Confidence After Passing the Tests (1 John 5:13-21)

[Note: This is the final post in a six-part series looking at the First Epistle of John. Some of the material is adapted from my commentary That You May Know: The First Letter of John. During this series, we won’t necessarily touch on every single verse, but will look at the major messages that 1 John presents.]

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. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 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.
   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. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
    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. We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
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. Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:13-21, ESV).

The whole book of 1 John is about assurance of salvation and the evidence of a believer. We’ve seen John lay out the criteria, and we’ve seen the tests that a believer will pass. In this post, we’ll talk about what happens when one passes those tests (tests of love and sound doctrine).

Before talking about how we can have confidence before God, John returns to his original purpose. He writes, “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” (v. 13). This is really the key verse of the entire book. Aas we have said throughout our studies, context rules. And the purpose of an author behind the letter helps us better understand and interpret the letter.

Confiedence in Prayer (vv. 13-17)

The first confidence we can have after passing the test is in prayer. John writes in vv. 14-15, “And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 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.”

John’s logic is straightforward: If we ask anything according to His will, He hears us (the idea is that God active inclines His ear to listen to us). And since we know that He hears us, if we have asked according ot His will, we will have what we ask.

We need to be careful here. These verses (and others like them) have caused a lot of confusion in the church. John is not giving the believer a “blank check,” as it were, to presume upon God. Notice that He says, “if we ask anything according to His will.” That is an important qualifier. As in previous posts, this does not mean that we should pray wimpy prayers! God calls us to pray in faith and with confidence according to our standing as redeemed sons and daughters. At the same time, we are always to be in submission to His will (see Luke 22:42 for Jesus’ own example of this).

There is another qualification that John mentions about our confidence in prayer. In vv. 16-17, John speaks of a brother who commits a sin “leading to death.” The nature of this sin has sparked confusion in the church for centuries, and we won’t be resolving the debate here. Whatever this sin is, it seems to put the person “over the line,” so to speak, where there is no turning back. Thus, the person would not repent of the sin in question. Some believers who struggle with asurance are prone to wonder if they have committed this sin. If you have such a concern, know that the fact that you can ask the question shows that you have to crossed that line.

Confidence in Living For God (vv. 18-19)

The second thing that John tells us we can be confident about is that we will grow in our faith. John writes in v. 18 that, “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.” There are two important things we need to mention here.

First is John’s use of “keep on sinning.” Rmember that John often speaks of habitual sin, not just single acts. Does he mean that we’ll become perfectly sinless in this life? Not at all. 1 John 1:5-10 tells us that if we deny that we have sin we deceive ourselves. However, what will happen is that we will sin less and less. Living righteously has become our way of life, and committing sin is now the exception to the rule. Paul echoes John’s teaching here when he writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6, emphasis added).

The second thing we should mention is the second half of verse 18. John writes that “he who was born of God protects him.” The preferred rendering here is “He,” indicating Christ. Otherwise, you have the believer protecting himself, which is contrary to what Jesus said in John 10:28-29. At the same time, John writes that “the evil one does not touch him.” Depending on which “him” John is referring to, two interpretations are possible:

  • John refers to Christ, which would mean that Satan indeed cannot “touch” Him (absolute protection).
  • John refers to the believer. In context, this is the preferred meaning. However, we know that believers do suffer trials, harm, and hardship. What does this verse mean, then? It has more the sense of “lay hold of.” The evil one may bring trouble into the life of the believer (as he did with Job), but nothing will come into the believer’s life apart from the will of God or that would hinder His purposes.

Confidence in Knowing the Truth (vv. 20-21)

Finally, John assures the believers that we can have confidence in knowing the truth (“understanding,” v. 20). The heretics of John’s day taught that only they held the truth, and in order to really understand the truth, one had to join their group.

We see that same idea very prevalent today, both inside and outside the church. Groups claim their ideas are “the truth.” But any claim to truth must, as John has shown, be subject to the evidences and tests he laid out earlier.

John’s closing comment, “Keep yourselves from idols,” may seem like a strange way to close a letter. When we remember, however, that an idol is anything (person, thing, even an idea) that sets itself up against the Truth or seek to draw us from Christ, then the statement is not quite so odd. John is issuing a final warning to hold fast to Christ–the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Takeaways From This Passage

  1. As we grow in understanding and walk in obedience to Christ, we move from simple assurance of our salvation to a place of confidence before God. (This confidence is not in ourselves, of course, but in Christ and the work He is doing within us.)
  2. We can be confident that He hears our prayers, and so we are encouraged to come boldly before the throne of grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
  3. We can be confident that He is committed to completing the good work He started in us. As we continue to walk with Christ, He will give us understanding of the truth and we will continue to grow and change.