Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
Sermon Message: Even the Death of the Cross
Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
1 John 5:18-21
(Delivered Sunday, September 22, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we come to the closing section of the first epistle of John - the letter in which John, "the apostle of love", teaches us how we can experience the joy that comes from the assurance of fellowship with Jesus. We began this study by calling the first four verses of this letter John's "prologue". In them, he set the tone for all that would follow. And I believe we can, likewise, consider these last four verses of the letter to be John's "epilogue" in which he summarizes all that has been said.
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Before we look at these closing words of his letter, think back with me for a moment about how John began his Gospel. At the very beginning of the Gospel of John, the beloved apostle made two fantastic assertions about Jesus Christ which - if true - certainly must be considered the greatest news the world has ever heard. The first assertion concerns the identity of Jesus Christ. John said that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it" (John 1:1-5). Jesus - whose earthly story John tells in his Gospel - is here declared to be the Son of God from all eternity. He is declared to be both WITH God and to be, HIMSELF, God. He is declared to be the logos - the Word of God - through whom all things were made. In Him alone is life; and that life is the light of all men.
But if He is life and the light of men - and we are sinners, dead in the darkness of our sins - then what hope could we have? He is in heavenly glory; while we are separated from Him because of our transgressions. How could we ever reach Him and have life? That's when John makes this second wonderful assertion - this one concerning not only Jesus, but John himself and the other apostles. John writes, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). The Word of God, in whom is the life of all men, Himself became "flesh" and lived for a while with us sinners in this world of darkness. John and the others were among those who beheld Him and saw Him for who He truly is - "the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth".
And then John makes the wonderful assertion that he makes in the prologue of his letter. It's an assertion that concerns you and me. In the first four verses of this wonderful letter, John writes with great confidence concerning Jesus Christ. He says;
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full (1 John 1:1-4).
I love the confident certainty of John's words in that prologue; don't you? He wasn't pacing around back and forth, wringing his hands and wondering if it was all true or not. No; all doubts were long gone! He says that this Word of God that had become manifested in human flesh - this living, incarnate Word; heard with his own ears, seen with his own eyes, handled with his own hands - has now been declared to us. John and the apostles declared Him to us so that we, who hear the declaration and believe, can enter into the same full joy of fellowship with Jesus that they themselves enjoyed.
John was possessed by an absolute certainty of the facts! John saw the very Word of life manifested in human flesh . This wasn't speculative philosophy for John; rather it was the reporting of an eyewitness account of the truth! John personally touched the Son of God, gazed intently upon Him, listened to Him teach, ate with Him, and beheld His miraculous works with his own two eyes. John was as certain of who Jesus was as Peter, when Peter wrote, "For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (2 Peter 1:16).
And the purpose of John's little letter has been to establish that certainty in you and me as well. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God", John wrote, "that you may know that you have eternal life ..." (1 John 5:13). The word he uses for "know" is one that refers to an absolute certainty in knowledge. It isn't referring to a "book-learning" kind of knowledge - the kind that is imperfect but can be made to grow - but rather a complete knowledge that comes from a deep and intimate acquaintance.1 John wants to see perfected in us this deep, intimate, 'experiential' kind of knowledge - a knowledge that we truly do walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ, and truly do have eternal life in Him. Everything in this little letter was written to help build that certainty in us.
And this leads us to the closing words of the letter - words that are also of great affirmation of certainty because they naturally flow from the certainty of the other things John has affirmed in this letter. John uses that same word for deep, intimate, certain knowledge three times when he writes;
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. 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 (1 John 5:18-21).
John started his letter with certainty; and he ends it with certainty too! What great certainty is ours in Christ!!
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I read all the way through John's letter again the other day; and I want to tell you about what kept popping into my mind as I did so. God has allowed me the privilege of getting to know and watch the lives of a few, select, older men of faith in a personal way. These are men who stand out in my mind like solid rocks of faith - men who "knew" loved Jesus in a deeply intimate way; and who were possessed by a certainty and conviction of the things they knew. These men kept coming to my mind as I read John's letter.
Three of these men have finished their race and have gone to be with Jesus. The first that comes to mind is my wife's grandfather. He was the owner of a nursery in Gig Harbor - a very godly Christian businessman, and a faithful servant of Jesus. I only had the opportunity to know him for just a short little while; but seeing his deep love for the Savior during that short time, and knowing the joy he felt from having walked faithfully with Jesus for many, many years, was enough to impact me for a lifetime. He made me want to be like him.
