What is it that really makes a Christian a Christian? Well, the Apostle John gives us the answer in the first verse of the last chapter of 1 John…
“If you believe that Jesus is the Christ-that he is God’s Son and your Savior-then you are a child of God. And all who love the Father love his children too. So you can find out how much you love God’s children-your brothers and sisters in the Lord-by how much you love and obey God” (1 John 5:1-2).
There are lots of people who believe that Jesus was a good man and some even believe that He was a great teacher. Unfortunately, these beliefs on their own are not enough to allow someone to really identify themselves as a Christian. You see, the verses quoted above tell us that it is only those people who believe that Jesus is the Christ -the Man who is appointed by God to enable people to get right with Him- who can really call themselves Christians.
Anyone who really believes this about Jesus will demonstrate it by… well, wait- we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves. Here, check out this next part and then we’ll talk about it…
“Loving God means doing what he tells us to do, and really, that isn’t hard at all; for every child of God can obey him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him. But who could possibly fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is truly the Son of God?” (1 John 5:3-5).
OK, it should go without saying that anyone who is really serious about being a Christian will demonstrate it by doing what the Scriptures say that they should. For instance, how can someone say that they love God if they make a habit of living the kind of lifestyle that dishonors Him? Or how can someone say that they follow Jesus while routinely doing the kinds of things that Jesus says are wrong?
You see, people demonstrate what they really believe about Jesus by the things they do. In fact, Jesus Himself even talked about this in John 14:21-24…
“‘The one who obeys me is the one who loves me; and because he loves me, my Father will love him; and I will too, and I will reveal myself to him.’ Judas (not Judas Iscariot, but his other disciple with that name) said to him, ‘Sir, why are you going to reveal yourself only to us disciples and not to the world at large?’
Jesus replied, ‘Because I will only reveal myself to those who love me and obey me. The Father will love them too, and we will come to them and live with them. Anyone who doesn’t obey me doesn’t love me. And remember, I am not making up this answer to your question! It is the answer given by the Father who sent me'” (John 14:21-24).
Remember that real beliefs are always demonstrated by actions. If someone claims to be a Christian but their actions consistently demonstrate something else, then you really have to question what they claim to be. Anyone who professes to love God will back it up by the way they live, or as 1 John 5:3 says, “Loving God means doing what he tells us to do…”
“And we know he is, because God said so with a voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized, and again as he was facing death –yes, not only at his baptism but also as he faced death. And the Holy Spirit, forever truthful, says it too. So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, and the voice before he died. And they all say the same thing: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
We believe men who witness in our courts, and so surely we can believe whatever God declares. And God declares that Jesus is his Son. All who believe this know in their hearts that it is true. If anyone doesn’t believe this, he is actually calling God a liar because he doesn’t believe what God has said about his Son” (1 John 5:6-10).
John’s point here is pretty simple- if we accept the testimony of imperfect human beings in a court of law then how much more should we accept what God has said? This is serious because if God says something in the Scriptures and then someone else contradicts what God has said, then that person is effectively saying that God is wrong. That’s a bad place to be.
John goes on to talk a little more about this in the next few verses…
“And what is it that God has said? That he has given us eternal life and that this life is in his Son. So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life” (1 John 5:11-12).
There’s a lot of religious teaching that’s dressed up as truth but really isn’t. For instance, many people believe that all religious beliefs are equally valid and that “all roads lead to God.” Others believe that they can earn their way to eternal life by doing enough good things in this life. Then there are others who believe that once people die, they just stop existing and that there is no such thing as an “afterlife.”
The Bible doesn’t support any of those views. According to the Scriptures, your life doesn’t end with your physical existence, all roads do not lead to God, and eternal life isn’t something that can be earned by doing enough “good things.” Eternal life can only be obtained through Jesus and anyone who accepts Him has the Bible’s full assurance that they will go to heaven when they die. But the Bible is equally clear that anyone who chooses to try another way does not have eternal life, just as we read above.
“I have written this to you who believe in the Son of God so that you may know you have eternal life. And we are sure of this, that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us” (1 John 5:13-15).
In John 14:15 Jesus said, “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (NIV). Now people may read this and think that they can get money, a nice car, or anything else they may want by simply asking for it “in Jesus’ name.” The problem with this idea is that it tends to change Jesus from “Lord” and makes Him into a kind of cosmic waiter who serves up anything we want. That can’t be right, so what’s the answer?
Well as we said earlier, the Bible tells us that some necessary things are required before we even get to the part about asking for something in Jesus’ name. Those things would include…
- Faith in God (see Hebrews 11:6)
- “Remaining,” “staying” or “abiding” in Jesus (John 15:7)
- Asking for things that are in line with God’s Holy character and not out of selfish desires (James 4:3)
- Asking for things that are in God’s will (as we see here in 1 John 5:14).
If these qualities influence the things that you ask for, then you can feel free to do what Jesus said in Matthew 7:7: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (NIV). If you are lined up with God’s agenda and asking Him to make those things happen, then you are putting 1 John 5:13-15 into action: “…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” (NIV).
