There have surely been many hard things about the past year. Fear and division, sickness and death, separation from loved ones, the suspension of so many activities that we love.
But one of the hardest things about the past year — at least for me — was living with uncertainty.
Let me give you an example. Last night, as we were setting up for the drive-in movie, there was a discussion about the fact that nobody seems to know for certain that the vaccines many of us have received will be sufficient to protect us against COVID-19.
Will the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines be efficacious against the different COVID variations that have come up in the past few months? Will the immunity against the virus that they grant be lasting? Will we need to get booster shots? Will COVID become like the flu, with vulnerable populations being urged to get annual shots to protect them?
What struck me during this conversation was just how different the things we were talking about last night were from the things we were talking about a year ago.
“Remember when we were deciding week to week how and where we would gather for church?” I asked a couple of our deacons.
You see, there was a period during March and April of last year when the deacons and I held weekly teleconferences to decide these matters.
Nobody was sure what was going on; nobody was sure how long all this would last; nobody was sure how government mandates might change and affect our plans for Sunday services.
You’ll recall that we had a few weeks of virtual services, then an Easter drive-in service that went so well, we decided to make drive-in services our standard until the weather got too hot for folks to sit in their cars.
And then we moved into the prayer garden for outdoor services until it got too cold to sit out there, and by that time, the governor had decreed that indoor services could be held with certain precautions.
At first, we held those weekly conference calls, and my stomach churned every week as I wondered how we would do things in the coming week.
And then we changed those calls to every other week, and then we changed them to monthly and finally the deacons agreed that we could simply plan to be outside in the prayer garden until the weather forced us inside.
Perhaps you’ll recall the remarkable string of good weather that we had on Sundays once we moved into the prayer garden. I believe that God blessed us with such good weather as a response to the faith — and the faithfulness — that we had showed in coming to that decision.
But what many of you don’t know is what a relief it was to me for us to finally have made a commitment that we were going to do things in a particular way for the foreseeable future.
My stomach settled. My mind settled. My heart settled. I had peace, because of the assurance I had that I knew how things would be handled from week to week.
Worrying from week to week about how and where we would hold Sunday services made me feel like life was being drained from me. But the assurance I had when we finally committed to the outdoor plan made me feel as if I had regained my life, that I was having abundant life.
Because of my assurance, I could LIVE in peace from one week to the next. I could once again enjoy the ministry God had given me.
That’s one of the greatest gifts that God gave me last year, and I want to thank Him for it here publicly, because I don’t think I’ve done that before.
But the assurance I experienced in the matter of how and where we would hold Sunday services is nothing compared to the assurance I have of my position in Christ.
And the peace I had because of my assurance regarding our Sunday services in the last half of 2020 was nothing compared to the peace I have because of my assurance of being in Christ.
And, just as the peace I had from the assurance regarding our Sunday services in the latter part of 2020 once again allowed me to experience the abundant life of ministry here, the peace I have of my assurance of being in Christ is given to me so that I may have life, and have it abundantly.
And that’s the theme of this last section of the book of 1 John that we will study today. Go ahead and turn, if you have your Bibles, to 1 John 5:14.
While you are doing so, let me remind you once again what we have learned from this message by the Apostle John to the churches of Asia Minor.
You may recall that John set this letter up as a series of tests of the depth and authenticity of a believer’s fellowship with God in Christ.
Through the course of three cycles, John presented righteousness, love, and belief as three tests a believer can use to determine how closely he is walking with God, to determine whether he is experiencing the abundant life that Jesus promised in the Gospel of John.
Indeed, the tests can also be applied to non-believers as tests of life. If you lack righteousness, love, or belief, then you need to be asking yourself whether you even have the life that Jesus Christ gives those who have followed Him in faith that He alone can bring sinful man reconciliation with the holy and righteous God who IS love.
As you may recall, there had been people in the churches of Asia Minor who denied the deity of Christ, people who claimed a special, heretical knowledge about Him that they believed absolved them of the responsibility to love one another and to keep God’s commandments, and these people had ultimately left the fellowship of the church.
