May 23, 2021
I, too, want to offer my congratulations to high school seniors and your soon graduation – this Friday, May 28. In fact, the baccalaureate will be here at Alliance tomorrow evening. Receiving a diploma is a significant milestone in your lives – I trust, one of many to come. It’s a symbol of a great achievement – of having successfully completed the requirements for graduation. You’ll get to move the tassel from one side to the other. Of course, we know that means more than that you’ve merely attended some classes – it supposes you’ve acquired the knowledge necessary, the proficiency, to pass and move to the next level – whatever that is for you. Congratulations.
Understand, acquiring knowledge is a necessary life-long pursuit. For example, we trust you know more than you knew when you were 2, 4, 6, and 8. And you will know more at 28 and 38 than you know now. Can I encourage you, as you cross the stage on Friday, to commit to continue learning and growing academically, vocationally, relationally, and spiritually in the years to come? Further, to make knowing and growing in Christ the most important pursuit of your lives. I didn’t say the only pursuit – I said the most important. I wish you would see me – better, your parents greeting you on the other side of the stage, to say these words of Paul to Timothy, to you, “Remember Jesus Christ.” Because the world will be saying just the opposite – you’re on your own now. Forget Jesus.
How easy it is to forget, to move on, to claim a better/superior knowledge. The Apostle John has wanted us to know some things through our study of I John. There were false teachers claiming to know more than John and the church, and they were seeking to draw away people after themselves. You will face the same challenges – people who claim to know more – to be more intellectually enlightened, and for you to reach this same level of enlightenment, acceptance, and freedom, you too must know what they know. Embrace what they embrace. Often, their professed knowledge requires a rejection of what you know – what you have heard all your lives regarding the Christian faith – the truth of Jesus and His gospel. So, will you grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, or will you grow, seemingly beyond Him, and reject such childish notions? Do not leave Him behind on the stage at this pivotal stage of your life.
You see, just as you end this chapter of your life, we arrive at the end of the book – our six-month study of John’s first letter. Almost like a semester-long study. What have we learned? What will you keep in your pursuit of spiritual maturity? As John gets to the end of the letter, before we move to the next one, he gives a class review – a semester summary of what he has taught, to make sure we got it. Because, as you and I graduate, there will be tests and temptations along the way. Will we continue to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? Will we continue to obey His commands? Will we continue to love the church? John wants us to pass – to demonstrate a degree of proficiency.
So he summarizes. In verses 13-21 of chapter 5, the last 9 verses of the letter, he uses the word know several times – don’t miss it. He’s summarizing – these are the things he’s taught us – these are the things he wants us to know – things that we can know that will give assurance as we face the challenges of life, the cry of the culture. We can know:
We have eternal life.
We can know He hears and answers our prayers.
We can know those born again do not sin – not as a practice of life.
We can know we are of God.
We can know the Son of God has come, and that we know Him.
We looked at the first two of those last week – we’ll finish the letter today by looking at the next three. Let’s read the text, I John 5:18-21. Notice verses 18, 19 and 20 all begin with the words, we know.
Did you notice – he draws contrasts, by what we know, between us and the world. Between us and the evil one. The contrasts go like this:
We know those born of God do not sin. The implication is, those who are not born again, do sin as a way of life. You will find that, and the clarion cry will be, join us.
We know that we are of God. And those not of God still lie in the power of the evil one.
We know that the Son of God has come, has given us understanding, such that we know the truth – we know the true God and eternal life. And by implication, those who don’t know the Son do not understand, do not know the true God, and do not have eternal life. You see, John had written earlier is this chapter, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son does not have the life.”
If all that is true, and it is, then John finishes with a final command – little children, guard yourselves from idols. We will talk about that as we close today, but what he is saying is simply this: if what you know is true, then why follow those who would seek to draw you away? Why would you reject what you know? Don’t follow false teachers and their idolatrous teaching that would draw you away from the truth – from the true and the living God – Jesus Christ.
So, let’s look then at these final three things we know, remember, giving us assurance of eternal life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
First, you know that no one who is born of God sins. In a sense he is saying, why live that way – in a life of sin? Why listen to the cry of culture that says real life, fun life is to be found here. We are born of God – we know better. He’s summarizing what he already taught. He taught this seemingly troubling truth back in chapter 3:
5 You know that He [that is, Jesus] appeared in order to take away sins [which by the way, lead to death, no matter the promise of fun life]; and in Him there is no sin.
