Sermon: 1 John 5:13-21
That You May Know
April 9, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
The content of the opening verse seems to indicate that John is beginning the formal conclusion to his letter. It is typical of a conclusion to have the subject matter jump around somewhat as the author presents his final thoughts and recaps his main message. Consequently it makes it difficult to outline very succinctly. The general outline that I have used for this journey through 1 John had this section under the theme – third time – of “obeying God.” This again is the test of obedience – genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands. However, while obedience is referred to implicitly in today’s text (somewhat explicitly in vs. 18), this is a bit of a weak point in the overall outline. There were actually more explicit references to obedience in last week’s text and I preached on that theme then, so while the outline suggests otherwise, obedience will not be the central theme to this message.
Instead, we see in our text for today a number of affirmations of truth that John wants his readers to grasp and hold onto. As he concludes, he wants these things firmly imbedded in their hearts and minds, so – “that you may know.” The word “know” is used by John 7 times in these verses, so confidence, assurance and certainty of truth are the themes for today. This passage teaches: You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John. So what are the things that John wants us to know?
First: Confidence in eternal life and answered prayer (1-3). John writes: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life.” This is one of, if not the main, purposes that John gives for writing this letter. I quoted this way back in the introduction to 1 John as one of the key purpose statements in the book. The fact that it comes near the end suggests the importance of it to John’s entire purpose. This verse closely parallels John’s statement in the gospel of John 20:31 – “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.”
The possibility of knowing that we have eternal life is a key to the Christian life and hope. We can have assurance about this, and this is what the whole letter is about – what are the things that give us this assurance – that we may know – with all confidence and certainty. John gives us the answer to these questions through the use of tests (more about that later).
Another kind of confidence we can have is when we approach God in prayer. This confidence is this – “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 requests - ESV) what we asked of him.” Wow! It’s hard to wrap your mind around that statement, isn’t it? The first thing we need to clarify is that the Greek word translated as “hears” does not mean simply to be listened to, but to be heard favourably. God doesn’t just hear our words, he hears us with the ear of a listening Father who desires the best for His children.
The key, however, to approaching God and having our prayers answered is stated in a condition – “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” So the next time you pray for a new Harley, it is unlikely that your prayer will be answered – unless, of course, that is God’s will for you. Anything we pray out of our own selfish desires will not be answered – and he knows the motives of our hearts. Praying according to his will is praying in an attitude that submits our wills to Gods. Prayer is not an attempt to try to bend God’s will to ours, but to surrender our will to his. This is the environment of prayer that he promises to answer. The last part of verse 15 is a stunning statement: (ESV) “whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.” That is written in the terms of a “done deal!” That when we pray according to God’s will, we can have confidence that we have what we asked for.
But, you may be wondering, I have prayed many times for something I believed was according to his will – as far as I could ascertain. I even surrendered my will to his – but I never received an answer. This experience is where this verse gets really difficult – and I don’t pretend to have an answer. I did find this quote which may help our understanding – “That our petition is answered is not dependant on whether or not we have personally observed the answer – some answers to prayer are observed immediately, others later, and some are not recognized in our lifetime.” So the prayer is granted, but we may have to wait or we may even never observe/experience the answer. This would make some sense out of the statement of John’s.
We should quickly recall that John had already declared another aspect to having confidence in our prayers being answered – back in 3:22. There he says that we can have confidence to receive what we asked for “because we obey his commands and do what is pleasing to him.” So we learn from 1 John that obedience and asking “according to his will” are keys to having our prayers answered and having the confidence to approach God.
Second: Prayer for sin (vs. 16-17). These two verses seem to be a digression by John – they don’t fit the theme about “knowing” – the word doesn’t occur - although they do continue the subject of prayer. To be honest, if I didn’t have some good commentaries, I wouldn’t have a clue what John is talking about here. Even after reading the commentaries, I don’t think anyone can say for sure what these verses refer to. What is the “sin that leads to death”, and the “sin that does not lead to death?” Honest commentators say, “We don’t know, John doesn’t say.”
No doubt, the context would’ve provided the answer. The people to whom this is written probably understood exactly what John was referring to, but it remains a mystery to us today. Usually, a sin that would lead to death would involve some form of ongoing, willful, unrepentant sin – a kind of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.” In the context of this letter, John may be referring to the false teachers who have abandoned the key tenets of the faith as well as the congregation. He already referred to them as “antichrists’ earlier! He is not inviting his readers to pray for such people because they have willfully rejected Christ and are lost.
But to those whose sin does not lead to death, he exhorts his followers to pray for them, and God would hear that prayer and give them life – forgiveness. Stott writes: “The way to deal with sin in the congregation is to pray. And God hears such prayer.” However, John reminds us that “All wrongdoing (wickedness, evil) is sin.” That some sin does not lead to death does not sanitize it, or minimize it.
