1 JOHN 5:13-17
J. I. Honeycutt, a character on the T. V. series “M.A.S.H.,” gave this
reason for why he did not give in to temptation in the midst of the Korean War. “I have lived in an insane world where nothing makes sense. Everyone around me lives for the now, because there may not be a tomorrow. But I have to live for tomorrow because for me there is no now.”
For B. J., his hope for the future was seeing his family again. That hope was sufficient to define how he would behave in an extremely difficult situation. How much more so should our future hope of the kingdom of God shape how we live?
I. THE POSSESSOR OF ETERNAL LIFE V. 13
This section of John’s epistle is a sort of recapitulation or summary of the entire letter. John the beloved Apostle combines some of the leading ideas and gives them a final statement. The central concept is the assurance of eternal life, a thought which has played a prominent role throughout this letter.
John begins this passage with a statement concerning the believer’s assurance of eternal life (v. 13) and his/ her confidence in the realm of prayer (vv. 14-17). The first certainty of faith, which John mentions, has to do with our possession of eternal life. Eternal life is both quantitative and qualitative. That is, it is endless in duration and spiritual (even God-like) in nature. Eternal life, which existed only in God, was historically manifested in the coming of Jesus Christ (1:2). When you receive Christ and you are born again, eternal life becomes yours (John 3). Some people hope they would be given eternal life. John says you can know you have it now. Your certainty is based on God’s promise that he has given you eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ. This is true whether you feel close to God or distant from Him. Eternal life is not based on feelings but facts. Eternal life is not based on feelings but faith in Christ. You can know you have eternal life if you believe God’s truth. Do you lack the assurance of salvation? Then ask yourself if you have honestly committed your life to Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. If the answer is yes, then you know by faith that you are a child of God. I will like to draw an illustration from an African-American woman who used to attend Bible studies with us a couple of years ago. There are many people who are saved by faith but live their lives on the basis of salvation by works. The reason is that they belong to churches that teach and preach that they can lose their salvation when they sin.
Such believers live in fear; as such they cannot enjoy the liberty which Christ has given to them. The fact of the matter is that these believers don’t understand the full significance and implications of “grace” and “eternal life.”
There are three things that I would like for you to observe in verse 13. First, the verse declares the purpose of John’s letter. Repeat this verse after me. I want this verse to be etched in your mind and heart. Assurance of salvation is the privilege and the birthright of every genuine believer. You don’t have to grope in the dark about your relationship to God. The problem with some Christians and churches is that they don’t realize that the Christian life is based on relationship. The Christian life is based on our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. As I have repeated many times from this pulpit, when a truly born again person commits sin, it does not affect his relationship with God. Rather, your sin ruins or hampers your fellowship with God until you confess and repent of your sin. As a father or mother when your son/daughter sins against you, the sin does not jeopardize the relationship that you have with your child. Rather your son or daughter’s sin, whether rebellion or stealing affects the child’s fellowship with you. A typical example in the Bible is David and his son Absalom. Therefore, every Christian may know and should know that he has eternal life. Amen. The word “know” means to know with absolute certainty. In this context the word “know” means positive, confident assurance. It signifies an abiding conviction, resting on know facts.
Second, the verse reveals how this assurance of eternal life may be gained. “These things I have written . . . that you may know.” This suggests that John’s letter contains a number of tests that can be applied to your life to determine your true status before God. For example, 2:3, “By this we know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commandments.” 3:10, 14, 18,-19, 24; 5:10. You can apply this to yourself or others.
Third, the verse plainly implies that you may be a believer, may have eternal life, and yet not know that you have this eternal life. That is to say, you may be truly saved and at the same time entertain doubts about your salvation. You and I should be able to distinguish between salvation and assurance of salvation. Every believer is saved, but not every believer has the assurance that he is saved. The downside to those who lack assurance of salvation is that your doubts may affect your spiritual growth, rob you of joy, and cripple your usefulness, but they don’t change the fact that you are saved. If your father were a king and everything he had was yours, but you didn’t know that they were yours, it doesn’t affect your relationship with your father, the king. You may be living in poverty, but in reality, you are rich, yet you don’t know that you are rich. Actually this is an unhappy way to live. That is the way some Christians live their lives. They live their lives trying to measure up to God because they don’t know who they are in Christ. That is a picture of many members of the “Deeper Life Church.”
