1 John 5:18-21

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 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 by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.
(1 John 5:18-21 NIV)

Today we wrap up our journey through the Apostle John’s first letter to the churches in Asia Minor.

As we study the last of John’s concluding remarks, we have seen how John moved from teaching us about our assurance that God hears our prayers (vv. 13-15) to applying that assurance by praying for others (vv. 16-17) to this final passage where John teaches us that God restores us (and other followers of Christ we pray for) to Himself when we do sin (vv. 18-21).

John begins today’s passage with a truth (v. 18) that can also be used to test whether a person follows Jesus Christ (or not).  John tells us that anyone who is a follower of Jesus Christ does not continue to sin.  John is not saying we will never sin again after we come to Christ.  Instead, John is telling us that we will not engage in willful, defiant, premeditated sins (the “sins that lead to death” that we studied in the last passage).  In other words, if we are truly followers of Christ and we love Him enough to follow His example and commands, then we will not live in open defiance toward Him.

Also, John says in verse 18 that we are not left on our own to fight off the enticement of sin or an actual besetting sin that we may feel has its power over us.  John says that the “One born of God” (Jesus) protects us (keeps us safe) from the evil one (satan and his minions).

John summarizes this epic battle for control in verse 19, where he identifies himself and those who follow Christ as belonging to Christ, and the rest of the world being under the control of the evil one (satan).  This is not a battle for our land, but a battle for our hearts and minds.

In verse 20, John reminds us again (in summary) that God is the holder of all truth, and that He reveals that truth to us as His followers.  God provided our ability to understand truth through His Son Jesus who came to earth and provided our example of how to live for God.  John summarizes his teaching about God being the keeper of truth again to remind us that there are many who claim to have “superior knowledge” (the Gnostics or any other teachers) but deny Jesus as either fully God or fully human.  John closes verse 20 by reminding us that the truth is that Jesus is both fully God and fully human at the same time.

John closes his letter by using a familiar term of endearment (“Dear children…”) to draw us to the Lord.  And what is John’s last admonition to us?  “Keep yourselves from idols”.  Simply put, this is John’s way of telling us to keep God first and foremost in our lives, to not let anything or anyone come before our relationship with God through His Son Jesus.  John knows that anything or anyone that does not point us back to Jesus ultimately desires to lead us away from Jesus.

May we always remember that Jesus holds truth and life, and invites us to experience that truth and life in Him, with Him, and through Him.  Anyone or anything that says otherwise seeks to lead us astray.  May we lean on God’s heart and discernment to know the difference, and His power to follow the narrow road that leads to fully experiencing life in Him, both on this side of eternity as well as the other side.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 5:16-17

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them 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 you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
(1 John 5:16-17 NIV)

John continues with his concluding remarks today, again focused on prayer.

Yesterday John taught us that our first assurance after salvation is answered prayers (verses 14 and 15).  John says that because of our reconciled relationship to God through Christ, God hears and responds to our prayers when our will is aligned with His.

Today John extends that power of prayer from ourselves to others.  God listens and answers prayers that we pray on behalf of others when our will is aligned with His.

Before we dig into today’s passage, let me say that this is a tough passage to read and understand.  Even Bible scholars are not exactly sure what John is saying here.  Too much time and history have buried the context of John’s comments.  So we will discover what we do know, and admit what we don’t know and trust the Lord for the rest.

First of all, John begins by identifying the ones being prayed for as any “brother or sister”.  From the beginning of this study, we have understood that John is writing to the churches in Asia Minor, specifically to the followers of Jesus Christ in those churches.  John has used the “brother” / “sister” phrase ten other times in this letter, all referring to a man or woman who follows Christ.  This use of “brother” / “sister” in verse 16 fits with the other usages in this letter and gives no indication that we would understand or treat it differently.

John also is clear that this prayer is to be based on first-hand observation, not hearsay.  John says if we see another follower of Christ sin.  John does not say if we “hear about” another follower of Christ sinning.  Gossip is destructive to relationships and to a church.  John relies on God’s teaching of first-hand witnesses being required before any action is taken.

