By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXV) 05/02/23

5:18 We know that those who have been made God’s children do not continue to sin. The Son of God keeps them safe. The Evil One cannot hurt them.

With her crafted spiritual insight, Judith Lieu (1951) points out that the Apostle John’s First Letter reaches its powerful conclusion with three confident affirmations, “We know,[1] as a confessional formula familiar within the Johannine tradition. These appeal to shared certainties, even if, at times, they have been argued earlier in the letter.[2] Within the rhetoric of the letter, the word “we” now includes the readers who can make these certainties their own: in saying “we know,” John is not stating the obvious but is inviting his audience to acknowledge these as truths for them and to also acknowledge the consequences.

If they were recognized as prescribed, these readers would be aware that they were participating in a tradition that did not originate with them and was not limited to them. The unexpected direct address of verse twenty-one will reinforce both this and their urgency to commit themselves. However, the following certainties recall the story of God’s Son in chapter three and the dichotomous world it shaped. It means that the “we know” works equally as an internal cross-reference, taking the audience back to the earlier argument to which they have indirectly assented, [3]

Contextual interpretation specialist Gary M. Burge (1952) says that prayer thoughts become more somber in verses sixteen to eighteen, but there is an essential link with the preceding verses. Christians alert to God’s will know with confidence the success of their prayers. But likewise, they should see the seriousness of sin and how it impedes spiritual vitality. Moreover, they should know the power of prayer for another person – particularly those who sin. John has likely been leading up to this all along. In the letter, he marked off clear boundaries between true believers and the secessionists, the orthodox and the heretical. He emphasized the importance of sin and righteousness for the church.[4]

Christians acknowledge their sin,[5] but they do not persist in sinful habits.[6] Unbelievers, by contrast, sin consistently but often refuse to admit it. Sin (for many of them) is an archaic category. John has in mind a situation in which one believer sees another sinning. The NIV refers to “brother,” which translates the Greek word but, in John’s dialect, means any fellow believer. In this case, we are told to pray, and God will respond, giving them life in answer to the fellow Christian’s intercessory prayer.

The chief difficulty in the verse is that John says this intercession should be done only for “those whose sin does are not deadly to eternal life.” First, it is essential to note what John is not saying. He is not saying that prayer for “deadly to eternal life sins” is prohibited or that there is a level of sin beyond which prayer is useless. The NIV translation of verse sixteen obscures John’s interest to some extent, for he is only making his recommendation for “sin [that] is not deadly to eternal life.” He is silent about the other. But what are these two types of sin? The “deadly to eternal life sin” could refer to physical illness and death.[7]

But this interpretation seems unlikely in the present passage, particularly since verse sixteen says God will give the sinner life. This life must be eternal; if it were physical, John should extend it to those other “mortal” sins, the very thing he does not do. And those with “less deadly to eternal life sins” do not have their physical lives in jeopardy in the first place.

A more helpful solution comes from the First Covenant’s distinction between unintentional and intentional sins. In the First Covenant, the temple sacrificial rituals only provided forgiveness for spontaneous or unconscious sins.[8] On the other hand, when someone sinned deliberately and willfully, the sinner was either exiled or killed.[9] This dual classification of sin persisted in Judaism into the Final Covenant period.[10] But the more difficult exegetical question lies one step further. What type of sin does John have in mind for Christians?[11] This must be explained before it is understood.

Emphasizing the Apostle John’s call to Christian fellowship, Bruce B. Barton (1954) says that verse eighteen appears two ways in various translations because of a textual variant in the Greek manuscripts. The words translated as “God’s Son” are rendered as “the one born of God” in other versions, leaving the interpretation open that this could refer to the Anointed One or the Christian. If it means Christian, it signifies that believers must hold themselves securely and keep from sinning. The preferred reading is that God’s Son keeps the believer from sin.

Many commentators favor this reading because: (1) the first clause of this verse already mentions the believer who is born of God. (2) John consistently uses the perfect tense to describe the believer who has become a child of God,[12] while here the aorist is used, and (3) there is little or no security in the fact that believers must keep themselves secure. Instead, God’s Son securely holds believers, helping them not to make sinning a routine and keeping them away from the evil one (meaning Satan). Christians do sin on occasions, but they ask God to forgive them and continue serving Him. God has freed believers from their slavery to Satan, and He keeps them safe from Satan’s continued attacks.

