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An in-depth commentary of the first epistle of John in the Bible.
Category - Bible Commentaries
The three witnesses who testify that Jesus is the Son of God are joined by the twelve disciples and a multitude of witnesses as the Holy Spirit speaks and teaches the truth to others. John 15:26, 27 says,
26 When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me, 27 and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.
The purpose of the Holy Spirit is to grant to all the same revelation that Peter received when he confessed in Matt. 16:16, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Such a response to the revelation of the Spirit is clear evidence of faith.
The seventh and final purpose for John’s letter is found in 1 John 5:13, which says,
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal [aionian] life.
Why would John need to give such assurance to those who believe in the name of the Son of God? It is not that they doubt that Jesus is the Son of God. It is because many doubt themselves.
Why would they doubt? The foremost reason is that honest believers see their own imperfections, and many are more than willing to point out these imperfections. If a man’s performance determines his identity, he will doubt himself at some point. Only when a man’s identity is the cause of his performance will he remain confident.
Church leaders often fail to teach the people that only the old man is imperfect, and that the new man cannot sin because he is begotten by God (1 John 3:9).
John’s letter was designed to prevent the original problem with Adam and Eve. The serpent planted doubt by saying, “Has God said?” Once the seeds of doubt had been planted, he caused them to covet wisdom and status as “gods.” They coveted what they already had.
Not knowing the basic principles of sonship or the two “I’s” (as Paul would put it) cause genuine believers to think that their faith is proven by the perfection of the old man. Hence, the people measure their faith according to their success in reforming the old man and in forcing the flesh to become good. The failure of flesh brings doubt.
We certainly ought to discipline the old man and to restrain his fleshly tendencies; but we must do so in the right manner. When we change identities and no longer reckon ourselves to be the old man but the new, we then live according to the new man. The old man must continually be disciplined, but he is no longer you. If you sin, it is not you that sins, but the fleshly old man who refuses to act in accordance with your will. Hence, Paul says in Rom. 7:20 and 22,
20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not wish, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me… 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man.
Paul was a man like us, and he confessed to having an inner war between the two “I’s.” But he did not allow the imperfections of the old man to make him doubt who he was. He was not the old man. He was the new man, for he had changed identities from flesh to spirit. Therefore, he could conclude in Rom. 8:1, 2,
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.
In view of Paul’s struggle, this is an amazing show of confidence, made possible only by a clear understanding of who he was in Christ. Paul had received the Holy Spirit at the hands of Ananias (Acts 9:17). When Jesus revealed Himself to Paul (or Saul) on the road to Damascus, he was shocked to discover that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. The Holy Spirit bore witness of this truth in Paul’s spirit and thereby begat Christ in him. So Paul said in Rom. 8:16,
16 The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God.
This is the same witness of the Spirit that John referenced in his letter. The witness of the Spirit that Jesus is the Son of God brings about a response in our own spirit, so that we are able to bear witness of the same truth. Hence, we see Jesus’ words fulfilled, saying, “You will testify also” (John 15:27). Indeed, God told Ananias, “he [Saul/Paul] is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles [ethnos, “nations”] and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).
This is the same kind of confidence that John’s letter sought to impart. His letter was written, not to set an impossible standard that might bring doubt to fellow believers, but rather to remove doubt and to inspire confidence in their new identity as children of God.
Unfortunately, many have misunderstood John’s words, especially 1 John 3:9, teaching that if a believer is imperfect, then he is not truly a child of God. Such teaching brings fear and doubt, not faith and confidence.
I know, because I had to deal with such fear-based teaching at an early age. But thank God, He revealed His truth to me a little at a time so that I could overcome such church teaching. The revelation was progressive over a period of decades, because to understand it fully, one must know many related truths.
There is only one Truth—Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God—but it is linked to many truths—faith and works, begetting and birth, the identity of the old and new man, violating or concurring with the law, Old and New Covenant, etc.
As we begin to grasp how all of these truths fit together to support a single truth that Jesus is the Christ, we gain confidence and clarity of our vision of the Kingdom that is set before us.
1 John 5:14, 15 says,
14 And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
Confidence comes by knowing. To know is to have no doubt. John wrote this letter so that we would know. That knowing gives us assurance and confidence. The result of this “confidence” is that we know that “He hears us” when we pray. Many prayers are spoken without such confidence. This is usually caused by a lack of hearing. People pray but do not hear God’s response, and so they pray for the same thing again and again.
“Father, I ask that you would bless Sally.”
“I am happy to do so; your prayer is granted.”
“Father, please bless Sally.”
“Yes, I will do as you asked.”
“Father, please, please bless Sally.”
“I heard you the first time.”
“Father, please, please, please bless Sally.”
“Did you not hear what I said? If you cannot hear Me, how can you pray the prayer of faith? Please stop pestering Me.”
There are times when one must pray through until the answer comes. However, most prayer does not require such perseverance. Intercession requires time, because it is a spiritual labor to change conditions in the heavens in order to see changes on the earth. Yet all forms of prayer require the ability to hear and know God’s answer.
I have learned that most prayer is not merely about us talking to God. It is also about listening to God speak to us. Prayer is a two-way conversation, something I discovered in 1982. Prayer is often a matter of fellowship with God, but also when we have needs, it is important to conduct a two-way conversation with God.
We should not hesitate to present Him with our needs, but we should also discuss it with Him so that we know His mind concerning the situation. James 4:3 says,
3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.
Hence, James agrees with John that we must ask according to His will and not our own. Only when we know His mind and His will can we make our petitions with confidence—and faith, too. When we first come to God in prayer, we do not always know His will. Prayer (discussion with God) gives us the opportunity to learn His will, so that we can pray with confidence. Then our prayer is made through faith, which comes by hearing what He has to say about it.
When He reveals His will, we can pray with confidence, knowing that we are asking “according to His will.” I am convinced that every prayer that is prayed according to His will is granted, because that is the privilege of the children of God. However, God does not necessarily answer in the manner and time that we desire. God does not often reveal the precise way or time that He will grant our petitions, and this can shake our confidence. But if we let God be God and do not try to restrict Him to suit our own will, we may remain in peace as we abide in Him.
Some treat God as an adversary. To them, prayer is a battle of wills, and they attempt to overpower God in order to force Him to grant their petition. Others try to convince God of the righteousness of their petition in order to change His mind. There are many wrong motives in prayer, because not all believers seek to be in agreement with God. Instead, they want God to agree with them in their limited perspective.
But sonship is about doing the works of our Father, imitating Him and thinking like Him. If we are to be conformed to the image of Christ, we are the ones who must change—not Him. We are the ones who must alter our thinking—not Him. So in prayer, we seek His will so that we may pray according to His will. Even Jesus Himself prayed, “not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
In my experience after 1982, I discovered that when we gathered in prayer as a group, we might spend a few hours seeking His will in order to know what we were to pray for at that time. Each person then received a piece of the puzzle as we prayed and discussed things. At some point the final piece of the puzzle was revealed, and the revelation was complete. Then we presented our petition, knowing confidently that this was the will of God.
The prayer meeting could take hours; but the petition itself took only a moment. In the process we were trained to hear, and we learned that God gives only partial revelation to each person so that we learn to function as a body.
As for myself, I also learned an important principle of leadership. Leadership is not about telling others what to do or how to think. It is about respecting the voice of God in others and in giving everyone (if possible) the opportunity to share the portion of the word that God has given them. In this way the others could discern (or “judge”) the origin of each revelation (1 Cor. 14:29, KJV) in the safe environment of love.