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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 1 John 5

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Born of God and Believing in the Son of God

A. Being born of God.

1. (1 John 5:1) Being born of God is the source of love.

Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.

a. Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: John has often mentioned being born of God (as in 1 John 2:29, 3:9, and 4:7). Here he tells us how one is born of God: whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ. This means believing that Jesus is his Messiah, not just the Messiah in the generic sense.

i. John’s great emphasis has been on love, but he never wants anyone to believe he earns salvation by loving others. We are born of God when we put our trust on Jesus and on His saving work in our lives.

ii. We also understand that John was not talking about a mere intellectual assent to Jesus being Messiah (as even the demons might have, as described in James 2:19). Instead, he means a trust in and reliance on Jesus as Messiah.

iii. Additionally, John makes it plain we must believe Jesus is the Christ. There are many, of a new-age sort of thinking, who believe Jesus had the “Christ-spirit” — as they claim also Confucius, Mohammed, Buddha and certain moderns did. But we would never say Jesus “has” the Christ — Jesus is the Christ.

b. Everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him: Being born of God also has these two effects. It is assumed that we will love God (Him who begot us), because we are born again into His family. But it is also assumed that we will love others who are begotten of Him — our brothers and sisters in Christ.

i. This is the common ground of Christians — not race, not class, not culture, not language, nor any other thing except for a common birth in Jesus Christ, and the common Lordship of Jesus.

ii. To love all others in the family of God means that you do not limit your love to your own denomination or group, to your own social or financial status, to your own race, to your own political perspective, or to your own exact theological persuasion. If any of these things mean more to us than our common salvation, and the common Lordship of Jesus Christ, then something is very wrong.

iii. Parents are exasperated, and even disgusted, when they see their children fight and seem to hate one another. How must God feel when He sees His children fight among themselves?

2. (1 John 5:2-3) The demonstration of God’s love.

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.

a. By this we know that we love the children of God: Just as much as our love for the people of God reflects our love for God (as expressed in 1 John 3:10, 17), so our love and obedience to God is a demonstration of love to the body of Christ.

i. It is sometimes said that the best thing a father can do for his children is to love his wife and their mother. Even so, the first way for a child of God to love his brothers and sisters in Christ is to love God and to obey Him. And, if you love the parent, you will love the child. It all works together.

b. When we love God and keep His commandments: A Christian who does not love God or keep His commandments is of little effective use in the body of Christ. This is true even though he or she might be involved in much ministry and hold an official position of service in the church.

i. When our love and obedience for God grows cold, we do not only harm ourselves — we harm our brothers and sisters also. The damage is done, at the very least, because we are a “drag” on the spiritual progress of God’s people.

ii. If we will not love and obey God for our own sake, then we should at least do it out of love for others.

c. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments: To love God is also to keep His commandments. The one who says he loves God, yet walks in a lifestyle of conscious disobedience is like the believer who says he walks in fellowship with God, yet walks in darkness (as in 1 John 1:6) — he is lying.

i. Surely, John had the words of Jesus in mind: If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14:15).

ii. Simply, love for God will show itself in obedience. “Christians frequently attempt to turn love for God into a mushy emotional experience, but John does not allow this in his epistle.” (Boice)

d. His commandments are not burdensome: Some Christians feel very burdened by the commandments of God, yet John insists that they are not burdensome.

i. His commandments are not burdensome when we see how wise and good the commandments of God are. They are gifts from Him to show us the best and most fulfilling life possible. God’s commands are like the “manufacturer’s handbook” for life; He tells us what to do because He knows how we work best. God’s commands are not given to bind or to pain us, or because God is like an irritated old man.

ii. His commandments are not burdensome because when we are born again, we are given new hearts — hearts which by instinct wish to please God. As part of the New Covenant, the law of God has been written on the heart of every believer (Jeremiah 31:33).

iii. His commandments are not burdensome when we compare them to the religious rules men make up. John is not trying to say obedience is an easy thing. If that were so, then it would be easy for us to not sin, and John has already acknowledged that we all do sin (1 John 1:8). John is thinking of the contrast Jesus made between the religious requirements of the religious leaders of His day, and the simplicity of loving God and following Him. Jesus said all the rules and regulations of the Scribes and Pharisees were as heavy burdens (Matthew 23:4). In contrast, Jesus said of Himself, My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:30). Instead of the burdensome requirement to keep hundreds of little rules and regulations, Jesus simply says to us, “Love Me and love my people, and you will walk in obedience.”

iv. His commandments are not burdensome when we really love God. When we love God, we will want to obey Him and please Him. When you love someone, it seems little trouble to go to a lot of difficulty to help or please that person. You enjoy doing it, though if you had to do it for an enemy, you would be complaining all the time. Just as the seven years of Jacob’s service for Laban seemed only a few days to him because of the love he had for Rachel (Genesis 29:18), so obeying God’s commands does not seem a burden when we really love Him. An old proverb says, “Love feels no loads.”

