Studies in 1 John: Spiral 4

1johndesign“Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” It’s a peculiar way to end a letter, but that’s how the apostle John concludes his words to the churches of Asia Minor. He has been writing to give them assurance of their salvation, of their standing before God. As he concludes he urges them to cling to the true Jesus, the Son of God. If they settle for an inferior Jesus, a syncretistic salvation, they will never find assurance. He grounds their confidence in their convictions about the Son of God. Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God receive assurance of their salvation.

John chapter 5 does not quite fit the pattern of our previous three spirals. While the previous three have outlined a doctrinal test and a moral test for assurance, each respectively, the final spiral does not fit so neatly into that framework. All the major themes of John’s epistle find their way into chapter 5, and John looks at each from varied angles. As John concludes he wants to emphasize again the truth about Jesus, namely that he is the divine Son of God. He emphasizes this, he tells us, so that those who believe in him will have confidence.

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. (5:13)

Those who believe that Jesus is this Son of God find several means of confidence: they have overcome the world, they have eternal life, and God hears their prayers.

The true believer has a victorious Christian life. John writes in 5:1-5 about this victorious life and refers to it as “overcoming the world.” He writes:

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (v. 4-5)

To have victory over the world is to have an enduring faith. This is not meant to be some idealist expression of a perfect earthly life, one free from sorrow and trouble. Victory over the world does not mean we are any less involved in the spiritual warfare at the heart of our world. Rather, it means the outcome is certain. Victory over the world means that no matter what we encounter we know we will endure, our faith will stand. John MacArthur writes:

Christians are victorious overcomers from the moment of salvation, when they are granted a faith that will never fail to embrace the gospel. They may experience times of doubt; they may cry out with David, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? (Psa. 13:1…) But true saving faith will never fail, because those who possess it have in Christ triumphed over every foe. The “great…cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) – the heroes of faith described in Hebrews 11 – testify that true faith endures every trial and emerges victorious over them all. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1-3 John, 179)

Our faith is victorious because we have believed in the one who is victorious over this world: Jesus Christ.

Notice the strong connection between the various themes of John’s epistle. In these verses those who believe the truth about Jesus are born of God (v. 1a); those born of God love all others who are born of God (v. 1b); those who love are keeping God’s commandments (v. 2-3); and it is these ones who obey that have overcome the world. D.A. Carson beautifully summarizes this connection when he writes:

Thus the truth test is interlocked with both the love test and the obedience test. In fact, John multiplies such links, so that one should perhaps not speak of three tests so much as of three facets of one comprehensive vision. One cannot pass one or two out of three of these tests; in John’s view, they stand or fall together. Christian authenticity can never rightly be negligent of love while virulently defending truth, or vice versa. John sees the holism of the Christian vision. (“The Johannine Letters” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, 353)

The interlocking of the themes communicates a more holistic picture of the Christian faith than any single test might do.

John’s giving of assurance continues as he speaks of the testimony of God’s Spirit. In particular he emphasizes that if we believe in the Son of God we have confidence of eternal life. In verses 6-12 he outlines this point, stating that God’s Spirit testifies to the truth of Jesus (v. 6), and He grants this testimony to all who believe (v. 10). The particulars of the testimony state not simply that Jesus is the Son of God but, John writes, also that he has given us eternal life (v. 11). John says it powerfully:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (v. 12)

Believers have confidence that though they may die, they will never truly die. They have victory over the world, which includes victory over death. Eternal life is granted to all who know this Son of God.

Finally, John urges the confidence that God hears our prayers. He says it, again, powerfully and simply:

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. (v.14-15)

True believers need no other intermediary, we have Christ. We pray and God hears us because of Christ. Yet notice here too the interconnection between belief and love. For the prayers we pray are not merely prayers for ourselves, but prayers for those who struggle with sin. John says we may pray for those who sin and God “will give him life” (v. 16). This has given me great confidence to pray for those many people I counsel who do not seem to want to change, those who frustrate me. Because I believe that Jesus is the Son of God I know that when I pray for these friends God hears my prayers, and He may yet give them life.

We should not misconstrue the intent of these verses. There are some who read these passages and conclude God gives us whatever we pray for, after all the text says we “have the requests that we have asked of him.” There is a key phrase that guides our prayers, “according to his will.” If we ask according to his will we may have the confident assurance that God hears and answers our prayers. Those things we pray that are outside His will do not have such guarantees upon them (James 4:3). The point John wants to drive home, however, is the confidence we have of our relationship with God. Those who are in a good relationship with the Lord have the confidence that He hears our prayers.

This is why it is so important that we rightly believe the character and person of Jesus Christ. Don’t settle for idols, John urges upon his readers as he concludes. Don’t settle for them because they cannot do these things for you. Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, however, have confidence. They know they are saved and they know that they reap these great benefits from Him. True believers cling to this truth and hope.

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