Keep Yourselves From Idols
1 John 5:13-21
Key Verse 5:20
“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— even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
When John was wrapping up the gospel he wrote about the Lord Jesus he said: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31) This was God’s intention from the start in sending his Son. He wants us to believe in him so that we might have life. Jesus said: “I have come that they may have life and have to the full.” (John 10.10) The whole purpose of Jesus coming was that we might escape the sting of sin and the death trap of this world and be saved to eternal life. And God testified and promised that whoever believes in his Son will not perish but will have this eternal life. This was God’s true testimony and promise!
When John wrote this letter to the Christian believers this was his purpose as well. In regards to God’s testimony, he says in verses 11 and 12: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” In the end, it’s all about whether we will have life or not. God has given the human race a chance at eternal life, for that is what it says that: “God has given us eternal life”. But this eternal life is not going to be had through any means originated by man or from this world. And why is that so? Because this world and everything in it and of it is a creation of God and draws its life from God, and therefore cannot create— nor extend life— nor bestow life— nor impart life in and of itself to anything at all. Only the Creator who is the origin of life can give life to whomever he chooses and in whatever way he chooses. And this is how God has given life to the human race: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” And so God, alone gives life and he has given life in and through his Son. His Son crossed over from the eternity of God where life exists into our world where death exists— and has planted the seed of life in those who have believed and accepted the son. Therefore as verse 12 says: “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
For those who have not believed, John says, they have made God out to be a liar, because they had not believed God’s testimony about his Son. (10) They have dishonored God who is Truth and whose integrity is spotless. Imagine if Carl or Dr. Alex, two men I trust testify about something to me and I don’t believe them, how I dishonor them by making them out to be liars. How much more dishonoring it is to God not to believe his testimony about his Son. But for those who have believed, John cannot stop encouraging them about their faith and assuring them of their salvation. Again he tells them the purpose to which he writes them and us who believe.
Read verse 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.” Remarkably, since we believe in the Son of God, we also have a fellowship of divine life with God. Since we have eternal life, therefore we are in a divine fellowship with God and with his Son through the Spirit. This is a divine mystery hard to fully comprehend, but it’s a truth we ought to know and to personally experience because we believe. The moment we put our faith in the Son, we know in our hearts that we are God’s children through the Spirit he gave us. (1 John 4:13). We also know that as children born of God we also have eternal life. And therefore we also know that we are now in a divine fellowship with the father God and with his Son. Let me ask this one more time? How do we know that we are in a divine fellowship with the father and the son? We know this through the Spirit he gave us (1 John 4.13). At the same time, we also know because the word of God tells us so. John began his letter by telling us of this divine fellowship of Life that we have with the Father and the Son. He said: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3) And once again he says here in verse 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.” To believe in Jesus the Son of God is to have eternal life. And to have eternal life is to be in a divine fellowship with the Father and the Son. There can be nothing more precious in our life than this!
He says in verse 13: “I write these things… so that”. Everything he has written has been written for our assurance that eternal life is ours. “These things” are our solid assurance! Otherwise, nothing else can be our assurance. Our faith cannot depend on how we feel but in the word of God. People usually want to measure how much faith they have by how they feel, or they want to measure it by a denomination or a set of rituals. But faith is simple. Faith is simply trusting Jesus and his word. It is trusting what the Word of God 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.” This faith cannot be measured by one’s feelings or intellect. It must be based on one’s trust in God and his Word. When Peter was challenged by Jesus to do something unreasonable, he said: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5) When Jesus was about to go to the Centurion’s home to heal his servant, the Centurion said: “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matthew 8:8) These people believed in the word of God.
In fact “these things”, these very words are the title deed to our eternal life and salvation. There can be no doubt that we have eternal life as long as we believe in Jesus Christ the son of God— as long as we trust God and his word. John wrote these words to the believers of all time— to you who believe that you might believe— and continue believing— and continue growing stronger in your faith. These are reliable “things”, “things” tested and approved and personally experienced by John, and by countless believers across the ages, and by me and many of you who believe!