Another such man was Dr. John Mitchell, who was the founder of Multnomah Bible College. Dr. Mitchell and my wife's grandfather were friends when they were young - which, by the time I had gotten to know either of them, had been a very long time ago! Dr. Mitchell kept teaching at the college until his home-going at the age of 98; and I had the rare privilege of getting to talk with him and take some of his classes. I remember vividly that another student and I were talking at the chapel when Dr. Mitchell walked by. He said, "Morning, fellas!" and then walked on past us; and my friend and I both stopped talking and just watched him for a while as he walked away. I'll never forget that sight. He was a very old man, and shuffled along slowly; but as he walked down the hall, we both said, "There goes a man who has loved Jesus and walked with Him for many, many years!" We both longed at that moment to have the same said about us. What a sermon he was preaching to us at that moment!
A third man that comes to mind was Dr. John Forsythe; who was the retired Scottish pastor of the church of my wife's childhood. He was friends with Dr. Mitchell and my wife's grandfather; and as a retired minister, he often used to come and preach at our church. Every chance I could, I used to pick him up at the retirement home he was living in and take him out for lunch. He knew I was going to go to Bible college; and I would listen eagerly as he told me stories about being in the ministry and about keeping how to maintain a strong walk of fellowship with the Lord Jesus in the work of a pastor. He was a man of good humor; and he taught me that it was a joy to walk with Jesus. But he taught me that it was a joy to be expressed with courage and conviction.
Three other such older men of God have had a similar impact in my life; and they are all three still living. One is a retired missionary; and the other two are retired pastors. I, along with some other pastors of lesser experience, meet with them often, and love them very much. Watching their lives has made us love Jesus even more, and has made us want to grow up to be like them. I want Jesus to be as manifest in me some day as I see Him manifest in them.
And the reason they all came to my mind as I read John's letter is because of one great thing they all had in common. They all lived with a wonderful sense of "certainty" in the things John wrote about. They talked with Jesus as if talking to their very best and most beloved Friend; and they walked with Jesus in the same sort of bold confidence in the truths of the faith that John exhorts us to in this letter. The character of their lives proved that that confidence was well-placed! They were all thoroughly schooled in John's letter; and they had fully embraced the 'precious certainties' God passed on to them in it. They, like the apostle John, were men who "knew"!
Dear brothers and sisters; have you fully embraced that certainty yet? If the things we've studied in John's letter have taught us anything, it has taught us that "God has given us eternal life, 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" (5:11-12). That means that, if we have the Son of God, then we have everything that God could ever give us! We'll never get more than we can have right now in personal, loving fellowship with Jesus; and having Him is sufficient for all eternity! John has gone out of his way to assure us that this is the real thing! It's time to stop looking around for other things to fulfill us. It's time to stop clinging to the same old tired doubts as an excuse for not moving on to maturity. It's time to be bold in our confidence in the 'precious certainties' of the faith; and cease to be fooled by the falsehoods of the devil. It's time to live like people who "know".
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The certainties that John speaks of in this passage are based on his certainties concerning Jesus. He "knew" in a deep and personal way who Jesus was. As old Dr. Forsythe used to say, "He knew Jesus 'experientially'!" You can't know Jesus in this way through reading a book, or by listening to tapes, or by going to a seminar. You can only know Jesus 'experientially' by placing your faith in Him through prayer, trusting in His cross for the forgiveness of your sins, turning control of your life over to Him daily, and walking in personal fellowship with Him in a consistent manner. You can only know Him "experientially" by walking and talking with Him as your Friend.
Suppose someone walked up and asked you about a good friend of yours at work. "Do you know 'So-and-so'?" they'd ask; and you'd say that you do. Suppose they ask, "Do you know whether or not he was in my office the other day?"; and you'd have to say, "I don't know. I guess I can ask him; but I don't really know whether he was there or not." That's one kind knowledge - a kind of knowledge that comes as a result of examination and learning the raw facts about something, a knowledge that's always a little incomplete. Then suppose this person were to say, "Well; I had a fifty dollar bill sitting on my desk, and now it's gone!" And you might say, "Oh hey; listen - Whether or not my friend came by my office, I don't know. But he and I grew up together. We went to school together. We've worked together for years. He's my dearest and best friend. He wouldn't do something like that. I 'know' him; and I 'know' he didn't take your money." That's a different kind of knowledge - a knowledge that's experiential, a knowledge that's complete. That's the kind of knowledge of Jesus John is talking about - a deep and certain knowledge as if of the dearest and best Friend we could ever have.
