By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson CXXXI) 05/09/23

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

With his stately speaking style, William M. Sinclair (1850-1917) offers the KJV reading of verse nineteen, “A godless society rests in wickedness,” which should read, “All society rests in the wicked one.” There is a constant danger lest Christians should forget this.[1] This portion of the Apostle John’s epistle ends with a climax: the Son is indeed come; He gave us the capability of seeing the true God, and in that Almighty Being, we are His through His Son. The most significant fact in John’s mind is that his Friend and Master of sixty years ago was the very Word made flesh.[2] [3]

As Germany’s premier biblical theologian Adolf Schlatter (1852-1938) said about of the post resurrection believers “The idea of resurrection establishes the connection between the two basic words of the promise ‒ the kingship of Christ ‒ and eternal life, of which the former refers to God’s eternal work and the latter to our own perfection. It is closely related to the promise of eternal life, but unites it with the final work of Christ and thereby makes a unified hope out of the two goals to which our desire is directed.”[4] 

One of the most influential Anglican reconcilers, Charles Gore (1853-1932) the Apostle John is to be complimented on drawing a tremendous contrast between the two societies: the Church’s supremacy over the evil one and all his works and the a godless society which lies in his grasp! To give this any credibility, John must have believed it to be true –that is, on the whole, notwithstanding the unworthy lapses of individual members of the Church, such as John implies, and despite respectable and noble lives among those who were not Christians. Even with these things, so long as becoming a Christian was a risky venture that no one would make who was not in earnest, the moral level of the Church was very high, and the contrast between the Church and a godless society continued sharp.

As we have seen, John loves to represent things as they are in their ultimate principles and issues and states the contrast at its sharpest. Later, “the Christianization of a godless society” (so-called) took place. It costs no more to be a Christian than to be anything else. The Church entered into a godless society like yeast in flour, but certainly no longer as “the salt,” “the light,” or “the city set on the hill[5] – all metaphors involving a sharp contrast. Unfortunately, the Church entered a godless society, or, more accurately, allowed a godless society to join the Church unchanged, unregenerated, and unashamed in character, although it was still evident that they lay in the grip of the evil one.

Unfortunately, some have made for themselves drab looking to a godless society. Such Christians, in name only, are neither incredibly sinful (as we think) nor extremely saintly (as we hope). Now, perhaps, there is an awakening. Perhaps, at least, we are more conscious than formerly that “a godless society lieth in the evil one.” But certainly, the Church still has a long way to travel before men can recognize the society of the redeemed.[6] So the question for us today is, “Has the Church changed in the twenty-first century from what it was in the nineteenth century as it relates to its effect on a godless society that lies in the clutches of the wicked one?’”

Beyond any doubt, remarks Alonzo R. Cocke (1858-1901), the Apostle John draws a strong contrast between believers and a godless society. Verse nineteen shows us how the assurance deepens. John can scarcely write a sentence without “we know.” “We know” introduces the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth verses. All the tremendous experimental relations of God’s children have become living realities, and out of them gush refreshing waters to satisfy the wants felt by many. In this case, the assurance is that “we are of God.”

This phrase is defined by the previous verse, “born of God.” God is the source of our life and the author of our Christian being. But a godless society, what of it? It “lies in the wicked one.” The word “wicked one” is not a neuter gender, as many suppose, but masculine. We are taught that a godless society is passive in the hands of Satan and permanently under his dominion. The expression “lies in” is expressed by a writer named Lincoln thus: “Warmed by his hellish heat; as we receive our life from God, so the wicked receive diabolical impetus from the wicked one as a sleeping child in the arms of a murderer, so are all the unrenewed in the power and control of Satan.”[7]

A man who appreciates Jesus’ embodiment of the divine transforming emotion on how we live in this world, Robert Law (1860-1919) makes a good point. Because he was evil, Cain hated and killed his brother, whose works were righteous, and a godless society, because it is subject to the evil one, still hates God’s children. So, on the contrary, the proof that we are born of a different spirit – that we have passed from spiritual death to eternal life – that we love the children of God – “the brethren.” The point of primary emphasis is not that “we have passed from death into life” (though this also is necessarily emphatic) but that the test by which this is ascertained is love to the brethren.2[8]

In reviewing what the Apostle John says in this verse, Archibald T. Robertson (1863-1934) notes that what the Apostle John says in verse nineteen paints a terrible picture of the Graeco-Roman world of the first century A.D. The Apostle Paul confirms this view in Romans chapters one and two, in addition to Roman poet Quintus Horace Flaccus (65 -8 BC),[9] Roman philosopher Lucius Annæus Seneca (BC 4-65 AD),[10] Roman poet Decimus Junius Juvenal (100-200 AD),[11] and Roman historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus (56-120 AD).[12] [13]

With characteristic fundamental thinking, Alan England Brooke (1863-1939) states that most Christians are conscious, immediately and intuitively, of the difference between the power which dominates their life and that which controls the energy, intellectual and moral, of a godless society. When speaking of “a godless society,” the Apostle John talks about those who remain estranged from God.[14] It is with them that we associate “worldly” things.

