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. (verse 13 N.I.V.).
As he reaches the end of his epistle, John stresses the word 'know', and he links it with boldness or assurance. There are some who think that such assurance is wrong and they say we can only hope that the New Testament truths are real in our experience, that it is bombastic to say that we know we are saved and have eternal life. But this does not accord with what John is teaching. There is such a thing as real assurance, when one looks away from self and one's own thinking and places trust solely in the Lord Jesus and His redemptive work for us. The tragedy of thinking otherwise can lead only to doubt, and such can go to the end of their life and never be sure even about salvation. If this is so, how can they ever offer any service to the Lord? One cannot be concerned about the salvation of other people when we are not sure of our own.
As John expresses it, we can be certain we have eternal life if we believe in the name of the Son of God, that is, fully trust Christ personally and rest upon what He has accomplished for us.
My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
No merit of my own I claim.
but wholly trust in Jesus' Name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
E. Mote (1797-1879)
The hymn writer expresses this confidence exactly.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: 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 what we asked of Him. (verses 14,15).
This is one of the most important statements in the New Testament regarding prayer. Some verses appear to teach that we can ask anything we like and receive 'yes' for the answer. This is not true, for we may ask unknowingly for something that would harm us, but the Lord is far too loving and too wise to grant such a request. The Lord Jesus taught that if anything was asked in His Name, He would do it (John 14:13,14). Can we ask anything that is wrong for us in His Name, and expect to receive it? Surely not. In the context we are studying, it is the Lord's will that is paramount if we want the answer 'yes' to our prayers. This never varies, and should make us careful in our praying if we want positive answers.
Of course, there is no such thing as unanswered prayer. 'No' is as much an answer as 'yes'. Because we do not get what we ask for from God, it does not mean the prayer has not been answered. It is rather that we have not obtained what we want because God sees fit to say 'no' rather than 'yes', and if we fully trust Him, we shall not complain, knowing that He is too kind to deny us anything that would be for our good. Even the Lord Jesus subjected Himself to the Father's will when He prayed (Matt. 26:42), and ought we to do any less?
If 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. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death. (verses 16,17).
It is a well known fact that there was capital punishment in the Old Testament, and this was due to the judgment of God and not human judgment. It looks as though this still obtained in the period covered by the Acts of the Apostles. As long as Israel existed as a nation before God direct judgment for sin operated. After the laying aside of the nation in unbelief (Acts 28), direct judgment for sin resulting in death apparently ceased. During the Acts, Ananias and Sapphira had their lives taken away because of telling a lie. As someone has said, if such conditions for judgment existed today, the undertaker's work would never cope with the situation. Some Christians in the Corinthian church were judged for abuses at the Lord's Supper and their lives were forfeited. This must have happened countless times since the Acts period, but no such judgment seems to occur now. For such a mortal sin it was useless to pray to escape the penalty.
Apart from this, it was a good thing to pray for a brother who was falling into wrong-doing, for this might cause him to repent. We may remember the occasion when Peter was about to deny His Lord three times, but Christ told him that He had interceded for him. Who knows that, but for this, in the bitterness and shame of his failure, Peter might have committed suicide? So the intercession of a believer for another one who is 'overtaken in a fault' may be the means of delivering him and bringing him back to the Lord by giving him a change of mind.
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. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. (verses 18,19).
The Authorized Version is misleading here; 'We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not'. The first sentence contradicts chapter 1:8 -- 'If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves ... if we confess our sins ...', so it is plainly taught that the believer can and does sin but the Lord forgives the sin if we confess and are cleansed. Again the A.V. teaches the believer can keep himself so the devil is not able to harm him. Professor F.F. Bruce points out here that the Greek construction with the perfect participle passive, refers to every child of God. The expression 'he that was begotten of God' uses the aorist participle passive, and denotes 'the one and only Son of God'. The Revised Standard Version indicates this by capitalizing the pronoun He, referring to Christ. The N.E.B. expresses it, 'it is the Son of God Who keeps him safe and the evil one cannot touch him'. This makes Scriptural sense. The Received Text of the A.V. reads heauton, 'himself', instead of auton, 'him', hence the misleading translation.
