1 John 5:13-21

This Bible Study was taught by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008.

Denton, TX

Five Things We Can Know (1 John 5:13-21)


            This paragraph is a summary of the major themes that have been covered in 1 John.  The key word in 1 John 5:13-21 is the word “know.”   That word is used seven times in these verses.  That is not just the key word of this paragraph; it is the key word of the entire letter.  The two basic Greek words translated “know” are used forty times in the five chapters of 1 John.  We saw earlier in this study that the two Greek words translated “know” have different nuances in meaning.

·         Oida carries the idea of knowing something intuitively or knowing something as a matter of fact.

·         Ginosko carries the idea of knowing something as a result of experience.

In this paragraph, every use of the word “know” except for one is the word “oida” which means something which is known intuitively, something we know just because we know.  The only exception is the second “know” in verse 20.

            In this paragraph, John lists five things we can know intuitively as a result of our relationship with God through Jesus.


1.      We can know that we have eternal life (Verse 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 life.”)  This verse tells us the reason John wrote this letter.  He wrote to give his readers assurance that they were in possession of eternal life.  We have seen throughout the letter some tests that we can apply to our lives and to the lives of others to determine one’s status before God.  (cf. 1 John 2:3, 5; 3:10, 14, 24; 4:16; 5:1)  John wrote this letter to give true believers in Jesus the assurance of eternal life.


I’m not going to dwell on the meaning of eternal life in this session because we dealt with it in some detail last week.  But I want to remind you that eternal life has both a quantitative and qualitative dimension.  It is not just life which lasts forever.  It is a certain quality of life which lasts forever.  As one writer puts it, eternal life is “…endless in duration and spiritual (even God-like) in nature.  Existing eternally in God, it was historically manifested in the coming of Christ (1 John 1:2) and becomes ours in the experience of the new birth (John 3).” (Vaughn)


This verse tells us that:

·         Those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” have eternal life.

·         Those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” can know they have eternal life.

·         By implication, those “who believe in the name of the Son of God” may question whether they have eternal life.  One may be truly saved and at the same time may have doubts about his/her salvation.  We must distinguish between salvation and the assurance of salvation.  Every person “who believes in the name of the Son of God” is saved, but not every person who believes has the assurance that he/she is saved.  John deeply desired to give all believers that assurance.



2.      We can know that God hears our prayers (Verses 14-17) – Once we know that we have been accepted by God, it make perfect sense to believe that we can approach God with our needs.  The assurance of answered prayer is the natural result of the assurance of salvation.  These verses tell us several important things about prayer.

a.       We can approach God with confidence – (Verse 14a – “And this is the confidence which we have before Him…”) – This is the fourth time the word translated confidence is used in 1 John. (cf. 2:24; 3:21; 4:17).  The word means freedom of speech, boldness, fearless trust.  Hebrews 4:16 which speaks of our “…drawing near with boldness to the throne of grace…” captures this idea.

b.      There is a condition to answered prayer – (Verse 14b – “…that, if we ask anything according to His will…”) – In the New Testament, several conditions to answered prayer are mentioned.

                                                  i.      Praying “in Jesus name” (John 14:13)

                                                ii.      Praying from a righteous life (James 5:16; 1 John 3:22)

                                              iii.      Praying with unselfish motives (James 4:3)

                                              iv.      Praying in faith (Matthew 21:22; James 1:6)

      The phrase “…according to His will…” seems to involve all of the above.

c.       We can trust God to respond to our requests in the appropriate way – (Verse 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.”) – This is the logical conclusion to what is said in verse 14.  When we pray according to God’s will we can be certain God will grant our requests because God would not logically contradict His own will.

Verses 16-17 provide an example of a prayer according to God’s will and a prayer not according to God’s will. (“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.”)  These are obviously difficult verses to interpret.  Of course, the key to understanding these verses is to understand the distinction between “a sin not leading to death” and “a sin leading to death.”  Essentially three views have been put forth concerning these phrases:

·         Some say the phrases are pointing to degrees of or severity of sin.  For example, murder may be a sin leading to death for which there is not forgiveness while telling a white lie may be a sin not leading to death for which there is forgiveness.  This view misses the basic biblical teaching that all sin is rebellion against God.  No specific sin is acceptable to God and no specific sin is outside the scope of God’s forgiveness.

·         Some say that the phrases are pointing to the practice of sinning.  The sin leading to death is a habitual and continuous.  The sin not leading to death is only occasional.  This view does not explain why we should not pray for the forgiveness of people committing either type of sin.

·         Some say the phrases are pointing to two completely different things.  The sin not leading to death are the individual sins people commit.  The sin leading to death is rejecting Jesus as the Son of God.  This view makes sense in light of the people whom John was opposing in this letter.  The heretical teachers troubling the 1st century church were denying Jesus was the Son of God and were seeking salvation outside of Jesus.  To pray for their forgiveness would be to pray for an impossibility—salvation outside of Christ.  This is the same idea as Jesus presented in Matthew 12:31 – “Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.”  To reject the Spirit’s revelation of Jesus as the way of salvation is to reject the means of forgiveness God has provided for us.  To pray for the forgiveness of those who reject the means of forgiveness (Jesus) is futile.

Verse 16a can be seen as an example of a prayer which is according to God’s will.  If a fellow believer falls into some sin, we are to pray for and work toward his deliverance.  This is much the same idea as presented in Galatians 6:1 which says, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, lest you to be tempted.” 

Verse 16b can be seen as an example of a prayer not according to God’s will.  Those who have never known God cannot be restored to God.

Verse 17 (“All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.”)  shows that all sin (even if it is not unto death) is serious.


3.      We can know that sin will not dominate our lives (Verse 18 – “We know that no one who is born of god sins; but He who was born of God keeps him and he evil one does not touch him.”)  This verse touches on another theme that recurs throughout 1 John (cf. 1 John 3:6-10)

“…no one who is born of God…” – This includes every believer.

“…sins…” – The verb is present tense, meaning habitually and continuously sinning.  While a Christian may occasionally sin (cf. 1 John 1:16; 2:1), that is not the normal condition of the Christian life.

“…He who was born of God…” – A reference to Jesus.

“…keeps…” – The word means to watch over to protect.  “The Christian may have a malignant foe, but he also has a vigilant Guardian.” (D. Smith quoted by Vaughn).

“…the evil one…” – A reference to Satan.

“…does not touch…”The word means to grasp or get a hold on.  The evil one may have an impact on the believer but he cannot get the believer permanently in his grasp.


4.      We can know who controls us and who controls the world  (Verse 19 – “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”)  This verse contains two statements, one about John and his readers, the other about the world.

“…we are of God…” – Our life comes from God and we are protected by God.  That is why Satan cannot “touch” believers. 

“…the whole world lies in the power of the evil one…” - The image is that of a child in the lap of a parent.  Satan has a strong grip on this world.

      This verse reminds us that all people are either “of God” or “in the power of the evil one.”


5.      We can know God through Christ  (Verse 20 – “And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might 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.”)  This verse states the central truth of Christianity.  Basically, the verse says three things:

·         “…the Son of God has come…” – The basic thrust of that phrase is the He has come and is here.

·         “…has given us understanding…” – Jesus is the source of our knowledge of God.

·         “…and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ…” – Being united with Christ unites us with God.


Conclusion (Verse 21 – “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”

“Little children…” – John’s favorite way of addressing his readers.  A term of affection.

“…guard…” – The word means to protect something valuable, like a deposit of money or treasure.

“…idols…” – All false conceptions of God.

Some say this may have been the last word written in the Bible.