READ : 1 John 5:13-15, 18-21
What are you thinking as you face another new year? Are you confident, frightened, somewhere in between? Though the future is uncertain for everyone, let me tell you some things you can be sure of.
I was out somewhere and noticed a song playing in the background. I didn’t know it and wasn’t paying close attention, but then I heard the refrain. This wasn’t the normal pop song about love or good times. It was about the frailty of life. “Dust in the wind,” the song kept repeating; “that’s all we are is dust in the wind.” Our lives are fragile and impermanent. We are all slipping away like dust in the wind.
Can it be that another year has gone by already? And the year that lies ahead, what will it bring? A birthday, holiday or anniversary is a good moment to stop and take stock of your life. How do you feel about things right now? Are you happy? Are you content? Are you nervous about the future? Perhaps even frightened? After all, since no one can see what the future holds, trying to look ahead can fill us with uneasiness. What can you be sure of about the coming year? Can you be sure that you will keep your job? Can you be sure that you’ll keep your health or your family? Can you even be sure that you’ll be around to see this year end?
But there are some things we can be sure of beyond a doubt. What a relief it is to turn from fearful uncertainty about the future to the pages of the New Testament, where confidence and trust breathes from every page. Listen, for instance, to the apostle John:
I’m writing these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God. . . . so you will know that you have eternal life. There is one thing we can be sure of when we come to God in prayer. If we ask anything in keeping with what he wants, he hears us. If we know that God hears what we ask for, we know that we have it. . . . We know that . . . children of God do not keep on sinning. . . . We know that we are children of God. . . . We also know that the Son of God has come. He has given us understanding. Now we can know the One who is true. And we belong to the One who is true. We also belong to his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God. He is eternal life.
1 John 5:13-15, 18-21, NIrV
Did you catch the ring of certainty in a world where nothing seems certain? Over and over in these verses, the apostle says, “We know, we know, we know.” This deep and comforting assurance is within the reach of every Christian. John says he is writing to those “who believe in the name of the Son of God,” that is, in Jesus Christ. Does that describe you? Then the very same kind of confidence John is talking about can be yours. Let’s look at what Christians can be sure of. John tells us three things we can really know.
WE HAVE ETERNAL LIFE
First, we know we have eternal life (v. 13). This is the primary assurance, the most important one of all. If we believe in Christ we can know we have eternal life. John does not say we can become increasingly persuaded, or that we can have an ever stronger conviction that we could possibly be saved. He does not even say we can be sure that we will be saved some day. John says we can possess here and now the certainty that eternal life is already ours. This is for all believers, not just a few “super Christians.” Assurance is simply faith grown up to maturity. Faith says, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief,” like the man who once said that to Jesus. Mature faith says, “I am convinced that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the love of God in Christ,” as the apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8. When a great Christian pastor named Richard Baxter lay dying more than three centuries ago, somebody asked him how he was. “Almost well,” was his reply, meaning that he would soon be whole in heaven. That’s assurance!
John also tells us how such assurance is possible. Eternal life comes from knowing and belonging to God through Jesus Christ. This is eternal life, he says, to be in Christ through faith. Eternal life is not something which is handed out to Christians when they die as a sort of reward for good behavior or for accepting Christ. Eternal life is simply living the life of Christ. It belongs to him, and he shares it with us when we are united to him through faith.
For me as a Christian to say, “I hope some day I will have eternal life” would be like me as a husband saying, “I hope some day I will be married.” I am married. I have been married from the moment I was united to my wife, and I always will be married so long as we are together. In the same way, as a Christian I have eternal life. I have had it from the moment I was united to Christ by faith, and his promise is that I will never be separated from him or lose the life he gives me. It is not arrogance or presumption for any Christian to believe that he or she possesses eternal life; it is simple acknowledgment of the truth of God’s Word. Thus we can be sure of the most important thing of all, that we are saved. And if we’re sure of that, all the other uncertainties of life shrink to an appropriate size.
GOD HEARS OUR PRAYERS
The second fact we can know with certainty is stated this way. John writes, “There is one thing we can be sure of when we come to God in prayer. If we ask anything in keeping with what he wants, he hears us [and] we know that we have it.” We can know with certainty that God hears and answers our prayers. As Christians, we are sure, not just that the sound of our words comes to God’s attention, that he hears our prayer in that sense, but that he hears us favorably and will grant what we ask.