When John mentions the certainties he speaks of in this passage, he says "We know ..."; and he's using the word that speaks of 'knowledge' in this second, more experiential, more complete sense. John wrote this letter at a time when many false teachers were slipping into the church and seeking to sell a kind of "secret knowledge" to the people of God. Scholars have referred to this false teaching of theirs as 'gnosticism' - which comes from the Greek word for "knowledge" in the growing, progressive, incomplete sense. But in the face of this false teaching, John asserts an even greater, more perfect "knowledge" of the truth than the inferior, incomplete, speculative so-called "knowledge" they offer. John asserts a knowledge that is best described as "absolute certainty" as a gift of God's grace.
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What are these certainties that flow from his certainty of Jesus? First, we see John's certainty ...
1. WITH RESPECT TO PERSONAL HOLINESS (v. 18)."We know", John says, "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."
It's very important that you notice, first of all, how John describes the man or woman of God. He or she is someone who is "born of God". This is the true nature of what it means to be a Christian. Someone isn't a genuine Christian simply because he or she signed up to be one. Someone isn't a Christian simply because they rolled-up their sleeves and worked hard to reform their life, or has conformed to a religious system. Someone enters into God's family in the same way you ordinarily enter into your earthly family. Just as you were born into your earthly family, so you must also be born into God's family. You become God's child by being born into His family.
How do you come to be born into God's family? You aren't born into God's family as a result of your own efforts any more than you were born into your earthly family as a result of your own efforts. You are born into God's family through faith in God's work toward you through Jesus Christ. John, in his Gospel, says this about Jesus: "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:12-13).
There was a man who came to Jesus one night in frustration. He had been trying to enter into God's kingdom as God's child on the basis of his good works. But as Jesus talked to him, He corrected him by saying, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again [or literally, 'born from above'], he cannot see the kingdom of God." He asked Jesus how such a thing could be ...
"How can a man enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again'" (John 3:3-7).
Now admittedly, there is something you and I must do. We must consciously, personally, place our faith in the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, and trust Him to take our sins away and make us into the man or woman He wants us to be. But for whoever does so, the Bible makes this promise: "... If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).
This is what John means when he speaks of the believer as "born of God". This is very important to understanding what John is saying in this verse. The believer isn't "born of God" as a result of his or her own efforts, but as a result of a brand new birth. They become completely new creations in Christ. "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Eph. 2:10).
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Second, notice that, because he or she has now been born of God - not simply "made over", but completely "made new" - the believer then lives in a completely different way than they did before they were in Christ. "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself".
If you have a different translation than mine, you'll probably find that your Bible puts this a very different manner. My translation (the New King James) and the old King James Version, makes "he who has been born of God" the believer, and has him "keeping" himself. Other translations make the one who has been born of God in this part of the verse to be Jesus; and has Him as the one who guards the Christian. The New International Version, for example, says, "the one who was born of God [meaning Jesus] keeps him [that is, the believer] safe". The New American Standard Bible likewise translates it, "but He who is born of God keeps him ..." The New English Bible translates it this very clear way; "It is the Son of God who keeps him safe". Which of these two different ways of understanding this verse is the correct one? Most scholars believe that "he who has been born of God" is to be properly understood as a reference to Jesus; and they hold that the translation that has Jesus guarding the believer is based on the best and most reliable Greek manuscripts.
It should be said, however, that both possibilities are biblically sound. Jesus is certainly the great Defender and Protector of His people. "My sheep hear My voice," Jesus said, "and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand." (John 10:27-28). But it's equally true that the believer must labor to keep himself or herself. John wrote; "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure" (John 3:2-3). It is both our responsibility to keep ourselves from sin, and our confident assurance that Jesus will also preserve us from the ultimate ruin and loss of sin. "... Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," writes Paul; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13).
Because Jesus - the sinless, only-begotten Son of the Father; He "who has been born of God" - works so faithfully to "keep" the believer, then John can say that "We know that whoever is born of God does not sin ..." This isn't to say that, if we stumble and fall into sin, we prove that we're not born of God. If that were the case, John would never have had to say, "My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous" (1 John 2:1). The eventuality that we will stumble and fall is acknowledged. What John means, however, is that if we have truly been born of God, then we're of a completely new nature. We are new creations in Christ, and we cannot live in the same old habitual way as we used to. We cannot live in a continual, ongoing, life-style pattern characterized by the sins of the past. We may stumble and fall at times; but we no longer live in those old sins as a regular practice of life. "Whoever has been born of God does not sin," John says; "for His [that is, God's] seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9).
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Finally, notice that because Jesus keeps the one born of God, "the wicked one does not touch him". The word for "touch" means to lay ahold of something in order to harm it. I believe that the devil would most certainly lay ahold of and destroy the man or woman born of God if he could. Our adversary the devil "walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour" (1 Pet. 5:8). There might be times when the devil is successful in tripping us up at times; but praise God that he can never "touch" us in such a way as to lay ahold of us and destroy us.