In this context, John says that our action is to pray for that brother or sister that is sinning.  Other Scriptures talk about confrontation and restoration; in this context, John tells us to pray.

Now the hard part… what does John mean when he talks about “sin that does not lead to death”?

John is quick to identify that there is a “sin that leads to death”, and he makes it clear that he is not talking about those sins.  When I read this passage, I am reminded of open, premeditated, defiant sin where  God takes the person’s life.  Examples of this are Korah and his friends that led an open rebellion against Moses and God (Numbers 16:1-50), Ananias and Sephirah who knowingly and willfully lied to the Apostles and to God about bringing their entire land sale proceeds to the Lord (Acts 5:1-11), and the Corinthian believers that turned the communion table into a drunken party and willfully and completely disrespected the Lord (1 Corinthians 11:27-32).  What John seems to be saying is to not waste our time praying for those who are living in open, willful, premeditated rebellion against God, as God will deal with them directly.

What John does seem to be talking about  are all other sins outside those willful, premeditated sins, about normal sins of omission and commission that we all do.  Our heart is to be obedience to God’s Word.  As part of God’s family, John tells us to pray for one another.

As we see this passage in the larger context of John’s letter to us, we understand John’s command to pray for one another as a practical outgrowth of loving God and loving one another.  Praying for one another is love in action and not just love in facts, theory, or emotion.

This is a tough passage, and there are many unknowns.  May we focus on what we do know and obey what God has made clear to us.

As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.”

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 5:13-15

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. 14 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.
(1 John 5:13-15 NIV)

John begins today’s passage with a summary and adds the first of a few concluding remarks.  Unlike the Apostle Paul, John does not include any personal greetings to various churches or individuals in this letter.

John provides the third of three reasons why he wrote this letter.  Let’s take a look at all three:

  • For the joy of the Lord (for both John and us) – 1 John 1:4
    • “We write this to make our joy complete.”
  • To avoid sin – 1 John 2:1a
    • “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin.”
  • For assurance of eternal life – 1 John 5:13
    • “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.”

From the beginning of our study, remember that this letter is written to followers of Christ.  John is warning us against false teachers, and teaching us how to have discernment between God’s truth and flawed human reasoning disguised as Gnostic “superior knowledge”.

In verse 13, John gives us both certainty and confidence in Christ.  John says that we know that we have eternal life.  There is no hesitation or faltering here – John is crystal clear about our assurance of eternal life as followers of Jesus Christ.

Throughout the remainder of John’s letter, John provides additional assurances of our relationship with the Lord.

John’s first assurance after salvation is answers to our prayers (verses 14 and 15).  John says that because of our reconciled relationship to God through Christ, God hears our prayers.

John says that when our hearts are aligned with God’s heart (when our will is aligned with God’s will), we have full assurance that God hears and answers our prayers.

How reassuring it is that we can know that God hears and answers our prayers when our hearts are aligned with His!  God has not saved us and then abandoned us to figure out life on our own here on earth.  We can bring our needs and desires to Him and know that He cares about both big and small issues in our lives.

Have your ever thought that God only handles the “big things” in life, and we’re supposed to handle all the “little things” on our own?  I know I have.  And how quickly I am reminded that my ability and influence and power is finite and quickly exhausted.

Thankfully, as followers of Christ, we have access to the infinite and all-powerful God of the universe who loves us and is crazy about us and longs to shower His love upon us and help us through this life.

May you experience the full confidence and joy of your salvation today.  May you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God loves you and hears you and desires to walk with you throughout your day.  May you experience His peace and joy regardless of circumstances as the day progresses.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 5:6-12

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God,which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
(1 John 5:6-12 NIV)

Yesterday John reminded us that we have victory over death through Jesus as Messiah.

Back in chapter 1, John had clearly established his authority as the last remaining apostle of Christ, and as the spiritual patriarch to many of the churches across Asia Minor.

Today John focuses on not just his witness of Jesus as Messiah, but on God’s witness of the same.

God had clearly taught that any important matter must be attested by two or three witnesses to be official.  Here is one example of God’s teaching on this principle of witnesses and testimony:

One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
(Deuteronomy 19:15 NIV)

John is certainly not accusing Jesus of a crime or offense.  Contracts and covenants also required witnesses.  Happy and joyous events like wedding ceremonies in John’s day (and in our day) also require witnesses.

