1 John 5:13-21

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Again John reassures his readers that they can know they have eternal life. John also assures his readers God will answer their prayers so long as they pray according to His will. This is not to say there are magic words. “I ask this according to your will.” It is having confidence in the providence of God. John is saying the promise of answered prayer is the request must be within God’s will.

John then says to pray for fellow believers who sin so long as it is not “a sin not leading to death”. This has caused a great deal of confusion. What is the sin that leads to death? This is where the 3 rules of biblical interpretation can be helpful. The 3 rules of biblical interpretation are context, context, and context. Why was John writing this letter? Because some were within the church and then separated themselves from the church. Then they opposed the message of the gospel. The text does state what the sin is that leads to death. It is most probable that John has in mind the actions of the secessionists.

Let’s look at what is clear from the text. It is all wrongdoing is sin. I grew up in a tradition that defined sin as “a willful transgression of the known law of God.” John disagrees with that definition. Sin is doing anything wrong. It does not matter if it is intentional or not. It does not matter rather or not you knew better. All wrongdoing is sin.

Second, there is a sin that leads to death. Some have thought this refers to a physical death. While there are many places in the Bible where sin results in physical death or illness. But that does not appear to be what John has in mind here. Again context is helpful here. John is writing to oppose those who seceded from the community of believers. By leaving the fellowship they showed they did not belong to it. And they were never true believers (1 John 2:18-19). They went back into the world (1 John 4:1) and the world received them. The world received them because they said what the world wanted to hear. (1 John 4:5). The “sin resulting to death” then must refer to their Christological. This sealed their fate. Denying Jesus is the Son of God and has come in the flesh leads to death.

Verse 18 “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” We should not take this out of context. John does not say those whom God has redeemed cannot sin. This sentence, standing on its own, seems to say that. But again applying the 3 rules of Biblical interpretation, context, context, context. We notice that 2 verses earlier John mentions fellow brothers do sin. Verse 16 “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin…” Therefore this needs to be understood just as 3: 9 “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning…” John is saying the same thing in 5:18 as he did in 3:9. We know that everyone who has been born of God does not make a practice of sinning.

John ends with a summary of the letter.

  1. The assurance of knowing we are from God.
  2. The Son of God has come
  3. We are in God and His son Jesus.
  4. Jesus is the true God
  5. Jesus is the eternal life.

Denial of these is idolatry. John’s parting sentence is to keep from idolatry

This ending section of John’s first epistle is comforting words. We can know. We do know that we have eternal life and God hears our prayers and answers them. If we ask according to God’s will we can be sure we have them. We need to pray for each other. If we notice a brother sin, our response should not be, “Well that is between him and God.” No! Our response is to support our brother with prayer so that he may repent. Realize also that we (that is you and me) sin and need to repent. Yes, we will and do sin. After all, all wrongdoing is sin. But we have confidence that God in His mercy and for His glory has redeemed us and given us eternal life. He will hear our prayer of repentance and forgive our sins for that is His will.

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