The ambiguities of life, by their very nature, undermine a believer's sense of standing in the sight of God and thus their grasp on eternal life, ie., it undermines their assurance. Assurance can be further impacted by fellow believers who have left the church fellowship and now claim a superior standing in the sight of God. John, in addressing this issue, affirms the standing of his readers by pointing to the evidence of their relationship with God, their being "sons of God", namely, their right-living (they don't "practice" sin), their brotherly love and their Christ-centered faith. So, assurance again comes to the fore in this conclusion to John's letter with a series of triumphal declarations of what "we know" to be true.
v13. At this point, John explains why he has written this letter; he writes to assure his readers that their eternal standing in the sight of God is secure. John has gone to some length in his letter pointing out that his readers have put their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and so their eternal standing is secure.
v14-15. John goes on to reinforce the assurance of his readers by pointing out that God not only hears their prayers, but answerers them. In the face of life's difficulties and failures, God stands beside his children. Yet, John adds an important qualification, namely, that the prayer be "according to his will." We can be sure we have what we have asked of God as long as it is "according to his will." We sometimes forget that the Bible records God's promises to us and it is these promises that God will fulfill through prayer. In the next verses John looks at one such promise, the promise of forgiveness.
v16-17. John has assured his readers of their right-standing before God, but what happens when a believer sins? Does a believer, at that point, lose their standing before God? All wrongdoing, injustice, unrighteousness, is sin, and when a believer messes up their life, they can pray about it; ask God's forgiveness. Such a prayer leads to life. John goes on to make the point that there is "a sin that leads to death", a sin that cannot be prayed for, a sin beyond God's forgiveness. Sadly, John doesn't tell us what this sin is and so we are left to surmise. It seems likely that this sin entails a rejection of the person of Jesus as he is revealed to us in the scriptures.
v18-20. Assurance is again reinforced with a list of triumphal declarations of what John's readers know to be true:
A believer, a person "born of God", a child of God, does not practice sin, rather they strive to do the opposite, they guard themselves, and so Satan can't undermine their standing before God. John is not suggesting that a believer doesn't sin, but rather it is not their practice to sin. A believer strives to serve Christ, not Satan, and by facing Christ they leave Satan behind.
The secular world might be in bed with the evil one, but a believer isn't. A believer in Christ has an eternally secure personal relationship with God. We are in with Christ, not in with Satan.
A believer possesses divine knowledge revealed in the incarnation of Christ, of God with us in Christ Jesus. Through the life and teachings of Jesus we possess a revelation of the true God which is beyond human wit. This knowledge entails a knowing of God which is personal and intimate; it is relational. So, a person who believes in Jesus, not only enters into a personal relationship with Jesus, but also with God the Father. And it is he, God the Father, who is the true God, the source of eternal life.
v21. John concludes with an exhortation. It seems likely that he is using the word "idols" euphemistically to refer to false beliefs. Expressed positively we might say "stay true to the gospel."
I want to suggest that the believers John writes this letter to are little different to most church-going Christians today. Many of us are short on assurance; we are not sure that when the roll is called up yonder we will be there. There are many reasons for this, but at the top of the list is sin.
I don't know about you, but I have always been bothered by the constant short-fall in my Christian life, particularly the major versions. So, the question we face is whether God is willing to put aside our constant sinning, or does he take account of it and so hold us accountable?
I want to put it to you that God does not take account of our sin if we ask him to set it aside. If you tightly hold the hand of the Master Carpenter, then you can ask for forgiveness, forgiveness for yesterday, today and tomorrow, and God will grant it - "Jesus came into the world to save sinners." So, when the roll is called up yonder you will stand before the living God as white as snow - the apple of God's eye, sinless.
Now I hear you say; "what about the sin that leads to death", the unforgivable sin? It's so unforgivable that John tells us that there is no point praying for it. The trouble is he doesn't tell us what it is.
In the medieval church they had two classes of sins, venal and mortal, little sins and big sins. The big sins were the ones that are unforgivable, although they did have their ways around it, usually some form of penance. Even in recent times a person who had committed suicide couldn't be buried in the Christian section of a graveyard because it was viewed as a mortal sin, unforgivable. What rubbish! Some people today divide sin up into intentional and unintentional, the intentional sin being the deadly sin - of course, that wipes us all out, unless we quickly say "I didn't mean it"!
There is an incident in Mark chapter 3 that actually helps us understand the unforgivable sin. In Mark we read how Israel's religious leaders not only rejected Jesus, but they claimed that his ministry was Satanic. To this Jesus says that every sin will be forgiven people, except blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. In the context this blasphemy involves rejecting Jesus and depreciating his person and work. This then is the "sin that leads to death", the unforgivable sin.
We have all done stupid things in our life and God's gracious kindness covers them all, but there is one stupid thing we must never do. All hope is lost when we turn our back on Jesus and ignore him for the rest of our life. His hand will always be outstretched toward us, but if we reject his offer of friendship then there is no hope for us. All the prayers of our family, all the lit candles in the world, will not save us from our state of loss - unforgiven
1. Compare John's purpose for writing this letter with his purpose for writing the gospel, cf. Jn.20:31.
2. List the truths that assure us of our right-standing before God.
3. What is the "sin that leads to death"?