Three: Three certainties (vs. 18 – 20). John ends his letter with three statements of affirmation, meant to edify his readers, “that you may know,” - notice that each of verses 18, 19 and 20 begin with the words “We know.” (Stott) “Here are no tentative, hesitant suggestions, but bold, dogmatic affirmations which are beyond all dispute and which neatly summarize truths already introduced in earlier parts of the letter.” The certainties are these:
*We know someone born of God does not continue to sin. This does not mean that a Christian never sins, we all know that, but that Christians do not sin habitually or “live in sin.” And while the believer cannot attain perfection, we ought to be growing in Christ-likeness and sinlessness –and sin should even become abnormal to us. This life quest of “putting away our old self” is the evidence that we have been truly born of God – and that His Spirit is at work in us.
The reason we do not continue to sin is that “the one who has been born of God keeps him safe (protected), and the evil one cannot harm him. This brings up an interesting question as to who is “the one who has been born of God?” (Discuss textual variant: himself better). This little variation totally changes the meaning of John’s statement – it is the believer himself who is doing the keeping himself safe, not God. Those who have been born of God do not go on sinning because they are careful to “keep themselves” (guard themselves) from sinning, and as a result the evil one cannot harm (touch) them.
So, how do we keep ourselves? The answer is found in Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. (Marty) “If we want to win the battle of the flesh – and that is the heart of spiritual warfare (armour) – we have to stop feeding the flesh. We have to let it starve.” Instead, fill yourself with the things of God. In this translation of the text, we are called to be vigilant to keep (guard) ourselves from sin. When we do this, we guard ourselves from the power of Satan. When we choose sin, we become vulnerable to his attacks and open up avenues to his devious ways.
* We know we are God’s children separated from the world. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” This is NT teaching – that Satan has dominion over this world – temporarily. We see in the book of Revelation the confirmation of this – Rev. 12: 7-10; 12. We also see in this verse that there is a sharp distinction between the saved and unsaved. As believers we are the children of God, the rest of the world is under the control and influence of the devil – there is no other options, no middle ground. And because He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world, we can overcome (4:4)
* We know that Jesus is the Son of God who helps us understand what is true. “We know that the Son of God has come” – affirmation of divine incarnation – and he has provided us with understanding that we may know Him who is true. Who is “Him” referring to here? God, the Father, revealed to us through His Son Jesus Christ – he is the one true God and eternal life.
Fourth: A final exhortation (vs. 21). John ends his letter strangely, abruptly. He does address his readers pastorally as “Dear children,” but then tersely says, “keep yourselves from idols.” What is interesting is that he has not referred to idols in the whole letter up to this point. In the same way we are to “keep” ourselves from sin (18), we are to “keep” ourselves from idols. We are as tempted as Israel was to run after idols – what are the idols we are tempted by today? We can’t live in idolatry and expect to have eternal life in Jesus.
You may know assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer if you heed the clearly presented message of First John. I want to end today with a short review “That You May Know” the message we have been considering over the past few months:
- Purposes stated:
-We write this to make our joy complete (1:4)
- I write this to you so that you will not sin (2:1)
- 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. (5: 13)
- Overall theme/question: “How to Know You’re a Believer?”
- Content Outline: Three themes repeated three times – often in the form of a test:
- Obeying God – The test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands.
- Loving one another – The Test of Love – Genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each another.
- Knowing the truth about Jesus – The test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus.
- It is offered to some as a message of warning and to some as a message of assurance.
OUTLINE – 1 JOHN
* Prologue / Introduction – 1: 1-4
* I. Obeying God #1 – 1:5 – 2:6. The Test of Obedience – Genuine believers are obedient to Christ’s commands.
A. No Darkness at All – 1: 5-10
B. The Test of Obedience – 2: 1-6
* II. Loving One Another #1 – 2: 7-17. The Test of Love - Genuine believers are characterized by a practical love for each another.
A. The Test of Love – 2: 7-11
B. A Dangerous Love – 2: 12-17
* III. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #1 – 2:18-27. The Test of Doctrine – Genuine believers hold certain beliefs about Jesus.
A. The Importance of Knowing the Truth About Jesus.
*IV. Obeying God #2 – 2: 28 – 3:10
A. Confident, But Prepared – 2:28 – 3:10
B. The Incompatibility of Sin – 3: 4-10
* V. Loving One Another #2 – 3: 11-24.
A. The Call to Love One Another – 3: 11-18.
B. Blessed Assurance – 3: 19-24.
* VI. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #2 – 4: 1-6.
A. Testing the Spirits.
* VII. Loving One Another #3 – 4: 7-21.