Read verse 14. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” First of all, let’s talk about “the confidence” we have. This confidence we have— where does it come from? It comes from the eternal life we have through faith in Jesus. Since we have fellowship with him, we are connected to the Father through this eternal life and fellowship we have with Him. And so we can approach him with confidence. And this confidence we have is great because it is the confidence we have through our divine fellowship with the Father and the Son. Through this fellowship we are sons and daughters who have the life of the Triune God flowing through us. We are not strangers nor guests, nor acquaintances, nor rejects nor outcasts. Rather we are sons and daughters who have the life of our Lord flowing through us. So we have confidence to approach God. We have the privilege of family members and the confidence to pray.
Every one of us who can open our mouth and pray has a measure of that confidence in them. It is not a confidence or assurance that is available to those who have no life, or those who have no divine fellowship with the Father and the Son. If you pray— then you have the confidence to pray. If you have the confidence to pray you have that fellowship. It may be a very weak prayer and a weaker fellowship yet because you may still be holding out a lot on God. But you can pray to the Father through the Son! It may be a weak prayer and fellowship because you are still holding on to some sin in your heart, but the fact that you can pray to the Father in the Son is that you have a measure of confidence that only a child of God can have. Your prayer may be clouded by doubts and discouragements, but the fact that you can pray is grace to encourage you to fully surrender your heart to the Lord, so that your fellowship may no longer be weak but be strong. We have a divine fellowship of love and life with the Father and the Son. How could we not but take full advantage of it! It’s our assurance, our confidence— John tells us! It’s our birthright to boldly come to God in prayer. [But if you’re holding out on the Lord in some way, or you’re entertaining some secret sin, your prayer will remain weak and your fellowship will be marked by many bumps in the road. Even though your salvation is certain, believe me your conscience will not let you approach God with confidence for anything.]
Read verses 14 again. “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” John tells us that our confidence in prayer is this: That whatever we ask for according to his will he hears us. The confidence we have to approach God in prayer grows as we grow and mature in our relationship or fellowship with the Father and the Son in the Spirit. When we are very young spiritually, our prayers are erratic, according to our moods, and feelings. They are weak and superficial, asking for things that we feel we want or need or must have. As we shed our load of sin and get purified by the blood of the Lamb, and we no longer are holding out much on Father God because we have learned to trust him more, our fellowship with him gets stronger and so does our prayer. Now we’re praying for ourselves but we’re also praying for others, and for the church and for world mission. But when we have fully grown in God’s love and have fully surrendered to the will of God, we are then in intimate fellowship with the Father and the Son. We are then only concerned about one thing and one thing only— His will— because now we see with spiritual eyes what we really couldn’t see before. Our supreme concern then is Jesus’ prayer: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. (Matthew 6:10) We are no longer begging for candy, but we are vigilant in finding the will of God so that we may support and uphold it in our prayers at all times. This is the confidence we should have in prayer, that whatever we ask for in prayer according to his will he hears us, because God is eager to fulfill his will in our lives and through our lives and in the world.
If you wonder when is a believer’s prayer in accordance with the will of God? There are two things that are usually the measure of whether a prayer is according to the will of God or not! First, a prayer is in accord with the will of God when it’s in harmony with Scripture. And second, a prayer is in accord with the will of God when it’s prompted by the Holy Spirit.
Look at verse 15. “And if we know that he hears us— whatever we ask— we know that we have what we asked of him.” If we have the confidence that God hears us, then naturally we also have the confidence that we already have what we asked for. What does this mean? Whatever the will of God is cannot but be ultimately fulfilled. When God reveals his will to us, and we pray about it, it’s as good as done. This is our confidence. Most people misunderstand this verse when they interpret it from a selfish perspective. But when we’re in fellowship with the Father and with his Son, in reality there is nothing else that we need on this earth in this life except to fulfill His will. With that on our hearts, whatever is needed to fulfill the will of God is therefore provided for in prayer, and we have it. God does not exist in time and space as we do. He is not limited to the here and now. When he says we have it, then we have it! And God does not lie. He is truthful. We only need to trust that we have it, because his word is truth. We’ve prayed many times for a bigger church but nothing happened. It’s not been God’s will for us to have a bigger church. I believe that God intends for us to remain a “manger ministry”, outwardly humble and insignificant yet inwardly dynamic and full of God’s life. If and when it’s in God’s will for us to have a bigger church, we’ll know and we’ll pray and God himself will provide it. It’s God’s will however, for us to reestablish a fruitful ministry on Triton campus again and to raise a new flock of Jesus’ disciples from among these students. Let’s pray about that believing that we already have it.
