Ray Orland writes, ‘God not only accepts you, he wants you to know that he accepts you. Because you will never see liberating breakthrough to new levels of personal holiness except in the reassuring atmosphere of grace.’ John wrote this letter so that we would know that God is love, and that we can be secure in his love. He wrote, ‘these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life’ (5:13). When it comes to faith, confidence is a good thing.
I want this confidence to spill over into your prayer life (14-17)
John tells us that God accepts us as dearly loved children purely on the basis of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus lived the perfect life and died a sacrificial death for sin. We simply hold an empty hand in repentance and faith (which themselves are a gift from God) and we adopted as his sons and daughters. He goes on accepting us even though we go on letting him down (1:8), but he also changes us from within. The work of his Spirit caused us to love the truth that Jesus is our saviour. The work of his Spirit causes us to treat sin seriously and gradually become more like Jesus. The work of his Spirit causes to love his people. He wants us to hear the Spirit’s assurance that God does indeed delight in us. ‘God not only accepts you, he wants you that he accepts you.’ He wants this confidence to spill over into our prayer lives.
God has been challenging me about the need for intimacy with him. I often pray because I feel I must. I feel guilty about my lack of prayer. Sometimes I pray to get it out of the way, and so that I don’t feel like a phoney Christian. However, one preacher explains that ‘you cannot go very far in the Christian life without realising that prayer is not a technique but a relationship. It is not a matter of how to get my will done. It is a matter of knowing God well enough to get his will done.’ John writes, ‘this is the confidence we have in God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know we have what we asked of him’ (14-15).
This is about knowing him well enough to understand the sort of things he would have us ask for. If we ask anything according to his will. This is about knowing God well enough to know that he delights to give good gifts to his children. This is about trusting that he knows the best way to answer our prayers. This is about the sort of prayer that is consumed with a desire that ‘your will be done.’ We can have confidence when we pray like that. He is not reluctant or unwilling. However, he alone knows what is in our best interests.
Having told us that prayer is in line with God’s will John gives us an example of the sort of petition God loves to answer. If anyone sees his brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life (16). When you see a fellow Christian sinning, don’t dare gossip about it (that would to fail John’s command to love our brothers and sisters in Christ). You may need to confront them. You always need to pray for them. Pray for the wandering believer in the full assurance that if they are really born again then God will respond to our prayer and restore them.
But tragically some who wander are simply revealing that they were not actually born again. Remember how John spoke about those who ‘went out from us, but did not really belong to us’ (2:19). Some show that they are not born again because they don’t take God’s call to holy living seriously. John speaks of a sin that leads to spiritual death (16). Bible Commentator, Howard Marshall, points out that this is not referring to someone who is overcome by temptation against their will, who wants to love God and neighbour and be freed of sin. God always forgives those who come to him in genuine repentance. But a person can harden themselves to the call of God to a point that they are beyond recall. ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Hebrews 3:15).
We can be confident even though we live in a world entrapped by the devil (18-19)
John gives us a rather offensive picture of the world. In John ‘the world’ refers to people in rebellion against God’s loving rule. In love God sent his Son to die for the world (John 3:16). The world is under the control of the evil one (19). We live in a hostile world that is controlled by a hostile power. Don’t be surprised when people oppose what you believe. But be confident because Jesus keeps us safe, ‘and the evil one cannot harm you’ (18). Nothing can separate you from the love of God. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God, that is Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).
There are a wonderful couple of verses in the book of Revelation that speak of how Jesus protects us from the devil. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say, “Now have come the salvation and power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11). In other words the devil’s power to accuse is broken by the fact that Jesus has taken all our past, present and future sin upon him, the punishment has been paid and we cannot be condemned. Now we no longer need fear death itself.
We can be confident about reality (20-21)
Finally, we come to the end of this great letter. And John seems to give a random command—Keep yourself from idols (21). It is not actually a random command. It is a very fitting way to end this letter.
You see, John is not warning his readers about bowing down to statues made of wood or stone. He is using the term idol to speak about anything that takes the place of God in our lives. He is telling them not to forsake the reality of what is, for the unreality of what is not. In verse twenty he uses the word translated ‘true’ three times. There is a world out there that is held by a strong delusion, which offers pleasure that can’t truly satisfy and that offers a life that perishes. But Jesus is the real thing! Don’t be so foolish to set the sail of your life to the winds of this condemned world. That’s what John says to these readers who were disturbed by those false-teachers who said that sin doesn’t matter and whose followers revealed that they had never been born again!
Friends, I ache for you, for I want you to place nothing in the way of being drawn into a living, loving and life-transforming relationship with Jesus. I want no idols to stop you enjoying life in him. I want you to know the joy of being assured that you have eternal life. Jesus does not promise a life without sorrows (he was a man of sorrows familiar with grief). But nothing will sustain you more, as we walk in this valley of the shadow of death, than knowing that you are loved and accepted by the gracious God who has revealed himself to us in his Son Jesus Christ.