1 John 5 - Keep Yourselves From Idols

INTRODUCTION: In this last chapter of John's letter, there is some restatement of things he wrote in previous chapters, and a few new points for the church in all ages to use in strengthening faith.

NOTE: All Bible passages are taken from the World English Bible [WEB].


A - BORN OF GOD

1 John 5:1-5 "Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"

COMMENTS: Only the gospel of John records the phrase "born again" when Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, and only 1 John contains the phrase "born of God" which appears in chapters three and four, and again here in chapter five. In chapter two, John used the phrase "born of him," that also referred to being born of God. John instructs that each one born of God is a child, and must love other children of God by keeping the commandments of God. Keeping those commandments should not be a burdensome matter, because in so doing we have the victory that overcomes the rest of the world that reject the eternal salvation available in Christ.

Jesus said in John 16:33 "I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have oppression; but cheer up! I have overcome the world." In chapter four John wrote, "You are of God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world." This next passage from Hebrews places the confidence of our faith fully in Christ. Hebrews 10:23 "let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering; for he who promised is faithful."

"He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world didn't recognize him. He came to his own, and those who were his own didn't receive him. But as many as received him, to them he gave the right to become God's children, to those who believe in his name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:10-13). The Jews had their identifying bloodline through Jacob, and as a Jew the incarnate Christ came first to those who shared his fleshly lineage, but the offer of eternal life was opened to all who would be born of God.


B - JESUS CAME BY WATER AND BLOOD

1 John 5:6-9 "This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three who testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and the three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is God's testimony which he has testified concerning his Son."

COMMENTS: John does not provide any detailed explanation to clarify the meaning of his statement that Jesus the Messiah came by water and by blood. But he does write that the witness of God is greater than that of man, and that the Spirit, the water, and the blood agree as one. He also states that the Spirit is the truth, and that God has given testimony about his Son.

In the next paragraph, the passage from John's gospel about the baptism of Jesus concludes with the Spirit of God descending on Jesus, and the voice of the Father from heaven confirming Jesus as the Son of God.

Jesus came to John the Baptist whose baptism represented repentance, and John knew there was no need for Jesus to repent. But Jesus told John this baptism was necessary to fulfill all righteousness. "Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. But John would have hindered him, saying, 'I need to be baptized by you, and you come to me?' But Jesus, answering, said to him, 'Allow it now, for this is the fitting way for us to fulfil all righteousness.' Then he allowed him. Jesus, when he was baptized, went up directly from the water: and behold, the heavens were opened to him. He saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming on him. Behold, a voice out of the heavens said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'" (Matthew 3:13-17). The baptism of Jesus marked the beginning of his public ministry, and certainly this beginning was approved by the Spirit of God.

In the upper room with his apostles, Jesus established a symbol by which Christians can commemorate the fact that Jesus did indeed shed his blood for the remission of sin. "For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins." Matthew 26:28). The gospel of John gives graphic testimony that Jesus shed his blood as he died as the perfect Lamb of God. "But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was already dead, they didn't break his legs. However one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. He who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, that you may believe." (John 19:33-35).

The apostle Paul makes it very clear that all men and women have sin and the blood of Christ makes justification available to those who place their faith in Jesus. "for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood, for a demonstration of his righteousness through the passing over of prior sins, in God's forbearance; to demonstrate his righteousness at this present time; that he might himself be just, and the justifier of him who has faith in Jesus." (Romans 3:23-26).

Jesus told his apostles that the Holy Spirit would come as Counselor, and would testify about Jesus, and also enable them in turn to testify about the Christ. "When the counsellor has come, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will testify about me. You will also testify, because you have been with me from the beginning." (John 15:26-27). These two aspects from scripture about the testimony of the water and the blood that are unique to Jesus alone, can provide a reason for praise to the Lord, even though we cannot say with certainty that these two represent the specific meaning that John had in mind.