With an eye for detail, David Smith (1866-1932) contrasts the child of God with the viper brood of the Evil One, as those upon which the lion who goes around seeking whom he may devour[15] cannot lay his claws on them. Meanwhile, he cuddles a godless society in his lap while God’s children rest in His arms.[16] English writer and religious thinker William Penn (1644-1718) once said: “If our Hairs fall not to the Ground, less do we or our Substance without God’s Providence. Nor can we fall below the arms of God, how low soever it be we fall. For though our Savior’s Passion is over, His Compassion is not. That never fails His humble, sincere Disciples; In Him, they find more than all they lose in a godless society.”[17] [18]

As a spiritual mentor, Ronald A. Ward (1920-1986) reminds us that we are all boarn of God.[19] Therefore, the contrast between “us” and “them” is sharp. All worldly society lies as hostages on one side of the spiritual iron curtain in the grasp of the evil one: in enemy territory. But, on the other hand, all believers are free, safe, and secure in God’s hands in His heavenly kingdom.[20]

With academic precision, Stephen S. Smalley (1931-2018) notes that in verse nineteen, the Apostle John expresses in specific terms what he conveyed as a general principle in verse eighteen. In summary, “We know we are of God,’’ whereas “the whole world belongs to the devil.” This is the second use of “we know” in verses eighteen to twenty.[21] For the second time, it is used with reference to the confidence a believer comes to know who God’s children are and who belongs to the devil’s viper brood in verse nineteen. Finally, in its third appearance in verse twenty, the verb occurs in relationship to God’s Son.

So, the first part of verse nineteen echoes the first part of verse eighteen, and the second part of verse nineteen picks up the thought of the second part of verse eighteen. Here in verse nineteen, the use is absolute and not inferential; John is not saying that we can be assured of our spiritual origin since the conditions of verse eighteen are fulfilled. The first person plural “we are,” or, as in Smalley’s translation, “we derive” replaces the more generalized third person singular “anyone” of verse eighteen. In the first place, John describes the spiritual descent and consequent assurance enjoyed by members of his community as shared with all orthodox Christians[22] by drawing a contrast between such believers and the heretic followers “of a a godless society.”[23] [24]

An insistent believer in Grace, Zane Clark Hodges (1932-2008) sees the Apostle John declare in verse eighteen that the regenerate person’s new nature is inherently sinless because God’s “seed” is in them.[25] Knowledge of this truth is coupled with the conviction that “we know that we are.” This assurance (founded for each believer on God’s testimony[26] is accompanied by a realization that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.”[27] John was seeking in these summarizing statements to reinforce the readers’ consciousness that they are distinct from the satanically controlled world system and free from its power. They need not listen to worldly ideas advanced by the antichrists.[28] Nor need they surrender to worldly desires.[29] [30]

As a capable scriptural analyst, Ian Howard Marshall (1934-2015) finds the Apostle John’s second declaration to be a reminder that humanity is divided into two camps: those who belong to God and those who belong to evil. Since verse eighteen merely stated something true of anybody born of God, his second declaration in verse nineteen states that this principle is true of himself and his readers: we know that we are God’s children and can, therefore, claim the promises made to those born of God. By contrast, a godless society has lost its soul to the evil one.[31] [32]

As a seasoned essayist on the Apostle John’s writings, John Painter (1935) points out that the second part of verse nineteen of the successive “we know that” sentences move from a statement about everyone born of God to affirm “we are of God.” That is shorthand for “we are born of God,” “we are God’s children.” The absence of the opening Greek pronoun hēmeis (“we”)[33] throws the emphasis on “of God we are.”

This ties in with the contrast with a godless society that lies “in the [power] of the Evil One.” God keeps us from the grasp of the Evil One, but the whole world lies in his grip, entirely in his power. Here the sense of being of God includes the awareness that “we belong to Him” just as “the whole world belongs to the Evil One.” Nevertheless, Jesus, the Anointed One is the sacrificial payment “for the sins of the whole world.[34] That’s because the Father sent Him to be a godless society’s Savior.[35]

This suggests that a godless society is held somewhat unwillingly in the grip of the Evil One. So, Jesus came to take away their sins[36] and destroy the devil’s works.[37] Over against this view, which depicts a godless society as a victim in the grip of the Evil One[38] and be set free,[39] is the opponents’ view as false prophets, deceivers, and antichrists,[40] in whom the Spirit of the Antichrist abides. Against this force, John declares: “you have conquered them.[41] Also, “everyone who is born of God conquers a godless society.”[42] There is some indecision in the Church toward a godless society, as a victim to be saved and an enemy to be conquered. But the Apostle John leaves no doubt.[43]

