verse 19 he says that we know that we are children of God and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. Throughout his letter, he’s told us the marks of God’s children. God’s children, those who have been born again, believe in the Lord Jesus and they love God and they love God’s people and they want to obey God. Those are the marks of God’s children. And God’s children are under God’s fatherly protection. He watches over us and he hears our prayers and he helps us.

On the other hand, the whole unbelieving world is under the control of the Devil. And that’s a highly significant thing for John to say, because those who don’t believe think they’re free, don’t they? They think: No one is going to tell me what to do. And they think they’re free to make up their own minds and they’re free to do whatever they like. They think they’re free. But they’re not free. They’re enslaved. They’re enslaved to Satan and he gets them to do his will in the world. They think they’re free, but it’s all an illusion, because they are under his evil influence. He’s blinded their minds to keep them from believing. And having blinded their minds to keep them from believing, he can get them to do whatever he wants. Those who don’t believe think they are free. But they’re not. They’re under the evil influence of the Devil.

But do you remember that passage in Luke’s gospel when the Lord Jesus went into the synagogue and read from the book of Isaiah? He read:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to …

What?

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.

And after reading those things, the Lord rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and he said to the people, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ It was fulfilled, because he had come to proclaim freedom from Satan’s tyranny and to release us from the Devil’s grip. And the way to be freed from Satan’s tyranny is to believe in Jesus Christ the Saviour.

And then in verse 20 John says that we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. That is, so that we may know God. Christmas is getting closer and closer. And, of course, what’s Christmas all about? It’s all about the coming of the Son of God. God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, came down to earth as one of us and was born in that stable in Bethlehem. And he came, not only to free us from Satan’s tyranny, but to give us understanding so that we may know God.

People have always known about God. Isn’t that Paul’s point in Romans 1? Paul says that since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. God’s creation — the world around us — tells us about God’s glory. And so, people have always known about God and if you read, for instance, the writings of ancient Greek philosophers, they write about God and what he’s like. People have always known about God. But the Son of God came into the world so that we may know God; so that we may know him personally; so that we may know him as our God; so that you may know him as your God.

And our relationship to him and to Jesus Christ his Son is so close that John refers to it as being ‘in him’. We are ‘in him who is true’ and we are ‘in his Son Jesus Christ’, who, along with the Father and the Spirit, is true God and the source of our eternal life. So, the Son of God came into the world so that we may know God; and so that you may be in such a close relationship to him that it can be described as being ‘in him’.

And so, God is not a stranger to us. We know him personally and we know him as our Father; and we know we can talk to him in prayer and seek his help; and we can pray to him for our fellow believers; and we can rely on him to keep us safe from the evil one and from false teachers who try to lead us astray. If it were not for Christ, we would be cut off from God and from his help; and we would be under the control of the evil one. But Christ has set us free and he’s brought us into the family of God.

Those are the three things we know, according to John. We know that anyone who has been born of God does not continue to sin, because they want to do the Father’s will. And we know that we are God’s children, and Christ has set us free from Satan’s tyranny. And we know that God the Son came so that we may know God as our God. And right at the end of his letter, John instructs us to keep ourselves from idols. When you hear the word ‘idol’ you’re maybe thinking of a carved image or a statue which someone bows before in worship. But an idol is anything more important to you than God. It might be a thing you possess. It might be a person you know. It might be something like power or success or wealth or happiness. It’s what we love and trust and obey more than God. And by instructing us to keep ourselves from idols, John means we’re to make sure that we love, trust and obey God above all other things.

And here’s the thing. Why would we love, trust and obey anything other than God? The God we’re to love, trust and obey is the God who sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for sins and to suffer in our place the wrath of God which we deserve for all that we have done wrong. And he’s the God who sent his Spirit into our lives to give us the new birth and to make us his children through faith in his Son. And he’s the God who promises to hear our prayers and to help us and to protect us and to give us eternal life in his presence when Christ the Saviour comes again. Why would we ever love, trust and obey anyone else but this God? And so, that’s what you should do. You should love him. You should trust him. And you should obey him always.