Read verses 16-17. “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him 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 he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.” There’s a lot of arguments regarding verse 16. Who is the “brother” who is caught in sin, is it a believer or a non-believer? And if he’s a believer then why upon someone’s intercessory prayer, will this believer need “new life from God” when he already has had the “new life” through his faith in Christ? What is the sin that leads to death and why didn’t John clearly identify it? What is this “death” that John talks about, is it physical death or spiritual death? There are many speculation about this. Very respectable Christian thinkers believe different things. But rather than get into the theology of this verse, let’s focus on what John is aiming at. We should be assured that God hears our prayers for those who are caught up in sin. In this letter John repeatedly tells us that true believers do not live lives of sin, nor do they habitually or continually sin as we will see in verse 18. But if a believer falls into sin, and believers do occasionally fall into sin (17), regardless of its severity, we have God’s assurance that if we pray for them, God will bring life where death has taken a hold of them. As for the sin that leads to death, it would be wise to settle for the sin against the Holy Spirit which Jesus pointed out to. (Mark 3:29) At the same time any sin that denies the Humanity and Deity of the Lord Jesus, as John continued to testify to in this letter, is a sin that leads to death, because death is the opposite of life which God gives to those who accept His testimony regarding his Son.
Read verse 18. “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.” As I said before, this is not the first time John tells us this— that a child of God— born of God does not sin— nor continue to sin. He or she had already put the life of sin behind and they now have a new life and a new nature after God’s nature. This new nature hates sin and lives in enmity with sin. It loathes sin and fights it continuously. The new nature never ever sins because it is born of God and in-dwelt by the Holy Spirit. But the old nature still has some life in it (although it is crucified) and it still wants to sin, and it does get its way sometime. But it does not continue in sin. It is not allowed to. How is that possible? John helps us understand this. He says: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.” There are two thoughts regarding the identity of “the one born of God” who keeps the believer safe. Let see what they are.
The first thought is that “The one born of God” is in reference to the believer himself or herself. If that is the case, then what John seems to be saying is this: that when a person is born of God, and no longer lives to sin, he keeps himself safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. In fact this is very true and in perfect accord with the Scripture. For the Scripture says to us: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7) When we resist the devil, he cannot harm us. When we determine to live by the word of God and depend on his Spirit to guide our steps, the devil cannot harm the child of God. He has no course but to flee.
On the other hand, a better interpretation is that “The One born of God” is the Lord Jesus himself, and he keeps the believer safe, such that the devil cannot harm them. This too is true because God’s children are protected by Jesus’ prayer and the sovereign control of God. Jesus prayed for all believers on the day before his departure that God would keep us safe, and there is nothing in heaven and on earth that can harm our spirit because Jesus is our protector. Satan cannot touch any believer without the Lord’s permission. (Luke 22.31-32) Once you are a child of God, there is nothing that can touch you or harm you in the Lord. Jesus promised: “No one can snatch them out of my hands”. (John 10:29) Satan can never harm your relationship with God nor can he harm your eternal security in salvation. Look at verse 19. “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” While the whole world is under the dominion of the evil one, the children of God are not. They are under the dominion of God. There are two dominions in the universe. There is God’s dominion which is God’s eternal kingdom where God is King and Ruler. And then there is this world where Satan rules through sin. We are children of God, under God’s dominion. But we are still flesh. Although we fall into temptation, there is nothing that the devil can do to snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. This is the assurance that John wants to plant in believers’ hearts.
How can we be sure of this? Read verses 20-21. “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— even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” When Jesus came to this world as the Incarnate God, he gave us understanding. He explained everything to us. He still does through the Holy Spirit. But when he came to live among us, he taught us many things. He revealed the truth to us. In other words, he revealed God to us, who God is, what God is like, what God wills. Why? So that we might be able to recognize the True God. Satan is too clever and always wants to imitate God in many ways, especially through the worship of idols. But Jesus gave us understanding through his words and deeds. He gave us revelation of who God is, his love, his grace, his desire to restore us to fellowship with him. Jesus finally sacrificed his life for us as the supreme act of love and returned to the Father. He then sent his Spirit on those who believe so that we might have life and also have a love relationship with the Triune God. And the Spirit continues to give us understanding when we remain in Jesus through his Spirit in the word of God. We need to remain in the assurances that God gives us, especially in the assurance of life and love and fellowship with him. May God purify our hearts from all idols that get in the way. Amen.