Knowing and Growing

1 John 5:11-21

November 27, 2011 | Brian Bill

1 John 5:11-21

I love this time of year, not only because of Thanksgiving and Christmas but because of another holiday observed in Wisconsin…deer hunting.  I haven’t gone in a long time but have fond memories of getting out of school to go hunting with my dad.  I’ll never forget when I was 12 and carried a 20-guage pump shotgun for the first time.  We arrived in the woods before dark, using flashlights to find our way.  It was freezing.  My dad told me where to sit while he went further into the woods.  I think I drank all my hot chocolate and ate all my Snicker bars before the sun came up.

And then I heard some sounds and saw some movement in the distance.  I picked up my gun and tried to still my heart rate.  I first saw a doe and remembered my dad telling me that a buck often followed.  I waited and then I saw him.  I took aim and squeezed off a shot.  The buck went down.  But because I was so nervous I just keep firing, unleashing every slug I had.  When I stopped shooting my dad made his way over to me (he waited until it was safe).  He had a huge smile on his face and then he started laughing because while a couple of my shots hit their target, one slug went through the buck’s ear lobe, and the ground was all tore up near the deer from my errant efforts.

That reminds me of a lawyer, a doctor, and a preacher who went hunting together.  When a prize buck ran past they all fired at the exact same time and the buck dropped.  The problem was that there was only one bullet hole and they didn’t know which of them shot it.  They decided to take it to the registration center, hoping the agent could figure out who could claim the trophy.

The agent said, “Let me look at the deer.  Sometimes I can figure it out.”  He asked a few questions, examined the deer carefully, and declared, “The preacher shot this buck!”  Amazed, the other two asked how he knew it was the preacher.  Stooping down he pointed out the wound, “See here.  It went in one ear and out the other.”

Friends, in order for us to know and to grow, we have to make sure that Scripture does not go in one ear and out the other.  The Apostle John wants to make sure he’s hit the target so he gives five final blasts.

Have you noticed that we live in a culture that disses anything that’s dogmatic?  In our politically correct climate, there is no tolerance for exclusive truth claims.  It seems to me that we have more and more knowledge but less and less certainty.  Many churches have caved as well, with some “emerging” leaders saying that you can’t know anything with any certainty.  This religion of “certain uncertainty” is causing many to bail on their beliefs, leading some to become spiritual shipwrecks.

What do we know for sure?  Can we be certain of anything?  As the kids just reminded us, we need to read our Bibles in order to know what it is that God wants us to know.  As we’ve seen in our fall series in I John, God wants us to know so that we can grow.  When I did a search this week, I came up with 33 different times that the word “know” is used in 1 John.  Here are just a few…

2:3We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.”

3:14We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers.  Anyone who does not love remains in death.”

3:16“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 

And in our passage today, I want us to see five truths that “we know.”  The word “know” is found in five different sections and will make up our outline.  Like shotgun blasts, we’ll go through them rather quickly…I just hope they don’t go in one ear and out the other.

1. Certainty of salvation. 

Check out verses 11-13: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.  I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 

Last week we learned that belief leads to new birth which must affect our behavior.  I met with a guy this week who told me that something was missing in his life.  His exact quote was, “There’s a void in my life.”  As he heard the glorious message of the gospel and an explanation about the need for the new birth, he said, “I want to do that right now.”  And he did.  After receiving the gift of eternal life, I wished him “Happy Birthday” and told him that it was now time to grow and get the nourishment that he needs in order to do so.  I gave him a Bible and some other material and he said he would be here today.

I can’t think of anything more rewarding than helping someone connect with Christ for the first time.  So many times I talk to people who aren’t interested or ready to receive Christ so when someone is, it’s very thrilling.  The very next day I received a call from someone I had never met before who wanted to talk about spiritual matters.  We got together a couple hours later and this man, who was in a very similar situation to the first guy I talked to, made the exact same decision and was also born again!

We believe it’s so important for believers to have the certainty of their salvation that we ask our new members to memorize 1 John 5:11-12: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Let’s break this down…

    • Eternal life is the present possession of believers.  If you have the Son, you have eternal life right now.  We see this in verse 11“has given” and verse 12“has life” and verse 13“you have eternal life.”  
    • Eternal life is also a future fact.  Because of the new birth, when you leave this world, you will live with Christ forever.  Eternal means without beginning and without end.  Actually, eternal life begins at conversion and continues forever.
    • The only way to have eternal life is through the Son.  This is a very exclusive statement: “He who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”  Jesus said the same thing in John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John wants us to have a sense of certainty.  If you’re not sure you’re saved, then read his Gospel.  John 20:31 tells us why he wrote it: “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  John’s gospel will help you be converted.

If you’re saved but you’re struggling with knowing with certainty that your salvation will never be taken from you, then 1 John is the book for you because verse 13 says: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  This book will help you be convinced.

Does the closeness of Christ’s coming cause us to walk closely with Him today?

