Amen. Turn with me to 1 John 5, and our reading will comprise - or at least our text for consideration - of verses 13 to 17, but I think we should read from verse 1 to get the flow of John's argument, which will be important later on as we consider some, not controversial as such, but difficult portions of this passage, indeed this book and the whole of the Bible. Our title tonight is 'Sure Life and Prayer'.
Verse 1 of chapter 5: "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth". Verse 8: "And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it. All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death" - and we'll end our reading at verse 17.
As I'm sure you can appreciate, being the last verses of this last chapter, John is now concluding his letter. He is doing it by a discussion relating to five certainties that we can have in our Christian faith. We've seen already that the Christian faith, the authentic, historical, biblical faith is what has taken up John's attention again in this last chapter. So he gives us five certainties of this true Christian faith, and it's a powerful climax, as we shall see, to all that he has said already in this epistle of certainty and assurance. He hammers these certainties home by using the word 'know', seven times in these verses - verses 13 to 21, right to the end - he says 'We know', or he uses the word 'know'.
The first certainty is found in verse 13: 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God'. It is the certainty of the assurance of the possession of eternal life, knowing that you're born of God, knowing that you are saved and have partaken of salvation that Christ has purchased for you through faith. Then the second certainty that he mentions is found in verses 14 to 17, we'll not read all the verses as we'll consider them later on, but they relate to the certainty of answered prayer. One evidence that we are born of God is the fact that He hears us, and verse 14 is intrinsic: 'This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us'.
Then the third certainty is found in verse 18 that we didn't read tonight: 'We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not'. Whosoever is born of God and is begotten of God keeps himself, 'and that wicked one toucheth him not'. Victory over sin is another certainty that we can have if we are truly the children of God. It doesn't mean we'll never fall, and it certainly does not mean that we'll not struggle with temptation - perhaps all the more because of it - but we will know victory, and we ought to know it.
Then fourthly in verse 19 he says again: 'And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness'. This is the certainty that the Christian belongs to God, he is owned of God - what a certainty that is: to be able to say 'I am His and He is mine'! Then in verse 20 we read the fifth and final certainty that he gives to us in this conclusion: 'And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life'. The fifth certainty, that Jesus Christ is the true God. Of course, that had been doubted by some of these false teachers that had been infiltrating and influencing the church at Ephesus and many other of those infant churches.
It's true to say, isn't it, that 1 John is a breath of fresh air in this respect alone: that it is filled with absolute certainty. In contrast, there's not a lot of certainties about the day and age in which we live. Moral absolutes are not believed in any longer; spiritual convictions, people being convinced of them, are frowned upon and viewed as dubious; and personal confidence, to be able to say 'I know something', is seen as blatant arrogance, pride, or presumption. At worst certainties are seen as ignorance, and at best they are viewed by those in our world as naivete.
It has to be said that most, even some professed Christians today, will tell you that there are not many things that we can be certain about in this life. I don't know whether you heard about the woman who came out of the beauty salon and was met by her neighbour. He neighbour said: 'Sally, what in the world have you done with your hair, it looks like a wig!'. She said: 'It is a wig!'. Then the friend replied: 'Well, you could have fooled me!'. Not certain! Or at least portraying that they were not certain, in a sense a bit like relativism. That is in vogue today: the 'focus group' mentality. You've heard about it in politics, it seems to pervade government and political party policy. What do you do? You put the feelers out and see what people are thinking, what people want, and then in your policy you give them what they want. You relate to what is the value of society, how they esteem certain things. That relativism is beginning to influence religion and, of course, Christianity is not exempt.
Very quickly, perhaps even without realising it, we can begin to relate our beliefs to what others believe, or what others think or even feel. John was living in a similar age. These Docetists who eventually became the Gnostics, they were bending, really, to much Greek philosophy and other influences upon religions that were round about them - those that were fashionable, intellectually appreciated. But John in a similar day is saying: 'No, the Christian should not bend to such pressure. What Christians say they believe should not be hazy or vague in their portrayal and understanding of what is truth. The revelation of Jesus Christ in the Gospel', John says, 'is absolutely sure, as are the benefits of those who exercise saving faith in Him'. In other words, John is telling us in this epistle of certainty, he tells his people in his age and we in a similar age that our Christian claims ought never to be ill-defined or imprecise. They are absolute! They are definite!