John lays down a specific condition for this assurance – we must ask according to God’s will. Prayer is not a magic wand for satisfying our personal desires or a handy tool for getting our own way. Prayer is the means God has given us for getting our minds and desires lined up with his. When we pray, we must be trying to shape our wills to God’s will, not bend his will to our own. Jesus himself set the example when he prayed to his Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” So this is the second thing we know for sure: that when we pray for God’s will to be done in our lives we will receive what we ask for.
“But,” you say, “that doesn’t help me very much. I don’t know what God’s will is for me, so I can’t pray for it and be sure it will happen.” If that’s your problem, look to the Bible for the plain guidelines that are there. There you will learn that God’s will is for you to know Christ and the joy of his love eternally. His will is that you be useful to him in his work in the world. Pray for those things and you will most certainly receive them. What confidence, what peace that assurance brings because then, we’ll also know that whatever happens, God will keep us safe! Whatever happens, God will use it for good in the lives of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
WE MUST BE RESPONSIVE AND RESPONSIBLE
There’s a third thing we also know according to the apostle John. We know that we must strive to meet God’s high standards. If I am fully assured of my salvation, far from becoming careless about the way I live, I have a firm conviction that I must live in such a way as shows gratitude to God and brings honor to his name. John puts it this way in verse 18: “We know that those who are children of God do not keep on sinning.” Anyone who is truly a child of God will show a distinct family resemblance to him in behavior. This is not to say, of course, that Christians never sin at all. Of course, we fall into sin; John himself told us in the beginning of his letter that those who claim to be without sin are self-deceived (1 John 1:9). But no one belonging to God will persist in a chronic life of sin; that cannot be. It is an absolute and universal obligation for all believers that the new birth must issue in new behavior. We cannot claim to be children of God if we remain the friends of sin.
HOW CAN I BE SURE?
So as Christians we may be sure that, no matter what happens, we have eternal life. No matter how uncertain life may be, God is with us and will always hear and answer our prayers. And no matter what we may have to do or endure, our primary call is to right living.
But how can we be sure of all those things? It’s all very well and good for John to say we know we have eternal life, but how can I be certain this applies to me? How can I know with confidence that I have eternal life? What I need is a ground for my assurance, something more than just the hope that I too might be included in all these wonderful things he’s writing about.
Too often we seek that assurance in the wrong way, and we end up with only doubt and fear. I once heard about an elderly man with no immediate family who decided to leave his large estate to charity, so he drew up and signed his own will and then, because he wanted to confirm it in the best way he could think of, he went and had it certified by an official. The trouble was that the law doesn’t require that a will be certified. It requires the signatures of two witnesses. When that man died, his will was declared invalid, and the distant relatives who inherited his money were only too glad to ignore his wishes and keep it for themselves.
That old man based his assurance on what he thought would be sufficient grounds. He was wrong. Sometimes we do the same thing with our assurance of salvation. We appeal to our experience. “I know I’m saved because I once made a commitment to Christ,” we say. Or we base our confidence on our feelings, “I know I’m saved because I have joy and peace within, and I can sense God’s nearness.” Those things are nice, but they may not last. And they’re not a good basis for assurance about our salvation because in the final analysis, salvation doesn’t depend upon what we do, but on what God has done for us. Our confidence, to be secure, has to be based on his Word, not our feelings.
John said: “I am writing these things to you . . . that you may know you have eternal life” (v. 13). The whole purpose of his letter was to provide assurance. A healthy sense of spiritual security is based primarily on God’s promises from his Word. Faith involves simply believing that God means what he says. We say things all the time that we don’t really mean, but God never does that. People make promises they never intend to keep; they surround their pledges with hazy details and escape clauses until scarcely anybody’s word can be trusted.
But that isn’t God’s way. He is “the One who is true.” His promises are always clear and trustworthy. On the day of Pentecost in the very first Christian sermon, Peter repeated a promise God first had made through the prophet Joel: “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” That promise is true. There is no catch or trick to it; it means just what it says. If you call on the name of the Lord Jesus, you will be saved. Of this you may be absolutely sure. And in an uncertain world I can’t think of anything more important than that.
You and I, only “dust in the wind”? Not if we belong to the One who is true, and to his Son Jesus Christ.