Note the present tense 'sinneth' as in 3:4-10 which the N.I.V. rightly renders 'continue to sin'. There is a difference between falling into sin and continually practising sin. The real believer does not do the latter. The N.I.V. would have done better by capitalizing the 'one who was born of God'. Had it read 'One', it would then obviously refer to Christ which is the real meaning. It is the Lord Jesus Who keeps us -- we do not keep ourselves from Satan as the A.V. states. The end of verse 19 refers to the world system which is energized by Satan as we have pointed out. The world itself is God's world, but Satan, the liar and thief that he is, has temporarily seized control. Christ calls him 'the ruler of this world' (John 14:30), but calvary means victory, victory over Satan and his agents, as well as the putting away of sin.
Those who imagine that man can finally put the world right with all its endless problems, do not realize that it is Satan's power they are up against, and he will always have the last word so far as they are concerned. Their work then, however great and sincere it may be, is a lost cause. There is only One Who can defeat him, and He is the Son of God Who said 'all power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth' (Matt. 28:18), and He is the only victor over Satan, sin and death.
We 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.
Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. (verses 20,21).
As he concludes his letter, John reminds his readers of the great foundation truths their faith rests upon, and he does this as we have seen, by stressing what we know. We know that Christ has come in the flesh, 'through water and blood', and has lived, died and risen again for us. He is not some empty phantom as the Satan-deceived Gnostics were teaching. All the way through this epistle, John gives divine facts that sound the death knell to the deceiver's doctrine of gnosticism with all its falsity. And we have a modern gnosticism today which is just as untrue, though Satan gilds it to look like truth and it is this that is enslaving people who reject Christ.
But we as believers have the real thing that lasts eternally, a knowledge of the True One, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And we are in that true One as opposed to the unbelieving world which is in the evil one, Satan. This safe position for the believer is made eternally sure because it has God's almighty power behind it and cannot be broken. The apostle here is going back to the titles he was inspired to give the Lord Jesus at the beginning of his epistle. There He was described as 'the Eternal Life which was with the Father and was made manifest to us'. Here He is 'the true God and Eternal Life'. In John 14:6 He declared Himself to be 'the way, the truth, and the life'. Note He did not say that He had the truth, but that He was the truth. He was and is Truth personified.
John closes his epistle by saying this True One is God, surely as clear a testimony to His deity as anywhere in the Bible. Even if one insists that the True One is the Father under the title God, as some do, John 1:1 insists that the Word was God, so the title True One must equally apply to Christ. What is predicated of the Father is predicated of the Son, so much so that Christ insisted to Philip, 'he that hath seen Me, hath seen the Father'.
Professor C.K. Barrett rightly says in his comment on the first verse of the Gospel of John: 'the deeds and words of Jesus are the deeds and words of God; if this be not true, the book is blasphemous'. The N.E.B. translates the opening verse,
When all things began, the Word already was. The Word dwelt with God, and what God was, the Word was'. Those who deny the deity of Christ, put themselves outside the realm of salvation. The Word of God insists that there is only one Saviour and that Saviour is God --
I, even I, am the LORD; and beside Me there is no Saviour (Isa. 43:11).
No created being can be the Saviour for another created being. Salvation from sin and death is God's task alone which He has never delegated to anyone else. If Christ is not God, then He cannot be the true Saviour, yet He is so described over and over again in the holy Scriptures.
It is a constant charge to us to sift truth from error, by comparing everything with the Word of Truth, the Bible (John 17:17), and having done this, we must constantly hold fast to the truth, no matter whether it is popular or unpopular. Doing this may lead to loneliness, and loneliness is a big test for a believer. Yet we must not forget that we are really not alone, for the Lord Jesus has promised to be with us always and not forsake us.
John's last words to the believers to whom he was writing were, 'Dear children, keep yourselves from idols' (verse 21). At that time there was plenty of idolatry in the pagan temples. This may not have been a temptation to some who had accepted Christ as Saviour and Lord, but the word 'idol' goes wider than material images. The mind can manufacture idols and mental idols are more dangerous than literal ones. The Word insists that the Lord Jesus Christ must have place number one in the believer's life. Colossians 1:18 states, 'that in all things He (Christ) might have the pre-eminence (the first place, literally)'. Anything that has the first place in our lives instead of Christ is an idol and it matters not however good it may appear.
This is a hard lesson for some to learn but it is absolutely essential if we are going to serve the Lord acceptably, and receive His commendation 'Well done, good and faithful servant' (Matt. 25:21,23). In view of this let us refuse all Satan's imitations and substitutes for the Truth of God.