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1 John 5:18-21: Knowing the True—Rejecting the False

Our current

culture has no tolerance for truth. We live in a culture that rejects anything that’s dogmatic? In our politically correct climate, there is no tolerance for exclusive knowledge. 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? John closes his letter with a series of triumphant certainties! It is remarkable how often he uses the word, “know” in his letter. In our age of uncertainty it’s good to find something certain somewhere, something to anchor us, some foundation upon which to build our eternal hopes, something that can be trusted, “we know, we know, we know…” Take your Bible and highlight the number of times John uses the word “know” in this book. The word “know” is used 33 times in 1 John. Here are just a few:

•2:3, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.”

•3:14, “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.”

•3:16, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us.”

•4:2, “By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God.”

•5:2, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.”

Verse 18: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin, but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him.

“Our Security through the guardianship of Christ. The child of God may fall into sin, but he does not continue in it; he is not under its dominion. Why? Because, though he has a malignant foe, he has also a vigilant Guardian.” –David Smith

We know we have eternal life, so we know we have answered prayer and John says we know we have victory over sin. “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin.” We have already gone into that in detail (1 John 3:6-9). But here it is in review. No one born again, no one given a new nature, no one transformed, and regenerated goes on in the same unbroken pattern of sin. The Amplified Bible puts it this way: “We know (absolutely) that anyone born of God does not (deliberately and knowingly) practice committing sin, but the One Who was begotten of God carefully watches over and protects him (Christ’s divine presence within him preserves him against the evil), and the wicked one does not lay hold (get a grip) on him or touch (him)” (1 John 5:18 AMP).

The unsaved do nothing but sin. Ephesians 2:1-4 says, They are “dead in trespasses and sins” They walk “according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the sons of disobedience.” They conduct themselves in the “lusts of their flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, just as the others” (my paraphrase). “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12). They incessantly trample God's Law, trample God's love, and trample Christ's gospel. They are defiant haters of God. The Hebrew word for sin, pasha, is rebellion. They are in constant rebellion against the law and the love and the lordship of God. By nature then they are children of wrath, headed for wrath. They are, of course, under the direct control of the one who is designated as their father, the devil. Jesus said that in John 8:44. Also in Acts 26 it says, the Lord said to Paul that He was going to send him to open the eyes of sinners so they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God. Men are slaves to sin and slaves to Satan until they're born of God. And we know, verse 18, that no one who is born of God practices sin.

What John is saying is the same thing he said in chapter 3, that no one continues to sin. In other words, the governing rule of our lives before we were saved was sin, but now sin should not be the governing rule. Rather than sin being our primary desire, our default action, our primary desire is now to please God. We will not continue living in sin, because we desire to get rid of it. Now, we will certainly fall into sin, we will have times of weakness, but these times are the exception, rather than the rule.

A genuinely born again believer has a built-in check or guard against habitual sinning due to a new nature, he is born of God. 1 John 3:9, “No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” And Romans 6:12 NLT, “Do not let sin control the way you live; do not give in to sinful desires.”

To quote the respected Bible teacher Chuck Smith (now with the Lord) “You cannot be living in sin and at the same time rightly claim to be a child of God...If you are living in sin, you have not seen Him nor known Him (as your Savior). It makes no difference what you may say or profess. Salvation is much more than saying the right things, it is doing the right things....Many people today are resting in false hopes. There are many who are deceived by the false professions that they make.” AMEN!

Verse 19a: “We know that we are of God…”

“We know” eido/oida in Greek speaks of absolute, beyond a shadow of a doubt knowledge. The perfect tense identifies this knowledge as "an abiding inner assurance concerning their spiritual origin.” –Hiebert

Every believer can have confidence in the fact that he belongs to God!

Psalm 100:3 NLT, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God! He made us, and we are His.”

Romans 14:8, “For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s.”

