STUDY TWENTY: JOHN’S FINAL WORDS – 1John 5:13 – 21

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

John’s concluding remarks, and indeed his whole letter, are addressed ‘to you who believe in the name of the Son of God’.

 

A. JOHN’S PURPOSE IN WRITING – 5:13

As we have seen at various points through the letter, John is confident of the genuineness of his readers’ faith. While warning them against the wrong beliefs and practices of the false teachers and false believers, he has also sought to reassure them that he has confidence that they, in contrast to the false teachers and pseudo Christians, do truly believe. He has also given them teaching on the evidence of true faith, not to unsettle them, but to instil confidence.

John now, in bringing his letter to a close, says ‘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 has used the word ‘know’ quite frequently in his letter, referring to what Christians know:

From these verses in his first letter, what does John say we know?
2:13, 14

2:18

2:20

2:21

2:29

3:2

3:5

3:14

3:15

3:19

3:24

4:2

4:6

4:13

4:16

5:2

And now in 5:13 he says he has written ‘so that you may know that you have eternal life.’ It is not a groundless wish. Eternal life is a sure and certain reality grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom we have received, who lives in us, and in whom we live. It is as sure and certain as Christ himself. He is eternal life. If we have him, we have eternal life.

 

B. CONFIDENCE IN APPROACHING GOD – 5:14, 15

In 3:21 and 22 John briefly referred to prayer. There he spoke of our confidence before God. This confidence -

[1] was an expression of the absence of condemnation that is ours because of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus;

[2] it was grounded in the fact that we had obeyed his command to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ; and

[3] it was also grounded in the evidence that our belief in the Son was genuine – that is, the evidence of love for one another.

In 5:14 & 15 John again speaks of our confidence, this time this confidence issues from the truth stated in verse 13: that those who believe in the name of the Son of God know that they have eternal life. Because we know this, we are also confident of free, uninhibited access to God – ‘this is the confidence we have in approaching God’, and with that is also the confidence –

That if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

That if he hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have what we asked of him.

As noted earlier, if we love God, and if we love others, we will not be asking him for things contrary to his will. We will be more concerned for what God wills than with what we want. As Jesus prayed in Gethsemane – ‘not my will, but yours be done’. And as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer – ‘your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’

 

C. PRAYER FOR THE ‘BROTHER’ WHO SINS – 5:16 – 17

John now mentions a particular prayer that believers will pray – prayer for a ‘brother’ who commits ‘a sin that does not lead to death’. What John actually wrote was ‘if anyone sees his brother sinning (present tense – inferring some continuity of the sin) a sin not unto death he will ask and he will give to him life ...’ John is not commanding this prayer, rather he is assuming that believers will pray for this ‘brother’, and by that prayer will give him life.

This person who is sinning believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God – he is a ‘brother’. [But see indent #4 below.] He is sinning, but it is not a ‘sin that leads to death’. John states that there is ‘a sin that leads to death’ and specifically states that he is not talking about that; he does not recommend praying about that sin.

John further states that ‘all wrongdoing is sin’ – literally ‘all unrighteousness is sin’ (the same word he used in 1:9, where he wrote that God cleanses us ‘from all unrighteousness’) – ‘and there is sin that does not lead to death.’

John makes a firm distinction in these verses between ‘sin that does not lead to death’ (that is, sin that can be forgiven and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ), and ‘sin that leads to death’ (that is, sin that cannot be forgiven and cannot be cleansed by the blood of Jesus).

Scholars debate what this ‘sin that leads to death’ is, and offer various suggestions.

[1] Some believe John is referring to a specific sin or sins that are punishable by death, in the same way that we hear people speak of ‘the seven deadly sins’ or distinguish between ‘mortal’ and ‘venial’ sins.

But, apart from these verses here in John’s letter, the New Testament does not appear to make any such distinction: rather it teaches that all believers have already moved from death into life, have eternal life, and have forgiveness. For the Christian, there is no possibility of moving out of eternal life and back into ‘death’ (understanding death in the spiritual sense); that would be to undo the work of Christ and to deny the guaranteed salvation given to all who are in Christ. It would also make salvation dependent on law or works, not on grace.

[2] John is referring to apostasy – to a person who is a Christian deliberately turning his back on Jesus Christ, totally renouncing his faith in Jesus Christ.

But: This also raises the question: Can salvation be lost? Can a person who has believed in Jesus Christ change his mind and deny Christ in a final way? The Bible’s answer is: No. True faith is a gift of God; true faith is not reversible. It may flounder and appear weak, but it nevertheless endures. That is the nature of true faith, because true faith knows that Jesus Christ is who he claimed to be.

