Week of June 28, 2009
Bible Verses: 1 John 5:12-21.
Lesson Focus: This lesson is about the Christian's confidence - of salvation, of God's willingness to answer prayer, and of victory over sin.
Assured of Eternal Life: 1 John 5:12-13.
 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 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. [ESV]
Eternal life is a free gift which God gives to those who believe in His Son, and the gift of life, the experience of fellowship with God through Christ which is eternal life, is God’s final testimony to His Son. Eternal life is in His Son and may be found nowhere else. Three important truths are taught in these verses about eternal life. First, it is not a prize which we have earned, but an undeserved gift. Secondly, it is found in Christ, so that, in order to give us life, God both gave and gives us His Son. Thirdly, this gift of life in Christ is a present possession. True, this eternal life belongs to the “age to come” but this age to come has broken into this present age and the life of the age to come can be received and enjoyed here and now.
 In this verse John states explicitly for the first time his purpose in writing the letter: that you may know that you have eternal life. These things refer to the contents of this letter which is now being brought to its conclusion. Those who believe are those who continue in the teaching about Jesus Christ that they heard from the beginning. To believe in the name means the same as believing in the person who bears the name. Texts from the Fourth Gospel, such as John 1:12 and 3:18 confirm this by placing the idea of believing in His name and believing in His person in parallel. His readers had been disturbed by the denials and claims of the false teachers. These people denied important elements of the message the readers had embraced at the beginning. They also claimed to be recipients of special revelation through the Spirit to which the readers were not privy. The readers’ assurance had been shaken by these denials and claims, and John’s primary reason for writing the letter was to bolster their assurance by counteracting the false teaching. John sought to do this by pointing out that it was his readers who had truly received eternal life, who truly knew God, not the false teachers. It was his readers who manifested the authentic marks of those who have eternal life: they were the ones who continued in the teaching first proclaimed by the eyewitnesses; they were the ones who continued to obey the commands of the Lord; and they were the ones who loved the children of God, which is the essential mark of those who have eternal life. There is a remarkable similarity between the way John states his purpose in writing this letter and the way he states the purpose of his Gospel [John 20:31]. In both cases the purpose includes reference to what has been written, belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and the possession of eternal life. The difference reflects the different purposes of the letter and the Gospel. The Gospel has an evangelistic purpose (that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ and so have eternal life), whereas the purpose of the letter is to reassure those who are already believers.
Confident in Prayer: 1 John 5:14-17.
 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.  If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life--to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.
 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death. [ESV]
[14-15] These verses are linked with 5:13 by the conjunction and. The presence of the conjunction suggests that the author wants to say that, along with assurance of eternal life, believers also experience confidence in their relationship with God and, in particular, confidence in prayer. John is speaking about the confidence believers have in the presence of God, something which is further described as the knowledge that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. This statement recalls the promise of answered prayer made by Jesus to His disciples in the upper room [John 16:23-26]. This is the second place in the letter where John speaks about believers’ confidence in prayer. In the first place [3:22-23], he linked confidence in prayer to pleasing God by doing what He commanded. In the present context believers’ confidence in prayer arises out of their assurance of eternal life and is linked to their asking according to His will. When they pray in this way, John assures them, God will hear the requests they make according to His will. In this context, hears carries the sense of ‘giving heed to’ what is asked, that is, responding positively to the request. That this is the case is confirmed in 5:15. When believers ask God for anything according to His will, He gives heed to their requests, and they receive what they ask of Him.