A. The Necessary Love of the Christian.
* VIII. Knowing the Truth About Jesus #3 – 5: 1-12.
A. What Will You Believe?
* IX. Obeying God #3 – 5: 13-21
A. That You May Know
Sermon: 1 John 5:1-12
What Will You Believe?
April 2, 2017
Pastor Dennis Elhard
As we wind down our journey through the book of 1 John, we come again this morning to the third repetition of a theme we have already visited twice before – that is this: genuine believers hold certain truths about Jesus. It is the test of doctrine. Again, since John has come back to this theme for the third time, it means that he holds this truth – this teaching – to be of utmost importance. In fact, it is critically important to our Christian faith – if Jesus is not the divine Son of God, we’re all really wasting our time here this morning – at best we would be merely a social club for “better/moral living.”
It is apparent that John is beginning his conclusion to his letter at the beginning of chapter 5. The clarity of the outline is not as clear, and he seems to begin to blend his three major themes as brings the letter to conclusion. However, the major theme of this section would seem to fall under the test of doctrine – a tight theological argument for the divinity of Jesus Christ. Who is Jesus is a question that we must all come to terms with, and as I have said before is a question that is under assault in the culture of our day – even within the church – most disturbingly in the church. Here’s a snapshot of what I believe that John through the HS is teaching us today – A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature. The focus of this text is on belief.
First: A belief that Jesus is the Son of God. (vs. 1-5). This section of scripture is interesting in that the word “believes” begins the passage and is also a part of the ending. In between, John revisits all three of the major themes of his letter, and in doing so reveals the essential unity of these themes. A belief that Jesus is the Son of God produces:
* A faith that loves. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Here is a clear statement – to be truly born of God, to be a child of God, one must believe that Jesus is the Messiah – or God’s divine Son. John is unequivocal here – uncompromising. This is very relevant today. Many people, when asked whether they are Christians, will respond, “Sure, I believe in God.” But belief in God will not bring about a new birth. One must believe that Jesus is the Messiah and one must act on that belief by acknowledging him as their Lord.
“And everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” This is a well understood general principle. And what is true of the human family is also true of the divine. When we love the parents, we will typically love their children as well. In the same way, those who love God – our spiritual Father, will also love his spiritual children - our brothers and sisters in the faith. This verse may also reflect the idea that children bear their parents nature. (Love)
Verse 2 begins with John’s familiar language of testing – “This is how we know.” Here is the test of “how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands.” Even as someone cannot love God without loving God’s children, so also it is impossible to truly love the children of God (one another) without also loving God. The construction of this sentence comes as somewhat of a surprise. And what is interesting is that the order of this sentence can be re-arranged and it still speaks truth. For instance we can say that this is how we know we love God: by carrying out his commands and loving one another (God’s children). Or this is how we carry out his commands: by loving God and loving his children. It works all three ways – while there are subtle differences in meaning, the fact that they are interchangeable reveals how interwoven the concepts really are. So we see that a belief that Jesus is the Messiah produces a love for God and a love for his children (one another).
* A faith that obeys. “This is love for God: to obey his commandments.” How do you know that you love God? Is it based on warm and emotional feelings for Him? No! You know that you love God; you show that you love God, by obeying his commands. Jesus repeated this truth in various ways a half a dozen times in the 14th and 15th chapters of the gospel of John. Do you love God this morning? The simple answer to that question is found entirely in our obedience to his commands (Phil’s question). Don’t say you love God and then continue to willfully live in sin – because you are revealing very clearing that you don’t, in fact, love God.
John goes on to say that God’s commands are not “burdensome” – (gr. weighty, crushing). The Jewish law had become a burden – it controlled virtually every aspect of one’s life. Jesus said that his yoke was light by comparison; however, while His commands are not burdensome, they are not necessarily easy. However, if we are born of God we have within us both the power and possibility of keeping His commands. In fact, living according to his commands, which is the life of love, becomes our delight (“I love your law; it is life to me”), and the commands of God bring us the freedom and the liberty we long for. They are the pathway to the good life, to the abundant life.
“Loving God and obeying his commands have always gone together. To think otherwise is deception.” There is a modern deception in many churches today that suggests to speak of the need for obedience from the pulpit is legalism (legalism police). The effect is that they have rid the church of a healthy focus on God’s commands. It’s all about grace; we don’t need to do anything because any attempt to please God is nothing but legalism. I see it all the time; I’ve read some of the books, let me tell you this morning, it’s a crock, and a denial of Christ’s very commission to the church: “Go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” We need to cultivate a faith that obeys - not to earn our salvation, but to give evidence of it.
