What Christians Know (1 John 5:18-20)


What do Christians know?

According to 1 John 5:18-20, they know three things:

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. We know also 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—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

The first thing Christians know is the relationship between belief and behavior. Throughout 1 John, John argues that belief in God must result in godly behavior. There is an intimate and necessary connection between faith and works, in other words. In verse 18, John states the matter quite forcefully: “anyone born of God does not continue to sin.” I don’t think that John literally means Christians never sin after the moment of their conversions. Rather, I think he means that sin does not have an abiding power over them. Why? “The one who was born of God keeps him safe.” That is, Jesus protects Christians from any “harm” the “evil one” can do to them. It is Jesus himself who makes possible the ultimate victory of Christians over sin.

The second thing Christians know is the assurance of their salvation. According to verse 19, “We know that we are children of God.” Notice what a strong statement this is! Know. Not think or believe or hope. “Know” is what philosophers call a “success term.” It indicates the successful accomplishment of a desired action. In this case, Christians have succeeded in attaining assurance of salvation. They know they are saved because they have put their trust in Jesus Christ. He is the one who makes knowledge of salvation actual.

And, therefore, it is unsurprising that the third thing Christians know is really a person, Jesus Christ, who makes knowledge of the first two things possible. Verse 20 says, “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true,” in other words, God. The reason Jesus Christ entered human history and took on a human nature was to give us the knowledge leading to salvation. He is in the position to give this knowledge because he himself is “the true God and eternal life.”

Obviously, these three pieces of knowledge are tremendously important from a personal and devotional point of view. What a comfort it is to have a personal relationship with Jesus, to receive assurance of salvation, and to be empowered for godly living! And yet, please do not fail to see the theological intensity of John’s personal and devotional remarks. They go straight to the heart, for example, of the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation. Doctrine determines spirituality; spirituality reflects doctrine. Truth is practical, and practicality must be truthful. That also is something Christians know.

Behavior, the Test of Belief (1 John 2:3-6)


One of the most common complaints about us Christians is that we are hypocrites. We believe one way but behave another. Unfortunately, this complaint is often true.

In 2005, Ron Sider published The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, which sifted through numerous studies on the belief-behavior gap of American Christians. Here’s his conclusion:

Whether the issue is divorce, materialism, sexual promiscuity, racism, physical abuse in marriage, or neglect of a biblical worldview, the polling data point to widespread, blatant disobedience of clear biblical demands on the part of people who allegedly are evangelical, born-again Christians.

What are the causes of this “widespread, blatant disobedience”? Several come to my mind very quickly: Preachers who don’t talk about ethics and morality, church leaders who don’t provide accountability for their members, a greater desire for personal pleasure than principled living, an ingrained sin nature that’s just plain hard to eradicate, and a pervasive easy-believism among people in the pews.

John takes aim at easy-believism in 1 John 2:3-6, so let’s focus on that cause. Here’s what he writes:

We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

Easy-believism begins with a claim to know God. And it is compatible with knowing quite a bit of theological information about God. But scratch beneath the surface of that knowledge and you’ll see that it’s only head deep. It doesn’t affect the heart and its desires nor the hand and its behaviors. That’s why it’s easy. Anyone can acquire information about God—whether trivial or profound in nature. True knowledge of God is not just knowledge about him, however; it is knowledge of him, it is a life-changing, personal relationship. And that relationship changes the way you behave.

John states his basic principle in verse 3: “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” The test of belief in God, in other words, is godly behavior. If we have faith in God, then his power should begin working in our lives to root out sin and plant seeds of holiness.

This is not just a passive process for us, however. When God saves us by grace, he asks us to do some work. John writes, “if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.” In Greek, “the love of God” may refer to God’s love for us or our love for God. While the NIV opts for the former, I think the latter is the more appropriate sense here. Our obedience to God helps us love him more.

The primary example of such perfect love is Jesus, of course. He is the model for our lives, which is why John writes: “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” Jesus was not an easy believer. There was no belief-behavior gap in his life. And if we follow him, that gap should start to close in our lives as well.

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