II. THE BELIEVERS’ PRAYERS AND GOD’S ANSWER VV. 14-17
I think you know what John is doing. Having spoken of our assurance of eternal life, he moves now to discuss another assurance; that of answered prayer. John is saying that assurance in prayer is the natural consequence of the assured possession of eternal life. Prayer is based on relationships. Only those who are children of God can truly pray. First, we who are believers must know that we are accepted with and in God; then on the strength of this assurance, we have great encouragement to approach Him with our needs (3:19-22).
Verse 14 reveals our confidence in prayer. Here the Apostle John emphasizes the spirit in which the assured believer comes before God (v. 14). Boldness or confidence has reappeared again. Already we have seen the word three times in this letter. Once it was used in reference to the Second Coming of Jesus (2:28; once, in reference to the judgment (4:17); and once, in reference to prayer (3:21). I have explained the meaning of the term “confidence” or “boldness” to you. However, in this verse, it means the childlike confidence with which you and I approach God. As Paul puts it, God has “sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, Abba, Father” (Gal. 4:6). You and I can, therefore, as the writer of Hebrews says, “draw near with boldness unto the throne of grace that we may receive mercy, and may find grace to help us in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). The word “hears” means to hear favorably. When God hears your prayer with favor that means He will grant your request. The problem, however, is that God is more ready to hear than we are ready to pray. Many Christians are spiritual paupers because they refuse to pray. Many Christians are living with unmet needs because they feel reluctant to pray to their heavenly Father who is always ready to hear from His children. If you refuse to pray how are you going to get your needs met? Probably you get your needs met like the people of the world. Some too, don’t have the boldness to pray because they don’t want to give up their sinful pleasures. They know that what they are doing is not right but they refuse to give it up. Christians who are living in sin are spiritual paupers. That is why some of them move from church to church wanting some sort of external experience. If you are a true Christian, God has not been confined to a certain church or some particular Christians. God is already resident in your heart. The Holy Spirit who lives in you is God Himself. Therefore, stop going up and down as if God is on the run and yield your life completely to Him and He will manifest Himself strongly in your life. (Illustration of those of us who come from a polygamous background). How many of us who grew up in Africa had a close relationship with our fathers? Could you freely go to your dad and discuss or converse with him?
The one limitation or condition to this assurance of answered prayer is that the thing you request in prayer be according to “His (God’s) will” (v. 14). Elsewhere in the New Testament, we are taught that prayer to be effective must be “in Jesus’ name” (John 14:13). Jesus’ name is not some sort of magical formula. You can pray in Jesus’ name only when you are properly related to Him. Prayer must proceed from a righteous life (James 5:16; 1 John 3:22) and from unselfish motives (James 4:3). Prayer also must be offered in faith (Matt. 21:22; James 1:6).
However, the statement, “According to His will” seems to be the inclusive way of setting forth the fundamental condition of effectual prayer. This implies that you realize God’s infinite wisdom and will and you subordinate your desires to it. This is not a restriction to your freedom but a safeguard to it. “The marvelous and supernatural power of prayer consists, not in bringing God’s will down to us, but in lifting our will up to His.” I like what William Barclay wrote. He writes, “The ultimate test of any request is, Can we say to Jesus, “Give me this for your sake and in Your name?” If your request would bring honor and glory to Christ, then it would be granted. Prayer to a large extent has to do with your motive and the will of God.
Second, the consciousness that we have our request (v. 15). The phrase “if we know” does not suggest some sort of doubt. Actually the phrase should have read “And since we know.” This is the point. When you align your prayer to the will of God, He will listen; and you can be certain that if he listens, He will give a definite answer. Therefore begin to pray with confidence. Knowing God’s will ensures confidence in prayer. There are many Christians who don’t have confidence in prayer because they don’t know the will of God. In the model prayer, Jesus taught us to pray “Your will be done on earth as it is done in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus demonstrated to us the supreme example of prayer in the will of God.