3. (1 John 5:4-5) Being born of God is the source of victory.

For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

a. Whatever is born of God overcomes the world: John begins with a principle that is so simple, yet so powerful — if we are born of God, we will overcome the world. The idea that anything born of God could be defeated by this world was strange to John and it should be strange to us.

b. This is the victory that has overcome the world; our faith: Since believing on Him is the key to being born of God (1 John 5:1), the key to victory is faith, not only an initial, “come-to-the-altar-and-get-saved” faith, but a consistently abiding faith, an ongoing reliance and trust upon Jesus Christ.

i. John repeats the thought with the words, Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The life of abiding faith and trust in Jesus Christ is the life that overcomes the pressures and temptations of the world.

ii. Knowing who Jesus is — not just as a matter of facts or information, but as food for life — “fills the soul with so great things concerning him… as to easily turn this world into a contemptible shadow, and deprive it of all its former power over us.” (Poole)

c. Who is he who overcomes the world: This tells us we overcome primarily because of who we are in Christ, not because of what we do. We overcome because we are born of God, and we are born of God because we believe that Jesus is the Son of God — again, not in a mere intellectual sense, but we put our lives on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God for us.

i. “Look at any Greek lexicon you like, and you will find that the word [faith or believe] does not merely mean to believe, but to trust, to confide in, to commit to, entrust with, and so forth; the very marrow of the meaning of faith is confidence in, reliance upon.” (Spurgeon)

ii. How is it we can become world-overcomers in Jesus?

  • In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Because Jesus has overcome the world, as we abide in Him, we are overcomers in Jesus.
  • John said of those who were growing in their walk with Jesus, you have overcome the wicked one (1 John 2:13-14). As we walk with Jesus and grow in that walk, we will overcome our spiritual enemies.
  • Overcomers have a special place in the world to come. Jesus promised To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne (Revelation 3:21).
  • Overcomers overcome because the blood of Jesus overcomes Satan’s accusations, the word of their testimony overcomes Satan’s deceptions, and loving not their lives overcomes Satan’s violence (Revelation 12:11).

B. The source of our relationship with God: Jesus Christ.

1. (1 John 5:6-8) Precisely identifying who Jesus, the Son of God is, the One on Whom we must believe.

This is He who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

a. He who came by water and blood: John makes it clear that the Jesus he speaks of is not the Gnostic, “phantom” Jesus who was so holy that He had nothing to do with this world. The Jesus we must believe on is the Jesus who came by water and blood; the Jesus who was part of a real, material, flesh-and-blood earth.

i. John returns to a theme he started with in the beginning of the letter: the real, historical foundation for our trust in Jesus Christ. In 1 John 1:1-3 the emphasis was on what was seen and heard and looked upon and handled — real stuff, real people, real things. Just like water and blood are real, so was the coming of the Son of God, Jesus Christ.

b. He who came by water and blood: Through the centuries, there have been many different ideas about exactly what John meant by this phrase. “This is the most perplexing passage in the Epistle and one of the most perplexing in the New Testament.” (Plummer, cited in Boice)

i. Some believe that water speaks of our own baptism, and blood speaks of receiving communion, and that John writes of how Jesus comes to us in the two Christian sacraments of baptism and communion (Luther and Calvin had this idea). Yet, if this is the case, it doesn’t add up with the historical perspective John had when he wrote “came by water and blood.” He seems to write of something that happened in the past, not something that is ongoing.

ii. Others (such as Augustine) believe the water and blood describes the water and blood which flowed from Jesus’ side when He was stabbed with a spear on the cross: But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out (John 19:34). This was an important event to the Apostle John because immediately after this description of water and blood, he added in his gospel: And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe (John 19:35). Yet, if this was John’s meaning, it is a little unclear how it can be said that Jesus came by water and blood.

