Studies in I John, III Walking in Life, Text: 5:6-21, Title: The Fountain of Life


In the prologue to this letter John wrote, The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. This letter is about eternal life invading our existence. In his gospel John writes about Jesus in the first chapter and he says, All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that has been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. This is John’s continuous theme: Life came in Jesus. He also wrote Revelation and in Chapter 1 he quotes  the risen Jesus as saying, Fear not; I am the first and the last, and the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades. Since God is life anything other than God is death. Life is the vital principle, or breath of life, which God imparted to man, making him a living soul. It is the gift of God, mediated through faith in Jesus Christ. It will find its perfection and full reality of blessedness with God in the life to come for the believer. God has absolute life in Himself and is the source of all life. In this passage we learn about life, not existence, but real life which comes from God. People can exist in death both now and forever, but life is the gift of God. We see here life presented, life promised, life preserved and life protected. This letter ends with the admonition to keep ourselves from idols, and that might seem to be an unrelated floating counsel but it is very appropriate because God is alive. Unlike idols and gods, God can think and act to protect His people. He can give life to those who seek Him. When His people pray to Him, He is able to hear them and He does answer them.

I Life Presented

John begins this letter by assuring the recipients that he and the other apostles saw, heard and touched the historical reality of Jesus. Here in this section he confirms that testimony by insisting on the down to earth physical emblems of the incarnation of God, This is God in the flesh, This is eternity in time. This is blood and water. And so John writes in 5: 6-10, This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. The witness of the Spirit is in the Word and in each believer, but the water and blood refer to Jesus’ baptism and death. Note the order, the baptism comes first and then the blood, The water of baptism signifies death and when Jesus is baptized it confirms His mission to die for sinners. When he died he shed his blood for our cleansing. The upshot of this is that it demonstrates the reality of the incarnation and the fact that God came in the flesh. Eternal life walked the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea.

II Life Promised

Since Jesus said he came to give his life a ransom for many and the angelic announcement of His birth declared His name to be Jesus because he wold save His people from their sins, John reminds us that in Him their is promise of eternal life. Death is the penalty for sinners, but life is the gift of grace  and so the Apostle writes in verses 11-15, 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. 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. The categorical assertion that life can be found only in Jesus is followed by a promise that God hears us whatever we ask. This promise is easily misunderstood. It dies not mean anything we foolishly or mistakenly ask for. It means everything we need. So John  is saying the exact same thing as Paul says in Romans 8:32, He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things.

III Life Preserved

The background for verses 16 and 17 is the idea of perseverance and preservation. Preservation is what God does in us. It answers to the promise in Romans 8:29 that those whom God has regenerated and justified, he will also glorify. Perseverance is what we do and it answers to the promise in Philippians 2:12 that we should work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Both of these things are occurring simultaneously to spur believers on their way. Preservation is reminding us that God will take care of His own, but perseverance reminds us that if we do belong to Him we should never give up. So John says in these verses 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. This prayer shows us that we should pray for our brothers to repent when they have fallen into a public sin, but we are only praying for those whom we are convinced are brothers. It is John’s belief that eternal life is received now: so if there is life for believers even now, there is also judgment for unbelievers as he says in his gospel in John 3:16 and 17. And if the community serves as a vehicle for administering God’s life to its members, then it also functions to pronounce judgment. The Johannine community under stood itself to function in just this way because Jesus said in John 20:21 and 23 to His disciples, As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.… If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven. The “sin unto death” is simply apostasy from the Christian faith which has been recognized and condemned by the Church. There are obvious difficulties and challenges in carrying out this mandate, but we should first remember that John does not say we must not pray for those who have sinned unto death. He says, There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. I truly believe that we can pray for brethren who fall into sin and expect repentance, but the operative word is brethren. As for those who have been excluded or excommunicated or have forsaken the fellowship, we cannot pray for them with the same expectations of repentance because the refusal to repent is the cause of their excommunication. In consequence of this they are considered to be, as Jesus put it in Matthew 18,    if they refuse to listen to the church they are to be treated as you would a pagan or a tax collector. If God were to forgive such as they persist in their sin, that would not be forgiveness: it would be denial of human sinfulness which, in the Elder’s view, is an abhorrent lie.

IV Life Protected

The final words of John suggest to the congregation of the faithful that their character and commitment will prevail in spite of the challenge of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So we read in verses 18 and 19, 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. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. Jesus protects His own because they belong to Him, they are the Good Shepherd’s  sheep, and they do not belong to the devil like the rest of mankind. That they do not continue to sin is the evidence that they are in a different realm where the devil cannot get at them. The concluding statement about the role of the Son of God in bringing salvation and life is in verses 20 and 21, 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. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. The Son of God brings understanding of God and mediates fellowship with Him and He is the only one who does this. Only through the Son of God can one come to know the God who is true, as opposed to any and every false conception of God that people construct in their own minds. This is why John  concludes with the warning, Dear children, keep yourselves from idols. Jesus is the true God and eternal life: we must worship and serve Him alone for only in this way can we truly live and be safe.