In our final section of John’s first letter we read the purpose statement of this letter. “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 ESV). This letter has intended to instill confidence in the believers of Jesus that they know they are in a relationship with God. Jesus is God. When we believe that and submit to his authority by walking in the light and joyfully keeping his commands, we know we have eternal life. John gives us two more areas in our lives where we can be confident in the Lord.
Confidence In Our Prayers (5:14-17)
John says that we can have confidence toward God because we are able to have confidence in prayer. Listen to these reassuring words: “If we ask anything according to his will he hears us.” Your prayers are not empty, meaningless words. Your prayers are not a mere formality. Your prayers are not only heard by the walls. Your prayers are heard by God. God listens when we talk to him. How easy it is for us to forget that God is listening to our prayers! I think sometimes we pray just because we feel some sort of obligation or duty to do so. God hears when you address him. Verse 15 continues to give us confidence. “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.” God hears our prayers and answers our prayers that we ask of him.
We need to understand that God answers our prayers with a “no” answer many times. Sometimes I think we do not believe in this truth that God hears us and answers our prayers because we do not get everything we ask for from him. John reminds us that we need to ask “according to his will” (1 John 5:14). James teaches us that we ask and do not receive when we ask for things on the basis of our own selfish desires (James 4:3). God has to answer “no” to our prayers because we do not know what is good for us. Did you ever pray to God concerning the first boy or girl you had a crush on that you would be together forever? Are you glad God answered no to that prayer now that you look back on it? There are things that we ask God in the moment, when we are short-sighted and cannot see what we need, that we are glad that God refused. We need to think of this in terms of how our children ask things from their parents. Parents have to say no to many of their children’s requests because what they are asking for is not good or helpful to them. Guys, why didn’t your parents get you a gun that you requested for your birthday? Ladies, why didn’t your parents get you a pony? It is not that our parents did not hear our requests, but the answer was no. Just because God answers “no” does not mean that he did not hear us. When I ask the question, “Why didn’t God answer my prayer?” I am revealing my heart of selfishness. I am acting like God is my personal genie who must always do what I ask. When I take a stance that God did not do something for me, then I am revealing the heart of a bratty child who does not appreciate the goodness of our Father in heaven. We must trust God that he is acting in our best interests. We know that God is acting even if we cannot see him acting. Therefore, we can have a confident faith, knowing God hears and is acting on our behalf.
Pray For Our Sinning Brethren
Therefore, we use prayer to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are in sin. Notice this point is made by John in verse 16. We are to intercede for them in prayer. We see many of examples of this in the scriptures. We see Jesus while on the cross praying on behalf of those who mocked him and crucified him. We see Stephen also praying on behalf of those who were stoning him to death. We need to pray for each other’s souls. We need to pray when we see one of us going astray. We need to pray for God to give them life. Pray they will see the light and seek the Lord.
This is a text that has caused confusion and a variety of false interpretations. Some read about sins that lead to death and sins that do not lead to death and have taught that there are certain sins that cannot be forgiven. You may have heard of “the seven deadly sins” or “mortal sins.” Some teach that if these certain sins are committed that one cannot have eternal life. However, the scriptures deny such an arbitrary list. Consider the criminal on the cross. He was on the cross for insurrection and murder. However, Jesus said that the criminal would be with Jesus in paradise. Murder is not a “deadly sin” and there is not some set of actions that cannot be forgiven. So what does it mean that there are sins that do not lead to death? The answer becomes clear when we think about this question. What sins can you commit that do not lead to your spiritual death? The only sins that you commit that do not lead to your spiritual death are sins that have been forgiven. Please recall John’s teaching at the beginning of this letter. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9 ESV) Please notice that all unrighteousness can be forgiven. John does not say there is a certain act that cannot be forgiven. Therefore, the only sins that lead to spiritual death are sins that have not been forgiven by the blood of Jesus. The sins that do not lead to spiritual death are those sins that have been forgiven by Jesus. The scriptures uphold this understanding of sin.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt (Hebrews 6:4–6 ESV)
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26–27 ESV)
These scriptures teach the same thing as what John is teaching. Both the writer of Hebrews and the apostle John are speaking about Christians who turn away from the faith. The problem is not that the Christian commits an act of sin. John taught in the first chapter that if any Christian says he has no sin, he is a liar. The problem is the Christian who is willfully choosing to persist in sin. The Christian lives life in constant opposition to God. Notice that John does not command us not to pray for them. What John says is that this is not the situation he has in mind in this discussion. He is talking about Christians who fall into sin. As James commands, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed” (James 5:16). We pray to God for the sins of one another. We practice this when someone acts us to pray for them, either on an individual level or when they come forward and ask for the congregation to pray for them. But John is not talking about Christians who have left the Lord in rebellion and are living in persistent sin. John is saying that we ought not think that forgiveness is going to occur in those instances.
Then verse 17 concludes this thought. All wrongdoing is sin. There are not big sins and little sins. All wrongdoing is sin. However, there are sins that do not lead to our spiritual death, that is, when we seek repentance. The difference between sins that lead to spiritual death and those that do not lead to spiritual death is in the heart of the Christian. Is the sin accidental, the Christian remorseful, seeking the prayers of the Christian community, and turning the heart back to God? Or is the sin intentional, without remorse, not listening to the reproving of the Christian community, and turns his heart against God?
Confidence In Our Protection (5:18-21)
Finally, the apostle John teaches that we have confidence in our protection. There are three “we know” statements in the next three verses. “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 are under the spiritual protection of Christ. We have confidence in our salvation. Satan cannot touch us. Listen to the confident words of the scriptures.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18 ESV)
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:10–11 ESV)
Further, verse 19 states, “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Those who are born of God have a changed perspective of the world. We do not look at this world as good or just. The world is in the hand of Satan. The world runs under the power of the evil one. But we are confident that though we live in this wicked world, we know we are from God and are secure with him.
Finally, verse 20 teaches us the third thing we know: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true.” The Son of God has come and revealed to us everything we need to know so that we can have a relationship with him. The writer of Hebrews tells us that God spoke at many times and many ways through various people, but now God has spoken to us by his Son. The Son of God is the revelation of God to the world. When we are in a relationship with the Son, then we are in a relationship with the true God and know that we have eternal life.
Then we come to John’s fascinating ending to the letter. With his passionate words to his little children, the apostle John appeals to his readers to keep themselves from idols. John is calling for us to reject the false and embrace the real. Idolatry is anything that occupies the place due to God. Do not be misled to put your hope and security in anything else in this world. Our hope is only in Jesus. Our security is only in Jesus. When we are with Jesus then we know we have eternal life and are with our heavenly Father.