John has just assured his readers that he has written to them ‘so that you may know that you have eternal life’. They have, by receiving Jesus Christ, also received ‘life’. As true believers, they are secure in Christ. Although they sin, as John affirmed in chapter 2, they have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, who is the atoning sacrifice for their sins. As with the first suggestion, so with this one, there is no possibility of a believer committing a ‘sin that leads to death.’

John’s teaching about people who had fellowshipped with believers, but then left, believing in a different Jesus, is that ‘They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us’ (2:19). It is not that they had faith then lost it; it is that they had never had true, biblical, faith in the real Jesus. [Check John 2:23 – 25; 6:60 – 71].

[3] John is referring to the sin of unbelief – to a person, who is not a Christian brother, but a ‘brother’ human being, who refuses to acknowledge Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, who refuses to confess that Jesus is the Son of God.

There is some New Testament support for this view: There were people to whom Jesus said: ‘If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins’ (John 8:4). Rejection of the real Jesus is unforgivable. Rejection of the real Jesus means that a person remains in spiritual death; for the person who rejects the real Jesus eternal life is simply impossible. As John has just said: ‘He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’ (5:12).

These are the people who refuse to believe the testimony of the Holy Spirit about the divine identity of Jesus, the Son, (which John has just spoken of in 5:6 – 8), and in doing so, as well as rejecting the real Jesus, also commit blasphemy against the Holy Spirit: ‘every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven ... either in this age or in the age to come’ (Matthew 12:31, 32).

There is a further view that assumes that by ‘brother’ John is not referring to a fellow believer, but to a fellow-human being, who is not saved. John affirms, even encourages, Christians will pray for such a person, that they will be saved through faith in Christ and receive eternal life. People with this assumption teach that:

[4] The sin that leads to death is the sin of those who have made a deliberate and final rejection of the real Jesus. They are beyond redemption, because they persistently refuse to acknowledge Christ, even though they know his claims. John says: I am not saying you should pray for such a person.

Assuming that by ‘brother’ John is not referring to a believer, there is some biblical support for this view. Jesus in Matthew 7:6 told us not to ‘give dogs what is sacred ...’. Jesus in Matthew 15:14 told his disciples to leave some people alone because they were blind guides. Three times God told Jeremiah not to pray for the people (Jeremiah 7:16; 11:14; 14:11). When Abraham pleaded with God regarding Sodom, there came a limit beyond which God terminated the conversation (Genesis 18:23 – 33).

This view then, says that John is encouraging prayer for the salvation of some unbelievers, but not prayer for the salvation of other unbelievers – those whose sin is ‘unto death’. He may have in mind those people whom he has already identified as ‘antichrist’ and having the ‘spirit of antichrist’.

 

D. GOD KEEPS HIM SAFE – 5:18, 19

John now affirms three truths about believers, whom he refers to as ‘born of God’:

D.1 The person who is ‘born of God’ does not continue to sin
Whether we understand ‘sin’ here as the sin of deliberate unbelief (the rejection of the real Jesus, just described as ‘sin that leads to death’) or as a moral sin, this statement is true:

Those who are born of God, that is, those who believe that Jesus is the Christ (5:1), may have observable glitches in their faith, as Peter did under pressure of fear, but those glitches are temporary hiccups that do not reflect their real faith that God sees in their hearts. They do not continue to sin, present tense, they do not continue to reject Jesus. Their real rejection of Jesus ceased when they acknowledged him as the Christ, and God knows that.

[Those who are born of God, also, as we have seen previously, do not continue a life of moral sinfulness. Yes. They still sin, they still do wrong things. But their life is not characterized by sin.]

D.2 ‘the one who was born of God keeps him safe’
John gives the reason, and it is a strong reason, why a person of real faith in the real Jesus will never reject Jesus in a final way. John’s ‘does not continue to sin’ is followed in the Greek text by ‘alla’ which is a strong ‘but’, setting up a contrast between what is said before and after. Rather than the person who is born of God continuing in sin, particularly in the sin of denying or rejecting Christ, there is someone keeping him safe from such a possibility.

John says that ‘the one who was born of God keeps him safe’. This is a reference to Jesus Christ, who is ‘the only begotten’ (KJV in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18) Son of God.

The salvation of the person who truly believes Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, is secure. It is secure because Jesus Christ keeps those who believe in him safe.