iii. Still others believe the water spoke of Jesus’ first birth, being born of the “waters of the womb,” and blood speaks of His death. If this is the case, John would be essentially writing, “Jesus was born like a man and died like a man. He was completely human, not some super-spiritual being who had no real contact with the material world.” The Gnostics in John’s day thought of Jesus as just such a super-spiritual being.

c. He who came by water and blood: Probably the best explanation (though there are good points to some of the other ideas) is the oldest recorded Christian understanding of this passage (first recorded by the ancient Christian Tertullian). Most likely, John means the water of Jesus’ baptism, and the blood of His crucifixion.

i. When Jesus was baptized, He was not baptized in repentance for His own sin (He had none), but because He wanted to completely identify with sinful humanity. When He came by water, it was His way of saying, “I am one of you.”

ii. When Jesus died on the cross, He did not die because He had to (death could have no power over Him), but He laid down His life to identify with sinful humanity and to save us from our sin. When He came by… blood it was so that He could stand in our place as a guilty sinner, and to take the punishment our sin deserved.

iii. This explanation also connects best with what Jesus said in John 3:5: Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. The being born of water in this passage speaks of the cleansing waters of baptism.

d. He who came by water and blood: Some taught (and still teach) that Jesus received the “Christ Spirit” at His baptism, and the “Christ Spirit” left Jesus before He died on the cross (for them, it is unthinkable that God could hang on a cross). But John insisted that Jesus did not only come by the water of baptism, but also by the blood of the cross. He was just as much the Son of God on the cross as He was when the Father declared, You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased (Luke 3:22) at the baptism of Jesus.

i. We may find it difficult to relate to this ancient manner of trying to avoid the offense of the cross by saying, “It really wasn’t the Son of God who hung on the cross.” But in our modern age we have our own ways of trying to avoid the offense of the cross. Some deny Jesus was God at all, and just think of Him as a “noble martyr.” Some trivialize the cross, making it a mere ornament in jewelry and pop fashion trends. Others replace the cross with a self-help, self-esteem gospel of psychology, or use a crossless evangelism.

e. It is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth: The Holy Spirit also bears witness to the true person of Jesus, even as Jesus promised He would (He will testify of Me… He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you [John 15:26 and 16:14]). The consistent message of the Holy Spirit to us is, “Here is Jesus.”

i. “A priest was always ordained by sacrificial blood, cleansing water, and oil that spoke of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. So Jesus also had these three witnesses to His priestly ministry.” (Spurgeon)

f. The Spirit, the water, and the blood: These are all consistent witnesses in telling us who Jesus is. We can know that these three agree as one. It isn’t as if the Spirit tells us one thing, the water another, and the blood says something else. Jesus’ life, death, and the Spirit all tell us who Jesus is, and they tell us it in agreement.

2. A few words on this text, regarding the notes in the margins or footnotes of many Bibles regarding 1 John 5:7-8.

a. The New King James Bible makes a marginal note on 1 John 5:7-8, stating that the words in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on the earth are words that are not included in the vast majority of New Testament Greek manuscripts.

i. The words in question occur in no Greek manuscript until the fourteenth century, except for one eleventh century and one twelfth century manuscript in which they have been added to the margin by another hand.

ii. In the first few hundred years of Christianity, there were many theological debates regarding the exact nature and understanding of the Trinity. In all of those debates, no one ever once quoted these words in question from 1 John 5:7-8. If they were originally written by John, it seems very strange that no early Christian would have quoted them. In fact, though none of the ancient Christians quote from this verse, several of them do quote from 1 John 5:6 and 1 John 5:8. Why skip verse seven, especially if it is such a great statement of the Trinity?

iii. In all ancient translations — Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian, Coptic, Sahidic, Armenian, Slavonian, and so forth — this disputed passage is not included. Only in the Latin Vulgate does it appear.

b. It is probably best to regard these words as the work of an over-zealous copyist who thought that the New Testament needed a little help with the doctrine of the Trinity, and he figured this was a good place to do it. Or perhaps the words just started as notes written in the margin of a manuscript, but the next person who copied the manuscript thought they must belong in the text itself.

i. While there is no explicit statement of the Trinity in the statement (such as this), it is woven into the fabric of the New Testament — we find the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit working together as equal, yet distinct Persons (Matthew 3:16-17; 28:19; Luke 1:35; John 1:33-34 14:16, 26; 16:13-15; 20:21-22; Acts 2:33-38; Romans 15:16; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 13:14; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 3:14-16; 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2).

