Life forever. What does it look like?

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 we 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.

God’s love for fearful people

Uncertainty is part of life, but there’s some things God wants us to be sure of. In this chapter of John’s letter (1 John 4:14-21), there are two that he mentions. First, we can be sure we are loved by God (v. 16). And because of this, we can be confident to stand before God on judgement day (v. 17).

Being confident about what will happen to us when we die gives us confidence about life generally. And its God’s love working in us that will make the difference.

It is fashionable in our communities to ridicule the idea of life after death and a judgement to come.  Some think it’s a cruel fiction to keep people under control. Many treat it as a joke.

But a judgement day is coming. Jesus speaks about it often. And the apostles are clear about it. God has raised Jesus from the dead to give us clear evidence that there is life after death. And Jesus is the one to whom we will have to answer (Acts 17:31).

Whatever we think about this, we can’t escape the reality of being responsible to God. He’s made us so that we are always aware that we should be doing good things and turning away from what is bad—even if our definition of this is different to God’s. We have a conscience. We are incurably moral!

Having a bad conscience is painful. Some people spend years ‘making up’ for what they have done. And keeping a good conscience is hard work. We have to have reasons why our critics are wrong.

Conscience is like an early warning system—an alarm to tell us that danger is coming. If we do wrong, we fear we will get what we deserve. 

Conscience is also like a shadow. If we are in the light, it’s there. God shines on us—his creatures. And his light casts a shadow we can’t avoid. We know we’re responsible to someone. 

Many try to deaden this sense, but it turns up anyway. The fear of there being a God to whom we must answer one day won’t go away (Heb. 2:14-15).

That is, unless we discover that we are loved by God. Here’s some points that John makes. They all begin with ‘c’ to help keep them in mind.

First, Christ has come. God Son has come into this world to be its Saviour (v. 14). John has seen him. He’s telling us what he’s heard and touched. And there’s no-one else who can promise us eternal life (John 6:68)—that is, life beyond judgement.

Sending his Son is a very personal act for God to take and he means us to take notice (Luke 20:13).

He sent him among us to make propitiation, or be a sacrifice for our sins (v. 10). Propitiation is Jesus preventing God’s anger from reaching us. 

God feels very deeply about our sins. We try to be a small target and make little of what we do wrong. But God is offended by our ignoring him. If he wasn’t, he would be saying that we don’t matter. But we do matter to God—and what we do matters. That’s why our conscience tells us our sinning is not OK. The ‘shadow’ is there. 

And Jesus sees this is the trouble we’ve got. He wants us to know his Father like he does and is willing to bear God’s offence with us—instead of it reaching us. Everything here is very personal.

Second, we confess that Jesus is the Saviour of the world (v. 15).

Confessing something like this is more than just doing some history or theology. We’ve discovered God loves us and is speaking to us. We know Jesus is his Son. We know he’s laid down his life for us. From now on, God is very close and personal.

We sometimes talk about people bouncing off each other like billiard balls. But the gospel penetrates our exterior toughness. We were being stalked by our ‘shadow’. But then, a Saviour is announced. He comes closer to us than this shadow. And we find ourselves confessing, gratefully, that Jesus is God’s Son.

Third, we are being courted (vv. 15-16). This may not the best word to use but it does start with ‘c’! 

When we confess that Jesus is God’s Son, we have come to live in God and God has come to live in us. This is the language of love—personal giving to one another. We have come to know the love God has for us. This is what happens in a courtship.

In fact, we are in a covenant with God—like a marriage. And the bond is validated by Christ’s blood. That’s more than courting, but in fact, we are discovering love. God is giving to us what is precious to him and what we deeply need. God is living for us and we are now living for God.

Fourth, all this leads to confidence.

John tells us two things that will give us confidence. 

We—on earth, are like Jesus—in heaven. Think about this. Jesus is in God’s presence—magnificent in holy victory. He’s made an end of the offence we caused God. And God loves his Son for what he has done. And the Son is delighting in that! 

And we are like that—now, in this world! That is, God’s love for us and delight in us is the same as it is for his Son. We are accepted ‘in the Beloved’ Son (Ephesians 1:6). 

Then, this amazing love of God is ‘made complete among us.’ What starts in heaven is now operating among us. We know God is true, we know what he has done, and we love. Love has changed our whole situation. Bitterness, suspicion, anger and envy are gone.

And so has fear! Love throws fear out of the picture. We are ready for judgement day (v. 17)—happy to meet God. 

God’s love has landed, not just on our planet but right here. He lives in us so that his love is formed in us and among us. And we live in him, dependently and gratefully.

