‘I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.’ (1 John 5:13)
As we come to the end of John’s first letter we finish with encouraging assurances. In writing about ‘these things’ John has in mind more than the few preceding verses. The whole letter is leading up to this one thing – ‘that you may know that you have eternal life’ It is worth reading through the text, counting the number of words of assurance John offers; know; confidence; God hears; we know he answers; we know believers don’t go on sinning; we know Christ keeps us safe; we know we are God’s children; we know God’s Son has come; we know who is true.
John began his letter saying, ‘We are writing these things so that our joy may be made complete.’ (1 John 1:4) What makes his joy complete? Knowing his “children” walk in the good of what they know (1 John5:13-14)
‘It gives me great joy,’ he later writes, ‘to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father has commanded.’ (2 John 4)
“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.’ (3 John 4)
He writes about the joy of assurance (John 20:31), the joy of knowing God (John 17:3) and, in the face of heretics who teach about secret knowledge, he is concerned that we should not learn to despise the simplicity of the message.
John writes about the importance of believing in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:13) In those times a name was more than a label, it reflected your character. This is why it is important to understand and believe the correct things about Jesus. He is the Son of God and God the Son. He is fully God, having life in himself, and if we put our faith in another “name” we will not receive the life John writes about here.
He goes on to write about four ways we can deepen our knowledge and joy:
The mark of Christian reality is boldness in prayer. John writes about ‘the confidence we have in approaching God.’ (1 John 5:14) The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Heb.4:16)
Note that we approach the throne of grace and we approach it for help in our time of need, and not when we have first sorted ourselves out. When we least feel able to present ourselves to God is when we most need his grace and help. We are bold because God knows and forgives us (1 John 3:20-21)
We also note that, while we are assured we have what we ask (1 John 5:15) there is a condition; we must ask according to God’s will (1 John 5:14) It is worth noting there is no pending tray with God. He hears us immediately. Sometimes there appears to be a delay between asking and getting an answer. The life of Daniel shows us what we are dealing with when we take prayer seriously. An angelic messenger, appearing to Daniel, said:
‘Fear not Daniel, for from the first day you set your heart to understand and humble yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia…’ (Daniel 10:12-13)
God heard Daniel’s prayer the moment he uttered it, and he immediately sent his messenger. Daniel’s answer, however, came twenty-one days later because of the work of those who resist God’s purposes. It is important to realise that when we enter into prayer we are entering into the area of spiritual warfare, ‘for we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.’ (Eph.6:12)
The Sin That Leads to Death?
I just want, briefly, to deal with the question that troubles many Christians when they read this letter; what is the sin that leads to death? The first thing to note is that all wrongdoing is sin and God doesn’t grade sins, identifying seven particularly “deadly sins.” That is an early medieval invention that has no basis in Scripture. What is the one thing a person can do to ensure they do not receive forgiveness?
There is a form of spiritual anorexia that, like physical anorexia, can rob us of all appetite for what is best for us. We may see the benefit of partaking, we may wish to eat, but we have so starved ourselves of the good things on offer our body (or our soul) cannot eat. In Marlowe’s story of Dr Faustus, the doctor sells his soul to the devil in exchange for power and knowledge. He will spend 24 years in this world with all the power and knowledge he could wish for, but then spend eternity in hell. As his fate overtakes him he cries, ‘My heart’s so hardened I cannot repent.’
A brother in Christ, by his nature, is concerned to avoid sin and cannot, therefore, commit the sin that leads to death, as we will see.
One way to deepen our knowledge and joy is to develop a hatred of sin. John reminds us, ‘We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin.’ (1 John 5:18) But we also know, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8) You will remember we have already said that there is a family characteristic in those who continue to sin and a family characteristic in those who grow to despise sin. It is direction of travel and a character that increasingly reflects Christ that identifies us. Verse 18 speaks of ‘anyone born of God’ and, ‘he who was born of God…’
The first is a reference to a relationship begun at a point in time. When we were born again we entered into God’s family. The second refers to a once for all fact, someone who always was born of God, eternally God’s Son – Jesus. John is saying here that Jesus keeps us safe as we walk in faith and repentance before God.
Another way to grow is in developing a new attitude to the world (1 John 5:19) We have already seen that we are born of God. John calls us ‘children of God’ and God’s family is quite separate from the world. We are in the world but not of the world. Jude writes:
‘Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus \Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear – hating even the clothing stained by corrupt flesh.’ (Jude 21-23)
Another way again is in having a new awareness of God (1 John 5:20) John is saying we know God because he has come in Jesus. Our knowledge is based on fellowship with God and not simply intellect. We walk with him each day and are aware of his being with us.
Idols: Finally, John warns us, ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.’ (1 John 5:21) We think of idols as graven images and today we might think of wealth, cars, property etc. What John has in mind here is false ideas. An idol is anything that occupies the place due to God. An idea can take that place and we are warned in Scripture we are not to look to any organisation, personality, secret knowledge, or another Jesus other than the one that was preached.
‘This Jesus is the stone that was rejected…which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation on no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:11-12)