c. How did these words ever get included, if they are not in any ancient Greek manuscripts? The words were included in ancient Latin versions of the Bible, and in the year 1520, a great scholar named Erasmus produced a new, accurate edition of the Bible in ancient Greek. When people studied Erasmus’ Bible, and compared it to the Latin version, they noticed he left out this passage, and they criticized him for it. When he was criticized, Erasmus said, “You won’t find these words in any ancient Greek manuscript. If you find me one Greek manuscript with these words in them, I’ll include it in my next printing.” Someone “discovered” a manuscript with the words in them, but it wasn’t an ancient manuscript at all. Erasmus knew this, but had already promised to add the words if someone found a manuscript with the words, so he reluctantly added the words in his 1522 edition. However, he also added a footnote, saying he thought that the new Greek manuscript had been written on purpose, just to embarrass him. That manuscript (Codex Montfortii) is on display in the library of Trinity College, Dublin.

i. This passage is called the “Johannine Comma” (or mistakenly, “Johannian Comma”), and is in only three Greek manuscripts. The Codex Guelpherbytanus was written in the seventeenth century. We know this manuscript is from the seventeenth century because it contains a quote from a book written in the seventeenth century. The Codex Ravianus or Berolinensis, which is a copy of a text printed in 1514. We know it was copied from that text because it repeats the same typographical mistakes the 1514 text has. The third manuscript is the one “discovered” in the days of Erasmus, the Codex Montfortii.

ii. Since the Greek text of the New Testament that Erasmus printed became one of the Greek texts used to make the King James Bible, these added words became part of the King James Bible.

d. Passages like this give us no reason to fear that our New Testaments are unreliable. In the entire New Testament, there are only 50 passages which have any sort of question regarding the reliability of the text, and none of those are the sole foundation for any Christian doctrine or belief. If 50 passages sound like a lot, see it this way: no more than one-one thousandth of the text is in question at all.

i. In addition, when such a passage like this is inserted, the textual evidence from the manuscripts makes it stick out like a sore thumb. This gives us assurance, not doubt.

ii. Evangelical Christians may not know much about these passages, but many religious people who don’t believe the Trinity (such as a Jehovah’s Witness) do know the textual issues around this passage. Therefore, if you bring up this verse to support your position, they will show you how this passage doesn’t belong in the Bible. It may get some thinking, “Well, maybe the Trinity isn’t true. Maybe Jesus isn’t God. Maybe it’s just the invention of people who would try to change the Bible.” This can do some real damage.

iii. So a passage like this also warns us that when it comes to such matters, God doesn’t need our help. The New Testament is fine just like God inspired it. It doesn’t need our improvements. Though the teaching of these added words is true, they shouldn’t be here, because we should not add our words to the Bible and claim they are God’s words.

e. The text of 1 John 5:7-8 should more accurately read: For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.

3. (1 John 5:9-10) The witness of men and the witness of God.

If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.

a. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: Everybody, everyday, receives the witness of men regarding various things. Therefore, we should have much more confidence in the witness of God when He tells us who Jesus is.

i. John does not want us to believe with blind faith. Instead, our faith is to be based on reliable testimony. And we have the most reliable testimony possible, the witness of God.

b. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself: When we believe on Jesus, we receive the Holy Spirit as an inner confirmation of our standing before God. Romans 8:16 puts it like this: The Spirit Himself bears witness with our Spirit that we are children of God.

c. He who does not believe God has made Him a liar: When we refuse to believe on Jesus, we reject the testimony God has given of His Son. Therefore, we call God a liar with our unbelief.

i. John here exposes the great sin of unbelief. Most everyone who refuses to believe God (in the full sense of the word believe) doesn’t intend to call God a liar. But they do it nonetheless. “The great sin of not believing in the Lord Jesus Christ is often spoken of very lightly and in a very trifling spirit, as though it were scarcely any sin at all; yet, according to my text, and, indeed, according to the whole tenor of the Scriptures, unbelief is the giving of God the lie, and what can be worse?” (Spurgeon)

ii. What if one says, “Well, I want to believe, but I can’t.” Spurgeon answers such a one: “Hearken, O unbeliever, you have said, ‘I cannot believe,’ but it would be more honest if you had said, ‘I will not believe.’ The mischief lies there. Your unbelief is your fault, not your misfortune. It is a disease, but it is also a crime: it is a terrible source of misery to you, but it is justly so, for it is an atrocious offense against the God of truth.”

