INDEX

1 John 5:18-21

In the final four verses of this challenging letter, the apostle, John, summarises his teaching because he really wants to push home the points he has made.

Sin

John points out that sin and the believer do not belong together. (1 John 3:6-9) When we are in God’s family, our intention is not to sin. Our whole desire is to be like Christ Himself. If we do sin, God has made a way for us to be restored (through repentance and forgiveness) and even protects us from the wiles of the devil, unlike those who belong to "the world" (outside the kingdom of heaven). We often struggle with the weaknesses in our "flesh" (our inherited human nature), with thoughts, words and behaviours that disappoint God and for which we need forgiveness. Our aim must be to defeat sin in our lives and not to become lazy, accepting sin as "just part of life". If we do become lazy and accepting of sin, it serves to harden our hearts and then we find it harder to hear the leadings of the Holy Spirit.

The World

John uses this term ("the world") as a shorthand expression to describe the cultures, belief systems and structures that combine to create human society beyond the kingdom of heaven. God's kingdom includes all those who have been "born again" through faith in Jesus, His death for human sinfulness and His resurrection to eternal life. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. If we believe that we are His children, even though we live in a world dominated by evil, then God promises to protect His own. In these four verses, John is so confident of his own position in Christ that he uses the word "know" four times, demonstrating his utter trust and faith in Jesus. He uses this confidence to point out to his readers that they need to be equally confident in the God they are following and His Son Jesus Christ, in order to have victory over the evil one who still has enormous power in "the world". If believers are able to discern the evil spirits at work in "the world" it will protect them against the antichrist.

Idolatry

This final comment from John (1 John 5:21) reminds his readers to stay away from anything that might take the place of God in their hearts. His last words are "keep yourselves from false devotion". John recognises the danger for all of us. It is so easy to abandon the truth and be taken in by what is false (such as the teaching of the antichrist as described in earlier studies: study eight and study seventeen). In our daily lives, "idols" can be things such as an obsession with pleasure, possessions, pornography, work, money, image, position, fame, family or many more such things that we put in a higher place than God. These things are false gods and are of "the world". We cannot love "the world" and love God at the same time. (Matthew 6:24; 1 John 2:15-17)

John seems rather blunt but, at the same time, it is vital. An "idol" is anything which occupies the place due to God. For example, "Mammon" was the name used in Jesus' day for what is better know to us as "materialism". This is still a powerful deity, because many people live for what they have or what they can acquire. Materialism becomes an all-consuming quest for power, social status, success and fame. John’s concern was to steer his readers away from false ideas and heretical beliefs about God. Such beliefs persist today. Some people advocate being over-familiar with God, bringing Him down to our level of thought and action and, thereby, limiting His activity in our lives and depriving Him of His majesty. Such wrong concepts of God represent a danger for all of us. We can so easily think that we know all about Him when, really, what we are worshipping is a god of our own making - how we would like God to be. Anything that squeezes God out of the central position and towards the margins of our lives, must be ruthlessly toppled. Any thought of God that contradicts His revelation of Himself in Jesus Christ must be rejected.

John knows that life as a Christian can be hard and that all believers need to remember that. It is true that being "born again" - through faith in Jesus - means that we have been redeemed from the curse and penalty of human sinfulness. There is nothing the enemy can do to reverse that, but he is going to do all he can to prevent our lives being "all sweetness and light". We must not be surprised when the going gets tough. There will be times when we can stand only by faith; when we have to speak and act as though what God says is true, even though we can’t see or feel anything changing around us. There are times when everything will look awful, but that is when we must endure, push through and choose to offer a "sacrifice of praise". Many Christians live a "rollercoaster" life. One day, they listen to an uplifting message or go to a conference, watch a DVD and decide to change for the better. Next day, something happens to distract them and take their eyes off the prize. At times like these, we must be prepared not to give up and say, despondently: "it doesn't work!" This is just the point at which we must "speak things that are not as though they were". (Romans 4:17) The Christian life of living by faith is a 24/7 lifestyle. We have to learn to accept both hard times and easy times that our Father knows about. By faith, we can thank Him for the hard times that build up and consolidate our faith and for the easy times that allow us to rest and recuperate. This is how we can please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Things may be rough, but we will always be victorious when we refuse to give up and fall away. The only defeated Christian is the one who quits.

Salvation

"We know [positively] that we are of God". (1 John 5:19)

Romans 5:6-11 (in the "New Living Translation") describes exactly what has happened to all believers in the most amazing way. It also points out how we are not only reconciled to God through the death of His Son, but saved through His life. What, then, is this life of salvation? In order to discover that, we look at God's word in its original context and meaning. The Greek word for salvation echoes the meaning of the Hebrew word in the Old Testament. The Greek word is "soteria" which means "rescue" or "safety" in either a physical or moral sense. It includes the following meanings in English: "deliver", "health", "salvation", "save", "saving". Sometimes, the form "soterion" (the noun) is used. This includes the meanings: "defender" or, by implication, "defence". Both of these words derive from the Greek word "soter" which means a "deliverer". The New Testament (written originally in Greek) uses this word to describe God or Jesus Christ as our "saviour" and that word, in turn, is derived from the word "sozo" which comes from the word "sos" meaning "safe". "Sozo", therefore, means "to save", "deliver" or "protect" (either literally or figuratively). By extension, it also means to "heal", "preserve", "save", "do well", "be (or make) whole".