1 John 4:4; 6, “You are of God, little children… “We are of God…”

True believers know that they belong to God and not to this world! One writer says we are of God implies “not only origin but a sense of belonging. To be gripped with this certainty is to be charged with a principle of righteousness that can dissolve every bond of iniquity, that breaks the power of worldly fear and pleasure and will make us, living or dying, more than conquerors.” (Hiebert quoting Findlay)

Verse 19b: “and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

Ephesians 2:1,2, “And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience.”

It is no secret that evil is running rampant in this world. We see it every day in drive by shootings, gang wars, and international terrorism. Watching the local news makes people afraid even in their own homes, the home security companies are prospering. So we don’t need to be reminded about the world being controlled by the wicked one (Satan). He is the one or the system that is behind all of this chaos? Jesus tells us,. “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44 NLT).

A solemn reminder: Satan is our deadly enemy, our adversary: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 peter 5:8). “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Don’t be fooled by the world’s comical picture of the devil in red tights, a tail, goatee, and horns, carrying a pitchfork. On the contrary, he is a powerful spirit being who leads a host of highly organized fallen angels and demons. He is the epitome of all that is evil, and to top if off, he hates God and God's people. Jesus warned Peter, “Satan wants to have you, to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith fail not” (Luke 22:31).

He is called "The god of this age." 2 Corinthians 4:3,4, “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31) and the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). He is powerful, clever, vicious and determined to destroy us. We must overcome him in our personal life. But how can we ever expect to defeat him?

John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

Romans 12:21, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”

1 John 5:4,5 NLT, “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

We have overcome the world which is under the dominance of the evil one. When we allow the world to dominate us, we are not exercising our God-given spiritual rights, succumbing to the power of Satan. Through Christ we are more than conquerors (Romans 8:37) when we walk in the Spirit of God. The opposite of walking in the spirit is to walk in the flesh. There are only two alternatives. Which do you prefer?

Ephesians 6:11 NLT, “A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil.”

1 John 4:4 NLT, “But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.”

Jesus lives in every believer, so it is by His power we are overcomers. Overcomers are followers of Christ who successfully resist the power and temptation of the evil one. An overcomer is not sinless, but holds fast to faith in Christ until the end. He does not turn away when times get difficult. Overcoming requires complete dependence upon God for direction, purpose, fulfillment, and strength to follow His plan for our lives.

Matthew 4:8,9, “The devil took Him (Jesus) up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, ‘All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”

Verse 20a: “And we know that the Son of God has come…”

How do you know that the sun rose this morning? By the light which rose with it. So we may say, spiritually, ‘How do you know that the Son of God has come?’ By ‘the Sun of righteousness arising upon you with healing in his wings’ (Malachi 4:2) and the shining light which he diffuses in your heart. So the Lord speaks to Zion: ‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.’ That is the way in which the darkness is dispersed; for he adds, ‘Behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people; but the Lord shall rise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you.’ (Isaiah 60:1,2) Did not our blessed Lord say, ‘I am come a light into the world, that whoever believes on me should not abide in darkness?" (John 12:46). And has he not promised, ‘He that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life?’ (John 8:12). Now as God is light, when he is pleased to shine into the soul, we walk in the light as he is in the light, and then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin’ (1 John 1:7). This is the best, this is the surest, this is the safest way to know that the Son of God is come.” –J.C. Philpot. (edited by the author)

Verse 20b: “and has given us an understanding…”

“Understanding” in Greek is dianoia (John's only use of this word) it signifies a process of the mind leading to a conclusion, hence denoting the faculty of forming a conclusion from certain facts. In context what is involved is the mental ability to discern the significance of the coming of Christ (Messiah as prophesied over in the OT), specifically the incarnation of the Son of God. This enlightenment also enables John and all true believers in Christ to see through and refute the heretical claims of the false teachers. It is the work of the Holy Spirit as God’s “anointing” (1John 2:27-note) that gives the believer this understanding." –Hiebert

Verse 20c: “that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.”

We know that we know…

We know He is the true God: “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God” (Jeremiah 10:10). “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). “14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

We know that we have eternal life: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13).

We know that He answers our prayer: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:14).