Let me give you some guidance in prayer as you determine the will of God in your life. This has helped me in my own life. First, God guides through circumstances (Acts 16:7-10). God closes some doors and opens others. Our responsibility is to be sensitive to His leading and to follow through the door when they open. Don’t try to open a door, which God has closed, else you will be in trouble. Second, God guides through other mature Christians, as He did in Acts 6 when the whole church chose the Seven, or in Acts 13 when the Spirit spoke to the church in Antioch about the need for Paul and Barnabas to go abroad. Your personal convictions should be opened to testing by the guidance of other Christians. If your convictions really come from God, others who are in touch with God will confirm it. Third, God guides us through the Scriptures. The Spirit who inspired the writing of Scriptures is perfectly well capable of taking some of them and writing it on our hearts so that it becomes an inescapable pointer to a particular course of action (Col. 3:16). An increasing broad appreciation of Scriptures will give you a developing ability to scan the will of God in any given situation. Fourth, God guides us in prayer (Col. 3:15). There is such a thing as praying a situation through until you are virtually sure of the will of God on the matter. When this happens God gives you an inner peace about it; not absolute intellectual certainty, but practical confidence, which allows you to proceed to action with joyful assurance.
Third, the duty of intercessory prayer (vv. 16-17).
In verses 14 &15 the Apostle John has spoken of the efficacy of prayer in general terms, now he proceeds to speak of the effectiveness of praying in a particular direction, which is intercessory prayer. What is intercessory prayer? It is a prayer offered on behalf of another person. Perhaps besides the prayer of adoration or praise, intercessory prayer is the most important form of prayer. This does not mean that you have to ignore your own petition or supplication. You don’t neglect to pray for yourself but you don’t spend all of your time praying for yourself. You pray for yourself, but you pray more for others. When you do that your life does not become self-centered, but Christ and others-centered. Intercessory prayer is unquestionably one of the highest privileges of the Christian life, and also one of its most sacred responsibilities.
Verse 16a may be seen as a specific example of prayer, which is in accord with the will of God. The thought here is reminiscent of Galatians 6:1. Christian scholars differ widely in their thoughts about what this sin is and whether the death it causes is physical or spiritual. Paul wrote that some Christians have died because they participated in the Lord’s Supper “in an unworthy manner” (1 Cor. 11:27-30), Ananias and Sapphira were struck dead when they conspired and lied to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit results in spiritual death (Mark 3:29). The book of Hebrews describes the spiritual death of a person who turns against Christ (Heb. 6:4-6). If we are to understand the nature of this sin, we must keep in mind the background of this letter. In light of what we know of that, it seems that “sin unto death” must have had primary reference to John’s Gnostic opponents who had willfully rejected the Spirit’s witness to the person and work of Christ. The Gnostics by rejecting the only means of salvation, which is Jesus Christ, the Gnostics have forged an alliance with the antichrist.
When you remove yourself from Christ and you join fellowship with the antichrist the battle lines are permanently drawn. The Gnostics by rejecting Christ had put themselves out of the reach of prayer. Whereas you and I cannot be adamant as to the precise form of sin, we know that this is a kind of sinning whose natural consequence is death (spiritual ruin). To pray for forgiveness of such sin is to pray for salvation outside of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
Verse 17 shows that sin even if it does not lead unto death is never a trivial matter. In other words, God does not treat sin lightly; and we are likewise not to treat it lightly. The caution here is that it is not our responsibility to determine whether someone has committed the sin unto death. Our responsibility is to become faithful intercessors. The judging of the sin of death must be left up to God. As a Christian intercessor, some people’s lives are in your hands. Intercessory prayer is not for a selected few. It is the privilege and responsibility of every Christian. Do you have a list of people that you pray for? Compile a prayer list and state what you want God to do in the life of each person on your list. Try this and you will see a great difference in your prayer life.