1 John 5
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
Christopher Bass has written an interesting book entitled That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John. The thesis of his book is, “No other book of the New Testament speaks of the believer’s confidence or assurance of salvation as frequently and explicitly as the first letter of John, for the predominant theme of the entire letter is Christian certainty.” Bass’s concludes his book by saying, “perseverance in righteousness can never be viewed as the ground of the believer’s assurance. Therefore, as noted at the outset of this study, assurance of eternal life as taught in the first letter of John is fundamentally grounded in the work of Christ and supported in a vital yet subsidiary way by the lifestyle of the believer.”
He begins his first chapter with a quote from Thomas Brooks that was said “more than 350 years ago”:
The being in a state of grace makes a man’s condition happy, safe, and sure; but the seeing, the knowing of himself to be in such a state, is that which renders his life sweet and comfortable.
I believe that is true. A lack of assurance of salvation, a lack of truly knowing that you are saved leads to anxiety. Anxiety erodes confidence and eroded confidence creates fear. But the child of God is not to live in fear. He or is to live joyfully knowing that God is with him or her and for him or her in and through Christ Jesus.
The problem, however, is that we erode our own confidence through our own sinfulness. We create our own anxiety and fear. As we begin this final section of the book of 1 John, however, note that John once again returns to the idea of confidence and certainty. In short, we can know that we are secure in the arms of Jesus if we have truly trusted in the Lord.
If you have trusted in Jesus, you can know that you have eternal life.
John makes this argument initially by offering it in the form of a rationale for writing the book.
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life.
Edward McDowell, commenting on the phrase “that you may known that you have eternal life,” writes, “these faithful believers shall know (go on knowing, know out of a steady state of mind, oida) that you have (continually) eternal life. By eternal (aionios) life the writers of the New Testament mean life that is endless (as to time) and life that is God-breathed (as to quality).”
In a sense, then, confidence and knowing is why John writes at all. That knowing is based on our having “believe[d] in the name of the Son of God.” If we have embraced Jesus in faith, we can know that we will be saved. John has spoken of such confidence before. For instance, in 1 John 2 he wrote:
28 And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
The children of God do not cower in fear at the thought of the return of Jesus. The famed Southern author Pat Conroy once wrote that the most terrifying words of his youth were the words of his sister announcing, “Daddy’s home!” So terrible was the relationship between that father and son that the son cowered at the approach of his father. Why? Because he was unsure whether or not his father would treat him with love or cruelty. In Conroy’s case it is perhaps more accurate to say that he was sure he would not be treated with love!
How different is the position of the Christian. We do not fear the return of Jesus. We eagerly await it and long for it. Why? Because He comes with love for His own even as He comes with judgment for the wicked of the earth. The Church does not possess arrogance but it does possess confidence.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul wrote specifically of the confidence that deacons would have before the Lord Jesus.
13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The principle can be applied to all believers: when we follow Jesus and serve Him, when we reveal that we are His, we have great confidence and faith!
It might be said that the book of Hebrews is one of the great confidence books of the Bible. Consider.
6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.
“Hold fast” to your confidence in Christ.
“Draw near” in confidence to Jesus.
“Enter the holy places” with confidence.
Do not “throw away” your confidence.
You were not saved to live in fear! You were not saved to wonder if you will be saved!
Hear the note of confidence in Paul’s great declaration of Romans 10:9-10:
9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
The confident knowledge of our salvation is grounded in the fact that God hears us.
On what basis does our confidence rest? It rests on the basis of the person, office, finished work, and continuing ministry of Jesus Christ. But what does the work of Christ accomplish for us? It accomplishes a relationship with the living God. And what is the basis of any good relationship? Communication grounded in love. It is telling, then, that John grounds our confidence in the fact that God hears when His children call upon His name!
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.
Notice first the qualification for prayer: “if we ask anything according to his will.” Our communication with God rests not on the manipulation of the divine will to our own selfish desires. It rests on our own conformity to the perfect will of God and our consequent asking in accord with His will. Prayer, then, is obedience and faith. The Venerable Bede spoke of this crucial qualification of prayer like this:
John holds out to us the great assurance that we can expect to receive heavenly blessings from the Lord and that whatever we ask for here on earth will be given to us as long as we ask for it in the right way. This is in full agreement with what Jesus said in the Gospels: “I say to you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it and you will.”
William Barclay points out that “[f]our times in his writings John lays down what might be called the conditions of prayer.” These are:
- Obedience (1 John 3:22)
- Remaining in Christ (John 15:7)
- Praying in His name (John 14:14)
- Praying in accordance with the will of God (1 John 5:14)
Yes, we must “ask for it in the right way,” that is, in accordance with His will and in faith and obedience. And when we ask thus, God hears us.