 Having written generally of answered prayer, John now gives a specific illustration and a limitation. It is not now a case of petition, but of intercession. The assurance of eternal life which the Christian should enjoy ought not to lead him into a preoccupation with himself to the neglect of others. On the contrary, he will recognize his duty in love to care for his brother in need, whether the need which he sees be material [as in 3:17-18] or, as here, spiritual. John is saying that, if we see a fellow believer continuing in a sin, then we should pray that God will enable that believer to confess, repent and overcome that particular sin. This is the way to deal with sin in the congregation. And God hears such prayer. Not every sinner can be given life in answer to prayer, however. John draws a distinction between a sin not leading to death and sin that leads to death. For those who commit the former the Christian will pray and God will hear that prayer. For the latter John does not instruct us to pray. He does not explicitly forbid prayer, but he does not advise it, for he clearly doubts its efficacy in this case. What, then, is this sin that leads to death? We may divide the possible interpretations into three. First, a specific sin. In the Old Testament generally a distinction was drawn between sins of ignorance, committed unwittingly, which could be cleansed through sacrifice, and wanton or presumptuous sins for which there was no forgiveness. But there is no New Testament warrant for such an arbitrary classification of sins. It is doubtful whether John is referring to specific sins at all, as opposed to a state or habit of sin willfully chosen and persisted in. Second, apostasy. This understands the sin leading to death as total apostasy, the denial of Christ and the renunciation of the faith. Those who hold this view usually link these verses with such passages as Hebrews 6:4-6, 10:26-31, and 12:15-17, and apply them to the false teachers who had so clearly repudiated the truth as to withdraw from the Church [2:19]. But can a Christian, who has been born of God, apostatize? Surely John has taught clearly in the Epistle that the true Christian cannot persist in sin [3:9; 5:18], let alone fall away altogether. Moreover, John has just written of having life  and knowing it . Can someone who has received a life which is eternal lose it and commit sin that leads to death? It seems clear that he who commits sin that leads to death is not a Christian. If so, the sin cannot be apostasy. We are left with the third alternative. Third, the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. This sin, committed by the Pharisees, was a deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. They ascribed the mighty works of Jesus to the agency of Beelzebub. Such sin, Jesus said, would never be forgiven either in this age of in the age to come. He who commits it is guilty of an eternal sin [Mark 3:29; cf. Matt. 12:22-32]. The outcome of his sin will be spiritual ruin, the final separation of the soul from God, which is the second death, reserved for those whose names are not written in the book of life [Rev. 20:15]. In all likelihood John has the false teachers in mind here. Denying the Son, they did not possess the Father. There were children of the devil, not children of God. True, they had once been members of the visible congregation and had then no doubt passed as brothers. But they went out, and by their withdrawal it was made evident that they had never been truly of us [2:19]. Since they rejected the Son, they forfeited life. Their sin was indeed a sin that leads to death. Because they rejected the only One who can give life to the spiritually dead.
 John describes sin here as wrongdoing and as lawlessness in 3:4. Both words imply that there is an objective moral standard, the will of God, whether expressed in law or in justice, and that sin is to be understood as a violation of both. John adds these words because he does not want to be misunderstood. In distinguishing between sin that leads to death and sin that does not lead to death, he is not meaning to minimize the gravity of sin. Nor does he mean to discourage his readers from praying. John's intention is to emphasize the need to pray for brothers, not to forbid prayers for unbelievers. But John does limit the scope of such prayers. Christians are to pray for brothers who sin under the presupposition that a true brother will confess and repent. The false teachers, on the other hand, are persistent idolaters unwilling to accept that Christ died to remove sins. We cannot intercede on their behalf for this sin. All we can do for them it to pray that God will regenerate their dead heart so that they will be able to see who Christ is and what He has done for those who believe in Him.
Certain of Victory: 1 John 5:18-21.