“We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

We know He will never leave us: “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you” (Hebrews 13:5).

We know He loves us with an everlasting love: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” ( 1 John 4:10). God loves you so much you can trust Him with your life!

We know that we will go to be with Him: Jesus said: “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:2,3).

Verse 21: “Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.” “Little children, keep yourselves from idols (false gods)—[from anything and everything that would occupy the place in your heart due to God, from any sort of substitute for Him that would take first place in your life]. Amen (so let it be).” (AMP).

“Keep” (guard), in Greek is phulasso. It means to watch, keep on guard like an armed military sentinel guarding a restricted base ready to repulse any enemy. “It is in the aorist tense, signifying the decisiveness of the command; there is to be no hesitation, no wavering; the command is to be constantly carried out, and at every point wholeheartedly fulfilled.” –Vine

John had just written concerning the genuine God of the Bible. Now he warns against the false, counterfeit gods of paganism. Since we know that our God is the true God why would anyone need to worship anything or anyone else? Anything you put before God is an idol.

All the various forms of modern idolatry have one thing at their core: self. We no longer bow down to idols and images. Instead we worship at the altar of the god of self.

An idol is any person, object or activity you give a higher priority in your life than your relationship with God. “An idol is anything in my life that occupies a place that should be occupied by God alone…An idol is something that holds such a controlling position in my life that it moves and rouses and attracts me so easily that I give my time, attention, and money to it effortlessly.” – Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones

We are admonished to guard against everything which occupies the place of God. An idol can be your home, your job, a vehicle, a relationship, or even your family. An idol can be a pet, a computer, or what you look at on that computer. An idol can be alcohol, drugs, sex, or any sin. An idol can be the work you do for the Lord that consumes all your energy and time. God says He’s a jealous God. He wants our time and attention.

There was a woman who kept her car in showroom condition. One night her garage caught on fire, and her neighbors had to restrain her from rushing into the flames to rescue her car. As it exploded, she realized that she had nearly sacrificed her life for that car. It had become an idol.

“The human heart is an idol factory that takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment if we attain them.” –Timothy J. Keller in Counterfeit Gods

“Do not worship any other gods besides me.” Do not make idols of any kind, whether in the shape of birds or animals or fish. You must never worship or bow down to them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not share your affection with any other god!” (Exodus 20:3-5 NLT)

“When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you. But the wind will carry them all away, a breath will take them. But he who puts his trust in Me shall possess the land, and shall inherit My holy mountain” (Isaiah 57:13-15).

“But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:3-8).

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry’ (Colossians 3:1-5).

A Newsweek article many years ago (1/31/1983) told about how treasure hunters looking to make a huge profit were stealing rare idols from the Hopi reservation. The worst theft happened in 1978, when looters took four ancient stick figures representing the most sacred deities of the Hopi religion. “Without the idols, there could be no Hopi rituals,” the article stated, “and without the rituals, the tribe’s spiritual life was in danger of extinction.” A tribal leader explained that these ceremonies “bring blessings in rainfall, bountiful crops, good health, long life. That is being lost to us.” What a sad description of idolatry! You make up your own gods and then use them to get what you want. The problem is, these gods may be stolen and your way of life is destroyed. If it can be taken from you, it isn’t the true God! Make sure that even if you claim to follow Him as a born again Christian, you don’t fall into the idolatry of using Him to get what you want, or accepting the parts of Him that you like and rejecting the parts you don’t like. That is no different than pagan idolatry....Guard yourselves from idols!...Where are you most tempted to idolatry? How can you guard yourself against it? –Steven Cole

**NOTE: Unless otherwise noted, the New King James Version of the Bible was used. Also The New Living Translation (NLT); The New American Standard Bible (NASB); The Message (MSG); The New Century Version (NCV); The Amplified Bible (AMP); The King James Version (KJV), The New Life Version (NLV); English Standard Version (ESV); J.B. Phillips New Testament; Easy to Read Version (ERV); Common English bible (CEB); NET Bible (NET) and The Living Bible (TLB).**

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