1 John 5:14-21 (#14) Finale!

I.  INTRO

We’re landing the plane today in our 1 John series – His Light, Our Delight

A week ago Wed I was on a plane from DC to Manchester.  Before we took off the Captain came on and told us the flight was going to be bumpy – and it was…

As we close out 1 John (and as we prepare our hearts for Christmas) I would like to begin our study today be reminding us of the human condition…And I should warn you that it may get a bit turbulent as we prepare to land the plane.

Last June reTURN/CRM conducted a diagnostic here at SBF.  (A 1-page version is available in the lobby.)  Well, Scripture has also conducted a diagnostic of the human heart and I would like to let the Word of God speak to us this morning regarding what has gone wrong with humanity.  It takes a humble courage to embrace the truth about ourselves…

Here is my thesis: We simply cannot fix what’s wrong with us.  With all of our advances in science, technology, and clinical therapies the human heart remains as Jeremiah said 17:9: “more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

  • Ps 14:3 – They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt;
    There is no one who does good, not even one.
  • Prov 20:9 – Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”?
  • Rom 3:9-12 — What then? Are we [Jews] better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; 10 as it is written,  “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; 11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; 12 ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”  All of us have one singular thing in common…our base commonality is that we are sinners incapable of righteousness.
  • Rom 3:23 – For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
  • Eph 2:1-3 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath…”

The NT authors invite us to bear in mind that God’s commands for us to be holy and love our neighbor, etc. are not there to show our ability, but to reveal our inability and to remind us of our continual dependence on the grace of God to do in us and through us what we cannot do (accomplish) on our own.

Before we move into our text for this morning I am going to say something very difficult to you.  I will say it because I love you and I want to be able to say at the end of my time here that, I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

The core issue with you and me is not that we sometimes DO the wrong things, the problem is we were born with something very wrong inside of us.  We are born in a corrupted state of being.  We were born with a sin infection.

If your default mode is that you’re basically a good person who occasionally does bad things then you have not understood the Bible – or the Gospel.

The greatest hindrance to your joy and happiness is you.  (Merry Christmas!)

Here is what I want to say as we move into our text for this morning:  There is good news…The gateway for ever increasing joy for you and for me is an understanding that surly we were brought forth into a state of inequity that surely we have a bent toward rebellion.  Our joy and delight begin with embracing our depravity.  The way to a sure hope is to embrace hopelessness…it seems counter-intuitive to us.  Another way to say it is – the unlikely route to joy is repentance (Dan Allender, The Wounded Heart).

Eph 2:4-5 – But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our [sin], made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…”

Whether from the pen of Moses, Paul, or other biblical authors, “But God” appears in various forms hundreds of times in the Bible. To understand these two words as they are used in Scripture is to understand the gospel. James Montgomery Boice wrote, “May I put it quite simply? If you understand those two words—but God’—they will save your soul. If you recall them daily and live by them, they will transform your life completely.” “But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. Without the “But God” statements in the Bible, the world would be completely lost in sin and under judgment.

God’s response to our rebellion is nothing short of spectacular, which takes us into our passage for today…

II.  BODY

There are three main points in these final eight verses.  In our remaining time, I’d like to go back and walk through them, viewing them in the light of the biblical truth – that we were brought forth in a state of rebellion and iniquity – and our only hope is God’s mercy and grace, which transforms us from the inside out.

1.  Verses 14-17 – God loves (or longs) to give us what we pray for

This is the confidence which we have before 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 which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.

So, the big picture assertion, or promise here is that God loves, or longs to provide what we pray for.  John is saying that if we know that He hears us, then we know we have the answer (assurance).  But did you notice a couple of elephants hanging around in those verses?

The elephants are found in verses 14 & 16: (v.14) IF we ask anything according to His will… and v. 16: There is a sin leading to death

Elephant #1 – V. 14 — This can be a troubling qualification because Scripture doesn’t speak a lot to the problem of unanswered prayer, though it does give us at least three clues, which I want to pass on to you…

  • 1 Peter 3:7 teaches that strained interpersonal relationships, especially between husband and wife, hinder prayer:  “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”
  • James 4:3 teaches that prayers aimed at merely enhancing our own private pleasure will go unheardYou ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
  • 1 John 3:22 implies that if we are actively, willfully disobedient to God’s commandments, our prayers won’t be answered“and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” (The first work of obedience is to listen.)

Elephant #2 – V. 16 – There is a sin leading to death.” This verse has provoked widespread discussion.

This is where the Catholics affirm their concept of mortal[1] vs. venial sins.

However, it seems clear that the one who sins unto death is not a Christian (although s/he my think they are).  Here is what most scholars believe is the most likely interpretation: This is the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

It is the deliberate, open-eyed rejection of known truth. Ascribing the mighty works of Jesus to the devil.  (John may have been referencing Christopher Hitchens types of their day…)

The Pharisees committed this sin.  And there are those whom John refers to earlier in 1 John as antichrists would also fall into this category.  They were children of the devil, not children of God (3:19).  Such sin, Jesus said would never be forgiven – in this life, or in the life to come.

