Be Confident of Your Salvation – Studies in 1 John (Part 2)
“And this is eternal life, that they should know thee the only true God, and him who thou didst send, even Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3).
Knowing the Father and His Son is fundamental to Christianity. How wonderful it is that we have the living Word of God that teaches us how to know God and live according to His will.
John said, “These things I have written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Let us now focus on the second half of the book — an encouraging and challenging study.
John returns to the importance of what we believe, and he warns about the danger of false teachers.
False teachers are not being considered “hypothetically” (4:1). They are in the world. The antagonistic disposition to Christ, of which the readers were warned, was, and is, a reality (4:2). False teachers may appear like sheep, but they are wolves (cf. Matthew 7:15).
The truth is not, however, some secret that is given to only a few. We can discern truth from error by the Word of God (4:6; cf. Acts 17:11; John 17:17), and John requires that we “believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are from God” (4:1). “This is the way” we know if a person is teaching the truth. We listen to what they say, and we evaluate it in light of God’s Word, which is the truth.
If a teacher does not confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, he is certainly a false teacher. “That is, this doctrine is essential to the Christian system” (Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament — Complete and Unabridged, Grand Rapids: Kregel, pp. 1486-87). Such a one may preach some truth, and he may be warm and charismatic, but he is obviously a false teacher.
If a teacher incorporates worldliness into his message, he is not of God (4:5). A gospel peverted with wordly principles (e.g., not loving your brother, living in sin, etc.) will lead to spiritual ruin.
If a teacher rejects the apostolic teaching, “he is not of God” (4:6). Christ said, “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that rejecteth you rejecteth me; and he that rejecteth me rejecteth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16). Consequently, the test of truth involves more than the teaching about Christ Himself. A teacher is not “of God” if he proclaims some “core” truths but rejects other inspired instruction (cf. 1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:16; Galatians 1:7-8; e.g., 2 Timothy 2:15-18).
What does it mean to “confess that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh” (4:2)? The cornerstone of Christianity is the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If a person truly confesses that Jesus came in the flesh, then he will submit to the authority of the Son of God and teach “the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11; cf. Colossians 2:6-7). He will embrace the teaching of the apostles (cf. Acts 2:42; 2 John 9).
The second half of chapter three explained how love behaves. In 1 John 4:7-21, the apostle returns to the “test of love.” John explains why love behaves the way it does (i.e., why Christians should love each other). We should love one another for the following reasons.
- God is love, so we should love (4:7-8,16,19).
- God abides in us, and we in Him, if we love (4:12).
- God’s love for us is perfected when we truly love our brethren. So, we should not dread punishment, but we can look forward to eternal fellowship with God with confidence (4:12b,17-18).
Love acts. Therefore, to understand God’s love for us, we look at His actions. “He sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (4:10), who is “the only begotten Son” (4:9).
“And this commandment we have from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also” (4:21). Christian love (i.e., loving as God loves) is the result of learning and obeying the gospel. When we confess Jesus as the Son of God, we have learned and responded to the love of God (4:16). We learn what love is, how love behaves, and why love behaves the way it does. When we love like God loves, He abides in us and we in Him.
Faith, love, and obedience are woven together like an ancient oriental rug in these verses.
When we learn the gospel, and obey it, we are born again (John 3:3-5). As Jeremiah (quoted in Hebrews 8:8-12) foretold, the New Covenant would be unlike the Old. For instance, people were born into the Old Covenant by physical birth, and they were taught about God after the fact. However, under the New Covenant, it is different. “And they shall not teach every man his fellow-citizen, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they all shall know me from the least to the greatest of them” (Hebrews 8:11). The nature of the New Covenant is that we learn first, and then we are born anew, or “born from above” (cf. John 3:5; ASV fn), into the family of God.
What must we first learn to be “born anew”? We must learn the gospel. The gospel is the good news about the redemptive plan of God in Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4). For this reason, John says, “Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God” (1 John 5:1). One is not in the family of God who has not experienced the new birth (cf. John 3:3-5).
Those begotten of God are to love one another. “Loving others” is compatible with “loving God.” What does it mean to love God? It means to so value our spiritual life, given to us by our Father, that we seek to please Him above all else.
A loving, obedient faith overcomes the world. Faith is not just believing in redemptive facts. It is not a mere profession of some divine truths. Saving faith has unwavering convictions about the nature and work of Jesus Christ. Therefore, the faithful submit to the commandments of God with joy. Their deep convictions bear the fruit of love.
As Christians, our confidence corresponds to the evidence upon which our faith rests. In these verses, John underscores the “witnesses” that support our convictions, using that term nine times in this section.
The following verse summarizes the point of this section: “And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son” (5:9). “The witness is this” refers to the content of the testmony that is under consideration.
“The witness” is in the singular in verse 9, because the “three witnesses” of verse 8 point to the same conclusion (i.e., “the three agree in one”). Thus, they form a single voice, and their testimony is:
- God gave unto us eternal life.
- This life is in His Son.
The pivotal question, upon which our faith rests, is this: “How do we know that Jesus is God’s Son?”
- Jesus came.
- He came “with water and blood.”
- “Water” and “blood” are evidences of His deity; they are witnesses.
- The Holy Spirit also is a witness.
- These witnesses all point to the deity of Christ.
- We regularly accept the witnesses of men to draw conclusions.
- How strong is the evidence when it is God who provides the testmony?!