Perhaps this study of 1 John has made you feel uncertain and insecure…we’ve done a lot of soul-searching to see if our lives match up with we say we believe.  Are we living and loving like Jesus?  Are we more overwhelmed than overcoming?  Are we sinning less than we were a year ago?  Do we avoid embracing the world?  Does the closeness of Christ’s coming cause us to walk closely with Him today?

All of these questions are good.  But hold on to this truth.  If you’re saved, your salvation is secure!  

2. Certainty of answered intercession. 

We see the second shot in verses 14-17: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.  If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.  I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death.  I am not saying that he should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.”

  • Pray with confidence.  Because we’re saved, we can have assurance that our prayers will be heard.  Our confidence in prayer is founded in the certainty of eternal life.  The word “confidence” means “freedom in speaking, cheerful courage and boldness.”  We don’t have to be shy when we approach God.  That reminds me of Hebrews 10:22: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”  Our assurance should lead us to approach the Almighty and then ask.  And we can have confidence that God hears, and if it lines up with his will, He will grant the request.  The whole key to prayer is submission to the will of God.  It’s praying like Jesus prayed in Mark 14:36: “Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
  • Pray with compassion.  Verses 16-17 are difficult to understand and to go into all the possible interpretations, this sermon would spill over into December.  Suffice it to say that we’re called to pray when we see a brother stray: “If anyone sees a brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.”  For some of us, when we see another believer sinning, we take some sort of secret delight in it, almost like we’re competitors and we’ve somehow moved up a notch when they fall down.  That’s sick.  God calls us to intercede for this individual, not to gossip or judge or ignore.  After all, 3:16 tells us that we’re to lay our life down for our brothers.  We can certainly start by praying when we see someone straying.

This week I saw something on Facebook that made me both cringe and cry.  An individual that used to attend PBC was using very foul language, referencing illegal substances and threatening another person.  I was so grieved that I just stopped and prayed.  I’ve reached out and now we’re talking.  Later on God brought James 5:19-20 to mind: “My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

Think of what can happen when you pray.  Imagine people becoming aware of their emptiness.  Imagine big tough guys broken by their sin.  Imagine prodigals who make their way home.  Imagine husbands who begin to love their wives for the first time.  Imagine wives who start respecting their husbands.  Imagine parents who start pouring into their kids.  Imagine kids who actually honor their parents.  Imagine lost people being found.  Imagine addicts being set free.  Imagine the hurting finding hope and the burdened finding comfort.  Imagine the captives experiencing freedom.

I’m always challenged by these words spoken by Samuel in 1 Samuel 12:23: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you.”  Let’s pause right now and pray.  Don’t pray for yourself but for a fellow believer who has wandered from the truth.  Pray for that prodigal family member.  Pray for that person who has chosen to give themselves to the pursuit of pleasure.  Pray for that friend you’ve lost contact with.  And then send a note or a text or a Facebook message to that person this week or better yet, get together with him or her.  Let’s pray.

3. Certainty of victory. 

As we learned last week, since Jesus has overcome the evil one, we are overcomers.  John reiterates this in verse 18: “We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him.”  Sin must no longer taste sweet to the believer.  Some understand this to mean, “Does not continually practice sin.” Authentic Christians do not continuously engage in sin.

Our conduct must reflect our life in Christ

To say it another way, we cannot live in a lifestyle of sin and at the same time expect to enjoy a rich, intimate relationship with Christ.  Sin and closeness with Christ are incompatible.  The false teachers were saying that sin doesn’t matter so it doesn’t matter how you live.  Friends, it does matter how we live!  Our conduct must reflect our life in Christ.  To say it more positively, believers who continuously abide in Him will not persist in habitual sin.

Check this out.  Christ keeps you safe.  The word “keeps” means “to attend carefully and to guard what is owned.”   He prays for you and protects you because you are His possession.  And because we’re held by Him, Satan cannot harm us!  The phrase “cannot harm” is a neat picture.  It means that Satan cannot fasten himself to us or cling to us.  The evil one can tempt us, he can sift us like wheat…but he cannot take us captive if we are Christians.  

But we have a responsibility as well.  James 4:7: “Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  Keep your armor on because you’re in a battle.  Let’s quote 1 John 4:4 again: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

4. Certainty of being in the family of God. 

Check out verse 19: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”  The fourth truth that we can know with certainty is that we are members of God’s family.  Conversely, those who aren’t God’s children are under the “control of the evil one.”  This means to be in “the arms of the evil one.”  Again we see two contrasts.

  • Children of God.  If you’re born again, you are one of God’s children. 
  • Children of Satan.  If you’re not yet a child of God by default you are a child of the devil…and you can be blind to it all.  2 Corinthians 4:4: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

5. Certainty that Jesus is God. 

Verse 20 begins with a reference to the coming of Christ: “We know also 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 – even in his Son Jesus Christ.  He is the true God and eternal life.” Notice that the Son of God “has come” and He is true and He is the true God, meaning He is genuine and authentic.  That’s a reference to Christmas.  You have an insert in your bulletin that we’d like you to give to someone as an invitation to come with you to our December sermon series called, “The Songs of Christmas.”

