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First John

Life in the Family

1 John 5:11-21

There are some troubling passages in this section, if taken out of context. We must remember that this is advice being given to experienced Christians, and thus there are things which are said to warn of dangers which do not exist for new Christians.

The Assurance of Eternal Life

(1 John 5:11-13 NIV) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. {12} He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. {13} 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.

John continues his theme of "testimony" from our last lesson - and tells us the purpose of this witness. That purpose is eternal life.

"Has given"

Note, to begin with, the use of the past tense, as well as the present tense. John is stating a present fact, not one which might happen in the future. Many think that this is simply a promise for future times; John takes it as an accomplished fact. Why?

First, remember that God is eternal. If we are his children, then we are like him - and we should be eternal too. God's eternal nature is not something which can be contained in time.

This does not mean that we shall have no troubles in this life; indeed, we are told that to share the suffering is to share the glory.

We are told, however, that we are just passing through this world. We're living in the tent of this body, waiting for our eternal home.

"In His Son"

There is no suggestion, anywhere, that eternal life is available through anyone other than Jesus. The statement here is phrased in black and white: Do you have the Son? This often puzzles readers. They ask, "What about the pygmy in Africa who's never heard?"

Remember that this is written to experienced Christians - the presumption is that you have heard.

Scripture always phrases this in terms of your reaction to hearing the Good News. You are saved - or not - depending upon your reaction. The righteous react with joy.

As to the others - who can say? Our only word on the subject is this: if they haven't heard, should we not tell them?

"That you may know"

John makes it his frequent purpose in this letter to reassure the believer - and phrases it, "that you may know." Here he wants to assure us - make sure that we know - that we have eternal life.

This eternal life was God's purpose from the beginning. Should this come as a surprise?

Why then the doubt? I think it is because God has chosen weak and foolish things to carry the Good News. If He overpowered us, it would remove doubt - and free will.

So how can I know that I have eternal life? Go back over this letter, and you will see some of the tests that John gives:

Do you keep his commands (1 John 2:3-4)?

Do you love the brothers (1 John 3:14)?

Do you believe what the Spirit reveals (1 John 3:24)?

Do you confess Jesus as Lord (1 John 4:15) ?

Do you believe Jesus is the Christ (1 John 5:1)?

If so, you have eternal life. But doubt continues among us, and therefore we have the duty to encourage one another in this - and to care for one another in prayer. We should see this as our duty to intercede for other Christians that they too may continue to have eternal life.

Praying for Others

(1 John 5:14-17 NIV) This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. {15} And if we know that he hears us--whatever we ask--we know that we have what we asked of him. {16} 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. {17} All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

According to His will

Ray Stedman gives us a three part statement about true and effective prayer. He says that:

Love is always its motive

Truth is always its expression

Righteousness is always its goal.

Put more simply, we must pray what is in God's will. But Ray has a very good summary of what that means. What puzzles most Christians comes from the statements made here and elsewhere about the nature of prayer.

We are told we are to boldly approach God with freedom and confidence, doubting not. Yet most of us wonder how to do that.

The Scripture promises results - extravagant results - for those who pray the way God intends.

But - it is an important "but" - we are to do this "in his will." Indeed, we are told that the results of such prayer will show that we are his disciples.

We see all these promises, with their conditions, and wonder how it can work. I submit we are trying to generate the confidence and boldness to go before God, trusting to blind faith to produce results. We should be conforming ourselves to his will - and trusting him for the results. Our problem is not our understanding of God but our obedience and desire to live in his will.

Sins - deadly and otherwise

John now brings up a concept that has troubled the church for a long time. He clearly states that there are some sins that lead to death, and others that do not. Which is which?

The Roman Catholic church picked out seven and declared that these must be the ones. The criteria seem a little vague, but their reputation is solidly established.

Some make the distinction (Stedman, for example) that this passage is talking only of sins which lead to physical death. This can be made as an argument - but if so, it seems out of context in a discussion of eternal life.

Others argue (I think rightly) that this is speaking of what Christ called "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit" - the unforgivable sin.

This last sin is easily seen: the Old Testament refers to one who does this as one who "sins defiantly." Christ brings the issue up only with regard to the Pharisees. The point is relatively clear: to deny the purpose of the Holy Spirit in your life (to convict the world of sin and judgment) is to become unforgivable - for if there is no repentance, there is no forgiveness.

(As a side note, the Greek here does not support the notion that you pray for forgiveness for them while they are sinning and unrepentant. Rather, the intention is that you pray after the sin, and implied in that is repentance).

Praying for a brother

It is amazing that we miss this. We are willing - indeed, commanded - to pray for the repentance of a brother and rejoice when it occurs - and then we forget to pray for the forgiveness of that brother. But consider: is this not just simply another example of doing unto others as you would have them do to you? If you have sinned, would you not want those who stand in favor with God to pray for your forgiveness? Go, and do likewise.

Continue

(1 John 5:18-21 NIV) 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. {19} We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. {20} 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. {21} Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

(One should note that the phrase "continue to sin" represents a continuous tense in the Greek language, something which does not exist in English).

Kept by God

How is it that we can say that Christians - real Christians - do not continue to sin? We are not speaking of occasional lapses, but continuous action here.

Christ tells us that we are "born again." The phrase is apt for experienced Christians. He tells the sinner to repent; he tells the righteous to be born again. Why? So that we might be like our Father in heaven - who does not change, and does not sin.

In so doing, we are "kept safe" - just what one would expect from a loving Father who cares for his children.

We are also "given understanding" - through the Scriptures and the Spirit - so that our safety is not something which cannot be understood. Rather, it is made clear to us.

The Great Divide

John explicitly tells us that the world is divided: those who follow the way of the world, those who follow the way of God. We like the idea that we can - at least for now - sit on the fence. The problem is, there is no fence. We are in the world but not of the world. We are mingled in it, but not a part of it - so there is no fence, just separation (holiness). In this we must realize two things:

First, the "evil one" is not a figment of someone's overactive imagination. Satan is very real - but he has no hold on the righteous. He is a liar and would have you think otherwise - but in reality, he is the one who is condemned completely.

The world is his - he is its prince. Remember how in the wilderness he offered Jesus all the kingdoms of the world? They are his to offer. He works his will by blinding the unbelievers (have you ever wondered how other people could be so mistaken about Christians?) and by working through those who are disobedient to righteousness. But make no mistake - he is the driving spirit behind this world's wickedness and hatred of Christ.

So what shall we do about this? John gives us one final word of warning, a warning to experienced Christians.

Keep yourself from idols

"Little children" - it is his favorite term of endearment for the believers he loves. He tells us simply to keep ourselves from idols. In his day, idols were publicly known, and we know that they were driven by the demons of Satan. For this we must keep our sense of separation from the world. But the concept is still the same today.

What is an idol today? The same as then - anything you value or worship as higher than God. It may even be a good thing - for the good is often the enemy of the best. Whatever keeps you from holding God as the highest, that is an idol - whether it be money or sex, power and prestige or simply your own pride. Cling to God and shun evil, children. Let nothing come between you and God, lest it come between you and the life eternal you have been given in Christ.

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