I find great comfort in this, don't you? Though I trust that sin does not characterize my life any longer in the way it once did, the fact remains that I'm still a sinner; and I often fail my Lord. I always ask His forgiveness whenever I do, and He freely grants it; and He helps me to get back up whenever I stumble, and causes me to grow in strength, and become increasingly the man He wants me to be. But still I fall and stumble; and I will until the day I'm finally in heavenly glory. So will you. But in spite of all our failures, the "wicked one" cannot ultimate "touch" the man or woman born of God. We are out of his malicious reach. He will never be able to snatch us out of the Lord Jesus' mighty, protective hand.
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"We know", John says, "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." Do you know this, dear brother or sister? Is this your great confidence in the faith? Is this your conviction?
Many people believe that they can carry on in a relationship with Jesus Christ and still live in the same old sins that He died to save them from. Do you, however, know with certainty that this is impossible? "Little children, let no one deceive you", John writes. "He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:7-8). People who make a profession of faith in Jesus, and yet continue to practice a life-style of sin, demonstrate that they are not yet born of God, and are still in the clutches of the devil. If you know Jesus with certainty, then you'll know also with certainty that he or she who is born of God through Jesus has been radically transformed from within to conform to His image, and no longer lives the life of sin that they once did.
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This leads us to a second "precious certainty"; this one ...
2. WITH RESPECT TO DISTINCTION FROM THE WORLD (v. 19).
This second "certainty" has a relation to the first. The first certainty affirms that whoever is born of God no longer lives a life of wickedness. Now, John writes, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."
This "certainly" would not be thought upon with very much respect by many today. It would seem intolerant and judgmental to relegate everyone in the world into two groups like this. It wouldn't seem politically correct to say that we who are in Christ are alone "of God", and that all others, who are not in Christ, "lies under the sway of the wicked one". But again, if you truly have fellowship with Jesus Christ, and know Him with deep, intimate, experiential "certainty", then you'll be certain that eternal life is only found in Him; and that everyone in the world is either "in" Him or "outside" of Him. There is no middle ground.
The first thing to notice in this expression of certainty is that John affirms that "we are of God"; the "we" being those who are "born of God" and are "kept" by Christ. Really, that's the single most important dividing line in all humanity - those who have believed on Jesus and are therefore shown to be "born of God"; and those who have not believed on Jesus and are therefore not born of God.
A second thing to notice is that those who are not born of God are said to be "the whole world". By "the world", John doesn't mean the whole population of humanity. Rather, he means the system of beliefs and values that are in opposition to God. John described this system when he said, "Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it ..." (1 John 2:15-17). And this world system - and the people who love it - hate those who have been born of God. John later writes, "Do not marvel, my brethren, if the world hates you" (3:13). He said of those in this system who stand in opposition to Jesus Christ, "They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:5-6).
And a third thing to notice is that "the whole world" in this sense "lies under the sway of the wicked one". The Bible tells us that, apart from Jesus Christ, people are "dead in trespasses and sins" and walk "according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience" (Eph. 2:1-2). Jesus told the Pharisees who opposed Him, "You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do" (John 8:44). To be apart from Christ is to be of "the world"; and to be of the world is to "lie under the sway of the wicked one".
Someone commenting on this verse once said that, though the devil cannot snatch the believer out of the Savior's hand, the rest of the world lies cradled in his fiendish arms. What a horrible place to lie! And yet, no one has to stay there. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to rescue us from the damning embrace of the devil. As the writer of Hebrews says, "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all there lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14-15). "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested", John writes, "that He might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8).
And again, this is something that we are to hold to as a precious certainty. If we know that Jesus truly is the "propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2), then we'll recognize whole-heartedly that there really are only two groups of people - those who are in Christ and thus "born of God, and those outside of Christ and thus lying under the sway of the wicked one. And we will be so convicted of this reality, that we'll boldly proclaim Jesus Christ - no matter what the opposition - so that those who are outside of Christ might believe and be saved. From then on, we'll "regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 5:16); but will become "ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading with us"; and we'll implore those who are outside of Christ on Christ's behalf, "... Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
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A third "precious certainty" is one John mentions ...
3. WITH RESPECT TO JESUS CHRIST (v. 20)."And we know", John says, "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."