iii. What if one says, “Well, I’m trying to believe, and I’ll keep on trying.” Spurgeon speaks to this heart: “Did I not hear some one say, ‘Ah, sir, I have been trying to believe for years.’ Terrible words! They make the case still worse. Imagine that after I had made a statement, a man should declare that he did not believe me, in fact, he could not believe me though he would like to do so. I should feel aggrieved certainly; but it would make matters worse if he added, ‘In fact I have been for years trying to believe you, and I cannot do it.’ What does he mean by that? What can he mean but that I am so incorrigibly false, and such a confirmed liar, that though he would like to give me some credit, he really cannot do it? With all the effort he can make in my favour, he finds it quite beyond his power to believe me? Now, a man who says, ‘I have been trying to believe in God,’ in reality says just that with regard to the Most High… The talk about trying to believe is a mere pretence. But whether pretence or no, let me remind you that there is no text in the Bible which says, ‘Try and believe,’ but it says ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.’ He is the Son of God, he has proved it by his miracles, he died to save sinners, therefore trust him; he deserves implicit trust and child-like confidence. Will you refuse him these? Then you have maligned his character and given him the lie.”

iv. Such rejection of God’s testimony over time can lead to a place where a person is permanently hardened against God, to the place where they may be one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, as Jesus warned in Mark 3:28-29. What hope can there be for the one who persists in hearing what God says, and calling Him a liar?

4. (1 John 5:11-13) Assurance of life in the Son.

And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

a. And this is the testimony: John, in the previous verse, just told us how serious the matter of receiving the testimony of God is. Now he will tell us what this testimony is.

b. That God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son: This is God’s essential message to man; that eternal life is a gift from God, received in Jesus Christ. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. It is all about Jesus, and living in Jesus is the evidence of eternal life.

i. “It is vain to expect eternal glory, if we have not Christ in our heart. The indwelling Christ gives both a title to it, and a meetness for it. This is God’s record. Let no man deceive himself here. An indwelling Christ and GLORY; no indwelling Christ, NO glory. God’s record must stand.” (Clarke)

c. These things I have written to you who believe… that you may know that you have eternal life: In stating the message so plainly, John hopes to persuade us to believe. Even if we already believe, he wants us to know that you have eternal life, so we can have this assurance, and so that you may continue to believe.

i. The need to hear the simple gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ does not end once one embraces the gospel. We benefit by it, are assured by it, and are helped to continue in it as we hear it and embrace it over and over again.

d. That you may know that you have eternal life: John’s confidence is impressive. He wants us to know that we have eternal life. We can only know this if our salvation rests in Jesus and not in our own performance. If it depends on me, then on a good day I’m saved and on a bad day, I don’t really know. But if it depends on what Jesus has done for me, then I can know.

C. Help for the praying Christian.

1. (1 John 5:14-15) Confidence in prayer.

Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

a. This is the confidence that we have in Him: John has developed the idea of confidence in Him. In the previous verse, 1 John 5:13, he wrote to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know you have eternal life. Now, for those who know they have eternal life, John relates the idea of confidence in Him to prayer.

b. If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us: In this, we see the purpose of prayer and the secret of power in prayer. It is to ask; to ask anything; to ask anything according to His will; and once having so asked, to have the assurance that He hears us.

i. First, God would have us ask in prayer. Much prayer fails because it never asks for anything. God is a loving God, and a generous giver — He wants us to ask of Him.

ii. Secondly, God would have us ask anything in prayer. Not to imply that anything we ask for will be granted, but anything in the sense that we can and should pray about everything. God cares about our whole life, and nothing is too small or too big to pray about. As Paul wrote in Philippians 4:6: Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.

iii. Next, God would have us ask according to His will. It is easy for us to only be concerned with our will before God, and to have a fatalistic view regarding His will (“He will accomplish His will with or without my prayers anyway, won’t He?”). But God wants us to see and discern His will through His Word, and to pray His will into action. When John wrote this, John may have had Jesus’ own words in mind, which he recorded in John 15:7: If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. When we abide in Jesus — living in Him, day by day — then our will becomes more and more aligned with His will, and we can ask what you desire, and more and more be asking according to His will. Then we see answered prayer.