Check these verses about this security:
John 10:28, 29

Philippians 1:6

2Timothy 1:12

1Peter 1:3 – 5

 

Jesus Christ himself keeps safe those who have acknowledged him. He did not save us only to then abandon us. He himself saved us by his blood, and he himself keeps us saved.

D.3 ‘the evil one cannot harm him’
The evil one can do all sorts of things to the believer, including physical, financial, relational, emotional and mental harm. But, in the ultimate sense, although these things are unpleasant, and although these things hurt terribly, the bottom line is that the evil one cannot harm us in the ultimate sense.

He cannot undo our salvation.
He cannot separate us from the love of God.
He cannot take us away from Christ.
He cannot rob us of eternal life.

We are no longer under his authority; we are no longer in his kingdom. We are in the kingdom of Christ.
We are no longer deceived by his lies. We know the truth by knowing Jesus Christ.
We are no longer cowed by his accusations. God has fully acquitted us because Christ bore all of our guilt.

In addition, what the evil one intends for our spiritual destruction, God, in sovereign power and love, turns into something good.

What do these verses say?
Genesis 45:3 – 8

Genesis 50:15 – 20

Romans 8:28

Romans 8:31 – 34

Romans 8:35 – 39

Ephesians 1:20, 21

Colossians 1:13

For further on this topic read:
https://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/job/1453-enter-the-enemy.html

https://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/suffering-revisited/1472-satan-and-suffering.html

D.4 An inescapable contrast and conflict – verse 19
In verse 19 John makes yet another statement about what believers know.

We know that we are children of God (literally – that we of God are, referring to the truth that we are ‘born of God’ which John has taught previously).

We know that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (literally, lies under the control of the evil one).

What did Jesus say about this contrast and conflict between ‘the world’ and those who believe in him?
John 15:18, 19

 

John 16:33

John 17:6

John 17:9

John 17:11, 12

John 17:14 – 16

 

John 17:18

John 17:21, 23

John 17:25

The contrast and the conflict between the world and those who believe in Jesus Christ ought not surprise us. We know, John says, that we are children of God. And we also know that the world, to which we formerly belonged, and in which we still live, neither knows nor acknowledges Jesus Christ. It is still under the deceptive control of the evil one, whom we, by believing in Christ, have overcome (2:13, 14; 5:4, 5).

 

E. WE KNOW – JOHN’S FINAL STATEMENT – 5:20

John began his letter with a strong affirmation of the real deity of Jesus Christ. Now, with the exception of a brief final command, he concludes his letter with an even stronger affirmation of Jesus Christ.

He says ‘We know ...’

E.1 ‘The Son of God has come and has given us understanding ...’
When Jesus came, he came not only to die for our sins, but as ‘the light’ and ‘the truth’ he revealed God to us. As we have seen in earlier studies, if we know Jesus Christ we know God the Father, because Jesus, the Son of God, has made him known.

So John says ‘we know’.

This is not only true. It also stands in stark contrast to the Gnosticism of the false teachers, which exalted the quest for knowledge, and taught that there was more to know than what was revealed by Jesus Christ. But, John affirms, ‘we know’ ... ‘the Son of God ... has given us understanding’. We do not need any further knowledge, in fact any additional knowledge, beyond Jesus Christ, would be a lie, and would come from the evil one. Jesus, the truth, the light, has given us understanding.

E.2 ‘... so that we may know him who is true...’
As a result of the coming of the Son of God, we actually know the true God. In contrast to all the gods of the world, those who know Jesus Christ, those who have learned from Jesus Christ, know the true God. We no longer need to seek for God. We no longer need to wonder what the true God is like. We no longer have to move from one ‘god’ to another ever seeking ‘god’, but never being sure we have found him. Because of Jesus Christ ‘we know him who is true’.

E.3 ‘we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ’
The knowledge of the true God that is revealed by Jesus Christ is not a remote, distant knowledge. To know this God is to be embraced by the Father and the Son. To know this God is to be given life that is inseparable from him – to derive our (spiritual, eternal) life and existence from the Father and from the Son. To know this God is to be united to the Father and to the Son. John has repeatedly referred to a mutual indwelling – the Father and the Son living in us and we living in God the Father and God the Son.

It is no wonder that John has just said ‘the evil one cannot harm us’. As Paul taught the Colossians, struggling against a similar heresy to John’s readers, ‘Your life is hidden with Christ in God’ (3:3). So safe. So secure. So close.