C - HE WHO HAS THE SON HAS ETERNAL LIFE

1 John 5:10-13

"He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who doesn't believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning his Son. The testimony is this, that God gave to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has the life. He who doesn't have God's Son doesn't have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God."

COMMENTS: John is nearing the end of his letter, and he places heavy emphasis on a crucial point that he has already set out. He wants the believer to hold fast to a faith based fully in the unalterable Word of God. The only way to eternal life is through Christ, and there can be no compromise for the facts that Jesus came in the flesh, and that he is eternal God. Jesus also spoke very plainly about the only way to have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God didn't send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through him. He who believes in him is not judged. He who doesn't believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God." (John 3:16-18).

Jesus was also very clear that those who did not believe in him did not have God's word living within them. "The Father himself, who sent me, has testified about me. You have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his form. You don't have his word living in you; because you don't believe him whom he sent. You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and these are they which testify about me." (John 5:37-39).

The scriptures have the words that lead to faith in Christ, but those who are not "his sheep" cannot hear his call to follow him. "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30).

The apostle Paul writes that those who believe in Christ receive the spirit of adoption. "For you didn't receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God; and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ; if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him." (Romans 8:15-17)


D - BOLDNESS TO ASK ACCORDING TO GOD'S WILL

1 John 5:14-17 "This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him. If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for those who sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death. I don't say that he should make a request concerning this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death."

COMMENTS: John had already written in his letter in chapter three verses 21 to 23 about the boldness we have in Christ to ask for anything, if we keep God's commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. In this chapter he gives further emphasis that the request must be in God's will. "Beloved, if our hearts don't condemn us, we have boldness toward God; and whatever we ask, we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing in his sight. This is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, even as he commanded."

Peter agreed that Christians must pray for one another, while always keeping God's love in mind. "But the end of all things is near. Therefore be of sound mind, self-controlled, and sober in prayer. And above all things be earnest in your love among yourselves, for love covers a multitude of sins." (1 Peter 4:7-8).

In chapter five of his letter, James wrote this instruction for the Christian. "16 Confess your offenses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The insistent prayer of a righteous person is powerfully effective." While John mentions a sin that leads to death, he does not explain whether he is speaking of physical or spiritual death, nor does he give any specific details. The apostle Paul wrote this to encourage us in those times when we are uncertain about how to pray. "In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weaknesses, for we don't know how to pray as we ought. But the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which can't be uttered. He who searches the hearts knows what is on the Spirit's mind, because he makes intercession for the saints according to God." (Romans 8:26-27).


E - KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS

1 John 5:18-21 "We know that whoever is born of God doesn't sin, but he who was born of God keeps himself, and the evil one doesn't touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us an understanding, that we 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. Little children, keep yourselves from idols."

COMMENTS: Though John's statement that those born of God do not sin, we can be assured that it is only through full trust in God that anyone can be kept from sin, even as it is recorded when the LORD called the nation Israel out of Egypt. Moses said to the people, "Don't be afraid, for God has come to test you, and that his fear may be before you, that you won't sin." (Exodus 20:20). And we have this from the Psalms, again indicating that God sets his own people apart from sin. . "But know that Yahweh has set apart for himself him who is godly: Yahweh will hear when I call to him. Stand in awe, and don't sin. Search your own heart on your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness. Put your trust in Yahweh." (Psalms 4:3-5).

As Solomon dedicated the temple, he stated that no one is without sin, but there is a remedy in repentance. "If they sin against you (for there is no man who doesn't sin), and you are angry with them, and deliver them to the enemy, so that they carry them away captive to a land far off or near; yet if they shall repent themselves in the land where they are carried captive, and turn again, and make supplication to you in the land of their captivity, saying, We have sinned, we have done perversely, and have dealt wickedly'; if they return to you with all their heart and with all their soul in the land of their captivity, where they have carried them captive, and pray toward their land, which you gave to their fathers, and the city which you have chosen, and toward the house which I have built for your name: then hear from heaven, even from your dwelling place, their prayer and their petitions, and maintain their cause, and forgive your people who have sinned against you." (2Chronicles 6:36-39).