iv. If something is God’s will, why doesn’t He just do it, apart from our prayers? Why would He wait to accomplish His will until we pray? Because God has appointed us to work with Him as 2 Corinthians 6:1 says: as workers together with Him. God wants us to work with Him, and that means bringing our will and agenda into alignment with His. He wants us to care about the things He cares about, and He wants us to care about them enough to pray passionately about them.

c. We know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him: When we ask according to God’s will, when we pray the promises of God, we have this confidence; and so pray with real and definite faith.

i. Prayer should be so much more than casting wishes to heaven. It is rooted in understanding God’s will and promises according to His Word, and praying those promises into action. For each prayer request, we should mentally or vocally ask, “What possible reason do I have to think that God will answer this prayer?” We should be able to answer that question from His Word.

ii. The most powerful prayers in the Bible are always prayers which understand the will of God, and ask Him to perform it. We may be annoyed when one of our children says, “Daddy, this is what you promised, now please do it,” but God is delighted when we pray His promises. It shows our will aligned with His, our dependence on Him, and that we take His Word seriously.

iii. It is not necessarily wrong to ask for something that God has not promised; but we then realize that we are not coming to God on the basis of a specific promise, and we don’t have the confidence to know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him.

2. (1 John 5:16-17) Praying for a sinning brother.

If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin which does not lead to death, he will ask, and He will give him life for those who commit sin not leading to death. There is sin leading to death. I do not say that he should pray about that. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not leading to death.

a. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin… he will ask: When we see a brother in sin, John tells us the first thing to do is to pray for that person. All too often, prayer is the last thing we do, or the smallest thing we do in regard to our brother having a difficult time.

b. And He will give him life: God promised to bless the prayer made on behalf of a brother in sin. Perhaps such prayers have special power before God because they are prayers in fulfillment of the command to love the brethren. Surely, we love each other best when we pray for each other.

c. There is sin leading to death: Because John wrote in context of a brother, it is wrong to see him meaning a sin leading to spiritual death; he probably meant a sin leading to the physical death of the believer.

i. This is a difficult concept, but we have an example of it in 1 Corinthians 11:27-30, where Paul says that among the Christians in Corinth, because of their disgraceful conduct at the Lord’s Supper, some had died (many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep). This death came not as a condemning judgment, but as a corrective judgment (But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world [1 Corinthians 11:32]).

ii. Apparently, a believer can sin to the point where God believes it is just best to bring them home, probably because they have in some way compromised their testimony so significantly that they should just come on home to God.

iii. However, it is certainly presumptuous to think this about every case of an untimely death of a believer, or to use it as an enticement to suicide for the guilt-ridden Christian. Our lives are in God’s hands, and if He sees fit to bring one of His children home, that is fine.

iv. Some believe that brother is used here in a very loose sense, and what John means by the sin leading to death is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is the willful, settled rejection of Jesus Christ. But this would be a curious use of the term brother, especially according to how John has already used brother in his own letter.

d. I do not say that he should pray about that: Apparently, when a Christian is being corrected in regard to a sin leading to death, there is no point in praying for his recovery or restoration — the situation is in God’s hands alone.

e. There is sin not leading to death: John takes pains to recognize that not every sin leads to death in the manner he speaks of, though all unrighteousness is sin.

D. Protecting our relationship with God.

1. (1 John 5:18-19) Knowing who we are and who our enemies are.

We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

a. Whoever is born of God does not sin: In the battle against sin, it is all-essential that we keep our minds set on who we are in Jesus Christ. If we are born of Him, we then have the resources to be free from habitual sin.

i. John is repeating his idea from 1 John 3:6: Whoever abides in Him does not sin. The grammar in the original language makes it plain John is speaking of a settled, continued lifestyle of sin. John is not teaching here the possibility of sinless perfection. As Stott says, “The present tense in the Greek verb implied habit, continuity, unbroken sequence.”

b. He who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him: If we are born of Him we then have a protection against the wicked one, a unique protection that does not belong to the one who is not born of Him. Knowing this gives us godly confidence in spiritual warfare.

i. In verse 18, himself is more accurately him. What John probably means here is that He who has been born of God (that is, Jesus Christ) keeps him (that is, the believer). John means that we are kept by Jesus and protected from Satan by Him.

c. Does not touch him: The word touch here has the idea of to attach one’s self to. John clearly says that the wicked one — Satan, or, by implication one of His demons — cannot attach himself to the one who is born of Him.