And the result of all this is confidence for judgement day! People with confidence like this are also ready for life here and now. 

We all have fears to face—of what happens in our world, of what the doctor might say, of what our family is doing or how the bills will be paid. But none of this comes as accusation and blame. That’s been settled. We know where we stand—with God. And we have access to his grace.

We are ready to serve God and our neighbour. We’ve heard the early warning of judgement and run to Christ. We know that the shadow we make is created by a Light we now know as our Saviour.

Obey Christ, and know you belong to him

There’s nothing more important than to know that we belong to Christ. While we can trust ourselves, that’s what we tend to do. While we can trust—or demand—that governments keep us ‘safe’, that’s what we tend to do.

But in the real world—the one God makes and rules, we need an Advocate. And we need to know that we know him.

John tells us how. We keep his commandments (2:3-6), particularly the command to love one another.

God never thinks obedience to him is hard (Deuteronomy 30:11-14). And Christ says it is easy to learn from and to follow him (Matthew 11:28-30). It’s not an accomplishment. It’s the way to live.

Here’s how it works.

Loving one another is what we learn to do when we first become Christians. Jesus teaches this and says it’s the way we relate to him and to the Father (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10).

These verses are amazing. We already know of the Father’s love for us as sinners, but now Jesus is telling us about the love he and his Father will have for us when we love him. It’s the certainty of this love relationship that we need if we are going to walk securely.

This command is new—or fresh. It’s not just something to remember and do. Christ is alive, shining on us, bringing us to life. As we enjoy him and love one another, the hateful darkness of sin and hate is being pushed back. His command is always coming to us, and being effective!

All of this is happening because Jesus reveals God’s love to us. This love is powerful, and costly. So, we love him! We like what he says. And we respond to his love by doing what he asks.

All this has a profound effect on us. Christ may have seemed distant, but now he is near. Christ’s loving is real. And so is ours! We are living in the same way Jesus did—loving our neighbour.

John’s doesn’t say we are doing this perfectly but that God’s love has done its work in us. After what we’ve been told about confessing our sin, John would hardly be telling us we’re already perfect! But our loving is real!

When we love like this, we’re in the light and don’t fall over hidden obstacles. Hatred, or self-interest, blinds us to what is happening around us, and in us. It leads to confusion. But love—coming from Christ and being passed on by us—helps us to see clearly.

On the other hand, if we pretend to know Christ and don’t like what he says, we’re not being real. We’re believing a lie, and we’re living it as well. Falsehood has invaded our inner life. How we need this love of Christ—in us! The world becomes confused by trying to make its own truth and its own love. But through obedience to Christ, we find certainty, purpose and hope. And all this, not because we are perfect. It works because the true light is shining, changing us, and because it reaches out to our broken world.

Don’t be fooled. Stay in the light!

Everyone knows that stumbling around in the dark can be dangerous. Things seem to be different from what they are. There are no reference points. And we don’t like being confused.

The same is true about being ‘in the dark’ about God. It is impossible to know where we are unless God himself is the light.

We not only need this light, we need to be walking in it. But there are false stories around that may keep us walking in the dark. So, John tells us what the light is, and explains how certain lies keep us in the dark (1 John 1:5—2:2).

What’s happening here is like a child who’s done something wrong and is lying to his or her parents about it. There’s no relationship happening! But then, the whole matter comes out into the light, and is dealt with. True fellowship is restored—often to the delight of the child as well as the parents.

So, here is what Jesus came to tell us.

God is light, with no darkness anywhere.  In other words, God is always true, and wholly good. There is nothing in him that isn’t. Jesus is telling us about God as only he can.

And Jesus doesn’t just teach this. He demonstrates it. He is this light for everyone (John 9:5), showing that God is true and good. And he also reveals what is not true and good.

Many avoid what Jesus reveals, or they oppose it, because they live in their own bubble of being religiously correct and don’t like this exposure.

Here’s where the false claims begin. We may say that how we live doesn’t matter. We only need to have an ‘experience’ of God, or feel that he is near. If this is what we think, we are in the dark.

Or, we may say we are basically good—a few failures perhaps, but nothing that should be added up against us. Again, we fool ourselves.

Again, we may say we don’t do anything wrong. In this case, we’re saying God is wrong, not us. There won’t be any fellowship here.

These claims, or something like them, can keep us from seeking a Saviour. Or, they can keep us from seeing anything special about having fellowship with God.

John gives us a very different way to walk—in the light of God revealed by Jesus. God himself walks in his own light. He has total integrity. And he calls us to join him. Here’s how it works.

