July 9 – 1 John 5:13-21
Main Focus: Faith in the Son gives us confidence in our standing and walk with him.
Well, folks, this is the last week in our church-wide study of the book of 1 John. John is a pretty straightforward writer, and his words can sometimes be a bit too on-the-nose for our liking, but this series has been filled with exercises that grow your love and faith in the Lord. Our hope and prayers are that this time together has proven useful, refining, and faith-building.
This week, we open to 1 John 5:13-21. This passage opens with a reminder of John’s purpose in writing, that Christians would know that their salvation and eternity rest in Christ. It’s their belief in Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and his finished work which saves, not any act of obedience or rule-keeping (although obedience certainly is fruit of a life of faith). John puts it plainly, saying that those who believe can “know that [they] have eternal life” (5:13). He restates the doctrine taught all through the gospels and epistles that we are “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8).
Now verses 14-17 are a little tricky when we first read them, but as we’ll see, John’s exhortation is not to pray about some things and not others but that we can and should recognize our own lives as bearing fruit for Christ. As we read, John writes that some sins do lead to death and some do not. Kind of nerve wracking, right? What this means is that while all sins ultimately lead to death, there is a difference between the sins of those who do not belong to God, making a practice of sinning (1 John 1:6), and those who do belong to him but still sin. The Message helpfully paraphrases this passage, giving us an idea of what John means by sins that do or don’t lead to death.
“For instance, if we see a Christian believer sinning (clearly I’m not talking about those who make a practice of sin in a way that is “fatal,” leading to eternal death), we ask for God’s help and he gladly gives it, gives life to the sinner whose sin is not fatal. There is such a thing as a fatal sin, and I’m not urging you to pray about that. Everything we do wrong is sin, but not all sin is fatal” (1 John 5:16-17, MSG).
Here are two important distinctions: first, God doesn’t view sin differently based on who does it (those who believe and those who do not). All sin is abhorrent to God (Habakkuk 1:13, CBS). Second, as John has already observed, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not within us” (1:8). The difference John is pointing to is not the sinlessness of believers but the practice of obedience as an evidence of saving faith, in contrast with a practice of sin that is evidence against saving faith.
This is the key to unlocking the following passage where John writes that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (5:18). Out of its context that sounds utterly false; of course followers keep sinning, day in and day out! But the emphasis here is on the unrepentant, blatant practice of sin in disobedience to Christ, evidence that the person is not being convicted by the Spirit because they do not have him. (Note that the CSB renders 5:18 “everyone who has been born of God does not sin,” but most modern translations prefer the repetitive sense of the verb, “keep on sinning,” which is consistent with John’s argument.)
John continues, nudging us, saying that our faith is our reminder that we are of God and our debt is paid. Our faith in Christ as the risen son of God is our assurance for eternity. And how do we know that we have faith? Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-25 that there are fruits—or actions and results—of the Spirit living within us. He goes on to say that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” and, “if we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:24-25). Jesus is the answer to our hearts’ questions and the uncertainty we feel regarding our eternal trajectory. Faith and its fruits in our own lives are how we see and know that our eternity is secure in him.
John concludes this letter by warning us to guard ourselves against idols. It’s easy to think of idols as these physical objects of pagan worship (I think of the golden idol from Indiana Jones where he’s chased by the boulder), but the Lord knows that many more things, often good things, try to usurp his place in our hearts. He knows that our hearts, even though we follow Christ, are easily led astray and distracted by the things of this world that demand our attention and things that try to take God’s place in our hearts.
As we enter discussion, we’ll talk less about the threat of idols and focus more on our confidence and security in Christ’s finished work. John tells us that we know that our eternity rests in God. John writes the phrase “we know” seven times in this passage alone, so it must be important. With all the uncertainty and unexpected that we experience here on earth, it’s pretty comforting to know that we belong to the Most High.
• Could someone read 1 John 5:13-21 for us?
• What stood out to you from the passage?
• What does this passage say about having confidence in Jesus?
• How do you tend to think about your standing with God?
• How does this passage confront your thinking and offer encouragement?
• How has our study in the book of 1 John encouraged you to abide in Jesus and obey his commandments?