i. What Greek scholars say about this word touch: The word is “stronger than toucheth; rather graspeth, layeth hold of ” (Smith, in Expositor’s). “It means to lay hold of or to grasp rather than a mere superficial touch.” (Robertson)

ii. The only other place in his writings where John uses this particular verb for touch is in John 20:17, where He literally tells Mary to stop clinging to Me. Because we are born of Him, Satan cannot attach himself to us, or cling to us, in the sense he can in the life of someone who is not born of Him.

d. We know that we are of God: If we are born of Him, we are set off from the world — we are no longer under the sway of the wicked one, though the whole world still is. Knowing this means we can be free to be what we are in Jesus and separate ourselves from the world system in rebellion against Him.

2. (1 John 5:20-21) Abide in Jesus and avoid idols.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, 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. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

a. That we may know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ: In the conclusion of this letter, John returned to his major theme: fellowship with Jesus Christ. We must know Him, and the word John uses for know (ginosko) speaks of knowledge by experience. That is how Jesus wants us to know Him.

b. Has given us an understanding: The work of Jesus in us gives us an understanding, and the ability to know Him, and to be in Him — the abiding life of fellowship that John invited us to back in 1 John 1:3.

i. Significantly, this understanding must be given. We cannot attain it on our own. If God did not reveal Himself to us, we would never find Him. We know Him, and can know Him, because He has revealed Himself to us.

ii. More than any other way, God has revealed Himself to us by Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus is the key and the focus of it all. We see the personality and character of God by looking at Jesus.

iii. Him who is true also reminds us of a theme John has had through the letter: the importance of true belief, of trusting in the true Jesus, not a made-up Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible is Him who is true, who is His Son Jesus Christ.

c. This is the true God and eternal life: Here John tells us who Jesus is. He was a man (as John declared in 1 John 1:1, 4:2, and 5:6), but He was not only a man. He was totally man and the true God and eternal life. John does not, and we can not, promote the humanity of Jesus over His deity, or His deity over His humanity. He is both: fully God and fully man.

i. John Stott says of the statement, this is the true God and eternal life: “This would be the most unequivocal statement of the deity of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, which the champions of orthodoxy were quick to exploit against the heresy of Arius.” (Stott)

d. Keep yourselves from idols: This may seem like a strange way to end John’s letter, but it fits in with the theme of a real, living relationship with God. The enemy to fellowship with God is idolatry: embracing a false god, or a false idea of the true God. John rightly closes with this warning, after having spent much of the book warning us against the dangers of the false Jesus many were teaching in his day (1 John 3:18-23; 4:1-3; 5:6-9).

i. We can only have a real relationship with the God who is really there! Idolatry, whether obvious (praying to a statue) or subtle (living for your career or someone other than God) will always choke out a real relationship with God, and damage our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Jesus. No wonder John ends with keep yourselves from idols; this is how we protect our relationship with God.

ii. In a great sermon on this last verse of John’s letter, Charles Spurgeon first noted that John addressed little children.

  • This is a title of deep affection.
  • This is a title that indicates regeneration and family relation.
  • This is a title that indicates humility.
  • This is a title that indicates teachableness.
  • This is a title that implies faith.
  • This is a title that implies weakness.

iii. Then, Spurgeon noted that John gave a command: To keep yourselves from idols.

  • This speaks against obvious, visible idols.
  • This speaks against worshipping yourself. We can do this by overindulgence in food or drink, by laziness, or by too much concern about how we look or what we wear.
  • This speaks against worshipping wealth.
  • This speaks against worshipping some hobby or pursuit.
  • This speaks against worshipping dear friends or relatives.

©2018 David Guzik — No distribution beyond personal use without permission


  1. Boice, James Montgomery "The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary" (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1979)
  2. Clarke, Adam "Clarke's Commentary: The Holy Bible Containing the Old and New Testaments with a Commentary and Critical Notes" Volume 6 (Romans-Revelation) (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1832)
  3. Poole, Matthew "A Commentary on the Holy Bible" Volume 3 (Matthew-Revelation) (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1969)
  4. Robertson, Archibald T. "The General Epistles and The Revelation of John: Word Pictures in the New Testament" Volume VI (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1933)
  5. Smith, David "The Epistles of John: The Expositor's Greek Testament" Volume 5, Section 3 (1 Peter-Revelation) (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1897)
  6. Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)
  7. Stott, John R.W. "The Letters of John" (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988)

Updated: August 2022

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