When Sir James Simpson, who was of course the discoverer of chloroform, was on his deathbed a close friend asked him: 'Sir, what are your speculations'. Simpson replied: 'Speculations? I have none, for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day'. He was a believer. He may have been a scientist, and an eminent one at that, but eternal life and the matters of the great eternity and the reality of divinity were too vast and too great for speculations - he had to have his soul's future grounded on certainty, and the only certainty that he could find was in the Christian Gospel.
No, the Christian faith is not one of speculation, but certainty. We will consider the first two certainties of these five that John concludes with in his epistle; that being: first of all, the certainty of eternal life, which he outlines in verse 13; and from verses 14 to 17, the certainty of answered prayer. So let us look first of all at the certainty of eternal life.
You will recall at the beginning of our study that we pointed out that John's desire and reason for writing his gospel, that being the fourth gospel, is outlined for us in chapter 20 verses 30 and 31. He said: 'And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name'. The Gospel of John was written to convince people that Christ was who He said He was, that His claims and His work were valid and effectual. It was an evangelistic work. But we see from chapter 5 and verse 13 that we read tonight that his first epistle is written chiefly to those who have already professed faith in the Lord Jesus, those who say they have believed: 'These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God'. His purpose for writing the epistle was that those professing Christians might know assurance, and the great Christian sureties and certainties that come from that.
So right away we see that John is saying that we can be certain, it is possible to be certain if our faith is based on the timeless truth and the changeless facts of who Jesus Christ is, and what He accomplished through His work on Calvary and His great resurrection power. Right away we see that Christianity is made unique in this claim: the faith of God in the Bible infinitely transcends all other faiths on this point, as it does on them all. The cults and the religions in our world: they cannot give the certainty of eternal life. You ask them, they cannot offer you the certainty of salvation - there is no assurance! Perhaps they will talk to you about the soul's destiny being determined by blind fate or karma, or perhaps they will labour an influence upon your personal performance to try to get you to work your way to heaven - but the fact of the matter is: the great spectrum of spiritual belief in this world really has no footing at all other than their works or blind fateful speculation. They certainly have not a firm enough footing to be able to say: 'I am sure that my soul is secure'.
Now we spent many weeks going through the cults, and that was enough to show us that they do not have any certainty. I'll never forget hearing the late Ivan Thompson tell the story - and you remember what a humourous man he was - of the two Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons coming to the door, I can't remember which. He went to answer it, and he knew who they were right away. After they started talking for a while, he pretended that he was having a heart attack. He fell on the ground, and he said: 'I'm dying, I'm dying, quick - tell me what to do, how I can be saved!'. Whilst we see the humourous side, they tried to help him physically - but they had nothing to offer him for his spiritual need. Immediately there is a great expose of how the cults and these man-made faiths and so-called new revelations are impoverished to meet the major and greatest need of mankind - soul's salvation and the assurance of it.
This is how the Gospel of Christ is unique! Religion hasn't any certainty either, even the major religions. Roman Catholicism, after the Protestant Reformation, at the Council of Trent met in three sessions from 1545 to 1564, and it declared in 1547 in its decrees concerning justification that, I quote: 'Except by special revelation, it cannot be known whom God has chosen to Himself. If anyone says that he will be certain, with an absolute and infallible certainty, to have that great gift of perseverance even to the end, unless he shall have learned this by a special revelation', that being a dream or vision, 'let him be anathema'. The Council of Trent pronounces an anathema on this theology that we hold dear, which is Biblical - that once justified by faith, we are saved and certain of our salvation and can have the assurance.
Cardinal Bellermine denounced the Reformation doctrine of assurance as, I quote: 'A prime error of heretics'. That must mean that John the apostle was a heretic, for he says that we can know that we have eternal life. Paul must have been a heretic, for he told us in Romans 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God, whether in life or death. We are more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us! Now here's the great question: the cults fail to offer this certainty, world religion fails to offer the certainty, whatever colour and hue it may be - but do you have this certainty? Now I agree that there are many uncertainties, but there's no uncertainties with this most important of issues. John says: 'Ye may know that ye have eternal life'. Do you know? Do you know?
