As he comes closer to the end of his letter John continues to heap encouragement on his readers. Since verse 13 he has concentrated his teaching on things we know as believers and the assurance that comes from that knowledge. In this passage he adds three more amazing promises. He is finishing in a fury of reassurance and encouragement. He does not want to end without making sure his spiritual children – who have been rocked by heretics and splits in their community – know the incredible promises that are theirs as children of God.
The word to focus on in this text is know. John leaves no room for doubt or guessing or assumption – he tells us what we can KNOW. Each of the three verses begins with we know (or and we know). As we have mentioned before, Christianity is unique in what its adherents can be sure of. We do not have to wonder about our status or our ultimate future. God promises and cannot violate His word. A mark of how much God loves us is that He allows us to live with knowledge and assurance – we do not have to go through life wondering and guessing. As a matter of fact, the trials that God allows make more sense in light of the truths He makes sure we know. We do not endure without assurance – we do not persevere without knowledge. Seen in this light it is clear that knowledge stems from love. We know because God loves.
The first of the three things we know is that no one who is born of God sins. Why? Because He who was born of God keeps him and the evil one does not touch him.
This is the third time John has said something about believers not sinning. In 3:6 he said no one who abides in Him sins. In 3:9 he said no one who is born of God practices sin because God’s seed abides in him. All three statements are similar and each sheds light on the other. When John says no believer sins he really means that no child of God remains in sin – no child of God practices sin. Every believer sins – John said so himself and told us that God forgives sin when we confess (1:9). But the Christian does not reside in a state of sin and is not overcome by sin. The child of God is not typified by sin – it does not characterize his life.
Why is this? Because we are born of God. John says we are born of God and Jesus was born of God. This goes right along with his earlier words that God’s seed abides in us. We are children of God and have the family likeness and genes (so to speak). As children of One who cannot sin, we also cannot sin (as John says in the second half of 3:9). We cannot simultaneously abide in God and abide in sin – it is impossible to abide in two states that are inherently opposed to each other. We have God’s seed in us and He abides in us and we in Him – thus we cannot practice sin.
But notice a new reason that John mentions here but did not highlight in Chapter 3 (at least not in the same way). The One who was born of God – Jesus – keeps us and does not allow the evil one to touch us. Not only do we have the family genes – we have the family protection. Jesus puts a hedge around us and does not allow the evil one to overpower us. John said in 3:8 that Jesus came to earth to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus erased the power of Satan to deceive His children when He defeated sin on the cross. Now He protects His own and does not allow the devil to bring them back under his power. This echoes John’s promise in 4:4 that greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. This is also why John could earlier say that the one who believes in the Son overcomes the world (5:5). It is why James can tell us to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7) and why Jesus taught us to pray for protection from the evil one in the Model Prayer (Matt 6:13).
Thought: The truth expressed in this short verse is both amazingly encouraging and distinctly sobering. Sin can never overpower us. Sin never has the final word. The enemy cannot bring us into his clutches. We never have to lose because we have the protection and power of the Son. This means, however, that we have no excuse when we sin. We never HAVE to sin. And since we are born of God and have the protection of the Son we can never be happy IN sin. A good tree in fact cannot produce bad fruit (Matt 7:18) and bad fruit can never destroy a good tree. One born of God hates sin and loves righteousness.
It is worthwhile to discuss what John means when he says the evil one does not touch the believer who is protected by the Son. We could understand touch to mean that the evil one cannot get close enough to us to cause us even slight harm. A better way to understand it, however, is to look at verse 19 where John describes the world as lying in the power of the evil one. This is likely a more accurate description of what Jesus keeps us from. The evil one can tempt us and stain us and make things difficult for us and perhaps even harm us but he cannot bring us under his power. He can only come as close as the Son allows – no farther. Perhaps a good illustration of how this works is Job. God set the parameters of what Satan could do to Job and every trial was under God’s authority. However, what Satan did was extensive (to put it mildly) and perhaps far beyond what our definition of “touch” would be. We do not lie in Satan’s power and his actions are governed by God – but that does not mean our lives are smooth and painless or that we are unaffected by his designs.
That, then, is the first thing we are to ‘know,’ and may God grant that we know it – that being born of God, we do not continue in sin. May God grant that we know that the Son of God is keeping an eye on us and is watching over us and protecting us. May God grant that we may always know, when tempted by Satan, that we do not belong to him, that we need not be frightened of him, that we can resist and defy him. May we know that we can have this assurance that we are beyond his reach and his clutches, because we belong to God our Heavenly Father, to the Lord Jesus Christ, His precious Son and our Savior, and to the Holy Ghost, whom He has given us to form Christ in us and to prepare us for the glory that awaits us. (D Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Life in Christ; 572.)
The second thing we know is that we are of God and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. Note the contrast. We are of God – His seed abides in us, His Son protects us, we are His children, we are born of Him. The world is not of God. The world lies in the power of the evil one. The world is outside the protection of the Son and does not abide in God and is therefore completely under the power of Satan. The world is governed by evil. Jesus destroyed the works of the devil for those who believe on His name but the power of Satan is alive and well for those not under God’s protection. The world lies contentedly and unaware in the arms of evil.
Notice that John allows for only two designations. Of God or of the devil (3:8). A child of God or a child of the devil (3:10). Of God or of the world (5:19). There are different religions and different beliefs and different practices – but in the end only two groups. We either believe in the Son or we do not.