First, notice that he says, "We know ... that the Son of God has come ..." This is a certainty that, for John, touches on the foundation of all his certainties. He is certain that the eternal Son of God has become flesh, and has come to walk on this earth as a man among sinful men. I love how Paul puts it: "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4-5). At the right time, He came; and now, we can declare that "the Son of God has come". "... The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men" (Titus 2:11). "... There is born to you ... a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). For John, there was no longer a need to wait; but only a joyful call to live in the light of salvation. The Son of God has come!
Second, notice that he says, "We know" that the Son of God "has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true ..." Here, he says that he knows that the Son who has come had given something to us - an "understanding". The word he uses for "understanding" refers to a reasoning ability, or an ability to discern. He's not speaking here of a human ability; but rather of something that can only be given by God.
What is this "understanding"? I believe this speaks of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit Who empowering the believer to understand spiritual realities, and Who guides him or her in the truths of the faith. Jesus spoke of this to His disciples before He went to the cross, when He told them, "... When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you" (John 16:13-15). John himself speaks of this ministry of the Holy Spirit in his letter. He tells his brothers and sisters, "But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things." "... The anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him." He says, "And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us" (3:24).
As we grow in Christ, we grow in our knowledge of God and His ways for us. This kind of knowledge will always, to some degree, be imperfect. But we CAN know with absolute certainty that our growth in this imperfect knowledge will always be aided and assisted by the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, because He gives us an "understanding, that we may know Him who is true ..."
Now this doesn't mean, of course, that we should fall into the error that I heard one man fall into. He stopped going to church altogether, broke off all association with other believers, gave away his Bible - all because he declared that he was going to rely only on the internal leading of the Holy Spirit, and no longer needed these lessor things. In actual fact, however, that foolish man cut himself off from the leading of the Spirit and ended up making a spiritual wreck of himself. This is because it's THROUGH the Scriptures, and THROUGH the ministry of a Bible-teaching church, and THROUGH our fellowship with other Christians, that the Spirit leads us. We should never expect the Spirit of God to lead us apart from the things by which He does His work in us. But by contrast, I believe we can have such a confidence in the ministry of the Holy Spirit who indwells us, that we can be certain that no one who faithfully follows the Spirit's leading in his or her life, and who relies on the Spirit's ministry through a full use of these spiritual resources, will ever wander dangerously from the truth. Because of Him, we know that the Son of God has given us an understanding "that we may know Him who is true" - that is, that we may know the one true God who is the genuine article.
Third, notice that "we know ... we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ". This is the very thing that Jesus Himself prayed for. He prayed to the Father, "I do not pray for these alone [that is, His apostles] but for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given to them that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me" (John 17:20-23).
And isn't this what John's letter is all about - a deep, abiding, personal fellowship with Jesus Christ - a fellowship so deep that it can be said that we are "in Him"? That is a relationship that will be fully realized in heavenly glory; but John is affirming that he has a certainty that it is true even right now - that we are, indeed, "in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ".
And finally, John says - speaking of Jesus, "This is the true God and eternal life". What a bold statement this is! If you have ever wanted a clear and unambiguous affirmation in the Scriptures that Jesus is fully God, here it is! If anyone wants to know God, then they must know Jesus Christ, because Jesus is God. If they want eternal life, then they must know Jesus Christ, because it is only found in Him. John is certain of it. He "knows".
* * * * * * * * * *
I said earlier that I believe these last four verses are a summation of the whole letter. I say this because I see the three great "tests of fellowship" and are repeated throughout this letter stated once again in these three "certainties".
First, as you'll remember, was "the test of obedience". "Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). We find this in the first "certainty": "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."
Second, there was "the test of love". "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren" (3:14). There are only two classes of people in the world - those who are in Christ and those who are outside of Christ; and while we are certainly to love the lost people of the world, we are to love most of all the members of God's family. And so John writes, "We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one."
And third, there was "the test of belief". We are to believe rightly about Jesus. "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (4:15). And now, John affirms, "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."
This brings us to the closing affirmation of this letter. It is a consequence of "certainty" concerning the truths of the faith John has affirmed throughout this letter. If Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and if all these things that have been said about Him are true, then, this truly is the true God and eternal life. "Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen."
Anything that would substitute for the genuine thing would keep us from Jesus - the true God and eternal life. And anything that keeps us from Him is an idol. May God build into us a certainty of the things that are true; and may that certainty keep us from falling for anything that is false! May we be people who "know"!
1The Greek word used is oida; which means "to know". Jesus used this word in His parable of the Master of the house. The Master shuts the door; and yet many outside knock and say, "Lord, Lord, open for us." The Master says, "I do not know you, where you are from." They remind Him, "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets"; but he will reply, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from [that is, 'know' in this deep and intimate way]. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity" (Luke 13:25-27).
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