These people, much as the unsaved around the world today, failed the tests of fellowship completely.
They did not believe that Jesus, the unique and eternal, sinless Son of God, had come to offer Himself as a sacrifice on Calvary’s cross, taking upon Himself the punishment for mankind’s sins so that we who put our faith in the sufficiency of that sacrifice to cleanse us of our unrighteousness might be saved.
Perhaps they, like so many today, rejected the witness of hundreds of people to the risen Christ and therefore rejected the promise of eternal life that we who have been saved hold so dear.
And so, instead of repenting of their sins and turning to Jesus and laying hold of that promise — instead of stepping into His light in faith — they chose to remain in the darkness, under the domain of sin and Satan, the ruler of this world.
They chose fellowship with the world over fellowship with God. They chose fellowship with Satan over fellowship with Jesus.
And if you have never made the decision to follow Jesus in faith, you are, like them, still walking in darkness.
You are still walking in spiritual blindness, and you should read this letter from the Apostle John as a call to repent and believe — to step into the light of Christ.
There, you can experience life as it was meant to be. There, you can begin to be who you were created to be.
But John wrote this letter to a group of people whom he knew to be saved, people he knew had already followed Jesus in faith.
So his point was to help them have assurance of their position in Christ, so that — because of their assurance — they could experience peace, and they could experience the true, abundant life that Jesus promised for His followers.
“These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life,” John wrote in verse 13 of chapter 5.
You who follow Jesus Christ in true faith can be assured that you have eternal life, abundant life, and that you have it right now; you don’t have to wait until you get to heaven to experience it.
And if you have that kind of assurance, then it should affect the way that you live your life. It should fill you with peace. It should fill you with confidence.
It should affect the way you pray, it should affect the way you confront your own sins, it should affect the way you see the world, and it should affect the way you look at God.
Let’s take a look at this last passage, beginning with verse 14.
This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 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. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. 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. This is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
Now there’s some stuff in this passage that continues to stump biblical scholars nearly 2,000 years after it was written.
What is the sin leading to death? What does that mean? Are there people who are simply beyond our prayers?
I believe the answers to those questions would have been clear to the original recipients of John’s message, but the passing years have left us uncertain as to the precise meaning of some of what John wrote here, because we just don’t know enough about the cultural and theological situation of the churches that received this message to make hard and fast judgments about his meaning.
I really don’t want to get tangled up in those weeds today. I think they are secondary to John’s principal message about assurance. If you want to know more about what I believe they mean, ask me later, and I’ll tell you.
So, how should your assurance of being in Christ — a position tested by the tests of righteousness, love, and belief — how should this assurance affect the way you live?
Well, it should cause you to know at least four things, each of them indicated by John’s use of the word “know” in this passage.
First, your assurance of being in Christ should give you confidence in your prayer life.
You can come to the Father and tell Him your needs, and you can have confidence that He will give you what you ask.
But there are two conditions. First, we must not, as John warned in chapter 3, have hearts that condemn us.
Unconfessed sin is a serious hindrance to our walk with God. It is a serious hindrance to the confidence we have before Him. And it is a serious hindrance to our ability to pray with confidence to Him.
And second, we must pray according to His will. Robert Law, a minister in Scotland at the turn of the 20th century, wrote that “the marvellous and supernatural power of prayer consists, not in bringing God's Will down to us, but in lifting our will up to His.” [Robert Law, The Tests of Life (Edinburgh: T. Clark, 1909), 301.]
Sometimes, we don’t know how to do more than to pray, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” But many times we can know God’s will by studying Scripture, by listening to the guiding whisper of the Holy Spirit and by discerning the situation we find ourselves in.
Our Father, the giver of all good gifts, wants to give you the desires of your heart. But your heart must be aligned with His. And when it is, you will be praying for the very things He most wants to give you.
The evangelist and orphanage director George Mueller, whose thousands of orphans were kept fed by answered prayer, put it this way: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.” [Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 529.]