I love that we have been given understanding.  Things finally click when we become a Christian.  If you’re not saved, you can’t see or understand spiritual matters.  1 Corinthians 2:14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”

And so, we can be certain about these five things.

  • Salvation
  • Answered intercession
  • Victory
  • Being in God’s family
  • Jesus is God

God wants us to know so that we can grow.

Final Warning Shot

The very last verse in this book seems both abrupt and a bit out of place.  It’s as if John reloads and pumps one final slug into the chamber.  And then he squeezes off a warning shot that actually makes total sense when we ponder it.  Let’s look at verse 21: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”  John once again uses his favorite term of endearment as he calls us dear children.  

Note whose responsibility it is to avoid idols: We must keep ourselves from them.  In verse 18, we read that Jesus keeps us safe; here we’re challenged to keep ourselves spiritually clean.  Let’s personalize this.  I must keep myself from idols and you must keep yourself from idols.  The word “keep” means “to watch, be on guard, to avoid.”  1 Corinthians 10:14 says that we’re to “flee from idolatry.”

When most of us think of idols, we think of images made out of wood or stone or clay.  Our minds may go back to the problems idols caused in the Old Testament, when God’s people were judged and exiled because of their devotion to these false gods.  God was upfront about how His people were to worship Him and Him alone in the 10 Commandments as stated in Exodus 20:3-4: “You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.  You shall not bow down to them or worship them…” 

Unfortunately, even exile did not excise idol worship from God’s people.  Ezekiel 14:7 says that one does need a statue to worship because the adoration of idols is actually a heart issue: “When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart…”  Ezekiel 20:16 says, “For their hearts were devoted to their idols…” The worship of anything other than God causes spiritual separation, not just during Old Testament times, but in hearts everywhere today.  Today’s idols are more in self than on the shelf.

The greatest temptation we will face is to take our eyes off God.  And there are many candidates for modern-day American idols – money, busyness, jobs, children, possessions, and more.  An idol is really anything that occupies the place that should be occupied by God; it’s anything that replaces God.  In Ephesians 5:5, we’re told that greed amounts to idolatry.  

Augustine said that “idolatry is worshipping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshipped.”  If we’re honest, some of us are using God simply to get what we want…and when we don’t get it, we turn on Him.

As we come into the chaotic Christmas season, we need to really guard our hearts.  With all the emphasis on gifts, it’s easy to give into greed, which can knock God off the throne of our lives.  That’s why I’m asking my family for ducks this Christmas.  Seriously.  I’d like them to use the money they would spend on me to purchase some ducks for a needy family in Asia through World Vision.  I’m asking this for two reasons.  One, it will help a family in need.  Second, it will help clean my conscience because I threw a rock at a duck when I was about 10 and killed it (accidentally).  I guess it’s good that I didn’t have a shotgun.  I got in big trouble for this and I’ve felt guilty ever since.

What idol is battling for first place in your life right now?  It probably isn’t made out of stone but could be made with a screen.  I read a short article recently called, “The Isolation Generation” in the recent issue of Leadership Journal. Psychologist Philip Zimbardo cites excessive internet use, video gaming and online porn as causes of a new addiction.  By age 21, boys spend 10,000 hours gaming, two-thirds of the time in isolation.  As a result, he says that “Boys’ brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way, for change, novelty and excitement…”  This never-ending stream of stimulation is behind the growing failure of males to connect with women socially or to succeed academically.  Many have simple dropped out of life.  Sounds like this idol can make us idle

Did you hear about the Utah woman who became so annoyed with her husband’s addiction to video games that she put him up for sale on Craigslist?  I am not making this up (, 11/23/11).  Here’s how her classified ad read: “I am selling my 22-year-old husband.  He enjoys eating and playing video games all day.  Easy to maintain; just feed and water every 3-5 hours.”

Christian blogger Tim Challies adds that “we look at idols as bad things but generally what happens is you take a good thing and make it an ultimate thing.”  When asked if technology can become an idol, he answers: “The allure of technology is always that it makes your life better and easier and more comfortable.  You embrace technologies that make you feel happy and fulfilled…”  When commenting on his new Smartphone he adds, “…It gives me such joy, it makes my heart long for it.  And yet it can very easily take the place of God in my life” (“Handheld Affections,” WORLD Magazine, 9/10/11).

What idols do you adore that Christ is going to have to knock down?  They might not have anything to do with technology.  What is it that you’ve given yourself to?  What do you think about, dream about and devote your time and energy to?  There’s a story in the Old Testament where the Ark of the Covenant, representing the presence and power of God was brought next to a false god named Dagon (see 1 Samuel 5:1-5).  In the morning, this immense idol had fallen on its face before God.   The idolaters propped him back up and the next morning the idol was found face down again, this time with his head and hands broken off.

A couple years ago we learned about how to have an Advent Conspiracy.  Since this is the first Sunday of Advent, and the Christmas crush is already upon us, I thought it would be a good idea to be reminded of some things.  

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?