1 John 5:12–21comment (0)
June 25, 2009
By Steven R. Harmon
Related Scripture: 1 John 5:12–21
Bible Studies for Life
Associate Professor of Divinity, Beeson Divinity School, Samford University
1 John 5:12–21
The title of this week’s lesson, “Confidently Victorious,” refers to the victory that those who belong to Christ can experience over sin, the “evil one” and devotion to idolatrous substitutes for the God known in Jesus Christ. According to this passage, this victory is experienced as the believer participates in God, participates in the lives of other believers and shuns the substitutes for participation in God to which the world gives itself.
Participating in God (12–15)
The latter part of Chapter 4 provides essential background for understanding the apostle John’s words about participating in God and one another in the focal passage for this week’s lesson. According to 1 John 4:8, “God is love.” The early Christian theologian Augustine of Hippo (A.D. 354–430) observed that this can be said of God only if He is the triune God who has always been Father, Son and Holy Spirit in loving relationship with one another, even before there were a world and people within it created in God’s image for Him to love. Our creation in the image of God means that we are created to love Him and one another. That happens as we participate in the very life of the triune God through the indwelling Spirit (1 John 4:13) given to those who confess “that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 4:15). This sharing in the very life of God is expressed through loving “brothers and sisters also” (1 John 4:21).
Thus when John wrote of having “life” in 1 John 5:12–13, he had in mind the very life of the eternal God in which we participate. Because God is triune, if we have the Son, then we share in the “eternal life” that belongs to the life shared in relationship by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We participate in our living relationship with the relational God in a way not unlike the way we participate in our earthly relationships — we communicate with Him. Verses 14 and 15 assure us that when we pray, we really are communicating with a God who is personal and hears what we have to say to Him. When we make requests to God, we are able to have “boldness” in doing so because if our requests are consistent with His will — God’s goals for His creation — then He will fulfill these requests according to His will. This gives us boldness because God is not capricious. We can count on Him to respond to us in accordance with His will. We can be bold because we are not voicing incantations that manipulate God in accordance with our wishes but simply asking for what we want in the confidence that He will freely and wisely distinguish between what would be participation in His reign and what would place us outside of His reign.
Participating in One Another (16–17)
Our participation in God through prayer is not only participation in Him; if prayer truly participates in God, then it also becomes participation in the lives of others. Intercessory prayer for one another belongs to the set of Christian practices that the late Baptist theologian James Wm. McClendon Jr. called “watch-care.” He was referring to the community of the church watching out for the lives of its members so that there is mutual encouragement and even correction of one another. Note that the emphasis here is on first seeking God’s help in delivering a brother or sister from a noticed sin.
Shunning Substitutes for Participation in God (18–21)
Participating in God and sin as a habitual way of life are mutually exclusive. Though we do still sin when we refuse to allow dimensions of our lives to be brought under God’s reign, our participation in God through the Son protects us. It grants us a knowledge that helps us see that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” and that truth and life are to be found in the Son. To locate truth and life anywhere else is to fall prey to idolatry — to give to something less than God the devotion that belongs only to the true and living God. Thus John’s closing warning — “keep yourselves from idols” — really summarizes the message of the whole letter.