Friday, September 04, 2009

1 John 5:13-21

V13-21 – 13I 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. 14This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him. 16If 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. 17All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. 18We 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. 19We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20We 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. 21Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

John wraps up his letter now, finally giving us his purpose for writing in v13. He also reassures his audience in v14-17, especially in the context of answered prayer. In v18-20, John summarizes three things we know as Christians; and finally, in v21, John gives a concluding exhortation. Let’s look:

First, in v13, John reveals the purpose for his letter. He writes “to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” We could point out John’s reference to the name of Jesus, which he has noted previously in this letter. We could point out the specific audience of believers. Unbelievers aren’t going to get this book; they first need John’s gospel, which was written “that you may believe [or that you may continue to believe] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). John’s gospel was for unbelievers to come to faith and for believers to continue in faith. But 1 John, we take careful note, is for the assurance of salvation, also through faith. It’s a letter that points out three tests of true faith – doctrinal discernment, especially in regards to the Person of Jesus Christ, moral righteousness, or obedience to God’s commands, and relational selflessness, or love for one another. When progress is made in these three areas, growth in the grace and knowledge of Jesus, personal holiness, and loving service to one another, assurance of faith and confidence before God progress as well. We hear the truth from John, we are called to believe the truth, we are called to live the truth, and we are given assurance and confidence as a result.

Next, John reassures us of confidence before God, using the example of prayer. When we pray, “Thy will be done,” John says, “God hears that prayer, and He answers it.” John is so certain that God answers the prayer according to His will (Romans 8:26) that he uses the past tense in v15, effectively saying that it is already done. But Calvin rightly causes us to consider doubt, saying, “Let us, then, bear in mind this declaration of the Apostle, that calling on God is the chief trial of our faith, and that God is not rightly nor in faith called upon except we be fully persuaded that our prayers will not be in vain. For the Apostle denies that those who, being doubtful, hesitate, are endued with faith.” It’s easy to take these verses out of context or to miss the very specific wording and make these verses seem to proclaim a “name it and claim it” or “health and wealth” sort of doctrine, but John is really just saying that God’s will is so certain to happen that it’s as good as already done. And that’s meant to be a reassuring, treasured truth for faith-filled, prayerful believers.

V16-17 are sort of an aside along this same line of confidence in prayer. John gives the example of right intercessory prayer for the brother caught in sin. Even through that, God will forgive the repentant brother. But John gets caught up thinking about the unforgivable sin – the “sin that leads to death” (v16) – and he says not to pray about that. What he means, I think, is that we ought not ask God to forgive the unrepentant, apostate sinner, the one who refuses to accept the gospel message (Mark 3:29). That would not be according to God’s revealed will. Instead, because God can restore as long as there is room for pardon, we ought to pray that God’s kindness would lead that sinner to repentance (Romans 2:4), and then accordingly, that God would forgive the repentant sinner. That would be according to God’s revealed will. In other words, don’t ask God to save someone while allowing them to remain in their stubborn rejection of Jesus and the forgiveness of sins that comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, according to Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone.

Next, in v18-20, John points to three things we know as Christians. First, we are born of God unto holiness, kept safe in Him. If God saves sinners, He has to do it by justifying and sanctifying and glorifying them. If He merely justifies them without making them holy, they’ll never be fit to be in His presence. That’s why the prayer issue mentioned in v16 is so crucial. We are “predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son” (Romans 8:29), and that’s what the rebirth guarantees. As John says, “the evil one cannot harm him.” Calvin says, “Though the faithful indeed fall through the infirmity of the flesh, yet they groan under the burden of sin, loathe themselves, and cease not to fear God.” Interestingly, while enslavement to sin is voluntary, escaping and overcoming require the Holy Spirit to be constantly at work in us. Those who are born again, or born of God from above, will be kept in the fear of God and continually drawn to repentance by the kindness of God.

Second, we are children of God, in a world hostile to God and His children. It’s not a pretty picture from the perspective of “health and wealth” or “worldly success.” But from God’s vantage point, it’s truly a beautiful thing. Calvin says, “As we have been born of God, we ought to strive to prove by our separation from the world, and by the sanctity of our life, that we have not been in vain called to so great all honor. This is an admonition very necessary for all the godly; for wherever they turn their eyes, Satan has his allurements prepared, by which he seeks to draw them away from God. It would then be difficult for them to hold on in their course, were they not so to value their calling as to disregard all the hindrances of the world. Then, in order to be well prepared for the contest, these two things must be borne in mind, that the world is wicked, and that our calling is from God.”

Third, we know Jesus and are in Jesus, who has come and given us understanding. John says that Jesus is “the true God and eternal life” (1 John 1:2; John 17:3). It’s as clear a statement to the divinity of Jesus that you’ll find in Scripture, and it brings the truth of Jesus as God Man in this letter to a climax.

Finally in v21, John closes with an exhortation: "Dear children, keep yourselves from idols." Lacking the context of John's letter, you may find this abrupt closing to be an awkward return to Old Testament troubles of worshiping statues of pagan deities. But John has been teaching against false claims of a Jesus other than the Biblical Jesus, and so this exhortation fits that perfectly. When we make our own Jesus, we engage in idolatry. To deny His virgin birth is idolatry; to deny His complete humanity is idolatry; to deny His complete divinity is idolatry; to deny that He died on the cross is idolatry; to deny His bodily resurrection is idolatry; to think Him Savior but not Lord is idolatry. But to worship the Jesus of Scripture as the true God and eternal life is to "keep yourself from idols."

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