Confidence in God

1 John 5:13–21

Editor’s Note: This concludes the series on the First Epistle of John, which began in the March/April 2013 issue. In our next issue, David Levy will begin a series on the Second Epistle of John.

Some Christians lack assurance that they are truly born again. Certainty about one’s salvation comes through knowing what God’s Word teaches. The apostle John’s major focus in this epistle was to build confidence within believers so that they would know what they believed and understand that it was true.

In 1 John 5:13–21, the final section of this letter, John used the same Greek word for “know” six times (vv. 13, 15, 18, 19, 20). Know does not mean knowledge gained through experience but, rather, an inner certainty acquired from studying God’s Word.

He concluded his letter by reviewing and reinforcing the principles of truth that God the Father revealed through the incarnate Christ so that Christians might live out their faith, confident in what they believe.

The Christian’s Position
The apostle began with assurance of salvation: “These things I have written to you who believe in [into] the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (v. 13). John was not merely referring to what he wrote in verses 1 through 12 but to the entire epistle. Many scholars consider verse 13 a summary of the letter. At the beginning of the epistle he used the present tense: “we write to you” (1:4). In 5:13 he stated, “I have written to you,” looking back at having completed his writing.

His purpose was “that you may know that you have eternal life.” That is, an inner assurance of salvation that is grounded and anchored in Scripture, rather than based on feelings.

The preposition translated “in” means “into” in the Greek. It speaks not only of believing there was a historical Jesus, but also of accepting Him by faith as the divine Son of God—which contradicted the heretical teachers in John’s day who denied Christ’s deity.

The Christian’s Prayer
John addressed the issue of Christians praying with confidence to God:

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, 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 the petitions that we have asked of Him (vv. 14–15).

The word confidence assures believers they can come to God in prayer frankly and without hesitancy, based on the union and intimate relationship they have with the Father through Jesus Christ (cf. 1:3).

A believer has freedom to ask God at any time for “anything” that is “according to His will” and purpose and can be sure He hears the “petitions.” God’s answers might come immediately or after days or years. Sometimes they come after the believer is with the Lord. But God will answer. Petitions must glorify Him, be scriptural, and seek God’s will.

John abruptly changed the subject from praying for oneself to praying for a sinning brother in Christ:

If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that (5:16).

The word if refers to a hypothetical situation. The verse reveals nothing about the one praying or the sinner and his sin (only that the sin does not lead to death). John emphasized the importance and obligation of praying for a Christian who sins.

As a result of praying, “he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death” (v. 16). Here is a wonderful illustration of God working through prayer that is in accordance with His will. It is expected that the one interceding will pray that His fellow Christian sees the error of his ways and confesses his sin to God.

Such praying activates God to answer. God responds by giving “life” to the sinner. The word life does not refer to regeneration because the sinner did not lose his salvation. Rather, it refers to spiritual restoration (revival of spiritual life) and a renewed commitment to live for Christ.

Three times John spoke of “a sin which does not lead to death” (vv. 16–17), and he referred once to a “sin leading to death” (v. 16). What is the “sin leading to death”?

Some scholars teach this sin is punished through immediate physical death, as with Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1–11). Death is also associated with incest (1 Cor. 5:5) and profaning the Lord’s Supper (11:30).

Other scholars believe the “sin leading to death” applies to false teachers who reject Christ and separate from the church, cutting themselves off  from any possibility of forgiveness of sin. Thus they will die in their sin without hope of salvation.

Unfortunately, John did not identify the sin leading to death. It may be a particular sin or a state of sin. It most likely is a sin committed continually until it culminates in the sinner’s death.

The apostle did not prohibit prayer for someone committing a sin leading to death, but there is no obligation to pray for one in this circumstance: “I do not say that he should pray about that” (1 Jn. 5:16).

The subject of prayer concludes with the statement, “All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death” (v. 17). All departures from God’s standard of righteousness are sinful and have consequences. Believers should pray for a sinning Christian who is willing to be restored, whose sin does not lead to death.

The Christian’s Privilege
John concluded this epistle by reminding readers of four certainties they possess as Christians. All begin with the phrase we know (vv. 18–20), referring to knowledge acquired through Scripture.

(1) The Christian’s Practice. “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him” (v. 18). This verse does not mean a born-again person never sins.

Rather, it means Christians do not habitually live in sin. Christ gives them power through the indwelling Holy Spirit to forsake habitual sin. Surviving Satan’s onslaughts does not depend on one’s self-effort alone. God enables Christians to be victorious over the Devil. Though he continually attacks, Christians are secure in Christ.

(2) The Christian’s Protection. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one” (v. 19). John stressed that his confidence was not in himself but in God, who provides an inner witness through both the Holy Spirit and new birth. Believers know they belong to God, who protects and delivers them from the penalty of sin, the power of Satan, and this world’s evil system.

In contrast, “the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one [Satan].” The world’s unsaved people are in Satan’s grip, without the assistance to resist him. Satan tyrannically controls the unsaved in this world. He orchestrates all the evil expressed in and through them, especially their rebellion and hatred of God.

(3) The Christian’s Perception. “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding” (v. 20). Again, John reminded believers that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God who appeared in history as the incarnate God-Man. Though He is not physically present in bodily form today, He is spiritually present in ministry.

Christians possess an abiding mental and spiritual ability to understand the incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and the advocacy of the Lord through the Holy Spirit who indwells them. The purpose for this revelation is to provide experiential and personal knowledge of “Him who is true,” (v. 20) that is, real and genuine truth concerning Jesus Christ (cf. Jn. 14:6). Knowing Christ, believers can discern the error of false teachers and know how to refute and reject their lies.

(4) The Christian’s Priority. “That we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life” (1 Jn. 5:20). A Christian’s knowledge is a result of his union with the Lord because “we are in Him” (God the Father and Jesus Christ). No one can know God and be in Him without a personal, born-again relationship with Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is not God as the Father is God, then John’s entire epistle about Christ’s redemptive work is futile, and our belief is in vain. However, such is not the case; and this truth is the thesis of John’s epistle. In Christ is both deity and “eternal life.” They are inseparably tied together.

Like an affectionate pastor caring for his flock, John concluded his letter with a warning in the form of a command: “Little children keep yourselves from idols. Amen” (v. 21). Believers are to be alert and vigilant so that they do not commit idolatry when attacked by Satan. God will do His part to keep His children from idols; but they must exercise effort, too, like an armed guard. Victory is won by being filled with the Holy Spirit and walking moment by moment under His controlling power.

To what type of idolatry did John refer? Some scholars say literal idols were prevalent in paganism during John’s day. Others teach the word idols should be interpreted more broadly, referring to anything that takes the place of God in one’s life. It well could be that John had false doctrines and false teachers in mind because he cautioned against them throughout the epistle.

It is my prayer you will study John’s epistle frequently and apply to your life the truths you have received in these articles on 1 John.

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