E.4 ‘He is the true God and eternal life’
John has just mentioned ‘his Son Jesus Christ’, and adds this one last affirmation of (1) the full deity of Jesus Christ, and (2) Jesus Christ as the sole source of eternal life.

Jesus Christ is ‘the true God’. We need seek no further. If we have found Jesus Christ, we have found God. We need no further revelation. As the writer to the Hebrews stated: God ‘in these last days ... has spoken to us by his Son’ (Hebrews 1:2). And as Paul stated in Colossians ‘in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). Any supposed revelation or truth beyond Jesus is simply not true; it does not reveal the true God.
Because Jesus is the true God, he is also the only source of ‘eternal life’. As John has said: ‘He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life’.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is very exclusive. But it is also very clear, very direct. It does not leave any room, any leeway, for other possible truths, for other possible gods, for another possible source of life beyond physical death, of rescue from spiritual death, of eternal life with God.

Jesus Christ stands alone as the true source of knowledge of the one true God, and as the only source of eternal life.

F. JOHN’S FINAL COMMAND – 5:21

After John’s strong statement in 5:20, verse 21 can seem quite a letdown – a seemingly disconnected, irrelevant appendage that subtracts from the power of the supreme statement he has just made about Jesus Christ.

But, when we pause to think about it, verse 21 – ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols’ – is a necessary command flowing directly out of what he has just said about Jesus Christ.

John is, in this command, warning us against any concept of God, of Christ, of salvation, that is different from what he has just said in verse 20, and from what he has been affirming right through this letter.

An ‘idol’ is not limited to a physical ‘idol’ made of wood or metal or stone. An ‘idol’ is any concept of god that is not the ‘true God’ made known by Jesus Christ. An ‘idol’ is any human idea of ‘god’, a human philosophy, a human religion – anything that puts a man-made ‘god’, the product of human labour or human imagination, in the place of the one true God.

So John says to us ‘keep yourselves from idols’ – don’t accept any concept, any idea, any teaching, about ‘god’ that is not made known by Jesus Christ.

In the context of John’s first letter this command ‘keep yourselves from idols’ – from human concepts of god – means rejecting, distancing oneself from:

Any concept of ‘god’ that offers ‘life’ from any source other than Jesus Christ (1:1, 2; 5:11, 12, 20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that leaves people in the darkness (1:5 – 7).

Any concept of ‘god’ that denies forgiveness of all sins through the blood of Jesus (1:7, 9; 2:1, 2, 12).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches that personal perfection is possible (1:8, 10).

Any concept of ‘god’ that validates disobedience of God’s commands (2:3 – 6; 3:4 – 10).

Any concept of ‘god’ that does not promote love for one another (2:9 – 11; 3:11 – 18, 23; 4:7 – 11, 19 – 21).

Any concept of ‘god’ that suggest we cannot know God (2:13, 14; 5:20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that leaves us under the power of the evil one (2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:18).

Any concept of ‘god’ that makes no distinction between God’s standards and those of the world (2:15 – 17; 4:5; 5:19).

Any concept of ‘god’ that denies that Jesus is the Christ (2:18 – 25; 3:23; 4:1 – 3; 5:1 – 10,).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches that there is more to know about God than what Jesus Christ revealed and the Holy Spirit confirmed (2:26, 27; 5:20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that does not promote confidence of acceptance in those who are God’s children (2:28 – 3:3; 3:24; 4:135:14, 15, 19).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds those who believe in God under condemnation (3:19 – 24).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds believers at a distance from God (3:24; 4:12 – 16).

Any concept of ‘god’ that promotes or expresses the viewpoint of the world (4:5, 6).

Any concept of ‘god’ that refuses to listen to the apostolic proclamation (4:6).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds believers in fear of judgement (4:17 – 18).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches Christians are not secure in Christ (5:18).

John’s final command means keeping ourselves away from, guarding ourselves against anything and everything that promotes any idea of ‘god’ that differs from the truth about God revealed in and through Jesus, the Son.

We would, perhaps, expect that John would write this command in the present tense, because it is obviously something that needs to be done continually – we need to continually ‘test the spirits’ to see if they are from God or from the evil one. However, John wrote it in the Aorist tense. This expresses the urgency of this command: that we are to make a deliberate, decisive decision, to guard against idols – a once-for-all-time decision that will determine all other decisions we ever have to make: the once-for-all-time decision to avoid, to reject, any teaching about God, and any expectations or perceptions about God, that are contrary to the revelation of the true God given to us in and by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.