Thus as citizens of the kingdom of heaven we are not just marginally different or somewhat changed – we belong to an entirely different realm (Jesus showed this in the Sermon on the Mount). We are of God – we have a different home – we are in a different family – we are under a different authority. The Christian who looks just like the world (which lies in the power of the evil one) cannot claim to be of God. It is why Paul asked, “…what fellowship has light with darkness?” (II Cor 6:14). Light is wholly different from darkness and cannot blend in with it.
Thought: This verse is really the answer to many issues in life. Why is the Christian life hard? Why does God demand that His children be different? Why is it so hard to pray? Why is it so hard to witness? Why do people not understand the gospel? Why does everything seem to be getting worse? Why does society seem more and more corrupt? Why do God’s commands seem so radical? Why do people hate truth? Why as a Christian do I feel more and more like a target? Why does it seem harder than ever to protect my kids from unrighteousness? Every one of these questions – and many more – can be answered by the truth of verse 19.
Our reaction to this truth should be an intense thankfulness to God for our redemption and His protection and a longing for eternity. As we live in a world ruled by darkness we should thank God every day that we are not controlled or blinded by it and yet have an urgent longing to someday no longer live in it.
This verse also means that Christians should be the most realistic people on earth. We should not be surprised when the world lurches toward corruption and becomes ever more hostile to righteousness. We should fight against evil wherever we find it and make our voices heard in the different social and political forums, but we should not be surprised at the inevitability of sin in a world that lies in the power of the evil one. When Satan offered Jesus dominion over the world during His temptation it was not entirely without validity – Satan is the ruler of the world (Jesus’ words in John 14:30). A world ruled by Satan and lying in his power is one that is dominated by and in love with sin. We should remind ourselves of this truth every day and set our expectations accordingly.
A fundamental element of realistic expectations is acknowledging the existence of pain and suffering in a world controlled by evil. If all of creation is affected by sin it is wildly fantastic to imagine that any of us should be comfortable and healthy all the time. We KNOW the world lies in the power of Satan – how can we expect that not to affect us? Why are we surprised and discouraged when things go wrong? Why does pain seem unfair or uncalled for? In a world wholly in the arms of evil should we not see a state of comfort and ease as the exception?
Our realism about the world, however, does not preclude our loathing of what Satan has done to it. As we witness a world gone mad because of Satan’s dominion we should hate what has happened to God’s perfect creation. Things are truly NOT as they should be. We understand why the world is as it is and do not expect it to be anything other than sin-cursed, but that does not mean we do not hate what sin has done and its effects on everything and everyone around us. Jesus alluded to this when He blessed those who mourn. We expect hardship and we persevere through suffering but we also hate the sin that assures we will have both.
The third thing we know is that Jesus has come and has given us understanding so we may know God. Because Christ came, we are born of God. Because Christ came, we are protected from the evil one. Because Christ came, we do not practice sin. Because Christ came, we understand the truth.
Christ came and gave us understanding. Our minds are no longer blinded by sin. We know our state – we know our need. We know the truth and the Author of truth. We are not under the dominion of the evil one so we see the world for what it is (and are not so enamored by it) and see our heart for what it is. We no longer live deceived lives (the ultimate curse of sin in this world – minds darkened by the ruler of this world such that they are incapable of seeing reality).
The understanding Christ gives us allows us to know God and abide in Him. We not only know about God; we KNOW God. And as part of knowing God we are IN Him. Because of Jesus’ coming we commune and have relationship with the Father. His Spirit indwells and guides us. We commune with Him through prayer and we partake in His nature. The world lies in the arms of the evil one but we are IN God.
We are in Him who is true (likely a reference to the Father) because we are in His Son Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus that we have access to the Father. No one comes to the Father but by the Son (Jn 14:6). Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also (2:23).
John’s final statement in this text is that God is the true God and eternal life. This reinforces John’s words in verse 11 – God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son. It also brings John’s message full circle. He began the letter by saying his purpose in writing was so his readers can have fellowship with the Father and the Son through the Word of Life – Jesus. Here he ends on the same message – eternal life is through the Son giving us understanding so we may know God.
John ends with the best we know of all. We know Jesus gives us understanding. We know this understanding enables us to know God. God is truth and we now know the truth – we are no longer blind. Because we know Jesus we know the Father. Jesus came so we can KNOW – and since we know, we KNOW the Father (and are in Him and in the Son) – and since we know the Father we have eternal life. And even more – based on verse 13 – we not only have eternal life, we KNOW we have eternal life. We know Jesus gives us understanding and understanding equals life!
- We have eternal life (13).
- We can approach God confidently in prayer (14)
- If we ask anything according to God’s will He hears us and grants our requests (14-15)
- If we ask for a brother in sin God restores him (16-17)
- That no one who is born of God sins because the Son keeps him from the evil one (18)
- That we are of God and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one (19)
- That the Son of God has come and has given us understanding to know God (20)
Because we know – life makes more sense (or at least we no longer demand that it DOES make sense). Our demands for this world are fewer. Our demands for others are fewer. Our prayers are more centered on the word and confident. Our humility is greater. Our concern for others is heightened – both for a brother in sin and the unsaved in the power of the evil one. Our vision is clearer. We can endure more because of the power at our disposal. We are more encouraged in the face of a sin-obsessed world. We are more in love with our Creator and Savior. We are more aware and thankful for the Spirit that guides us. We hate sin, love righteousness, study the word, and long for eternity.