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Concluding Remarks March 8, 2014

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,

Here are my thoughts on 1 John 5:13-21.

Summary: John begins by stating that he has written this letter to those who have already been taught the knowledge of Christ so that they might enjoy a fuller confidence as to eternal life. In fact, his readers can dare to confidently call on God, since they will necessarily subject their own wishes to Him. When they pray, they will necessarily consider what God commands; thus, they pray for what they obtain.

John then tells his readers that in particular, if they see a fellow believer sin – without committing apostasy – then they should ask God to forgive their sins. Believers who sin without committing apostasy are not wholly falling away from God’s grace, since Jesus Christ asks Him to keep them; thus, Satan’s assaults cannot extinguish their spiritual lives. Indeed, God only repudiates those who commit apostasy; thus, his readers should not ask Him to forgive those who commit apostasy.

Now John stresses that while the whole human race – including those who commit apostasy – gives itself up to the bondage of Satan, his readers:

  • know that they have been born of God
  • have been illuminated as to the knowledge of God, since in Jesus Christ they have God manifested in the flesh
  • are united to God through Jesus Christ, since Jesus Christ is God and offers them salvation.

John concludes by inferring that his readers must carefully continue in the spiritual worship of God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, John states that believers should not pray that God would forgive those who commit apostasy. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

But again, you may ask what evidence tells us that someone’s fall is fatal. If we could not be certain of this, the apostle would not have been able to say that they were not to pray for a sin of this kind. It is right, then, to decide sometimes whether there is still hope. With this, indeed, I agree, and it is evident beyond dispute from this passage; but as this very seldom happens, and as God sets before us the infinite riches of his grace and bids us be merciful according to his own example, we should not rashly conclude that anyone has brought the judgment of eternal death on himself. On the contrary, love should make us hope for good. But if some people’s impiety does not appear to us anything other than hopeless, as though the Lord pointed it out by his finger, we should not argue with God’s just judgment or seek to be more merciful than he is.

This is a difficult passage and I did not find Calvin’s explanation to be entirely satisfactory. My fundamental problem with this passage is that believers often struggle to discern God’s will, as our sinful nature makes it difficult for us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. How can we be certain that someone is in a “hopeless” state? Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution and pray for them, especially if they are not in a “hopeless” state? What if our sinful nature causes us to mistakenly infer that someone is committing apostasy? Of course, I can understand Calvin’s argument to some extent; perhaps we waste our time praying for apostates when we could be praying for believers who have committed less egregious sins. In any event, I view this passage as a call for believers to pray more earnestly for each other.

Now that I have completed my stroll through 1 John, I would say that John differs from Paul in that he does not divide this letter into a “theory” section and a “practice” section. Instead, my impression is that John focuses on a single question, “how do you know that you are in union with God the Father and God the Son?” and then expounds on the proper answer to that query; arguably the most important facet of that answer entails seeking the good of others. I should also note that John does align with Paul in extolling the supremacy of Jesus Christ at various points in this letter; moreover, he stresses that anyone who denies His supremacy is not in union with God. As for my main takeaway from this letter, I would say that: I need to be more zealous for the good of others, especially those whom I dislike.



1. Eliza - March 8, 2014

Along with apostasy, I have thought the sin unto death means jurisdictional punishment on sinful behavior, as in the penalty imposed for the crime of murder, etc. Those who are reaping the consequences of their behavior that deserves the judgment of death should not be prayed for because they cannot be delivered from this judgment. The reason why I came to this conclusion is because the verses say: if any man sees his brother sin a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not unto death.
The verse says if any man sees a brother sin a sin unto death, apostates are not considered brothers, they are apostates. Given the evil that David, the man after God’s own heart perpetrated, it is possible for a believer to commit terrible sin that has equally terrible consequences. The other point is that John classifies a sin unto death and a sin not unto death while painting all unrighteousness as sin. These are sinful acts that an individual as a believer may commit. Then John states: we know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not. So the sin is a solitary act and not a pattern of behavior, because the one born of God is able to keep himself from sin and is not under the jurisdiction of the enemy. God bless you:) I’d be happy to hear what you think about this.


flashbuzzer - March 11, 2014

Thank you for your comment. You raise some good points regarding these tricky verses.

Since I’m not a New Testament scholar, you’ll have to take the following thoughts with a large grain of salt.

Given that disclaimer, my thought is that in 1 John, the apostle repeatedly stresses the importance of accepting Jesus Christ as He is presented in the Gospel message. Those who act accordingly are blessed and will show that blessedness by their love-filled lives. Those who do not act accordingly are not blessed and they are under the jurisdiction of Satan.

Since John repeatedly condemns the sin of rejecting Christ as He is revealed in the Gospel message, I infer that he is referring to that sin in the second half of verse 16 (chapter 5). That is a particularly grievous sin as it basically portrays God as a liar (I noted something along these lines in my post on the first half of chapter 5).

I would include apostates in the class of people who commit that sin. Apostates will initially declare that they accept Christ as He is revealed in the Gospel message, but they will later reverse their position on that issue. They are then under the jurisdiction of Satan, and so in some sense, prayers cannot transfer them back to the jurisdiction of God. Note that the statement of verse 16 does not necessarily rule out the possibility of an apostate committing that grievous sin.

Hope that this helps clarify my interpretation of these tricky verses. Let me know if you have any follow-up questions/comments.

P.S.: I enjoyed the post you linked to on your blog. That should be required reading for all preachers.

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