First, if we let Jesus show us who God is, and walk in that, and admit the mess it shows we are in, we have fellowship with each other. Self-deception keeps us from God and also from being real with other people. But confession brings us to God (Revelation 3:20).

Second, we are forgiven. Our sins are washed clean—all of them. It’s not our blood that is spilled to make up for what we’ve done wrong. The blood of Jesus washes them away.

Think of Peter getting his feet washed (John 14:3-10). He wanted to be in charge but Jesus must wash his feet. Only Jesus can make Peter clean. This is what we all need to hear.

When God brings us into his light, he’s not wanting to make us squirm but to gain our company. We think exposure will damage our self-respect and confidence—that we’ll be condemned.

The opposite is true. Jesus says that whoever does what is true comes to the light, and is not condemned. What we do of ourselves is false. What we do in God—including confessing our sins—is real (John 3:19-21).

Third, we are forgiven so we won’t sin again (John 8:11). But then, we do. And the faithful and just God has this covered. This walking in the light is not something we do alone.

Jesus is our Advocate—and he is utterly righteous in who he is and in what he does.

He has deflected the wrath that was falling on us by becoming our sin, and then receiving in his body all that should have happened to us. That’s what propitiation means. It was not comfortable for Jesus to walk in the light of God’s righteousness. But he’s made it a welcome place for us.

So, this is the message we have heard from Jesus. God is light—the most wonderful light we could ever know. Here, confusion about God, about ourselves, and where we fit, are all resolved.

This is the Father who wants our company. And he has created a family in which we have fellowship with one another.

If it’s not God, you can’t be sure

John writes a letter to Christians—people who trust in Jesus as God’s Son. He wants them to know they have eternal life (5:13). He wants us, not just to believe, but to be sure.

He needs to do this because other mischievous ideas are being promoted that will not have the power to sustain their faith, hope and love. The gospel is a ‘word of life’—a message that creates what it says. It’s not just information or advice. We need to hear God’s Son speak, and live (John 5:25).

John gets straight to the point in this first section (1 John 1:1-4). He’s knows what he is talking about. He’s seen and heard it for himself. And he’s been appointed to tell us.

We need to hear this word because it’s impossible to work up a Christian confidence from where we are. John starts by giving us four basic certainties.

First, if something is true, it must always have been true. This message comes ‘from the beginning’. It’s always been this way and it’s eternal.

The similarity of this statement with the beginning of John’s Gospel shows he is referring to when the world is made. Jesus is God’s Word, bringing the world into existence. He is with God and is God. We are alive because we’ve been created. So now, if we are going to be sure of eternal life, it will have to be because God makes it happen.

Second, this ‘word of life’ has come among us. It’s actually Jesus—the person. John remembers the sound of his voice. He remembers seeing and touching him. He may be remembering the day when Jesus asks his disciples to touch him and give him some food. He has been raised from the dead and wants to assure them he is not a ghost. Our faith is based on physical evidence.

John has written a whole Gospel to make this point (John 20:21). Here, he is just saying that it is so. So, we can be sure God is speaking to us through Jesus—God the Son—as a human being. We don’t ‘hear’ like the apostles did. We were not present to see Jesus raised from the dead. But we are blessed by hearing what the apostles pass on to us (John 20:29).

Third, God is calling us to share life with him. He exists and lives as a fellowship of persons—Father and Son, and what happens between them is important for us. (Later, John will talk about the Spirit as well.). By speaking to us, he is bringing us into that relationship.

We actually know God the Father, and we know his Son (John 14:21-23). We know the love between them. We know we are included in this fellowship of the Father with the Son—if you like, in the same way that children know they are secure when their father and mother love each other.

We are created to be ready for this relationship. Any ideology or doctrine that doesn’t do this can’t be true. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son (John 17:3). We don’t just need reliable facts or ideas. We need to come home!

Fourth, sharing this word with others brings a lot of joy. And why not. God himself is our confidence. We’re not asking others to think the same as us but to share what we’re in. Our confidence is an overspill of this joy. And it brings joy to others. Uncertainty may have been the great spoiler of life, but now we’ve got something to offer.

In this way, we become part of God’s family where the relationships are real because we all hear the same Father speaking to us through his Son. We have discovered true community—something eternal and authentic.

We need this message deeply. The alternative is trying to suck life out of what has been made. And this is where confusions arise. God’s gifts in this world are good, but he hasn’t put everything we need there. We need him.

There’s much more John wants to share with us about being sure of God. The next section tells us how to be sure we are walking with God.