6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him.
7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous;
8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil.
9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.
We saw this has been called one of the most difficult passages in the NT. And now John repeats it at the end of the letter, “We know that no one who is born of God sins.” We talked about that then, I’ll simply summarize. Obviously, the biggest challenges in chapter 3 were in verse 6, “No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him,” and verse 9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” Was John there or here suggesting those who are born of Him – that is, born again, saved – is he suggesting that Christians do not sin – in fact, they cannot sin? That was a challenge.
Some have taught that. And yet, that seems to go against what John said back in chapters 1 and 2 – if we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves; if we say we have not sinned, we make Him a liar; if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins; if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. So, we cannot say we have not sinned or have no sin; and if we sin, we confess; and if we sin – and the force of the verse is, when we sin, we have an Advocate with the Father – one who intercedes for us.
So I said then, I say again now, I believe neither chapter 3 nor chapter 5 teaches sinless perfection – that is, that Christians do not ever sin. But as I said then, God’s grace and the promise of forgiveness is not permission to sin. Rather, we will find that Christians do not sin as a way of life – and when they do it grieves them. Instead of pursing sin, they practice righteousness as a way of life. They seek to purify themselves through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Again, in chapter 3, John said, they don’t practice sin as a way of life because God’s seed remains in them – that is, God’s Spirit, given to us to be with us and live in us, frees us from being slaves to sin and fills us to be slaves of righteousness.
So the idea is not occasional sinning which grieves us, but a practice of sin as a way of life. All those who are born of Him, who abide in Him demonstrate the reality of a new life in Christ by not sinning as a way of life. Their lives are not characterized by a pursuit of sin. John Stott said it this way, “Sin and the child of God are incompatible. They may occasionally meet; they cannot live together in harmony.”
High school seniors, and everyone else, the world will cry out to you – sin is fun. Oh, they won’t call it sin – they will simply suggest that your thoughts of certain behaviors as sinful are misguided or wrong or archaic. So I remind you, the overall character of born-again lives is a pursuit of purifying themselves, even as He is pure. And that’s a lifelong pursuit, such that I can say, as you grow in Christ, you will become more and more like Him – actually sinning less.
So John summarizes at the end of the letter – the semester – we know, don’t we, that those born of God do not sin as a way of life. Remember Jesus Christ – do not tell Jesus goodbye. You can pursue righteousness – in chapter 3, because God’s seed, the Holy Spirit, abides in you. Here, John makes another claim, a startling claim, “but He who was born of God keeps him…” While pronouns are not capitalized in NT Greek, they are in some translations to provide clarity. I believe they got this one right – which is a stunning point. At the beginning of verse 18, he says, those born of God do not sin; then he tells us why: because He who was born of God – that is, the only begotten Son – keeps him – that is, those children of God born again of God. Here’s the point: Jesus Himself, the Son of God, keeps forever those born again of God. Meaning, those for whom He died, He keeps. Are you listening – God’s seed, the Spirit, remains in you, and the Son of God, Jesus, keeps you.
Such that the evil one – this is John’s way throughout this letter of referring to the devil – the devil cannot touch the one who belongs to God. He may attack you, but he cannot have you –you belong, body and soul, to God and are kept by the Son of God.
Verse 19, fourth thing we know from these last nine verses – “We know that we are of God.” Do you know that? John is telling you, I am telling you, you are of God. What an incredible statement. What does it mean? It means we belong to God, that we are His, that we are born of God, that we are His children. We talked about that a couple months ago. The world is under the false assumption that everyone is a child of God. And while it is true that all people bear the image of God – it is not true that all are of God, that all belong to God, that all are children of God. Only those born again are of God.
Notice the contrast John draws – we are of God, and the whole world – those not born of God, this evil world system in its rebellion against God, right now, lie in the power of the evil one. Jesus told the Pharisees one day, they were of their father, the devil. He called Satan the ruler of this world; Paul called him the prince of the power of the air – by whom everyone walks. Everyone outside of Christ walks according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the ruler of this world. They are under his power, under his control. They are held captive by him – and their only help of rescue is the gospel. A stark contrast. We and we alone, are of God. That’s not meant to be a statement of arrogance – it is a statement of eternal, humbling truth.