Salvation is very much more than the promise of a home in heaven at the end of our life – somewhat like a divine pension plan! Salvation is primarily for the here-and-now. Its benefits are life-changing - if only we would take the time to understand them. We need to discard our preconceived ideas and the restrictions that people have placed on our thinking. I recently heard again the story of the flea in the jar. A flea can easily jump out of a bottle! But, if you place a flea in a bottle with a lid on it and it jumps, it quickly discovers pain as it hits the lid! If you leave the lid on long enough, the flea will learn to jump just low enough so that it doesn’t hurt itself. You can then remove the lid but without any danger of losing your flea! In the same way, we cannot afford to let anybody (friend or church leader) or some fear that we have developed place restrictions over us that prevent us from receiving the word of God in its fullness. That will only keep us from achieving all that God has planned for us.

In Deuteronomy 28:1-14, God spells out the blessings to which we are entitled if we choose to follow Him. They are worth investigating. These promises were made to God’s people many years ago, but they are timeless. If we are children of God ("believers" or "Christians" in the true sense today), then these blessings are just as valid for us now! (Equally, the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy apply to those who are not believers. Deuteronomy 28:15-68) "Jesus redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Jesus Christ." (Galatians 3:14) This blessing comes to us through the Holy Spirit and includes all the blessings of Abraham’s life. What an amazing life we are promised! We need to be firm in our faith - not wavering back and forth between our circumstances and God’s promises, believing one and then the other. Abraham faced ordinary facts of life to deal with, just like we do, and experienced circumstances where there was no natural way for God’s promises to be fulfilled. Romans 4:19-20 says that he did not look at his own body or Sarah’s, (she being well past childbearing years), but focused on the promise of God. He gave glory to God for the outcome before it happened. He made an irreversible decision to go with the word of God as his final authority. If we want to see God do the impossible in our lives, we have the same decision to make. In our previous study, we made a petition to present to God, agreeing with His word about a problem situation. Go back to those promises and what God said and decide that your faith will continue to rest on His word and that you will speak only His promise as if the miracle had already happened. Turn your back on the problem - on any doubts and lies that the enemy is telling you - and focus instead on Jesus. God will do the impossible in our lives for the sake of His glory.

Healing

In all four gospels, we read that Jesus was flogged before He was crucified. (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15; Luke 18:33; John 19:1) The Romans used a particularly brutal and barbaric form of flogging, known as "scourging" in which a whip had fragments of bone, metal and broken pottery braided into it. As each lash of this multi-tailed whip wrapped itself around Jesus’ body, the soldier inflicting the punishment pulled back, literally ripping chunks of flesh off His body and probably laying bare the ribs and backbone. In Isaiah, chapter fifty-three, we read the following: "Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him and by His wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)

This passage was written some seven hundred years before the time of Jesus and described God's servant (Isaiah 52:13) but a servant who would suffer, who would be "pierced for our transgressions" and "crushed for our iniquities". More than that, Isaiah says: "the punishment that brought us peace was on Him and by His wounds we are healed". (Isaiah 53:5) Later, in the New Testament, the apostle, Peter, applies this passage specifically to Jesus when he writes: "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness: by His wounds you have been healed". (1 Peter 2:24)

We can see that both writers (in the Old and the New Testament) agree that it was by the wounds of Jesus that we can have healing. Of course, we have to believe that in order for it to be effective for us! Healing is an integral part of salvation, just as the meaning of the word declares. Again, like Abraham, we have to choose to believe God's word more than the symptoms in our bodies. Just reading about the blessings in the Bible does not mean that we will believe them. The prophet, Jeremiah, says this: "Then you will call upon me; you will come and pray to me and I will hear and heed you. Then you will seek me [inquire for and require me as a vital necessity] and find me, when you search for me with all your heart". (Jeremiah 29:12-13 - Amplified Version)

So, do we want to take something for granted just because someone says it, or do we really want to find what God says about it? The choice is ours!

Real love

"Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law. So do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light. Let us behave decently. Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Romans 13:10-14)

The time is surely over for Christians to be divided over petty issues. God moves forward, bringing revival, as we love one another. In the past believers have said: "If you don't agree with me on the issue of tongues, or on the timing of the rapture, or on the proper depth for baptismal waters, I won't accept you as a brother or sister in the Lord. I'll break fellowship with you." But that's not God's way of doing things. He doesn't have a long list of doctrinal demands for us to meet. His requirements are simple. 1 John 3:23 tells us what they are: to believe on the name of His Son, Jesus Christ and to love one another.

Once you and I come to a place where we keep those requirements and quit worrying about the rest, we'll be able to forget our denominational squabbles and come together in the unity of faith. We'll grow so strong together that the winds of doctrine won't be able to drive us apart. When that happens, the enemy's going to panic because the unity of the faith of God's people is a staggering thing. It's the most unlimited, powerful thing on earth. Right now, all over the world, the Spirit is calling the church of the living God to unite. Let's hear Him and obey! Then we too can be a part of one of the most magnificent moves of God this world has ever seen!

John finishes his letter with his plea about idolatry. This is why we have been studying God's word - with the help of the revelation of the Holy Spirit that enables us to distinguish truth from error. If all believers were to deal with idolatry in their lives, then the passion of love for God and each other would usher in the revival for which we long so much. The bride would be made fit for the King of kings. Come, Lord Jesus!

Let's remember our prayer:

"In Jesus’ name, I make a fresh and strong commitment today to live the life of love, to let the tenderness of God flow through me and heal the wounded hearts of those I meet. Father, please teach me to love, even when things go wrong; to be patient and kind when the children are underfoot; to overlook the spiteful words of an angry spouse; to rejoice when someone gets something I was wanting. Teach me to talk in love, to lay gossip quietly aside and to take up words of grace instead. Lord, Your word says that Your love is already inside me, that it has been shed abroad in my heart. So, today, I resolve to remove every obstacle that would keep that love from flowing freely into the lives of others. I put resentments behind me and I forgive all those who have done me wrong. In the days ahead, cause me to increase and excel and overflow with Your love. Cause me to be what this world needs most of all: a living example of love. Amen."


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