Unfortunately, the rest of a godless society does not have a Christian’s freedom to obey God. Unless unbelievers come to the Anointed One in faith, they have no choice but to follow Satan. There is no middle ground; either people belong to God and obey Him, or they live under Satan’s control.[13]

A scholar who truly inspires Christian missionaries, Daniel L. Akin (1957) finds that the Apostle John makes three powerful affirmations in verse eighteen that assure us once again of victory over our sinful tendencies:

First, “We know that God’s children do not make a practice of sinning.” Sin is no longer the pattern of their lives. John is confirming the purity of our lives, not perfection, something he addressed earlier.[14] Future glorification (perfection) impacts present sanctification (practice).

Second, “For God’s Son holds them securely,” We find this reference to Jesus as Protector emphasized in the Holman Christian Standard Bible’s translation. We do not stay pure ourselves, Jesus keeps us. This is a theme repeated several times in the Final Covenant.

And third, “The evil one cannot touch them.”[15] The word “touch” has the idea of grabbing hold of with the intent to harm. Satan may ambush us and tempt us with idols, friends who have fallen away, fleshly enticements, and worldly allurements, but because of the Anointed One’s power he cannot keep us in his grasp [16]

With a classical thinking approach to understanding the scriptures, Bruce G. Schuchard (1958) makes the point that in verse eighteen, the first of three impressive and effective consecutive references to the fact that “we know that[17] follows naturally from what has just been saying. John speaks for the last time about the problem of sin and sinning. We know that no one born of God lives for sin’s sake. The first and second instances of “we know that” in verses eighteen and nineteen appear, as does the statement in verse thirteen without the support of introductory conjunctions such as “but,” “now,” or “and.”

John’s rhetorically stylistic feature of not using conjunctions is for the sake of serious expression. Thus, he extols and exhorts those certainties of the faith that can and must, in the end, be known. The first of three references in verses eighteen to twenty-one are to those who are (born) “of God.” They contrast sharply with a final reference to the one who “lives for the sake of sin.” In no way is sin “the overriding characteristic of a believer’s life.” Instead, those who come to be united with us,[18] or come so that they, like we, might have God as our Father who keeps the Anointed One’s siblings safe and secure in His loving, all-powerful embrace.[19]

In his unorthodox Unitarian way, Duncan Heaster (1967) agrees that the One born of God does not sin but guards those who believe in Him, and the evil one cannot touch them. The One begotten of God was the Lord Jesus; the “evil one,” the devil [Satan], both of the flesh and the systemic Jewish opposition to Him did not touch Him. The prince of this world had no power over the Lord,[20] who remained untouched by the temptations of the devil fabricated in the wilderness. But all believers have been born of God by allowing the Spirit to birth them.[21]

This active process of the Spirit means that while they are still committing sins,[22] they do not continue in the life given over to sin, for the Spirit changes and cleanses them. We are kept from falling, but we must also “keep ourselves” there must be some willing responses from our side. The Spirit does not zap a person and force them to transformation and salvation against their will and volition.[23]

Bright seminarian Karen H. Jobes (b. 1968) notes that having just taught, on the one hand, that sin covered by the Anointed One’s atonement does not disqualify a believer from eternal life, the Apostle John now reminds his readers that sin is utterly incompatible with new life in the Anointed One. While it is true that people genuinely born of God cannot commit the sin deadly to eternal life, John does not give license to anyone who thinks they may go on sinning with impunity so that grace might increase.[24] Thinking along those lines is characteristic of those who have not been born of God. It is such erroneous thinking that John refuted[25] that sin is not a serious issue.

However, using two different forms of the same verb, “born of,” may indicate a distinction that allows two considerations of persons. It occurs first as a perfect passive participle to refer to the believer or as an aorist passive, which most interpreters take as a reference to Jesus the Anointed One. Perhaps John suggests the shared nature that reborn Christians have with the sinless man, Jesus the Anointed One. In this reading, John reassures his readers that they are safe because the Anointed One protects them. While the powers of evil may tempt, entice, and otherwise influence the believer, even to the point of lapses into sin, the evil one cannot take hold of a child of God to remove them from the light and life and drag them back into darkness and death.[26]

A skilled sermonizer, David Legge (b. 1969) speaks of the certainty of eternal life found in verse eighteen: “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin.” God guards those birthed by Him, and the wicked one cannot touch them. Victory over sin is another certainty we can have if we are God’s children. It doesn’t mean we’ll never fall, and it certainly does not mean that we’ll not struggle with temptation – perhaps all the more because of it – but we will know victory and ought to know it.[27]

5:19 We know that we belong to God, but the Evil One controls the whole world.


