We close out with I John as John leaves us with a number of finishing thoughts. We start by looking at the fact that we can know that we have eternal life and, knowing that, we can continue believing in Jesus to an even greater degree. He continued looking at prayer. What does prayer mean? What does prayer do? John dealt with those questions. From there he dealt with the issue of Christians who were heading toward a life of sin. Do we intervene? Do we say something? John left this section and this letter talking about what it means to be a Christian and added the final admonition to avoid idols.
13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
John made the purpose of his letter clear: he wrote to Christians to help them to know that they have eternal life and to encourage their faith in Jesus – the Son of God. This knowledge that we have eternal life is one of the most important things that Christians can experience. We don’t think we have eternal life. We don’t hope we have eternal life. We KNOW that we have eternal life. We know that we have that life not because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is. We have eternal life because we believe in the name of the Son of God. Our hope is based on the eternal nature of God, not our temporary nature, not our temporary activities. Our hope of salvation doesn’t go up or down on the basis of good or bad activities like the stock market; out hope, our knowledge, is based on the eternal nature of God’s love and forgiveness.
14. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: 15. And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him.
Prayer is always an interesting conundrum. Do we use prayer to manipulate God, as in Janis Joplin’s famous Mercedez Benz song? Do we use it to ask God to do things He doesn’t want to do? Is God wanting to do something, but waiting until we ask? Whatever all the ramifications and results of prayer may be, as Christians, we should seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ. We deepen our relationship through prayer. John noted here that if we ask things according to God’s will, He hears and answers us as we desire. That, of course, leaves an “out” if our prayers aren’t answered, but it’s not one to boast of: we didn’t ask according to God’s will. So, where does that leave us with prayer? I believe that prayer is part of our constant communication with God that allows us to draw closer to Him. As we draw closer to Him, our desires come into alignment with His desires, His will. Ultimately, when we pray, we’re more concerned with things that God is concerned with and our prayers line up with His will. The end result is that God answers those prayers as we desire, because ultimately, they are the same as His desires. As we pray, we should seek to pray for things that bring honor to God rather than asking for things that meet our selfish desires.
16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. 17. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death.
These two short verses pack a wallop on the issue of sin. First of all, John dealt with two kinds of sin: sins that lead to death and sins that do not lead to death. I’m not Catholic, and I don’t put myself forward as an expert in Catholic theology, but this would seem to be where the Catholic Church deals with the idea of “mortal” and “venial” sins. As a Protestant, I’ve seen all sin as equal in God’s eyes with the distinction being forgivable and unforgivable sin. Jesus spoke of one unforgivable sin: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. (e.g. Mark 3:29) What is blasphemy of the Spirit? According to A.T. Robertson, that would be attributing to the devil the manifest work of the Holy Spirit. Sadly, I think Christians commit this blasphemy often when we attack the work that God is doing through other denominations.
Meanwhile, if we see a brother committing a sin not unto death (forgivable or menial if you prefer either of those terms) we’re called to pray for God to forgive them and note that John says that God will give life for that kind of sin. I think that means forgiveness. I think that means that God will draw that person unto Himself so that they can recognize their sin and restore their relationship with God. We’re not allowed to look the other way in that case, we’re commanded to pray for them. On the other hand, if someone is sinning unto death (unforgivable or mortal) we aren’t called to pray for them. John didn’t say we can’t, he just said we weren’t commanded to pray for those people. I have a sneaking suspicion that part of this group are those people who were obviously in the anti-christ area, but also those who set themselves up as prophets as they sought to lead God’s people astray. We still have a lot of those folks running around today. John put it bluntly when he said that all unrighteousness is sin. At the same time, he reminded us that God will still forgive because not all sin leads to death.
18. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.
As we look at this verse, it’s important that we understand that Greek has verb tenses that indicate duration as well as the activity. When John told us that someone who is born of God doesn’t sin, the verb indicates, commit a sin and keep on committing that sin. Earlier, he reminded us that anyone who claims to be sinless is self-deceived and a stranger to the truth. Here, again, the idea is that God’s people don’t remain in the ream of sin, living and enjoying a sinful lifestyle; instead, when we sin, we’re struck with remorse and enter into a state of repentance. In this verse, I believe “begotten of God” refers to Jesus and the meaning is the Jesus keeps us. He keeps us from indulging in sin. He keeps us in His hands when we do sin. He keeps us from the harmful touch of the devil or the wicked one. If we’re in Christ, if we’re one with Christ, the worst the devil can do is kill us. And while that sounds horrible, remember that Jesus told us not to fear the one who can kill the body, rather fear the one who can kill the soul. If our lives are united with God through Jesus Christ, we trust God to keep us in His grace and even death can’t harm us because that just leads us to the next step in our relationship with God.
19. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 20. And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.
If you were to wake up in the country on a moonless night and walk outside, you would experience darkness. Because of the darkness, you’d be listening for any sound, straining your eyes to look for the path ahead, and using all your senses just to move forward. That’s the picture I get when I read that the whole world lies in wickedness. I think of that darkness of sin. In the midst of that all-encompassing darkness of sin, we are in the light of Christ. Because we are in His light, we can see and experience life in ways that people in the darkness of sin can never understand. This is how we know God. This is how we experience His presence. This is living each day in the eternal life of Jesus Christ. The amazing thing about this life in the light is that the power of light always conquers the power of darkness and our life in the light includes a responsibility to shine God’s light in such a way that we draw others into fellowship with the Son of God.
21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
This might seem like an anti-climatic ending given the amazing beauty and the vast, overarching themes of this letter, but it’s a reminder that back then, idols were everywhere and they could worm their way into people’s lives in many ways. While they had protection because of God’s Holy Spirit, it was still possible for them to let their guards down. Our world today doesn’t have named idols so much as we have de facto idols that come between us and our relationship with God. John spent a lot of time in this letter dealing with our relationship with God, and the admonition to avoid idols is a reminder that we shouldn’t let anything come between us and our relationship with God. How do our modern day idols do that? Anything that becomes more important than God in our lives becomes an idol. Put God first in your life. Keep God first in your life. Maintain a growing relationship with God and you will most likely avoid those idols that disrupt your fellowship with God. Keep your focus on God and live for Him each day.