What We Know (1 John 5:1-21)
Big Idea: We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard.
￼In many instances, duct tape is highly reliable—but as a means of water transportation, it may not be a prime choice.
Just ask the Alaskan man who recently attempted to cross a channel near Juneau on a “homemade watercraft” —more specifically, “an inflatable, duct-taped craft” —complete with a paddle, his dog, and a conspicuous lack of a life jacket.
A local news outlet stated that while the “weather on scene was reportedly calm with 9 mph winds,” a local Coast Guard crew still ended up coming to the man’s aid: when the makeshift boat started to fill with water.
Having “deemed the craft unsafe,” they “transferred it, the man—and his dog—to nearby Douglas Harbor.”
(Perhaps to guard against embarrassment, the news release “did not identify the man.”)
This man’s “boat” was homemade, patched together with duct tape and carrying no life jacket on board—yet he still trusted it with his life (and even his dog’s life). As we come to the end of 1 John, is there anything we can rely on that will get us to the other side securely and safely?
According to John, the answer is yes. We can have the assurance of eternal life now. We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard.
We’ve been looking, on and off these past few months, at the letter that John, one of Jesus’ closest friends, wrote to the church in Ephesus that had gone through some trouble. They were going through a time of crisis. Some people had left the church, and now John is writing to do damage control. His words, too, were important, because people in the church were hurting. They had questions. John wrote to not only deal with the crisis, but use the crisis as a recalibration on what matters most.
It reminds me of a time that I stood in front of a church and spoke in the middle of a crisis. A popular couple had left the church angrily. In a tight-knit church, it left a lot of questions. Things had gone on for a while, and I knew it was time to stand up and remind people of what mattered most.
If I communicated well, we could get back on track. If I communicated poorly, then things would get even worse. Thank God — literally — my talk went well, and we got back on track. In fact, I think we were an even stronger church by the end of this crisis.
Here’s what I know: in times of crisis, it’s important to focus on what matters most. If there’s anything good about a crisis, it’s that it reminds us of what matters most, which is really important. A crisis can actually serve as a recalibration, as a way to remind us of what’s most important.
And that’s what we’re seeing tonight in our final sermon from 1 John. As we close this book, it’s a little hard for us to relate to all the circumstances that John is addressing, because we’re facing very different circumstances. Because we’re not in crisis, it’s easy to miss the importance of what John is saying. But why wait for a crisis to recalibrate on what matters most? Why not use what John says so that we’re sure that we’re focused on what’s most important, even though we’re not in the middle of a crisis? Because we want to get to the other side securely and safely. We don’t want to do it in a boat made of duct tape. We need assurance so that we can live for God even when it’s hard.
John is going to help us. As we come to the end of John’s letter, it’s important to review what he’s written. According to John, real faith in involves three things: believing, obeying, and loving. If you have genuine faith, three things will be true in your life:
- You will believe that Jesus is the Messiah — the promised deliverer — and the Son of God come as a man to save us from our sins.
- You will obey him — not perfectly, because none of us will achieve perfection before our deaths. But your life will be characterized by a growing love for and obedience to God’s commands.
- You will love other believers as God has loved you.
A sign of a genuine church, therefore, is three things: correct doctrine and obedience, and loving relationships between the people. That’s what we want to build here at Liberty Grace Church. We’re paying careful attention to what we believe and teach. We want to also obey everything that God commands. And we want to genuinely love each other. That’s the end game.
The problem though? All of this can leave us a bit up in the air. Some of you have told me that John’s tests of true faith leave you wondering if you’re even a true believer. As we close out 1 John today, John anticipates this issue and leaves us with five things we can know. We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard.
Here’s What We Know
As John concludes this letter, he gives us five things we can know for sure. Not guess, but really know. Doubt comes from many sources, but we can know these things, and it will make all the difference in the world.
We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard.
Here are five things we can know.
One: We can know that we have eternal life.
In 1 John 5:13-15, John writes:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Some churches teach that we can’t really know if we have eternal life. Even if you do right now, what if you commit a terrible sin in the next few minutes and then you die? Some churches teach that you can’t really be sure — but that’s not what John teaches. John is writing so that we can know that we have eternal life. He’s reassuring the church in Ephesus that they were right to believe in Christ. He wants them to continue to trust him despite the disturbance that had disrupted the church there.
We’re not facing the exact same situation, but it’s good for us to recalibrate even through we’re not in the middle of a crisis. Sometimes we wonder whether it’s all worth it. Every message we get in this world is to live for ourselves. It takes a lot of effort to keep showing up, to keep denying ourselves, to keep loving. John says that it is. We can know that we have eternal life right now. Doubt comes from many sources, but our assurance comes from one place: from the cross of Jesus Christ and its effects on our lives.
Robert Murray M’Cheyne got it right years ago:
Learn much of the Lord Jesus. For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ. He is altogether lovely. Such infinite majesty, and yet such meekness and grace, and all for sinners, even the chief!