Verse 20, the fifth and last thing that we know – a truth John has said over and over through the letter – a truth the world will decry. And we know that the Son of God has come. Remember, the false teachers were in some way denying that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. They either denied the incarnation, they denied His deity, or they denied He was God when He died on the cross. Lots of guesses, but in the end, they denied that He was the divine Son of God.
So also today, many will acknowledge a man named Jesus lived – that he was a good teacher, a good example, a moral man, a man who changed the world with his teaching. But they deny that He was God in the flesh – the Son of God. Every other religion denies it – they must, because if He was the Son of God, then of necessity Christianity is the only true religion. Do you understand that? Every other religion paints God in different strokes. They deny that God revealed Himself ultimately through His Son.
Which means, having graduated from high school, some on your way to college, you will readily hear that you must leave this childish notion behind. You see, if you want to live your own life in sinful rebellion, you must deny the deity of Jesus. Because if He was God, then what He said is alone true – and to Him, we all will give an account. So deny Him, they must. When they seek to entice you, draw you away – understand the reason is to entice you to sin as they sin. And the result is eternal condemnation. I say that with great sorrow.
I’ve said it this way before. Beliefs and behaviors must match. If you believe that Jesus was the Son of God, you must obey Him. But if you don’t want to, if your beliefs and behaviors collide, then you must deny one or the other. You must change your beliefs, or change your behaviors. And many, wanting to pursue sinful behaviors simply deny their once-held beliefs. They must – because beliefs and behaviors must match.
We know that the Son of God has come. By the way, all those “we know” statements are in the perfect tense – we know, at a point in time in the past, such that that knowledge affects our lives today. We know that the Son of God has come – and to magnify the vivid nature of that coming, John writes in the present tense. He has come. Certainly, He came at some point in the past, 2000 years ago in what is called the incarnation – when Jesus came from heaven as the Son of God, and took on human flesh – wrapped Himself in human flesh. But that coming is not just an historical fact. It is a present truth that must be believed. And by His coming, and by our believing that truth, He has given – perfect tense, has given us understanding in the past so that we now continue to believe and understand the truth of His coming and His gospel.
So that we may know – present tense – we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true. Who is the Him who is true that we both know and are in? Most agree this is referring to God the Father. Jesus has come to reveal the Father to us. Consider these verses:
Hebrews 1:1-3 – 1 God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, 2 in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. 3 And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
Colossians 2:9 – 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.
John 1:18 – 18 No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, he has explained Him.
John 14:8-9 – 8 Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
John 17:3 – 3 “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.”
The Scripture is clear, both that Jesus was and is God – the Son of God – and that He came to reveal the Father, to show God to us. Such that John can go on in our text to say, “and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.” To have the Son is to have eternal life. The clear teaching is you cannot know and be in the Father without the Son.
This is eternal life, Jesus said, that they may know You, Father – that’s why I was sent – to reveal You to them. This is eternal life. And John says most clearly of anywhere in Scripture, This is the true God and eternal life. Lots of discussion about who the pronoun “this” refers to. The closest antecedent is Jesus Christ. Even if it refers to the Father – the Father is the one whom Jesus came to reveal – and we are in Him who is true, both the Father and the Son – and this is the true God and eternal life.
If this is true, and it is, then John concludes, we conclude, with a final command, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.” While this looks like a p.s., a postscript that John meant to add somewhere in the letter and just sticks it in here – it actually makes sense. If we can know:
That we have eternal life by believing in the name of the Son of God.
That He hears and answers prayer.
That those born of God live lives of righteousness.
That we are of God.
That the Son of God has come to give us understanding, to reveal the Father to us, that God may live in us and that we may know the true and living God and His Son Jesus Christ and have eternal life.
If all that is true, why would we listen to those who would offer idolatrous false teaching to us? Why would we turn from the true God to pursue sinful, destructive lifestyles? Why would we turn away from eternal life? Little children, guard yourselves from idols. Don’t be lured away and enticed by that which is not true. Remember and follow Jesus Christ.