* A faith that overcomes. The fact that God’s commands are not burdensome means that everyone born of God (spiritual new birth) can overcome the world – its lusts and its corruption. And the victory that we have in overcoming the world is through our faith. So who is it that overcomes the world? The argument comes full circle back to belief. Those who overcome the world are those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and are born of God.
It’s not coincidental that John talks about faith and keeping his commands in the same context. (Marty) “Faith in Jesus will lead to a life that shows it... We must understand that biblical faith involves a commitment to Jesus, not just intellectual belief. It involves the confession ‘Jesus is Lord,’ not simply, ‘I accept Jesus as my personal Saviour’.”
In this section that is focused on faith, John brings together the three themes he has systematically repeated in this letter: The necessary belief that Jesus is the Son of God, the need to love God by obeying his commandments, and the call to love God’s children in the same way we love the Father. Belief, love and obedience are the marks of the new birth in Jesus.
Second: A belief in the testimony about Jesus (vs. 6-12). John’s declaration that Jesus is the Son of God at the close of verse 5 continues into this section for the purpose of providing testimony to this fact. He is confronting the false teachers who have been denying the divinity of Jesus and his incarnation. To them he offers testimony to substantiate his claims.
* The testimony of the water and blood. This has been a hotly debated text for centuries. What is the meaning of the water and the blood, and how do they testify? (Cerinthus teaching) Most commentators think that the water is a reference to Jesus’ baptism where the Spirit came upon him in the form of a dove and the Father’s voice from heaven affirmed Jesus as God’s Son. The blood is a reference to the cross and gives testimony to his humanness and death – the two framing the beginning and ending of his ministry. However the main point of both references is to uphold the full incarnation –that Jesus Christ was the divine Son of God who came to earth and took on the form of a man and walked among us.
*The testimony of the Spirit. The Spirit gave testimony to the Sonship of Jesus at his baptism – as I already mentioned. Stott also suggests that John “appears to be referring to the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, who opens our eyes to see the truth that is in Jesus.” It is only through the work of the HS that one can come to recognize the truth about Jesus – without his revelation it all appears as foolishness to the natural man. The Spirit, the water and the blood all testify and all are in agreement about the true identity of Jesus and of his incarnation.
*The testimony of God. The testimony of God, John argues, is much greater than the testimony of men – which we generally accept. God has testified about his Son (baptism, transfiguration), and through His Word and prophets. Anyone who believes knows this in their hearts, but those who do not believe this testimony about His Son are in effect calling God a liar. John cannot allow that one can profess belief in God and yet reject God’s own testimony of His Son. The divinity of Jesus that John was writing about was based on the testimony of eyewitnesses.
In verse 11 and 12, the testimony is defined: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” Believing in God is not the key issue in salvation; he who has the Son is the one who has eternal life. So I ask you this morning, do you have the Son? Much testimony has been given for you and I to believe in the Son of God, who died on a cross for our salvation and so we could receive eternal life.
So you might be thinking, “I believe that Jesus is the Son of God,” why did I need to hear this message? Let me just say that this message, this truth, is under attack in our world today, and I believe that the voices will only grow stronger, so we need to have this truth firmly planted in our hearts and minds. The divinity of Jesus is continually being brought into question everywhere. A few years ago, a gathering called the “Jesus Seminar” met in order to study the “historical” Jesus. Most of their conclusions were preposterous. They concluded that only a small percentage (20-30%) of the gospel accounts were actually historically accurate - the rest had been made-up fill-ins by Jesus’ followers in the hundred or so years after Christ’s death. Of course they denied the historical truth of the miracles, and anything that pointed to Jesus as the divine Son of God. At the time, the whole thing got a fair amount of press in regards to its “groundbreaking “work. This is typical of what is called “scholarship” in NT studies today.
Disturbingly, the divinity of Christ is being attacked in the church. In 1994, The WCC held a conference largely underwritten by the Presbyterian Church that sought to “reimage” God. The cross and the atonement was thrown out for a new theological center – Sophia – a feminized idea of wisdom, which appears in many ways and in many spiritual traditions. South Dakota Indian tribal dances and Zulu rituals were equal contributors for theological reflection. It is most important to note that in this church setting, historic Christology was totally dismantled. The target of the conferees was the cross. Christian teaching on salvation promoted violence, they claimed. A father killing his son is a formula for child abuse. One speaker said, "I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all. I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff… We just need to listen to the god within."
. A genuine follower of the Christian faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God and receives the testimony concerning His divine nature. We need to have this belief solid in our hearts, because the day may come when there will be a cost to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Our message, our belief is one that is exclusive and consequently we run counter to a culture that worships at the altars of tolerance and choice. Did we believe this so thoroughly and so completely that we will pay whatever the cost demanded – even our very lives? May we hold to the truth that has been passed down to us and be overcomers in this fallen world.