Jesus told His followers that the time would come when Satan, the ruler of this world, would be dethroned and sent into exile. But until then, he still holds power and must be considered a force against God and His children.[28] So even Jesus admitted that His time for ministry here on earth was running out because the chief of this godless world was about to attack.[29] So if any believer gets scared because it looks like the prince of this world may win out, don’t be afraid because a godless society’s ruler has already been indicted and will be tried and convicted.[30] Thus, the Apostle John offers his ninth test, the Test of Antichrist.

So, why worry? Simply because if people take their eyes off of Jesus and focus on Satan, the fascinating god of ignorance because they think he’ll give them what they want, then they won’t have to try so hard to believe a Truth they can’t see. The problem is that the glittering display of worldly amusement has blinded them from seeing the sparkling glory of God’s message of salvation that illuminates the darkness through the Anointed One.

But, of course, once you see how unique the Gospel we preach is about the glory of the Anointed One, that’s the best portrait of God you’ll ever see.[31] But is this hypnotic experience under the devil’s spell only for specific individuals? No! Paul told the Ephesians that they once went along with the crowd and were just like all the others, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air, who is at work right now in the hearts of those who are against the Lord.[32]

If the Apostle John had any worries, they all disappeared after he revealed things to come. He tells us that he saw the great Dragon – the ancient Serpent, the one called Devil and Satan, the one who led the whole earth astray – get thrown out, and all his Angels thrown out with him crashing to earth. But just as Jesus had the Father send the Holy Spirit to continue the work of His Son, so Lucifer raised a strange beast that looked like a leopard but had bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth, rising out of the sea. It had seven heads and ten horns and ten crown upon its horns. And written on each head were blasphemous names, each defying and insulting God.[33]

But his terror didn’t last long. John says that he saw an Angel descending out of Heaven. Who carried the key to the bottomless pit and a huge chain. The Angel grabbed the Dragon, threw him in, and locked the door.[34] He remained locked up for a thousand years. It seemed that Satan didn’t learn his lesson and immediately began to prepare for another war.[35] God didn’t reveal this to John to scare people into heaven. Instead, it encourages believers that while sinners belong to the devil, they are God’s children. The Apostle John expressed this concept of God’s ownership when he wrote that for those who accepted Jesus as the Anointed One, He gave them the right to become God’s children. So, they became children of God, but not in how babies are usually born. It was not because of any human desire or plan. Instead, they were born of God.[36]

[1] Cf. 1 John 5:15

[2] Ibid. 2:29, See John 3:11; 21:24

[3] Lieu, Judith: A New Testament Library, I, II, 7 III John, op. cit., pp. 229-230

[4] 1 John1:7–10; 2:12; 3:4–5, 8–9; 4:10

[5] Ibid 1:8; 2:1-3

[6] Ibid. 3:6-9

[7] Cf. Numbers 18:22; Deuteronomy 22:26; Isaiah 22:14; Acts of the Apostles 5:1–11; 1 Corinthians 5:5; 11:29-30

[8] Leviticus 4:2, 13, 22, 27; 5:15-18; Numbers 15:27-31; Psalm 19:13

[9] Numbers 15:30-31; Deuteronomy 17:12

[10] Cf. Qumran, 1QS 5:11-12

[11] Burge, Gary M., The Letters of John (The NIV Application Commentary), op. cit., pp. 215-216

[12] 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:4, 18a

[13] Burton, Bruce B., 1,2,3 John (Life Application Bible Commentary) op. cit., pp. 118-119

[14] 1 John 3:2-3

[15] Cf. 1 Peter 1:5; Jude 1:24

[16] Akin, Daniel L., Exalting Jesus in 1,2,3 John (the Anointed One-Centered Exposition Commentary), op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[17] 1 John 5:15a; 19a; 20a

[18] See 1 John 4:2; 2 John

[19] Schuchard, Bruce G., Concordia Commentary, 1-3 John, op. cit., pp. 580-581

[20] John 14:30

[21] Ibid. 3:3-5

[22] 1 John 1:10

[23] Heaster, Duncan. New European Christadelphian Commentary: op. cit., The Letters of John, p. 80

[24] Cf. Romans 6:1

[25] 1 John 1:5-10

[26] Jobes, Karen H., 1, 2, and 3 John (Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament Series Book 18), op. cit., pp. 237-238

[27] Legge, David: Preach the Word, 1 John, op. cit., Sermon 16

[28] John 12:31

[29] Ibid. 14:30

[30] Ibid. 16:11

[31] 2 Corinthians 4:4

[32] Ephesians 2:2

[33] Revelation 13:1-2

[34] Ibid. 20:1-3

[35] Ibid. 20:7-8

[36] Ibid. 1:12-13

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s