While “water” and “blood” have been variously interpreted, it seems most likely that they refer to major events in the life of Jesus, representative of the beginning of His ministry and the end. Jesus came first with water (i.e., His baptism), beginning His earthly ministry. He ended it with His shed blood (cf. Matthew 26:28; Acts 2:38). His life and death testify that He is the Son of God. The events of His life comprise three and a half years of unwavering testimony about His divine nature and mission. Indeed, God has given unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
To these events is added the testimony of the Spirit. The manifestation of the Spirit at the Lord’s baptism, the miraculous power of Christ, the signs of the apostles, and the inspired revelation of the Spirit that abides unto this very hour, are “testimony” of God, the Holy Spirit. Thus, our faith is engineered and constructed through the divine power of God (cf. Romans 10:17). Abundant and overwhelming is the evidence that Jesus is the Son of God. We know that eternal life is the gift made available through the redemptive acts of the Beloved.
“These things have I written unto you, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God” (5:13).
“These things” refers to the entire book. John has outlined fellowship with God, which finds its greatest expression in loving others like God loves us. This is the objective of God’s love for us. In other words, we must deepen our spiritual concern for the souls of others, regardless of the lack of love that others may have for us (this is agape love). Our “love of the soul” is demonstrated by our vigilance to walk in light, to exemplify Christ, to keep the commandments, to love the brethren, to be separate from the world, to adhere to the truth, and to reject error. This is loving submission to God as our Father, and to Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
In the third part of 5:13, John writes: “Even unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God.” The Gospel of John was written so we might believe “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 20:30-31). The Epistle of 1 John, however, was written so that we, who believe in Jesus, might so live as to be confident of our salvation.
The confidence that we should have is illustrated by prayer (5:14-15). Remember, Christian assurance comes through our knowledge that we are conforming, more and more, to the will of God. In prayer, we can ask, God will hear, and God will answer. Why? Because, a Christian, with biblical confidence, looks to petition God with a respect for the divine will (e.g., Matthew 26:39)
From other passages we learn that prayer must be in faith (James 1:6), in the name of Jesus (John 14:14), made by those who abide in him (John 15:7), who are forgiving (Mark 11:25), and who are obedient (1 John 3:22). Prayer is not for our selfish desires (James 4:3).
How does this relate to a brother who sins? If we know a brother has sinned, we ought to pray for that brother. But, when it is obvious that the brother lives in sin (lit., "There is sin towards death. . . " 5:16b), our prayers are ineffective in overriding his freewill. God will not allow us to intercede for an impenitent sinner — even a brother. There is sin, however, that will not cause us to be lost; it is that which we are willing to confess, relying upon our Advocate to remedy (cf. 1:9; 2:1-2). If we are walking in fellowship with God, living in Christ, our brothers and sisters can — and should — pray for us, even when we fall (cf. Galatians 6:1).
Have you ever known someone who was undergoing serious medical tests? Maybe you have been that person. Uncertainty is stressful. John’s letter, however, is about the assurance that comes through the Word of God.
John concludes with three powerful statements, all of which begin with “we know.” “We” means Christians.
- We know that Christians combat sin (v. 18).
- We know the believers are contrasted with the world (v. 19).
- We know Christ’s mission and identity are certain (v. 20).
First, John teaches us about our relationship to sin (see: 1:6-10; 2:1-6; 3:3-9; 5:16-18). A person who is begotten of God (perfect tense — stands in a “begotten” relationship) cannot live in sin (present tense — he does not practice a life of unrestrained sin).
The faithful have this blessing: “. . . but he that was begotten of God keepeth himself [or, him], and the evil one toucheth him not” (5:18b).
Again, the certainty of eternal life is stressed in a two-fold description. First, from the positive side, and second, from the negative side. “He that was begotten,” we believe, refers to Christ, who took on flesh. He “protects him,” i.e., the Christian (ESV 5:18b; cf. Matthew 20:19).
The devil, who would like to destroy us, cannot cause us eternal harm by overpowering the Savior. Jesus’ blood keeps on cleansing the faithful from all sin (1:7). It is the good fight of faith, and the diligent Christian is on the victorious side (1 Timothy 6:12).
Second, there is a contrast between Christians and the world. Christians are “out of” God, but the world “lieth” (passively submits to) in the evil one — the devil. “This declared certainty [v. 19] challenges the readers to demonstrate that reality in their daily lives” (D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary, Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1991, p. 267). There is a spiritual contrast between the Christian life and the wordly life, and we are living one or the other (cf. Psalm 1; Matthew 7:13-14).
Third, the basis for our assurance is that “the Son of God is come” (cf. Colossians 2:3). By him, we learn about God (cf. John 1:18). Through His redemptive work, we can have fellowship with the Father. He [Christ] is “the true God.”
J.W. Roberts, after making a strong case that “the true God” (5:20) is a reference to Christ, concludes, “This seems to climax the claim of John for the person and work of Jesus Christ in the epistle, as Thomas’ exclamation, ‘My Lord and my God,’ did in the Gospel of John” (The Living Word Commentary: The Letters of John, Austin: Sweet, 1968, p. 148).
So John ends with an emphatic declaration of the deity of Christ. The Lord’s inseparable connection with eternal life is emphasized dramatically. Peter recognized, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). To look anywhere else is idolatry.
May the Lord help us to live according to our spiritual professsions, to love His people, to look to divine princples, and to be loyal to the heavenly priorities. As we walk in the light, He strengthens us to be confident as Christians and sure of our salvation.