There are some things in life we can live without—lots of them really. But there’s one thing we can’t do without—eternal life. John writes a letter in our New Testament, especially so we can be sure we have eternal life (1 John 5:13-21).
This life forever is not just living after we die. It’s personally knowing the God who made everything—and knowing him as our Father (John 17:3). And this is what Jesus promises to those who believe he is God’s Son (John 10:28).
We need this sense of permanence and of knowing our Maker, not just when our time comes to die, but for everyday living. We need it so we can be who we really are. Those who don’t know God as their Father, and who expect to be simply snuffed out after a few decades are not really ready to live (Hebrews 2:15).
We have a sense of eternity built into us (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Whole cultures and religions grow up around this reality, as well as many vague ideas. So, we need to know what is true.
Jesus shows us that the alternative to having eternal life is perishing or remaining under God’s judgement (John 3:14-18). He tells us he will be ‘lifted up’—a reference to his crucifixion—and that we need to look to him. Only Jesus, who has dealt with death, can promise eternal life and this is why we need to confess that he is God’s Son.
From one point of view this is very simple. We read or hear about Jesus. We are drawn to him. We believe God has sent him to us, that he is his Son. We are persuaded that he is speaking to us in love (John 6:68). We believe him. And we have eternal life.
But then, it’s not so simple. None of us comes to Christ naturally. It’s a gift (Matthew 11:27; John 10:29). If you find yourself confessing that Jesus is God’s Son, it’s because God has shown this to you, and drawn you to himself.
When this happens, everything in this life has an eternal feel to it. Nothing is just going to be snuffed out—not us, not what we’ve done, and not the relationships we have shared with others who have eternal life.
So, John is writing his letter to say we can be sure we have eternal life—that is, everyone who confesses that Jesus is God’s Son. John tells us three things about this eternal life—how it works out in three particular circumstances. (The references below are to this passage.)
First, when we pray. Second, when in see fellow Christians sinning. Third, when the world calls our faith fairy tales. Any of these things can threaten our confidence that we actually have eternal life.
So, first. We can expect God to hear our prayers (vv. 14-15). If we ask for things in line with God’s purposes, we will get what we have asked for.
If we want to work for a particular company, or play for a certain club, we would find out what they want, how they work, what their goals are. Then, we would throw ourselves into help make this happen.
It’s like this with our praying. We’ve found that God is trustworthy and generous. We know him as our Father. So, we find out what he is about, and then ask for things that fit his plan. And things happen.
This is deeply satisfying and very useful. But it’s also eternal—that is, what happens will be not just create history. It will be immortalized in God’s coming kingdom (Mathew 25:37-40; Revelation 14:13).
Then, second. We might be anxious when we see a fellow Christian caught up in some wrong-doing. But we can tell the difference between a sin that is fatal and one that isn’t (vv. 16-18).
Putting it simply, a person who commits a sin that leads to death doesn’t have eternal life. That’s obvious. But John has already told us that Christians do sin (1:8; 2:1) and feel guilty (3:20). But some sins don’t lead to death. And our prayers at this point can make a difference.
An example may help. Peter denies Jesus after promising that he will be faithful. Clearly, he sins.
But Jesus has already told him that he will pray for him—that his faith will not fail (Luke 22:32). He also anticipates his repentance and future helpfulness to other Christians. His sin does not cause him to lose eternal life. It isn’t a sin that results in death.
A sin that leads to death is one we won’t confess (1:9). It’s one we won’t believe Jesus dies for (2:1). It’s one we have no real intention of stopping (3:8-10).
But, if you or I have been drawn to Christ, we have been born into the Father’s family and can’t keep on sinning. We hate what we’ve done. We run to Christ, are washed clean and eagerly desire to remain so.
It’s only by knowing God and walking honestly before him that we can recognise the difference between sins. But any sinning remains dangerous. So, we pray for one another as Jesus prayed for Peter. I’m sure there are fellow Christians who have seen me playing with fire, and prayed that my faith would not fail.
Eternal life enables us to share with God in his great project to save his people. We pray. God gives life. Satan can’t ‘get to’ this person and take them captive.
And third. We can know we are genuine or real when the world calls our faith a fairy tale (vv. 19-20). Eternal life come to us with its own built-in authenticity.
John says there are three things we know are real. Translations usually read ‘true’ here but the word actually means real. [There are two Greek words for true: alétheia—the opposite of false, and aléthinos—the opposite of unreal. This is aléthinos.]
Christians know God. They know he is real. They understand that all reality begins with him and with our confession that this is so.
The world begins with what it can see and control. That’s what it calls real. Everything else, they say, arises from that—things like ideas, beliefs, ideologies and laws.
But the reality is that God has made the world. He is what is real. Everything else exists because he makes it. It’s the opposite of what the world is saying. Encountering God as Father through Jesus breaks through this lie and shows us God who is true, or real.
Then, we are in him who is true. This is because eternal life is a relationship. We don’t just know about God. We know him. And we know he knows us. We live in his presence and by his speaking and his loving.
If there is any reality about a Christian, this is it. We have all messed things up—badly. And we go on getting things wrong. Our reality is not what we are, or what we may promise to be. Just ask Peter.
Our genuineness is from being in him who is true (John could mean God or Jesus). For example, love is not from us. It’s from God (4:10).
It’s God who is real. And what he makes shares in that reality (3:9; 4:4-6). Our whole life is what it is because of Jesus Christ (cf. John 7:37-39). Nothing else can last forever.
That’s why we need Jesus to have eternal life. Only Christ can stand before God and hold his head high. We need to know and confess that he is the Son of God—the one who washes us clean with his blood.
Satan, by clever talk and deception presents an opposite view of what is real—but it’s only ideas—an ideology.
The world looks at us and only sees a human being but our life is ‘coming down’ from God. We can see the God who is real, and live in him. That’s reality! And all this happens simply by confessing that Jesus is God’s Son.
So, don’t settle for idols which are have no real correspondence to what is real (v. 21). They can’t offer eternal life.
The whole human race is divided into two groups—those who know God is real and that their life comes from God, and the rest of the world which ‘lies in the power of the evil one’.
Here’s how the comparison works out. Jesus is totally real. He has come, and has given understanding—the verbs indicate something that goes on being effective. Jesus is entirely authentic—unselfish, holy and powerful.
But Satan is pure sleight of hand, ambition and pride. Well may we shudder over what Satan is capable of and of what it means to be in his power (John 12:31).
So, let’s trust in the name of the Son of God. He has come, given us understanding to know the real God, and be in the real God through his Son. He is the real God and eternal life.