  • Mark 3:29“but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin.”
  • Mat 12:31-32“Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 32 Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” 

2.  Three Affirmations (“We knows”) John Stott calls them three clear, candid, bold, dogmatic certainties — which summarize the truths that have been shared in the earlier parts of the letter.

  • 1st Affirmation – (v. 18) – We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
    • The phrase “born of God” literally means “begotten” and indicates a new birth.
    • New birth results in new behavior.  John Stott writes, “Sin and the child of God are incompatible.  They may occasionally meet; [but] they cannot live together in harmony.”[2] (Besetting sins?)
    • If we have Christ, we have the power for deliverance from sin.
    • This is what we are praying when we say in the Lord’s Prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Mat 6:13b).
  • 2nd Affirmation – (v. 19) – We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”
    • God remains the source of our spiritual life and being.
    • We should not attribute to the “evil one” too much power.  The word “lies” indicates that the “whole world” is but unconsciously asleep in the embrace of Satan.
    • John draws a very clear and dogmatic line here: We are either 1) awake and “of God” (or in God), or 2) we are slumbering in the arms of Satan.  There is no third category.
  • 3rd Affirmation – (v. 20) – 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. This is the true God and eternal life.
    • This final affirmation is the most fundamental.  Both redemption and revelation belong to God.
    • The gospel is not concerned merely with the truth that God has given us certain things, but that He has come. (“O come, O come Emmanuel – and ransom captive Israel…”)
    • And notice that the Christian is in Christ — sharing His very life.
    • John has told us that Jesus is light (1:5), He is love (4:8), and he is concluding his epistle by saying that Jesus is the only true source of life itself (see also Jn 5:26).

3.  The Concluding ExhortationGuard [NIV, KJ: keep] yourself from idols (5:21).

At first glance this concluding, or final, exhortation might seem a bit odd…

(And the NIV & KJ translations also make it a bit confusing[3]…There is a “keeping” (v.18) accomplished by Christ – and there is a “guarding” that we are responsible for.  The NIV & KJ translate the words the same, but they are different…)

  • Keeping (tēreō) – Expresses watchful care and is suggestive of present possession.  As in, Jesus Christ will – and is keeping us.
  • Guarding (phylassō) – A helpful synonym for this v.21 word may be: beware.  So, the NASB translation is a little clearer here.  “Guard yourselves, or beware, of idols.”  In other words, have a working knowledge or understanding (with accountability) of the areas where you attempt find comfort and joy in ways other than Jesus Christ.
  • So, God keeps – and our responsibility, through sanctifying grace, is to be on guard, or to beware of idolatry creeping into our lives.  In Christ we are empowered to find our joy, our comfort, our delight in Him.

One of the best definitions for idolatry is when we “make good things ultimate things” (Keller, Counterfeit Gods).  Another excellent descriptor is from Jerry Bridges book  Bookends of the Christian Life where he describes idols as our “functional saviors.”

Sometimes our surface sins are only symptoms of a deeper problem. Underneath every external sin is a heart idol—a false god that has eclipsed the true God in our thoughts or affections.  Some scholars would say we don’t really have a sin problem, we have a worship problem.  In this context all sin is idolatry.  And every time we choose sin we have chosen to find our comfort, joy, or delight in something (or someone) other than God.

III.  CONCLUSION

To sum-up: in our His Light, Our Delight study John leans in to an associated group of churches undergoing conflict to (re-) mold their concept of God and life within the church. By carefully describing salvation and its fruit in a Christian’s life, John brilliantly defines what a Christian is by clarifying the borders of our faith with the elements of light, truth, and love.  John, an eyewitness to the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus –  as well as His most intimate earthly friend, enables us to discern where we are in our lives and carefully sets our focus on where we could and can be as we press in to wholeheartedly love God and one another.

A baseline for truth is seeking to understand the clearest concept of God, Jesus Christ, and humanity.  Love is the way we imitate Christ in sacrificially relating to one other.  His light is the reflection of holiness stemming from Christ dwelling in us through the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit – causing us to delight in what He has done.  We wouldn’t want a Christianity without these three elements as John has defined them.  It would no longer be what Jesus Christ taught and revealed to us.  Because of this, we are exhorted to surrender to God’s transforming love and to love one another in ways that are consistent with how Jesus Christ revealed Himself to us.


[1] From a Catholic perception a mortal sin is a grave sin that ruptures our link to God’s saving grace.

[2] Stott, John. The Letters of John, Tyndale NT Commentaries Vol. 19, IVP Accademic 1964 & 1988: 192.

[3] We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He [Jesus] who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.

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