Bible Passage: 1 John 5:18-21
For Christians, the reality of our existence is fundamentally different than anybody else in this world. This difference is extremely vital for us to understand and apply the practical implications!
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The Reality of Our Existence
1 John 5:18-21
18 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. 19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 20 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. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (5:18-21)
I’m going to do something different with this passage. Normally I go through it in the order that it was written to explain it. But this particular passage is written with a pattern that is likely very confusing to most western minds. So I want to unpackage it in an order that may help you understand what John wrote here.
The overall point of 1 John 5:18-21 is that it gives us 3 realities about the existence we all live in.
The 1st reality is in verse 19.
The entire world is cursed by God to be under the influence and control of Satan. (5:19)
19 We know that we are from God (more on this in our next main point), and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 5:19
The teaching that the rest of the world is under the control of the evil one has its counterpart in the Gospel of John. Three times (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) the evangelist mentions the prince (ruler) of this world (ho archōn tou kosmou). In the context of 1 John, those in the world include the secessionists, whom the author now regards as belonging to the world (cf. 1 John 2:18–19 and 4:1–5).
The second statement concerns the origin of believers; they are children of God. By contrast, the whole world is under the control of the evil one, lit. ‘lies in the evil one’. This is an unusual verb in such a connection and may point to the powerlessness of the world lying under Satan’s sway. Perhaps, too, to its inertness, its refusal to assert itself against its master.
Apply this notion to the “whole world”. I.E., to the financial world, business, industry, the stock market, the banking system, political institutions and its parties, entertainment (TV, films, media, radio), sports, education, the family, the home, the neighborhood, civic clubs and social service organizations, and country clubs. Everything!
Emphasis being that the entire world is under Satan’s rule (including the good things of this world). All and everything are stained by his corruption, deceit and desire to reject God’s authority.
Application– Never expect the world to reflect the values of the Kingdom of God because it must be saved into it to do so!
There are times in my life I get so worked up and bothered about a loss world acting lost. This is not to suggest we shouldn’t speak up and encourage morality in our culture. But we have to remember and fully embrace that our effort is not morality or our frustration with immorality. Our effort must be for the world to have eternal life. True redemption from the curse of sin into the relationship with God that Christ died to give us! And therefore our brokenness cannot be over the immoralities of the world, but the lostness that leaves no possibility but immorality!
The 2nd reality is in verse 18 and verses 20-21
Christians are under the influence and authority of Christ. (5:18, 20-21)
Now this reality is highlighted by truths. In our flow today, I’m going to show you the one in verses 20-21 first, then show the one in verse 18.
We could not know God apart from the knowledge and work of Christ! (20)
“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.”
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true;”
(5:20) Our faith is not a matter of intellectual theory but of personal and growing acquaintance with God through the enlightenment of Christ’s Spirit.
“True” is not alēthēs (ἀληθης), “true,” that is, veracious, but alēthinos (ἀληθινος) “genuine” as opposed to the false and counterfeit, here. The genuine God as opposed to the false God of the heretics.
It references, then, the correct understanding of the Gospel is given to us only by the actual Jesus that the Apostles proclaimed. It is only by that actual Gospel by the actual Jesus that we can know God. Again in his final verses John is confronting the Gnostics and their “fake knowledge.”
“And we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. John is saying we are in covenant with God ,not satan (more on that in a second). But we are with God because we are in the actual Christ! It is being in Christ that brings us to being in God! And being in God means this.
“He is the true God and eternal life.” (John has hit on this a ton in his letter and frequently here in the end of it.) Eternal life is the description of both the length and quality of what it means to be adopted as one of God’s children and live being consumed with Him. Knowing Him, following Him abiding in Him! This is eternal life! We could not have this experience called eternal life without Christ. This life that can leave you in a situation to never be thirsty or hungry for anything except more of what you have in eternal abundance – God!
The 2nd truth that highlights this reality of being under the influence and authority of Christ is that to be in this reality means that,
We have been redeemed from the authority of Satan! (18)
18 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.
“Sinning” – in all that sin is. It is ultimately to rebel or compete with or not live in full glad submission to the person and authority of God!
“Everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” – speaks to the fact that all who have been born of God (redeemed out from their birth in Adam and thus under the curse. Born into a new birth in Christ and thus under His authority) do not continually practice rebellion against. There is now a heart felt and defining practice of trying to not rebel. To live in submission to Him!
We can’t press the term “touch”. For according to 1 Pt. 5:8 it is possible to be “devoured” by the Devil! See also Rev. 2:10. Thus, whatever “touch” means, it does not suggest that all Christians are automatically insulated against demonic attack. To “touch” a believer may mean to rob him/her of salvation.
As believers, that is, those rescued out of Satan’s authority, we stand waiting on Christ’s return so we will no longer be under Satan’s influence! Satan wants to devour you. For instance, in the book of Ephesians, Paul told us to fight Satan and to do so properly because if they don’t, they will be devoured. However, because we are in Christ, we can’t be removed from him. That is I cannot be jerked away from or out of the father’s hand. But I can ruin my entire experience of living in Christ on this earth if I allow Satan to influence me! I have been redeemed from the authority of Satan, but we are still very much under the influence of Satan.
The 3rd reality of our existence is something we can not forget or stop practicing!
We have to diligently fight the temptation to make room in our hearts and minds for anything that opposes the authority of God! – 5:21
21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
“Keep” is phulassō (φυλασσω), “to guard, to watch, to keep watch.” It is used of the garrison of a city guarding it against attack from without.
Smith says, “The heart is a citadel, and it must be guarded against insidious assailants from without.”
“Idols”. Now he warns against the false, counterfeit gods of paganism. Vincent suggests that the command, however, has apparently the wider Pauline sense, to guard against everything which occupies the place of God.
We as believers are not insulated from the influence of Satan! As a matter of fact, the greatest influence towards what is satanic (rejected God) comes from our own hearts! We are phenomenally creative at rejecting His authority and replacing it with ours. All while claiming to ourselves it’s God! We must therefore be diligent in fighting the good fight for our own hearts!
What are you making room for that is competing with your allegiance to truly love and follow Christ?
I said the other week that any time we settle for an identity or sense of value in anything other than Christ, then we are settling for slavery. Because everything in this world is under the slave master of sin and Satan! But it’s here in this passage that my statement the other week becomes a direct challenge from the passage. It’s amazing as you read the history of the Kings and leaders of Israel in the Old Testament to see the amount of them that knowingly made room for idolatry; even knowing the consequences!
So how are you making room for idols in your heart? Models that rob you of life because they are not eternal life. Only God offers eternal life. The Bible is clear that we as Christians are protected from God’s wrath at his judgment. It in no way suggests we are protected from the destruction of sin in this life!