A study of 1 Jn.5:14-21
John concludes his first letter by addressing two important principles in our relationship with God. First, he deals with Guidance in Prayer <1 Jn.5:14-17>.
He commences this section with a very important fact in regards to prayer: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.” <1 Jn.5:14 (NIV)>; for here we see the requirement of God in regards to our petitions – “if we ask anything according to his will”. How do we know God’s will (desire)? We can know God’s will in any circumstance by being familiar with the teaching of scripture and prayer to God to reveal his desire for us in the circumstance we are facing; and this, sometimes, can be very difficult, but we must wait on God’s direction. By having a good knowledge of the scriptures the Holy Spirit will guide us in our desires and decisions as we present these to God in our prayer. There is no point in praying for direction or a solution to a difficulty that confronts us when the scriptures clearly teach that the decision we make will cause us to sin against God. One of the most common situations is the question of marriage; the scriptures clearly teach that there should be no union between a believer in Christ and a non-believer <see 2 Cor.6:14-15>; unfortunately we see the peril of such marriages in our churches today as the believer thinks that the non-believer can be converted to Christ which is not necessarily the case. This principle applies to almost every facet of our lives whether it be business or pleasure. So, guidance in our prayer depends entirely upon our knowledge and obedience to the scriptures; each believer in Christ must depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit and total obedience to God’s commands <see 1 Jn.3:21-22>. However, there are those circumstances that confront us, and things that we need for our daily living, and God expects us to petition Him for such; and again we must exercise faith in God for our timing may not necessarily be God’s timing, and we are required to wait in prayer for God to respond <see Matt.7:7-8>; and this is John’s summation: “…whatever we ask — we know that we have what we asked of him.” <1 Jn.5:15 (NIV)>.
John now speaks to two occasions where guidance in prayer is definitely needed: “…a sin that does not lead to death” <1 Jn.5:16 (NIV)>. There has been much said about this passage, too much to be included here. What does he mean by a sin that does not lead to death? The scriptures teach that sin results in the eternal death of the individual, and that is the reason that Christ came and died on the Cross. From the point of view that all believers in Christ have been delivered from the judgment of eternal death and separation from God, we have to understand that a believer who sins will be punished in some way in this life. That is the reason John began this epistle teaching that we all continue to sin, even after our conversion to Christ, and because of this we need to continually confess our sins to God and seek His forgiveness. The promise to each believer is that we will never perish – <Jn.3:16; 17:11-12, 15> meaning that once saved we are saved for all eternity, but as we live our lives on this earth we are constantly bombarded with sin and evil, and Christ demonstrated this to His disciples <see Jn.13:6-8; 1 Jn.1:7-10>; the lesson to us is that since we live in a sinful world, and we are contaminated by sin, we need the cleansing of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit working in us. So, here John says that when we see a fellow believer engaging in some sinful activity we need to pray to God that the believer will acknowledge the sin and repent seeking God’s forgiveness and cleansing. John continues to say that; “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.” <1 Jn.15:16 (NIV)>, and in this statement we see that there is a difference. There are those that “profess” to be believers in Christ but have never been truly saved from their sin, and eventually display this in their lifestyle by turning their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ, for such there is no further repentance, only to be lost for all eternity <see Heb.6:4-6>. John says there should be no prayer for such since they have already sinned unto death. Let us remember that John is addressing the difficulty of Gnostic teaching in the Church, which has led to some accepting this teaching of adamant and persistent denial of the truth of the Scriptures, denying the deity of Christ, and such unrepentant sin only leads to spiritual death.
John concludes by stating that “All wrongdoing is sin” <1 Jn.5:17 (NIV)>, and repentance is required whether it be a believer or non-believer. Therefore, God’s response to our prayer is directly related to our understanding that God’s will for all believers is to live a life that is as far from sin as possible.
Finally, he addresses a difficulty that faces all believers in Christ: Freedom from Habitual Sin <1 Jn.5:18-21>; and he has already given us two affirming statements:
(1) “….you may know that you have eternal life.” <1 Jn.5:13 (NIV); cf Jn.3:15, 36; 17:1-3>, a present possession that will be completed at Christ’s second coming:
(2) “….we know that he hears us” <1 Jn.5:15 (NIV)>, on condition that we ask according to His purpose.
And concludes by adding three more:
(3) “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin” <1 Jn.5:18 (NIV)>, all believers in Christ fit this category for we are born into God’s family <see Jn.1:12; Rom.8:14, 16; Eph.2:6-9> and the characteristic is that we do not willfully commit sin. We are confident in the fact that Christ keeps us safe from the evil one – Satan “…the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.” <1 Jn.5:18b (NIV); cf. Jn.17:11-12, 15, 20>. We are protected from evil and sin by God Himself through the work of The Holy Spirit, and since sin no longer controls us we need to live victoriously over sin <see Rom.6:11-14>.
(4) “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” <1 Jn.5:19 (NIV)>, the main difference between believers and non-believers is that the children of God are led and controlled by God while the world of non-believers are under the control of Satan.
(5) “We know also that the Son of God has come” <1 Jn.5:20 (NIV); cf Jn.1:1-2, 14>, and He has given us this understanding by His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures, that He is the True God and eternal life.
He concludes his letter by stating, “…..keep yourselves from idols” <1 Jn.5:21 (NIV)>; since we have been brought to the knowledge that Jesus Christ is God, anything that takes His place in our lives is an idol, and most important we should remember that this is the sin of the Gnostics who teach that Jesus Christ is not God.