John offers three witnesses  to testify that Jesus is Messiah:  the water, the blood, and the Spirit (vv. 6-8).

The water refers to Jesus’ baptism.  Remember what happened immediately after Jesus was batpized by his cousin John the Baptizer?

16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:16-17 NIV)

The blood refers to Jesus’ death for our sins.  God did not speak as when He did after Jesus’ baptism.  However, God did manifest himself through nature, so that even a pagan Roman soldier bore witness of Christ.  Listen to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death:

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”
(Matthew 27:50-54 NIV)

The Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit.  Listen to Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit:

“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.
(John 15:26 NIV)

John presents three witnesses from God Himself that Jesus is Messiah.  John says that he could produce human witnesses, but God’s witness is far more impressive and compelling than anything he could offer (v. 9).

John concludes that we have a choice:  Either we believe or deny that Jesus was fully God and fully human and thus is the Messiah (vv. 10-11).  In verse 12, John minces no words:  either we have eternal life based on Jesus as Messiah or we don’t.

God has given testimony that Jesus is His Son.  The choice to accept or deny Jesus as our Messiah is ours to make.

We must choose carefully and deeply, with our whole heart – the stakes are eternal.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 5:1-5

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
(1 John 5:1-5 NIV)

As we begin chapter 5, John makes his fourth and final trip through the pairing of doctrine and duty, of faith and practice.

John begins this section by reminding us of the basis for our relationship with God.  Our trust in Jesus as Messiah provides everlasting life, a new spiritual birth that reconciles us with God through Christ.

John reminds us that we prove that we love God by obeying His commands.  Our obedience does not earn our salvation or good standing before God.  Instead, our obedience is in response to our salvation through Christ.  It’s our way of saying “thank you” to God for redeeming us, for giving us new life in Christ.

In verse 3, John tells us that God’s commands are not burdensome.  God’s commands are not meant to be overwhelming or heavy to the point we give up or walk away from Christ.

Jesus also taught that His commands are not burdensome:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30 NIV)

Jesus’ teaching is not a promise that our lives will be trouble-free.  In fact, Jesus teaches just the opposite – that we will have many troubles in this life as a result of following Him.

When we find ourselves with an overwhelming burden, do we continue to try to carry that burden, or do we give it to the Lord and wait for His supernatural power to either deal with the burden or provide a path forward?  Or do we wear ourselves out trying to deal with the burden on our own?

John tells us in verse 4 that we are overcomers in Christ.  The word “overcomes” means “victor” or “victory”.  This word was used often in athletic events to identify the one who competed and won.  Through Christ, we are declared victors over death to eternal life.  Through Christ, we have overcome the natural and achieved the supernatural, that is, eternal life reserved for us, spent with God.

As John concludes this passage and teaching, he circles back around to the beginning.  Who are overcomers / victors?  Only those who believe that Jesus is Messiah.

Do we say we believe that Jesus is Messiah?  Is there proof that our lives reflect that belief, through what we think, say, and do?

May our lives carry the sweet aroma of Christ, so when others get close enough to “sniff” our lives, that they smell the pleasing fragrance of Christ, of eternal life that comes only from Him.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 4:19-21

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
(1 John 4:19-21 NIV)

John has been teaching on discernment, giving practical examples of how we can tell if we are following Christ’s example.

John begins today’s passage by reminding us that God was the one that initiated unconditional love toward us (v. 19).  God was not required to love us nor was He under any compulsion to love us.  God chose of His own free will to love us.  Let’s remember that God chose to love us while we were unloving toward Him, and were unlovely by nature.  There was no guarantee that we would change.  But yet He chose to love us unconditionally anyway.

Based on John’s reminder that God showed us how to love unconditionally by His example (v. 19), John now lays down a very practical example of how we are to love others (v. 20).  John does not mince any words here.  If we say we love God but hate a brother or sister in the Lord, John says we are liars.  We have lied to whomever we have told about our love for God, we have lied to God, and we have lied to ourselves.