I heard about a wee fellow standing by the roadside, and a man came by who was lost. He said: 'Son, do you know how to get to the town?'. He says: 'No, I don't sir'. Then the man said: 'Well, do you know where High Street is?'. 'No, I don't'. 'Well, where does this road go to?'. 'I don't know'. 'What do you call this street?'. 'Don't know'. Exasperated, the man said: 'You don't know anything really, do you?'. He says: 'Well, I know I'm not lost'. Friends tonight, there are many great questions in this world about this world, the life, the universe and everything - but there's one thing that we can know, and that is that we have eternal life. The greatest question, man's eternal soul destiny, you can know that it is secure as a certainty and assurance from God - do you know? Do you know that you're not lost? I can sit with you all night and debate this that and the other, but at the end of the day there is no greater question. You've gone and perhaps you've searched all sorts of directions and places, and you cannot find this satisfaction, this assurance, because it can only be found in Christ and His Gospel!
This epistle was written to give assurance to those who truly believed, but it was also written to expose those who may have false security. Now whilst, as one man has said, the best thing that the church can do for true Christians is to assure them of God's electing and everlasting love, the worst thing the church can do for non-Christians is to convince them that they are Christians. We rejoice tonight in the assurance that we can have, the certainty of eternal life if we repent of our sins and believe the Gospel - but it would be a travesty of the preaching of the Gospel faith of Christ if we were to tell you that you were saved if you weren't! There are many in our land from pulpits in Protestant and Roman Catholic churches who are giving people false assurances, the little Kingdom Halls and Meeting Fellowships of cults and various religious sects - and they are actually leading people to hell through a false presumption of security that is not there!
Do you know that there is such a thing as presumption? Whether it's to say that because you're baptised as a child, or you keep the church rites and ordinances, or you're a communicant or member of this church, that church or the other - Protestant, Catholic, you name it. There is a presumption that is of the devil and not of God. That is why Paul came to the Corinthian believers, who were living in so much debauchery and sin, and actually asked them to question their faith, 'Examine yourselves', he said, 'whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?'.
So not only does John want to assure those who have truly believed that they are secure and certain in their faith, but he wants us to examine ourselves, he wants to expose those who are claiming and professing faith but don't really have it! How do you know? Of course, we've laboured this point week after week: there are the three tests, the doctrinal, the social and the moral. The doctrinal: do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God? The social: do you love your brother? The moral: do you obey God's commandments? My friend, they're so simple, and yet I would hope that if you are truly saved that you have been challenged during this series over the weeks to examine yourselves, and ask yourself: do you believe, really, with all your heart what Christ said and what He did? Do you love the brethren? Do you obey God's commandments? But the antithesis of that is that if your assurance has not grown through testing your faith through these biblical means and proofs, that you should begin to doubt your faith, you should begin to wonder if you are really converted.
This is an epistle about assurance and surely we have to say, almost at the end of it, that we cannot underestimate the importance of assurance. Please listen to what I'm saying tonight: you can be saved and not have assurance. You can have assurance and not truly be saved. But the goal that John is giving us to aim at is that we should both be saved and have assurance, because it's only then that we can really be effective for God. If I'm not sure that I own a piece of property or even a piece of land, I'm not going to do much to improve it, am I? If I don't know that it's really mine, I'm not going to work hard if I'm not sure - but if I'm certain that I possess the title deeds, then I'll be keen to do all that I can to make it what it ought to be! Perhaps you're lacking a measure of vitality and energy in your Christian life: could it be that there are doubts niggling at the back of your conscience or deep down in your heart, whether you're really a believer? Maybe it's because these three tests have uncovered things that are not right with God. My friend, I encourage you to do what John tells us: bring those things into the light, confess them, get right with God and have your fellowship restored - for you'll never, listen to me, ever be effective for God unless you have that assurance!
