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"Three Precious Certainties"
1 John 5:18-21

Wednesday AM Bible Study
March 15, 2006

This is the closing section of John's first letter. His letter began with a strong affirmation - that what he and the other apostles have seen and heard of the living Word of God, they have declared (1 John 1:1-4). And now, at the end of the letter, he declares the certainty they possess of what they have declared. His aim throughout this letter is to bring us to the place were we are certain too (5:13).

There are three repeated affirmations in this section: "We know . . . (v. 18);" "We know . . . (v. 19);'' and "[W]e know . . . (v. 20)." They are all three translations of the Greek word oida. This is different from the Greek word gnoskõ; which refers to a knowledge that is imperfect and grows. Oida speaks of a knowledge that is a settled certainty based on experience.

Suppose a man walked up to me and said, "Are you a friend of So-And-So?" I would say, "Yes; he's a good friend of mine." Then they say, "Do you know (gnoskõ) if he came into my office the other day?" I'd have to say that I didn't know. I would suppose he might have; but I'd have to investigate the matter and find out. Then suppose that man said, "Well; I had fifty dollars sitting on my desk; and now it's gone!" Then I'd say, "Well; I grew up with my friend. I have worked with him for many years. He's a good Christian brother. I know (oida) that he didn't take it." That's a settled certainty based on experience. And that's the kind of certainty John speaks of in these four verses.

Note the three things that he says we are certain about . . .


A. First, note who John is talking about: whoever is "born of God". In saying this, he describes the true nature of what it means to be a Christian. A true Christian - from the Bible's standpoint - is not someone who simply signs up to be one, or who works hard to make themselves into one. Rather, it is someone who is a child of God by spiritual rebirth (John 1:12-13; 3:3-7).

B. Second, note that a person who is "born of God" is not simply "made over" but is "completely new" (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:10). And since this is true, such a person "does not sin" - that is, as an ongoing habit of life.

1. Some translations (such as the KJV and the NKJV), translates this verse so that the one who is born of God "keeps" (i.e., guards) themselves. The NKJV, for example, translates this, ". . . but he who has been born of God keeps himself . . ." Others (such as the NIV or the NASV) translate it in such a way as to make the one who is born of God to be Jesus; and so, understand Christ as the one who keeps the believer. The NIV translates it, "the one who was born of God [i.e., Jesus] keeps him [i.e., the believer] safe."

2. Most textual scholars believe that the second interpretation (of the NIV or the NASB) is supported by the best and most reliable Greek manuscripts. But both translations are possible; and both affirmations are biblically sound. Jesus certainly is the defender and protector of His people (John 10:27-28); but it is equally true that the believer must labor to protect himself or herself (1 John 3:2-3). The Bible clearly holds to both without any sense of contradiction (Philippians 2:12-13).

3. The point is that, as new creations in Christ who have been born of God, the genuine believer cannot live in a continual, habitual, life-style pattern characterized by sins of the former life. There will be times when a genuine believer stumbles and falls into sins (1 John 2:1-2); but it is impossible for someone who is born of God to stay in sin (1 John 3:9).

C. And finally, notice that because the one born of God is kept, "the wicked one does not touch him". The word for "touch" means to lay ahold of something in order to harm it. This certainly characterized the devil's desire toward us (1 Peter 5:8); but though he may at times trip us up, the wicked one cannot ultimately "touch" us (1 John 3:7-8).


A. The first thing to notice is the certainty with which John affirms that "we are of God" - the "we" being those who are born of God and are kept by Christ. This constitutes the single most important dividing line in humanity. Life is only found in Christ; and only he who has the Son has life (1 John 5:12). To know Him with deep, intimate, experiential certainty is to know - with certainty - that we are the one's who are of God. This is John's way of speaking of the Church - the whole assembly of Christ's redeemed ones.

B. But what of those who are not born of God? The second thing to notice is that "the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one". It may not seem politically correct to divide the world into only these two groups; but this is what the word of God asserts.

1. "World", in this case, does not mean the whole population of humanity. Rather, he means the system of beliefs and values that are in opposition to God's gospel (1 John 2:15-17; 3:13; 4:5-6).

2. This whole "world" is outside of Christ; and therefore "lies under the sway" of the devil. Those who are apart from Christ are still "dead in trespasses and sins" and still "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" (Ephesians 2:1-2; see also John 8:44).

3. Though the devil cannot touch the one born of God, the whole world lies in his fiendish arms. But no one has to remain there. The Bible tells us that Jesus came to rescue us from the damning embrace of the devil (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 John 3:8).

C. We hold to - as a certainty - the fact that there are only two groups in this world: (1) those who are born of God, and (2) everyone else - all of whom lie under the sway of the wicked one. If we know this as a certainty, we will be motivated to tell everyone we can of Christ, who is the "propitiation for our sins, and not only for our sins only but also for the whole world (1 John 2:2).


A. As a certainty, we know that "the Son of God has come" (see also Galatians 4:4-5; Titus 2:11). This is a certainty that, for John, is the foundation of all other certainties. We are certain that the eternal Son of God has become flesh, and has come to walk on this earth as a man among sinful human beings.

B. Along with this, we know - as a certainty - that the Son of God "has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true . . ." The word used for "understanding" refers to a reasoning ability, or an ability to discern. This is not a mere human ability; but is rather speaking of God's gracious gift of the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13-15; 1 John 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 Holy Spirit; and that through Him, we will not be led astray.

C. And finally, we know that we are in Him who is true. This is God the Father. And we are also in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the very thing that Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-23). What a fellowship is ours! It's this deep, abiding fellowship that John is desiring for us to be in - and to be certain about.


John concludes that this is the true God (that is, Christ is the true God); and eternal life. We must stay way from everything else - because everything else is nothing but an idol.

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