When John says that we “hate” our brother or sister in the Lord, we automatically think about detestable or malicious feelings or animosity toward another person.  The Greek word certainly covers those active conditions of thought.  An example of this would be the often public and bitter feud between Sir Winston Churchill and Lady Astor.  Lady Astor once said, “Sir Winston, if I were your wife, I would put poison in your coffee.”  Churchill replied, “Lady Astor, if I were your husband, I would drink it.”

John continues this train of thought: if we can’t love those brothers and sisters in the Lord that we can see, how can we love God whom we haven’t seen and can’t see this side of eternity?  It’s an impossibility.

This idea of living out our love for God by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ is a recurring theme in John’s letter:

Through these repeated references to loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, we see that unconditional love is not a feeling, not an external “thing”.  Instead, unconditional love is a character quality, an intrinsic manifestation of God living in us and working through us, through our attitudes and our actions.

The same Greek word for “hate” or “hatred” also allows for a lesser version of that same feeling.  This secondary definition involves a relative choice of one person or thing over another, a bias or preference.  This choice is to choose one thing and ignore the other.  This passive hatred is when we see a need and we have the means to take care of it, and we walk away without doing anything.

James addresses this same lack of love toward others in his letter:

15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?
(James 2:15-16 NIV)

If we say we love God, we must learn to love others unconditionally, as they are, where they are, with no promise of change.  This is easy to say, and hard to practice.

Only by humbling ourselves, confessing our brokenness and inability to love others from our own means, and allowing God to work through our brokenness can His love pour through us to others.

Blessings,
~kevin

1 John 4:17-18

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
(1 John 4:16-18 NIV)

A brief note before we begin…
While we are focusing on verses 17-18 for today’s passage, I included verse 16 because it is needed for the context of verses 17-18.  Verse 16 is the link or gateway between verses 13-15 and 17-18.

John begins verse 17 with the word “This”, referring back to verse 16.  John is specifically referring to the interrelationship between God and us as His followers.  The ESV states verse 16b this way:

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
(1 John 4:16b ESV)

Notice that John uses the word “abides” three times in this one thought.  The word “abide” that John uses here is the same Greek word that Jesus used in John’s Gospel (chapter 15) where Jesus spoke of abiding in Him.  Jesus used the analogy of a vine and its branches, where He is the vine that provides the grounding and provides life and existence for us as the branches connected to Him.

Because God’s essential nature is love, our interrelationship with God through Christ implies that we have God’s essence of love in us by our connection to Him.

If we use a strict systematic theology mindset to approach this passage, the tendency might be to deal with the “facts” of the passage and see God’s love as a “fact” (which it is).  When we consider the relational implications of this passage, our universe of understanding about God expands exponentially.

First, we see that God is relational in nature, even before Creation.  The Trinity was the first “community” (and, as Larry Crabb says, the only small group that gets along with one another!).  God invites each of us to be part of that community through our interrelationship with Him.  And as part of that community, we become more like God, including the ability to love and obey God more fully, humbly accept His love and care (and quit trying to please God or do life on our own), and to love others through the love He demonstrates to us (via a changed heart/nature and Jesus’ example).

Second, John tells us in verse 17 that as part of God’s community in this life, we have hope and assurance of our standing with God in the next life, in eternity.  Because God is love, one of His unchanging character attributes, His love toward us as His followers will not change when we go from finite life on earth to eternal life.  Because of our relationship to Jesus, we are being transformed into His likeness, including His ability to love others.

Third, John tells us in verse 18 that there is no fear in God’s love.  We can have a healthy fear of the Lord (awe, reverence, humility) without being afraid of God.  We can experience this relationship with God as we are invited each day to dance with the Trinity, to live in constant and abiding community and relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The practical implications of this are endless.  To know that we are invited to God’s community, even through tough times and sad times and times of our bad choices.  That God loves us unconditionally.  That we can see ourselves as He sees us, not as unrighteous sinners, but as redeemed saints.  That God puts in us the ability to love others as He has and does love us.

May these thoughts go deep in your heart today as you experience deep and abiding relationship with the God of the universe and through whatever circumstances may come your way.

Blessings,
~kevin