D. L. Moody said: 'I have never known a Christian who was any good in the work of Christ who did not have the assurance of salvation'. I remember reading years ago about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, some of you have probably been over it. When they started building there were no safety precautions and devices used, and because of that 23 men fell tragically to their death. However, during the construction of the last part of the bridge a safety net was constructed at a cost of $100,000 - which in those days was exorbitant - but it was worth it, because it saved the lives of 10 men. But the interesting thing about that story was that when they completed the bridge they discovered, through a very exhaustive study, that 25% more work was accomplished in the same period of time when the men were completely sure of their personal safety. They could get on with the work! They had that security that they longed for, to put those questions and doubts out of their mind and throw all their energies into the work! Do you have that?
David Jackman says: 'Presumption and doubt put the sinner to sleep, but faith and assurance animate the believer to greater godliness - not least, the exercise of prayer'. You see, this is what John is coming to tonight in verses 14 to 17: you cannot be effective in a prayer life that is answered of God, and nothing will charge the force of your prayers more than assurance. Equally nothing will short-circuit prayer more than your doubts. You cannot be effective in prayer if you do not have assurance of your salvation.
So we've looked at the certainty of eternal life, and I would challenge you again tonight - it'll not be long till this epistle is finished, and you'll not hear it for a while - but make sure that you're in the faith. Secondly, the certainty of answered prayer is one of the benefits of this faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at verse 14: 'This is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him'. That word 'confidence' in verse 14 could also be translated 'boldness' - this is the boldness that we have in Him. This word 'confidence' has already been used twice in chapter 2 verse 28, and in chapter 4 verse 17 regarding the confidence of the believer at the judgment because we are clothed in the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. But he also uses it on a third occasion in chapter 3 regarding this issue of prayer that he is now coming to. If you look at chapter 3 verse 21: 'Beloved, if our heart condemn us not, then have we confidence toward God. And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight'. What is intrinsically important to answered prayer is that we have a clear conscience, not only with God but with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Now he comes again to the certainty of answered prayer. Now I would hazard a guess that prayer is one of the hardest things that you find in your Christian life. Certainly, if it's not the hardest, it's the area where most of us have doubts from time to time. We ask questions like: 'I'm praying about this thing, but can God really do it?'. Edwin Orr, I think, wrote the book years ago: 'Can God?' - that's a doubt we struggle with from time to time. Another is: 'Does He really hear what I'm saying? I don't feel like He hears. Will He answer? Does God answer prayer today?'. What John is telling us is that if we have the assurance of our salvation, there outflows from that - or at least there ought to - a firm and unwavering conviction that God hears and answers our prayer.
Now I've asked you: do you have the assurance and certainty that you have eternal life? But here's maybe a more difficult one for some of us: do you have the certainty of answered prayer in your experience? We ought to have, through the faith in Christ that we believe, a boldness - now don't misunderstand that to be an arrogance or flaunting oneself in the presence of God, it is not some brazen attitude before the Lord. We ought to always have reverence, but the sense here I believe is freedom of speech - a boldness and a confidence so that when we come to speak with God, whether publicly or privately, that we are uninhibited, we are open; even a sense of being relaxed, not informal or over familiar, but a baring our heart before God that speaks of intimacy.
Hebrews 4 speaks of this: 'For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need'. You know as well as I do that if you trust someone, you'll open up your heart to them. You'll speak confidently to them because you believe that they only want the best for you. You trust them, you understand their character, you know their motivation - and it is the same with God: we ought to have the same boldness and confidence, because we know what He says in His word, that His plans are to prosper us, not to harm us, that all things will work together for good to them that love God. We know His character, that He is holy, He will not harm us. We know His motives, we know that they're always good, they're always pure, because He loves us as sons and daughters.
So what John is saying is just what Hebrews 11 verse 6 says, that: 'Without faith it is impossible to please God: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him'. You see, faith will manifest itself in a boldness in prayer that believes that we are accepted with God, that God hears us, and ultimately that God will answer our prayers. Now if we come with such certainty in faith, what certainties can be ours in prayer? Now follow this with John, he says that when we come in faith this is the confidence that we have: He hears us, and we have whatsoever we ask.