When your will is aligned with God’s will — when your heart is aligned with God’s heart — then nothing you pray for will be withheld from you.
So the assurance you have of your position in Christ should give you confidence as you kneel before God in prayer.
Second, your assurance of your position in Christ should affect the way you look at sin in your own life. We see that in verse 18.
“We know that no one who is born of God sins” — no one who has been born again by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ lives a life that is characterized by sin.
Your life as a believer should be characterized by righteousness, because you should reflect the righteous character of your Father in heaven.
You are kept by God, enabled by Him through the Holy Spirit to turn from sin and turn toward righteousness. Will you still sin? Of course.
But as you learn to walk in the light of Christ, you will find that the devil no longer has a hold on you. You will find that he can no longer touch you to bring you to harm because of your sin.
You will still experience the consequences of sin in this world — if you cheat on your taxes, you may get caught and have to pay penalties and interest — but you will not lose your standing in Christ as one saved unto eternal life by His sacrificial death and supernatural resurrection.
And as your fellowship with God grows because of your standing in Christ — as your assurance increases — you will find yourself to be less and less tolerant of sin within yourself.
We see the third effect of assurance of our position in Christ in verse 19.
As our fellowship with God grows and our assurance of our position in Christ grows with it, we become ever more aware of the fact that we are aliens in this world. We become ever more aware that we are citizens of a kingdom that is not of this world.
We who have followed Jesus Christ in faith are of God — we have been reborn as His children and as subjects of His kingdom.
We are no longer subjects of the kingdom of this world, which is under the power of Satan, the evil one. We are no longer subject to the system of values, priorities, and beliefs that excludes God.
As followers of Christ, we stand outside that system. We are a city on a hill whose light beckons those who still walk in darkness. We are IN this world, but we are not OF this world.
As ambassadors of God’s kingdom, we are the salt that should give this tasteless world flavor and the light that should draw the lost to Jesus.
The assurance that we have of our position in Christ should manifest itself in a sacrificial kind of love that proves to be an irresistible force calling those who are weary and burdened by the world’s hatred to turn to Jesus, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.
And finally, the assurance that we have in our position in Christ should affect the way we see God. Look at verse 20.
We who have this assurance know that the Son of God has come and that He has given us understanding so that we can know God Himself, Him who is true.
As we abide in Christ — as we walk in deep and genuine fellowship with Him — we also abide in His Father, and He in us, because the Father abides in the Son and the Son abides in the Father.
Not only do we know the truth, we know the One who is true, because we are in the One who described Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Never in my life have I seen truth under assault the way that we saw it under assault during the past year. What’s true about COVID-19? What’s true about the vaccines? What’s true about our government? What’s true about justice?
I don’t know if we’ve ever had a time in history when it has been harder to sift truth from lies.
But we who have followed Jesus in faith know Him who is true. We know Him who is God. We know Him who is eternal life.
And as we walk in fellowship with Him, we can destroy the idols we have worshiped in the past
We can turn from the lie that says our bank accounts are the most important thing, the lie that says our political affiliation is the most important thing, the lie that says our citizenship is the most important thing, the lie that says science will save us, the lie that says the right kind of government will fix everything.
From John’s perspective, all these things are idolatry. All these things are just as powerless from the perspective of eternal life as idols made of clay and stone and wood. They are like statues with eyes that can’t see, ears that can’t hear, and mouths that can’t speak.
Guard yourselves from these things, because you, fellow believers, are people who know the one who is true, the one who is life, the one who is the way to God Himself.
And as you walk in fellowship with Him — as you experience eternal, abundant life even here in your mortal existence — you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free from the worries and the burdens of this world and its lies.
You who have followed Jesus Christ in faith have assurance of eternal, abundant life. You have assurance of your position in Him.
You can have confidence in approaching God in prayer. You should have a growing distaste for sin in your life and comfort in the knowledge that the devil no longer has power over yo0u. You can have peace in the knowledge that you may be IN this world, but you are not OF this world. And you can take comfort in the fact that you don’t just know the truth, you know Him who is true.
What a blessed assurance this is! Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!