Abiding in Faith
In the previous chapter we noted that John highlighted the main differences between those who were good and those who were evil, and provided a surefire test to determine who was who: the good obeyed Jesus and the evil did not. John concluded that those who loved Christ and their brethren were truly sons of God and those who didn't were not related to God even though they may have had other positive characteristics. John was doing this to reveal the hypocrisy of the false teachers who were infiltrating the church with their persuasive but false notions of true spirituality.
In effect he says to his readers, if you want to discern the truly spiritual people in the church, examine their behavior: if it conforms to the example of Christ and His teachings and especially His loving attitude, then you have a truly spiritual person. If, on the other hand, the person violates Christ's teachings and does not have love for the brethren, then this person is a fake, a son of the Devil and not a son of God. Love, according to John, is the character trait that identifies the true Christian.
At the end of chapter three the Apostle summarizes Christianity's basic doctrines:
- Faith in Christ as Savior.
- Love of others as an expression of that faith.
In the final chapters of this epistle John will give the third of three ways that a person can be certain that they belong to God. He will then finish with a conclusion and a summary.
Certainty by Abiding in Faith — 4:1-5:12
Let us look at our outline again to see where we are. We have seen the manner in which John describes the fully human, fully divine Jesus from his eye-witness experience. He has also explained two of the ways that Christians can be sure of their salvation (walking in the light, abiding in love). John also provides a sure method to discern the true from the false disciples and teachers (obedience to Christ, especially in the matter of loving others).
John will now finish by describing the third way that Christians can be assured of their salvation: whether or not they respect, teach and live according to Jesus' words.
1Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; 3and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. 4You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. 5They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. 6We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
- I John 4:1-6
The word "spirit" in this section refers to teachers. In the final verses of his letter, John proceeds to deal with the false teachers head on. He offers a simple acid test for determining their legitimacy: true teachers teach that Jesus is fully human and divine. Therefore, anyone claiming spirituality, knowledge or insight will teach this teaching; those who do not, on the other hand, are not from God regardless of their personality or following. They may be sincere but they are in error.
7Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. 14We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.
- I John 4:7-14
John repeats the idea that love is also a factor in determining the true disciple or teacher. However, he adds that God's love was the motivating factor in sending Jesus and to deny this is also to deny God's love. To neglect or change this teaching is also to neglect to teach the single most important example of God's love for man. Without Christ and proper teaching about Him we cannot attain the kind of love that sent Him and the kind of love that comes from Him. False teaching, therefore, interferes with the love that Christ has for us. John concludes that this is what they risk losing if they follow the false teachers.
15Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. 19We love, because He first loved us. 20If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
- I John 4:15-21
Again, on the same theme of love. Those who accept the proper teaching will also enjoy the fruit of that teaching in their lives which is the love of Christ in their hearts. John argues that this love will bind us to God, bind us to our brethren and fortify us against Satan's attacks. These attacks are usually meant to make us feel guilty and unsure about our salvation by accusing us of our sins and failures.
John says that we can withstand these things and have confidence and peace of mind if the love of Christ and others is in our hearts. Unsaid but inferred is that this love is only available to those who accept the teachings about the Christ as given by the Apostles. The teachings of the heretics, however, will only produce doubt, fear, pride and sorrow.
1Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
- I John 5:1-4
John repeats and builds on the idea that a good way to determine if their teachers are legitimate is to see if they abide in the faith (teach accurately the words of Christ, Matthew 28:20). This is also a good way to examine and confirm one's legitimacy as a genuine disciple thus bolstering one's confidence concerning personal salvation. John has told them that this teaching (that Jesus is the divine Savior, etc.) will produce a love for God and others. He has also emphasized the idea that false teaching will not be able to produce this fruit. Now he is trying to demonstrate how our love for God is manifested. He has already explained some of the ways that love of the brethren is shown, here he adds the important truth that obedience to Jesus' words is the way that we prove our love for God. Doing this produces three things:
- It shows God that we love Him in the way that He wants us to demonstrate our love for Him.
- It shows that our faith, as well as our love, are sincere and effective.
- It shows that the world no longer owns us. We are free from the world, the flesh and the Law, once for all.
5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
- I John 5:5-12
John offers one last challenge to the Gnostic teachers who would lure away the innocent with their promises of secret knowledge and spiritual power. He emphasizes the fact that the only way to be free from the flesh, the world (which is what the Gnostic teachers were promising), is to be free through Christ.
He reminds them of the life of Christ: the amazing witness of God at His baptism (water), the glorious ministry of His many miracles (Holy Spirit), His death and resurrection (blood). If you doubt, he says, look at the witnesses (water, Spirit, blood) that testify to the truth of what Jesus taught compared to what the false teachers are promoting. If they do not believe these witnesses and the promise of eternal life that these witnesses have made, they then forfeit the promise. And make no mistake, he says, the promise of eternal life is only offered through Christ and His teachings, not through the secret and false teachings of these Gnostic teachers. His argument to them is that they should not simply listen to him, but rather listen to the witnesses.
Summary — 5:13-21
In the final verses John will summarize and close his letter concerning this subject.
13These 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. 14This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
- I John 5:13-15
This letter ends in much the same way that John's gospel ends. He could write much more and continue the argument but these three ways of assuring salvation (walking in the light, love, faith) and how to discern true from false teachers should be enough to preserve and strengthen their faith. His encouragement is that if they pray to God for help to do these things, He will answer their prayers.
16If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.
- I John 5:16-17
Jesus talked about the sin that leads to death in Mark 3:29 and:
"And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven him."
- Luke 12:10
In context Jesus was referring to those who were saying that He was of the Devil and His teachings were false. John has been talking about people who claim Jesus is a ghost and His teachings are not inspired or are incomplete. I believe John is echoing Jesus here by saying that all manner of sin is forgivable except denying Christ, denying His word or denying His work. This is blaspheming of the Holy Spirit because He is the One who brings Christ, His word and His cross to the world. The point being made is that if you deny these things then there is nowhere else to go for forgiveness. John says you can pray that God forgive men's weaknesses, immoralities, irreverence and failures, but do not ask Him to forgive those who promote false teachings or rejection of Christ because there is no other way for them to be saved.
He finishes with four things all Christians should know:
We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him.
- I John 5:18
1. Christians are not slaves of sin. The cross cleanses us and the Holy Spirit empowers us to be free from the slavery of habitual sin.
We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
- I John 5:19
2. Christians know that there are only two kingdoms in this world: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. You are in one or the other since there is no neutral place.
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. This is the true God and eternal life.
- I John 5:20
3. Christians know and proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior. Those who are with Him are saved and those who are not are not saved.
Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
- I John 5:21
4. Worshiping any other God or form of God is wrong and not a part of Christian teaching. Beware of those who try to make it so.
John ends with a warning to his flock and a warning to those who would seduce them to follow after the vain idols of human philosophy or speculation rather than the gospel message preached by the Apostles. The same kinds of attacks against Christians are made today in the guise of various philosophies like evolution or humanism, etc. These and all other attempts to explain life and death without Christ are in the spirit of what John refers to as the Antichrist.