Now let me categorise those two things like this: first of all, 'He hears us' literally means 'He answers us'. Secondly, 'We have whatsoever we ask' literally means that 'We get immediately what we ask for'. Now I'll stress in a moment that there are conditions and qualifications other than just simple faith for answered prayer in the text, but let's not miss the clarity and the import of John's words, because I think we often do. We come to verses like this that are so blatantly obvious in what they claim for us as Christians, and we stagger at them, we can't accept them! They're too good to be true! Yet what John is saying here is just what he recorded in the life of the Lord Jesus when He said: 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it'.
Do you believe that? In John 15:7 He said similar words: 'If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you'. What about John 16 verse 24: 'Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full'. John 15:16: 'Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you'. Now is that true, or is it false? John says it is a certainty if you know that you're saved, have the assurance of it, and come boldly by faith into the presence of God and are aware of these certainties of prayer: one, that He answers us; two, that He answers us immediately.
Now why am I taking that verse like that? Because in the English it would seem that John is saying that He hears us and He answers us, for that's what it literally says in the Authorised Version: 'We have the confidence that He hears us, and we have according to what we ask'. Well, James Montgomery Boice points out, and I believe him to be right, that that is not the point that John is getting at here. You see, when the Bible speaks of God hearing prayer, more often than not it means He answers prayer - that's the sense in the majority of cases at least. So when it says 'He hears', it's talking about answering. You might say: 'Well then, what does the second part mean, that we have whatsoever we ask? Is he just repeating himself?'. Well, actually what he's doing is: he's introducing a new idea - because the promise that he gives us here is not just that God answers us, but rather that because He answers us we have the items requested of Him now! That's the sense. When it says 'He hears us', it means 'He answers us'; and when it says 'We have whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions desired of Him', the sense is 'now' for the Greek verb is in the present tense.
So what is the promise? What a promise it is! It is simply this: not even that we will have the petitions that we ask, but we do have them even as we pray. Now I know right away unbelief is springing up in your heart, because this is laughing at your personal experience - but this is the word of God. I'm asking you: do you have confidence in these words? That God not only knows your need before you ask, but at the very moment of your asking - and there are qualifications that we will see in a moment - but I want you to grab the weight of this: God answers and answers immediately! You can't believe it! I know it's hard, but we have in the Old Testament a very good example of it in Daniel 10 verses 12-13, if you care to turn to it - and I trust you'll bear with me tonight regarding time, because there's quite a few things to get through and I want to do that tonight.
Daniel 10 verses 12-13: 'Then said he unto me, Fear not, Daniel: for from the first day that thou didst set thine heart to understand, and to chasten thyself before thy God, thy words were heard, and I am come for thy words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days: but, lo, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me; and I remained there with the kings of Persia'. The context of the story is that Daniel, for 21 days, for three weeks, prayed and fasted regarding a battle that God had told him of. Daniel was not aware of the battle that was going on in the heavenlies - as Paul tells us in Ephesians 6: 'We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness in heavenly places'. As far as Daniel was concerned his prayer wasn't answered until the twenty-first day, but God said: 'From the very first day that you lifted your voice to me, Daniel, I heard, I answered your prayer, I dispensed Michael the archangel - and though he got into a bit of a fight on the way down with the prince of Persia, it doesn't alter the fact that the first day you prayed I heard and I answered immediately'.
You might say: 'Well, that's only one instance, and certainly it was immediate for Daniel, but it was not immediate in his experience' - and I agree with you, and it's not in ours either. But are we missing the fact that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, there's wrestling to be done! But from God's perspective, as one man has said, there is no pending tray with God. God hasn't our requests all piled up in the file, and He's working through them one by one and He's a wee bit behind with yours - that's not the way God works at all, get that out of your head! Maybe the problem is that we don't understand that we're in spiritual battles.
Then also we have to understand, as I've alluded to, that confidence in prayer must be met by the conditions of the certainty of prayer. What are the conditions? Well, first of all, the obvious one that we've laboured on tonight is the Christian faith. 'We have to be confident', verse 14, 'in' literally the Authorised says, but could also be 'confidence concerning Him, confident toward Him' - we have to believe in Him and have the faith of Jesus Christ. But then he says that we ought to ask, verse 14, 'anything according to His will' - and that is always the regulator concerning answered prayer. Indeed, in chapter 3:22 that we read he gives the same qualification: we get what we ask because we obey His commands - another qualification. Not only praying according to God's will, but living according to God's will. Even in those portions that we read from the Lord Jesus Christ in the Gospels, He qualifies and gives the conditions of answered prayer: 'Pray in my name', 'Remain in me and my words in you' - and ask what you will, and so on and so forth. You have to be obeying and living in Christ, and He in you - and therefore you will pray according to God's will that is found in His word.
