13 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. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 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.
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know 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, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.1 John 5:13-21
We are at the end of our study of 1 John! And, as John does in his letter, we will take this last passage in chunks to cover the text similarly to how he does. Hopefully, this will help you see the difference between 1 John being Scripture – “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16) and “not produced by the will of man, but [man speaking] from God as…carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) – instead of just a letter from a pastor to his flock. The words that he wrote are God’s words – to his original audience and to us today.
Each of these closing remarks fit with the message of Life, Light, and Love in the rest of 1 John. And they fit in with John’s ultimate purpose – “that you may know you have eternal life” (v. 13). This verse is similar to the closing of his gospel: “…these things are written so 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 20:31). It is my hope that studying 1 John has given you opportunity to know that you have life in Him by “confess[ing] with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believ[ing] in your heart that God raised Him from the dead” (Romans 10:9). The good news here is that, if you have believed in Him you will “not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16) and that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32, Romans 10:13).
What can be known “concerning the word of life” (1:1) is clearly very important to John, and Danny Akin very aptly compiled a list of the things John helps us know in 1 John that I believe can be beneficial to us as we close out this study:
“We can know that we know God (2:3, 13-14; 4:7). We can know that we are in God (2:5)…. We can know the truth (2:21, 3:19). We can know that Jesus is righteous (2:29). We can know that we will be like Jesus (3:2). We can know that Jesus came to take away sins (3:5). We can know that Jesus is sinless (3:5). We can know that we have passed out of death into life (3:14)…. We can know love (3:16, 4:16). We can know that God abides in us (3:24, 4:13). We can know the Spirit of God (4:2) [and the difference between] the Spirit of truth and…of deception (4:6). We can know that we love God’s children (5:2).”
And God, through John, has a few more things that we can know that are shared in this closing section – things that we can believe. So, listen to what God’s Spirit would have us to believe through this closing section of 1 John.
We can know God answers prayer. (vv. 14-15)
We have looked earlier in this letter about what it means to have “confidence before God” (3:21) to “not shrink from Him in shame at His coming” (2:28), giving “confidence for the day of judgment” (4:17). This confidence is an abiding one that dwells in our hearts when our lives shine His light and share His love. Now, we see we can have confidence that our prayers are reaching Him – that He is hearing what we pray and answering it.
This is not the first time that John has spoken on this. In 3:22 he tells us that “whatever we ask we receive from [God], because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him”. When we add the aspect of praying “according to His will” (v. 14), we get a clearer picture of what He wants from us in prayer; He wants us to pray as He taught His disciples to pray – “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10). You see, seeking His will is key in having one’s prayers heard and answered. God is not bound by some set of magic words to give whatever we request. He is not a genie that we can recite some code to command His response. Instead, He is the holy (“hallowed be [His] name” – Matthew 6:9) and sovereign God of the universe. Seeking His will puts us on the same page as Him, giving us appropriate desires and thereby appropriate prayers. In the same way that we are to “be transformed by the renewal of [our minds to test and] discern what is the will of God” (Romans 12:2), we should seek to have Him transform our prayer life to want what He wants.
As for what is and is not God’s will, we do not have to perform a séance or ritual. Rick Warren said it well: “God’s will is found in God’s Word – stop looking for a sign and start looking for a verse.” So, for us today, think of all the things that we have studied in God’s Word – look back at the list of things that we can know just from 1 John. If we want our prayers to be heard and answered, they must align with God’s will, and God’s will always aligns with His Word. Once our prayer life is aligned with His Word, we can absolutely know that He is hearing us, and, in His hearing, He is responding.
We can know how to pray for our brothers and to keep them (and us) from sin. (vv. 16-18)
If you read verses 16-18 and thought, “Hmmm, I am not sure what I just read.” You are not alone. We will tread carefully here and let the context of the surrounding sentences, paragraphs, and the letter as a whole guide us so that we have the surest interpretation. There are two things that cue us specifically to what John is talking about. First, the verses just prior to this section are talking about prayer – as does the end of v. 16. So, John is talking about praying for this “brother” who is “committing a sin”. Second, we can look back in 2:1 and see what that “if anyone does sin” they “have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous”. So, one whose sins are covered (cleansed – 1:9) by Jesus Christ the righteous is saved/born again/has eternal life.
While these verses are indeed difficult (especially v. 16), we are going to keep to the simplest interpretation that fits best with the rest of the Bible, so, even if we err here, we fall back on what is clear in the Word. The simplest interpretation sees two different groups of people: 1) those whose sin “does not lead to death” (v. 17), and 2) those whose sin “leads to death” (v. 16).
The Bible is clear that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), that everyone who is in Christ was once “dead in the trespasses and sins in which [they] once walked” (Ephesians 2:1-2). The only way to move from death to life is to be “made alive together with [God who has] forgiven all our trespasses by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14). This fits John’s teaching that Jesus is our propitiation (2:2, 4:10). So, if “anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death” – seeing one who professes faith in Christ but is actively sinning – “he shall ask, and God will give Him life” (v. 16). We need to hold one another accountable and specifically pray that God will grant repentance (and life) to those who say that they are His yet are living in sin. This is trusting God to take care of your brother (His child) and asking Him to restore him.
In this interpretation, the “sin that leads to death” (v. 16) would be not believing/trusting in Christ. This is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in John 3:18 that “whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”. Those who have not repented of sin and trusted in Christ are still dead in their sin – they still face condemnation for their sin (Romans 8:1). The issue lies in how you can tell the difference. For that, I do not put your brother on the stand but your own life. “All wrongdoing is sin” (v. 17); “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23); and “…the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Those are all clearly true from the Word of God. It is also true that “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” (v. 18). We must examine our own lives according to these truths, and, if we profess to belong to Christ, we must pray for God to grant others repentance as well as our own selves (2 Timothy 2:25-26).
We can know Him. (vv. 19-21)
Ultimately John’s goal is for us to know Christ. He ends as he began, showing us “that which was from the beginning” (1:1) – His friend and Savior who he heard with his own ears, saw with his own eyes, touched with his own hands. He had met Jesus and lived the rest of his life sharing the Life that Jesus gave to him, shining the Light of Christ into the darkness of the world around him, and loving others with the Love that Christ loved him.
He wants us to know that even though “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (v. 19) that we can know we belong to Jesus. He wants us to be able to trust that God’s Word is the true because Jesus Himself is truth (v. 20, John 14:6). He wants us to be able to distinguish between the real Christ and idols (v. 21).
Beloved, Sojourner, what a beautiful picture of love – someone wanting to make sure that, in the midst of evil and terror and all of the negative and depressing things in the world, there is a Savior whose name is Jesus who is everything we need. The world produces more idols (if we are honest, our own hearts produce most of our idols – Jeremiah 17:9, Proverbs 17:20) than we can successfully fend off. We need to be rescued. And that is exactly what we find in Jesus – a Rescuer, a King who left His throne to become a servant so that people can be saved. He is a beacon that shines in the midst of darkness showing all men the Way. He is love even in the face of hatred. He is the King of kings and Lord of lords, and one day His name will be spoken and “every knee should bow…and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Do you know Him?