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AM Bible Study Archives
"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 . . .
I. ABOUT PERSONAL HOLINESS (v. 18).
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
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]
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).
II. ABOUT THE CHURCH (v. 19).
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
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).
III. ABOUT JESUS CHRIST (vv. 20-21a).
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.
IV. THE CONCLUSION TO DRAW FROM THESE CERTAINTIES (v. 21b).
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.