“If you see a Christian sinning in a way that does not end in death, you should ask God to forgive him, and God will give him life unless he has sinned that one fatal sin. But there is that one sin which ends in death, and if he has done that, there is no use praying for him. Every wrong is a sin, of course. I’m not talking about these ordinary sins; I am speaking of that one that ends in death” (1 John 5:16-17).
These verses can be tough to understand and apply but let’s give it a try. Let’s take that first part where it talks about “If you see a Christian sinning in a way that does not end in death…”
Let’s say that you know someone who is doing something that you believe is a mistake. It could be something that the Bible specifically says is wrong or it could just be something that you strongly disagree with. In a situation like this, the Scripture quoted above tells us that you should pray for that person and ask God to forgive them. You might also ask God to change that person on the inside so that they will want to do the things that they should.
So far, so good, right? But then there is that next part that says, “There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that” (NIV). What does that mean?
Well, perhaps it might help to think of this in terms of sports like football, baseball, basketball or hockey. For example, let’s say that a goaltender plays poorly and gives up some goals early in a game that puts his or her team behind. In a case like this, a coach will often pull that goaltender from the game and put in another player because the first goaltender’s play has hurt the team.
There are similar examples in other sports too. For instance, a baseball pitcher who gives up too many hits, or a quarterback who throws too many interceptions, or a basketball player with too many fouls may all have to leave the game before it’s over. The point is that a player who doesn’t play well may not get to play as long as the coach or manager originally wanted them to.
When a coach makes the decision to remove a player who is hurting the team, it usually means that the game is over for that player. In a similar way, 1 John 15:16-17 seems to be saying that the same thing is also true spiritually. If God makes the decision to give someone a red card (1) due to the way they have conducted themselves, there’s nothing more you can do about it- the decision has been made, or as John says, “I am not saying that he should pray about that.”
Now someone may read this and say, Hey, wait a minute- are you saying that God might kill somebody if they do something wrong?!? No, what The Doctor is saying is that if there is a Christian who is always getting into trouble and “hurting the team” so to speak, then God reserves the right to be merciful to that person and wrap up their life before they really get into trouble.
You can see a Biblical example of this in the book of 1 Corinthians where the Apostle Paul talks about some people who took communion in an unworthy manner. The actions of these people caused Paul to say this: “That is why many of you are weak and sick, and some have even died” (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 for the whole story).
You see, Paul made a definite connection between the bad things that some in the Corinthian church were doing and the fact that those people didn’t get to enjoy a longer life. But Paul also said “Yet, when we are judged and punished by the Lord, it is so that we will not be condemned with the rest of the world” (1 Corinthians 11:32). So while it may be bad to miss out on living a long full life, it’s still definitely better than being condemned.
“No one who has become part of God’s family makes a practice of sinning, for Christ, God’s Son, holds him securely, and the devil cannot get his hands on him” (1 John 5:18).
Here John goes back one last time to a point that he has made earlier in this letter. That point is this: while no one can live a sinlessly perfect life, no Christian should live a lifestyle of habitual, continual sin either. While no one can live without sinning, that still doesn’t mean that you have to sin and anyone who has really been born of God doesn’t make a habit of deliberately disobeying Him.
“We know that we are children of God and that all the rest of the world around us is under Satan’s power and control. And we know that Christ, God’s Son, has come to help us understand and find the true God. And now we are in God because we are in Jesus Christ his Son, who is the only true God; and he is eternal Life” (1 John 5:19-20).
We said earlier that the word “world” as John uses it here doesn’t refer to the natural world but to those cultures, attitudes, values, and belief systems that reject God. These all exist because “…the world around us is under Satan’s power and control” as we read in 1 John 5:19.
Despite what some believe, the Bible identifies Satan as an actual being who has real influence in the world. The Bible also refers to Satan as evil (Matthew 6:13), wicked (1 John 2:13), a liar and a murderer (John 8:44) and a deceiver (Revelation 20:10). So when you see these characteristics in the world around you, don’t be surprised; people are simply following this bad example.
So now that we’ve almost reached the end of this letter, John gives us one final reminder before he goes…
“Dear children, keep away from anything that might take God’s place in your hearts. Amen. Sincerely, John” (1 John 5:21).
The Bible identifies anything that takes God’s place in your life as an “idol” and this refers to anything that you love, fear or depend on more than God. For instance, there are many people who have made an idol out of their car or their money or a member of the opposite sex, just to list a few examples.
So once something has become more important than God in your life, that thing (whatever it is) then becomes your new “god.” Remember that everything in life must take second place to God and anything that doesn’t becomes an idol.
(1) In football (or soccer as it’s known in the United States), a player who is given a “red card” is ejected from the game and is not allowed to return. That player’s team must then “play short” or complete the rest of the game without the full number of players. So a player who gets “carded” not only hurts themselves but their teammates too.