 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.  We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.  And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.  Little children, keep yourselves from idols. [ESV]
[18-19] In 5:18-20 John further reassures his readers by reminding them of their privileged position in Christ. This desire to reassure is reflected in the fact that each of these three verses begins with the words we know, as John includes his readers with himself, reminding them of all that they have in Christ. In the first place he reiterates something written earlier in the letter. His readers, unlike the false teachers, have been born of God, and therefore they will not continue in sin. By the use of the present tense form of the verb 'to sin', John portrays the sinning here as an ongoing process. In 3:9 the basis for the readers not continuing to sin was that they were born of God and God's seed remained in them. Here in 5:18 the basis of their not sinning is put differently: he who was born of God protects him. In this letter most references to being born of God relate to believers. However, the reference here to he who was born of God is best interpreted as a reference to Jesus Himself. That this is an appropriate interpretation is supported by the fact that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus is portrayed as the one who keeps His disciples safe. In Jesus' prayer in John 17 He speaks of having kept safe all those whom God had given Him and prays that God will protect them from the evil one [John 17:12-15]. This letter contains a number of references to the evil one which is used interchangeably with the term the devil. John's assurance that Jesus Christ will keep his readers safe from the harm that the evil one would inflict upon them is best understood, in the whole context of 1 John, as an assurance that Jesus Christ will keep them from being led astray by the false teachers. Continuing to reassure his readers, John, using the second of his we know expressions, contrasts their position with that of the rest of the world: we know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. The contrast between true believers and those of the rest of the world is that the former belong to God, while the latter are under the control of the evil one. In the light of the previous verse, believers are no longer under the control of the evil one because Jesus Christ keeps them safe so that the evil one cannot harm them. In the context of 1 John, those in the world include the false teachers, whom John now regards as belonging to the world.
 John's reassurance continues into this verse. Using the third of his we know expressions, he reminds his readers: we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding. Two elements of the work of the Son of God are alluded to here, His coming as the historical Jesus, and His giving understanding to people when they became believers. The word translated understanding is found only here in the Johannine writings, but the context makes its meaning clear enough: He has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true. The understanding which the Son of God gives is knowledge of God the Father Himself. The one who is true is the one whose Son is Jesus Christ. However, what John wants to stress is that those who believe are actually in him who is true, that is, in God the Father, because they are in his Son Jesus Christ. What it means to be in him is not easy to define. The general concept of believers dwelling in God or in His Son is found in nine other passages in the letter [2:5,6,24,28; 3:6,24; 4:13,15,16]. Sometimes it is part of a broader concept: the mutual indwelling of believers in God and God in believers [3:24; 4:13,15,16]. In two of the four places where this mutual indwelling is mentioned, John maintains that believers can be assured of it because of the Spirit whom God has given to them [3:24; 4:13]. All this suggests that the expression in him who is true denotes a new and real spiritual existence that believers enjoy, which is effected through the agency of the Spirit. John reminds his readers of this truth to reassure them of their standing as believers so as to counteract any doubts they may have because of the claims the false teachers were making. It is those who hold to the message passed on by the ones who heard it from Christ Himself in the beginning who are in him who is true because they are in his Son Jesus Christ. There is no being in God without being in His Son Jesus Christ. Here John is not only reassuring his readers but making plain that the false teachers' claims to be in God are invalid because they do not believe in God's Son. This verse concludes with: He is the true God and eternal life. It is difficult to know whether he refers to God or to Jesus. In the first case, John would be emphasizing that the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the true God and the source of eternal life. In the second case, he would be saying that Jesus Christ Himself is the true God and eternal life. Given the fact that Jesus Christ is the closest antecedent for he in the context, it is probably better to understand John talking about Jesus Christ. In that case, this is one of the strongest statements about the divinity of Jesus. And, considering the doctrinal position of the false teachers concerning the divine nature of Jesus, this statement is a fitting conclusion to John's letter.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Why did John write this letter? What are the authentic marks of those who have eternal life?
2. What two requirements does John give for the believer to have confidence that God will answer our prayers [see 3:22-23 and 5:14-15]?
3. What specific illustration and limitation does John give concerning answered prayer [5:16]? What does John mean by the sin that leads to death?
4. What three things does John write that we know in 5:18-20? What assurances do these three certainties provide the believer?
The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.
The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.
The Message of John's Letters, David Jackman, Inter-Varsity Press.