John has written in this letter both that those born of God do not sin, but at the same time, that if we do sin Christ is the atoning sacrifice for our sin. "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son, cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us the sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we haven't sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. My little children, I write these things to you so that you may not sin. If anyone sins, we have a Counsellor with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. And he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world. This is how we know that we know him: if we keep his commandments." (1 John 1:7-2:3).

The focus still remains on the Lord, as Christ is the one who takes away our sin. "You know that he was revealed to take away our sins, and in him is no sin. Whoever remains in him doesn't sin. Whoever sins hasn't seen him, neither knows him. Little children, let no one lead you astray. He who does righteousness is righteous, even as he is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. To this end the Son of God was revealed, that he might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever is born of God doesn't commit sin, because his seed remains in him; and he can't sin, because he is born of God." (1John 3:5-9).

Peter writes that Christians must remain diligent as we wait for the only place where righteousness dwells, placing responsibility on believers to remain blameless. The scripture presents both principals: that God keeps the Christian from sin, but to be set apart the believer must remain steadfast in following the Lord.

Peter also writes that the scriptures that are hard to understand, along with other scriptures, are distorted by those who are unsettled in their faith. "But, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, seeing that you look for these things, be diligent to be found in peace, without blemish and blameless in his sight. Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote to you; as also in all of his letters, speaking in them of these things. In those, there are some things that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unsettled twist, as they also do to the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, beloved, knowing these things beforehand, beware, lest being carried away with the error of the wicked, you fall from your own steadfastness. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and forever. Amen." (2 Peter 3:13-18).

John closes his letter with a brief statement that reminds us of our responsibility to make sure that our heart does not turn toward any idol. This is the only place within John's letter where he mentions idols. Again it might seem to be a contradiction if we interpreted John to be saying elsewhere that while still in the world, Christians cannot in any way sin. . King David knew the worthlessness of idols as he wrote this, "For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but Yahweh made the heavens." (1 Chronicles 16:26). Ezekiel was with other captives in Babylon after the fall of Judah, and certain men were rejected of God because of the idols in their hearts. "Then came certain of the elders of Israel to me, and sat before me. The word of Yahweh came to me, saying, Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their heart, and put the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face: should I be inquired of at all by them?" (Ezekiel 14:1-3).

This very brief letter was taken from the apostles in Jerusalem back to the Gentile believers in Antioch to assure them of the essentials of faithful practice as Christians. . "For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay no greater burden on you than these necessary things: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality, from which if you keep yourselves, it will be well with you. Farewell." (Acts 15:28-29). The apostle Paul has given us a good companion statement to the last sentence in John's letter. "What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people.'" (2 Corinthians 6:16).


--- REFLECTIONS IN PRAYER ---

Lord, grant me an extra measure of compassion to love others who are born of God by your grace. I am only one of your many children through faith in Christ, and all of your children are born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. Lord, as I face trials from the world, remind me that faith in you gives me the victory that overcomes the world. I believe the testimony about you that has been recorded in scripture because I believe it was written under the guidance of the Spirit of Truth. I am thankful that John has written his reassuring words that through belief in the Son of God I know I have eternal life and I need to continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. Help me Lord to routinely go to scripture to hide your word in my heart, that my prayers will be guided by your word and in your will, not in my own will. You are the true God and eternal life, so give me the strength by faith to keep my heart from all idols. Amen.

1 John, Chapter 1 - Fellowship with the Father and the Son
1 John, Chapter 2 - Our Counselor and Atoning Sacrifice
1 John, Chapter 3 - Children of God
1 John, Chapter 4 - Perfect Love Casts Out Fear
The Apostle John - A 4 part series.

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Published 17 November 2011