We have confidence because we know God hears us. Put another way, if we did not know that God heard us we would lose all confidence. We can see this dynamic at work on Mt. Carmel in the great showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. As the prophets of Baal call on the name of Baal they are met with silence. As a result, Elijah mocks the deafness of their god. We read of this in 1 Kings 18.
26 And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.
The final words of that text are devastating and enlightening: “No one answered; no one paid attention.” Of course, we know why: no one was there! As the deafness of Baal was made manifest in the absence of his hearing and answering his frantic prophets, their confidence decreased. They had placed their confidence in the air, in nothing, in a void.
Not so, the children of God. Even when we fear that God might not be listening, the confident assurance that He is listening wins out. Watch, for instance, the progression of thought in Psalm 28.
1 To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. 2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
6 Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. 7 The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. 8 The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. 9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
“Be not deaf to me…Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard…”
Here is why we have confidence: God is here and God hears us. We are not like the prophets of Baal. We are not screaming into the void. We are rather calling upon the name of our heavenly Father who loves us and who hears us!
The confident knowledge of our salvation is grounded in the fact that God answers us.
Not only does God hear but He also answers.
15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
The condition of verse 14 applies to verse 15’s “whatever we ask”: we must ask “according to His will.” In doing so, He hears and He answers. Marianne Meye Thompson observes that “the if-clauses [i.e., “if we ask anything according to His will] do not project uncertainty or contingency, but are ‘expectational’…and can be translated ‘whenever.’” She continues:
It is assumed that our prayers will be made according to [God’s] will. As noted above, this was the qualification of the prayer of Jesus, whose will was always one with that of the Father (Jn 4:34; 5:30), who himself did the will of God in completing the work that brings eternal life (6:38-40) and whose unity with God was manifested in God’s “listening” to him (compare 9:30-33; 11:41-42; 12:27-30). That God heard the prayers of Jesus is taken as evidence that Jesus was intimately related to God and that his purpose and mission were at one with the will of God.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary makes the interesting point that “Jewish tradition allowed that some very pious teachers could receive from God almost anything they asked because of their intimate relationship with him, but never applied this possibility to the majority even of the pious.” We might say that there is a kind of scandalous populism to this idea: whoever calls on the name of God according to His will will have their request! Not just the priests. Not just the holy men. Not just the special. All who are in Christ can now call on the name of God.
If we ask according to God’s will, “we have the requests that we have asked of him.” John said the same in 1 John 3 when he wrote:
21 Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; 22 and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.
Here again, righteousness is combined with confidence and our prayers being answered. To live rightly before God is to walk in harmony with His will. To walk in harmony with His will is to have confidence in our relationship with God. On that basis, then, we pray in accordance with His will and know that He will grant the request.
In a sense, then, we might say that true prayer is God speaking through us to God, for it is only the heart that is fully indwelt by Jesus Christ that can truly pray in accordance with the will of God. This is precisely what Paul was getting at in Romans 8.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Notice that Paul (a) assumes our ignorance concerning how to pray, (b) announces that the Spirit intercedes for us, (c) proclaims that the Spirit’s intercession is “for the saints” and “according the will of God.” God therefore intercedes with God according to the will of God through us and for us. In other words, God is not playing a cruel game, holding just out of reach some secret hidden will that we cannot grasp and then rejecting our prayers on that basis. Rather, God is with us, within us, working through us to help us pray according to the Father’s will!
God helps us pray according to God’s will because God desires for us to have that which is best for us!
How can this not breed confidence?
Jesus Christ has given Himself on Calvary for you.
Jesus Christ has risen victoriously so that you might have eternal life.
The Holy Spirit has been given to you as an indwelling gift of illumination, conviction, and transformation.
All of these gifts flow from the heart of God Himself who loves you.
He has called upon you to call upon His name.
He hears us.
He even helps us to pray because we do not know how to do so.
The Helper, the Spirit, knows the mind and will of God and so helps bring us to a point where we can pray in His will.
God helps us pray in God’s will…then God answers our prayers!
Do not fear, Church. This is the God you worship. This self-giving, revealing, empowering, eye-opening, ear-opening God is the God you worship.
If you have truly trusted in Christ, you will be saved!
 Christopher D. Bass, That You May Know. NAC Studies in Bible & Theology. Series Ed., E. Ray Clendenen. (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2008), p.1,194.
 Edward A. McDowell, “1-2-3 John.” The Broadman Bible Commentary. Gen. Ed., Clifton J. Allen. Vol. 12 (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1972), p.223.
 Gerald Bray, James, 1-2 Peter, 1-3 John, Jude. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed., Thomas C. Oden. New Testament, XI (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ), p.226.
 William Barclay, Letters of John and Jude. The Daily Study Bible. (Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press, 1970), p.136.
 Marianne Meye Thompson, 1-3 John. The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Ed., Grant R. Osborne. Vol. 19 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, ), p.139-140.
 Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.299.