Ministry & Missions Overseer Muncia Walls (1937) says that beginning with verse eighteen, the Apostle John begins the following three verses by emphasizing that we know something. This expression means “to have positive, absolute knowledge.” There is no doubt whatsoever in the mind of the person who has experienced the new birth. It is a remarkable statement from John concerning the condition of those who are not born again. He emphasizes with this assertion that there are only two categories of conditions, and all of us fit into one or the other of those categories. We are either saved, born again, or lost, lying in the wicked one. There is no neutral ground. [44]

As an articulate spokesman for the Reformed Faith movement, James Montgomery Boice (1938-2000) notes that the second of John’s affirmations is that “we are God’s children.”  He joins himself with his readers in this certainty. But where does the assurance come from? In the first instance, the certainty that the one born of God does not sin comes from the fact that Jesus (or God) guards the Christian. In this case, the confidence that “we are God’s children” comes from the fact that the tests of righteousness, love, and sound doctrine have been applied, and the results are positive. Once again, John leaves no room for a third alternative, for either a person is of God or the evil one.

From some people’s perspectives, the issues are often blurred, and they find it hard to tell whether one is of God or not. For many, good and evil, love and hate, truth and falsehood seem mixed. But that is no comfort nor an accurate portrait of the actual state of things. In God’s sight, there are only those who are his true children and those who are of a a godless society. Consequently, all Christians should know that they are of God. By God’s grace, the one who does not have this certainty should awake out of their sleep, turn from sin, and embrace the Lord Jesus as both God and Savior.[45]

[1] Cf. Galatians 1:4

[2] Cf. 1 John 1:1-2; 2:13, 22-23; 3:5, 8; 16, 23; 4:2; 9-10; 5:1, 5, 9, 11

[3] Sinclair, William M., New Testament Commentary for English Readers, Charles J. Ellicott, op. cit., Vol. 3, pp. 493-494

[4] Schlatter, Adolf: Das christliche Dogma, Calweg Verlag, Stuttgart, 1977, p. 540, [my translation]

[5] Matthew 5:13, 14

[6] Gore, Charles: The Epistles of St. John, op. cit., p. 216

[7] Cocke, Alonzo R: Studies in the Epistles of John; or, The Manifested Life, op. cit., pp. 136-137, Footnote, § Lincoln

[8] Law, Robert: The Tests of Life: A Study of the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 239

[9] See Horace: Satires: Bk 1, Satire I – On Discontent, The Miseries of the Wealthy

[10] See Seneca: Morals of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency, Published by Belford Clarke & Co. Chicago, 1882

[11] See the Satires of Juvenal, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1881

[12] See the Complete Works of Tacitus

[13] Robertson, Archibald T., Word Pictures in the New Testament, op. cit., p. 1973

[14] Brooke, Alan E., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Johannine Epistles, op. cit., p. 150

[15] 1 Peter 5:8

[16] Cf. Deuteronomy 23:27

[17] Penn, William: Some Fruits of Solitude, Headley Brothers, London, 1905, p. 31:35-37

[18] Smith, David: The Expositor’s Greek Testament, 1 John, op. cit., p. 199

[19] See John 8:47; 1 John 4:4-6

[20] Ward, Ronald A., The Epistles on John and Jude, op. cit., p. 59

[21] 1 John 5:18-20

[22] Ibid. 1:1-4

[23] Ibid. 5:19b; also 2:16, 19

[24] Smalley, Stephen S., Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 51, 1,2,3 John, op. cit., p. 304

[25] 1 John 3:9

[26] Ibid 5:9-13

[27] Ibid. 5:18

[28] Ibid. 3:7-8

[29] Ibid. 2:15-17

[30] Hodges, Zane C., Bible Knowledge Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.

[31] Cf. Mark 8:36

[32] Marshall, Ian Howard. The Epistles of John (The New International Commentary on the New Testament), op. cit., pp. 252-253

[33] Cf. the opening of 1 John 4:6

[34] 1 John 2:2

[35] Ibid. 4:14

[36] Ibid. 3:5

[37] Ibid. 3:8

[38] Ibid. 5:18

[39] Ibid. 4:14

[40] Ibid. 2:26; 3:7; 2 John 1:7

[41] Ibid. 4:4

[42] Ibid. 5:4-5

[43] Painter, John. Sacra Pagina: 1, 2, and 3 John: Volume 18, op. cit., loc. cit., Kindle Edition

[44] Walls, Muncia: Epistles of John and Jude, op. cit., p. 96

[45] Boice, James Montgomery: The Epistles of John, An Expository Commentary, op. cit., pp. 146-147

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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