Live much in the smiles of God. Bask in His beams. Feel His all-seeing eye settled on you in love, and repose in His almighty arms…
Let your soul be filled with a heart-ravishing sense of the sweetness and excellency of Christ and all that is in Him.
Let the Holy Spirit fill every chamber of your heart; and so there will be no room for folly, or the world, or Satan, or the flesh.
Look to Jesus, and you will have all the assurance and power you need in your life. The more you think about him, the more you’ll see your life change.
Two: We can know that God hears and answers our prayers.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him. (1 John 5:14-15)
I don’t know if you’ve ever had one of those cell phone conversations. You’re talking and talking, and then the other person comes back on and says that the signal cut out and that they haven’t heard anything that you’ve said for minutes. It’s frustrating. There’s nothing worse than talking and talking and not knowing if what you’re saying is even getting through to the other side.
We need to be honest and say that we feel like that with God sometimes. It feels like we’re talking, but we’re not really sure that God is listening or that he cares. John here tells us that God is listening and that we have the requests that we ask of God.
I have to confess: John makes me nervous here. Are you sure that we can say that God hears all of our requests when we pray according to his will and that he answers our prayers? Neither John nor Jesus had any issues affirming this.
God is so for you. We don’t know why all of our prayers aren’t answered the way that we think, but we never have to doubt that God hears us and that God is favorably inclined to give us exactly what is best for us. “Hope begins with the heart of God. As you grasp what the Father’s heart is like, how he loves to give, then prayer will begin to feel completely natural to you.” (Paul Miller) God is extravagant and generous in hearing and answering our prayers.
Three: We can know that your future is secure.
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him. (1 John 5:18)
What does this mean? It’s very simple. It’s not that we won’t ever sin. That is our daily experience. What it means is so reassuring. It gives us so much hope. It’s that there is genuine perseverance among those who have genuine faith. God protects us, and the evil one does not and cannot touch us. If you are born of God, then Jesus himself keeps you safe and the evil one cannot harm you.
Four: We can know victory even in the middle of the battle.
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. (1 John 5:19)
D-Day took place on June 6, 1944. The Allies invaded Normandy and began the liberation of the western front of Europe from Nazi control. Some 1,000 ships — the largest armada ever to set sail — carried some 200,000 soldiers across the English Channel to France where they stormed the coasts of Normandy. It was only the beginning of a military buildup that Germany could never have stopped. It was only a matter of time before the Allies would win.
VE Day took place 11 months later on May 8, 1945. Germany unconditionally surrendered, and World War II was over. The difference between D-Day and VE-Day was just a matter of time. And for this reason many have said that it was on June 6, 1944, that the war was over.
But this wasn’t the perspective of the soldiers on the ground. They were still dodging bullets and bombs. They were bleeding and wounded, many were still dying, and there were still many harrowing days of the war yet to be endured, even some setbacks.
We live in the in-between. Victory is ours. We are from God. But we’re still very much in the battle. John reminds us that we can know — even as we struggle — that victory is ours. Don’t let the bullets and bombs fool you. This world is under the power of the evil one, but just for a bit longer. You’re of God. It’s just a matter of time before complete victory in Jesus Christ is yours.
Five: We can know that the Son of God has come and that he gives us understanding.
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. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)
We could not have figured out this Christianity thing by ourselves. It isn’t something that we could have deduced. Someone had to tell us. Next week we begin to celebrate Advent, which points us to the reality that Jesus has come to give us understanding so that we can know what is true. Because of Jesus we can know all of these truths — that we are his, and that Jesus has come to live and die so that we could have eternal life.
Friends, we are not in some raft held together by duct-tape. We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard. You don’t just have a cheque from God; you have a certified cheque. You have all the assurance you need for this life and for the next one too.
A Final Command
So how do we respond to this? We don’t have to guess. John tells us in the final verse of this book: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
Huh? I bet you didn’t see that one coming! What is an idol? An idol is a God-substitute. An idol can be religious, but an idol can also be a false teaching about God, like some had embraced in Ephesus.
Idols are the loves, thoughts, desires, longings, and expectations that we worship in the place of the true God. They are the things that we invest our identity in; they are what we trust. Idols cause us to disregard our heavenly Father in search of what we think we need. Our idols are our loves-gone-wrong: all those things we love more than we love Him, the things we trust for our righteousness or “okay-ness.” (Elyse Fitzpatrick)
In light of what we know, don’t allow anything to take the place of God in your life. Keep yourself from idols. Keep a watch on your heart.
John is writing to a church in trouble. By extension, he’s writing in a way that’s also helpful for us in our troubles. And this is what he says: We can know what’s true, and what’s true can give us the assurance we need to live for God even when it’s hard. Let’s hold on to that assurance. Let’s keep pursuing him.