Prayer is not a blank cheque, where you just ask for anything and everything. One children's catechism puts it like this, asking the question: 'What is prayer?', the answer comes 'Prayer is asking God for things which He has promised to give' - that is profound. Prayer is asking God for things which He has promised to give. What kind of earthly father would you be, or mother, if you indulged your child by giving them everything they wanted? What kind of children would you raise? You say: 'But it says we have what we have desired of Him' - but here's the key: it's after our desires have become His will, after we are abiding with Him in His presence, getting into this fellowship that John talks about. Don't be sitting here saying: 'Ah well then, that explains it, that dampens the whole thing down now. It doesn't seem as great a claim!' - not in the slightest! Look at the scope of this promise. It was David Livingstone, the missionary to Africa, who said: 'Our future is as bright as the promises of God'. What John says here is that our prayers are as powerful as the promises of God! It is, as Spurgeon says, our cheque-book from the bank of faith, and we ought to come by believing prayer and confidence, and plead these things with God on high.
You got to see it that way, and you can only see it through faith. It was Mueller, that great man of God who saw many great things done for God, and I don't believe he had any gift of faith or gift of prayer that people make out - all he had was the promises of God that you and I have. He said: 'Prayer is not overcoming God's reluctance, it is laying hold of God's willingness'. Where is His willingness found? In His word, that's where His will is found. My friend, we've got to get into God's word, and with boldness and confidence plead our faith before the throne of God. Those are the qualifications: confident in faith, but praying according to God's will - and we will have what we ask if our desires reflect His desires in His word.
Now, the third thing our praying should be is found in verses 16 and 17 and that is simply this: not only should it be bold and confident, not only should it be according to God's will, but John says it should be for others. 'If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death'. What John was talking about is the brothers, the Christians who were failing on occasion into sin - not those who are living a lifestyle of constant sin, we saw that they weren't brothers at all, they were unconverted. But those who occasionally stumbled, and of course we've all done that from time to time, the rest of the brethren were to pray for them - and now this is a promise, take it how you like, work it out with your theology, that's your concern - but here's what it says: if you pray for those brothers who stumble on occasion, they will be restored! That's a promise of God - you might have to work it through, I grant you that, but perhaps the reason why our prayers are not answered from time to time is what James says in James 4 and verse 3, that we don't get what we ask because we ask that we might consume it upon our lusts. In other words, we can be so selfish in our prayers.
What John is saying here is that a certainty of answered prayer is that our prayers are concerned with others, especially the brother who stumbles. Then John says something in verse 17, he also makes clear that there is a certain prayer that won't be answered. I often hear this saying: 'God never says 'no' to your prayers, he always answers prayer' - that is unbiblical. Here we see that there is a prayer that God never answers. Now he's not suggesting that we don't pray for things, but he is saying that there's a certain prayer that cannot be answered. If you pray for someone who has sinned unto death, verse 17: 'All unrighteousness is sin: and there is a sin not unto death', but in verse 16 at the end, he says 'There is a sin unto death'.
Now the great issue - and it nearly brought me to my death today! - is 'What is this sin unto death?'. I have to say to you this evening that I'm not sure what it is, and I think it's hard for anyone to be dogmatic because it is a very complex issue - but let me give some of the views very quickly of what this sin unto death is. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there are two categories of sin: there is venial sin that can be pardoned whilst on the earth, but there is also mortal sin that automatically leads to death. So they would say that this sin unto death is a specific sin that comes under the category of a mortal sin, you have to go to purgatory to purge for it. Now the biblical view is that all sin is mortal sin, for Romans 6:23 says: 'The wages of sin is death' - so that's not what it means here.
Secondly, some people say it's the unpardonable sin that the Lord Jesus mentioned in Matthew chapter 12: 'Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come'. The problem with that interpretation, the unpardonable sin, something that God can't forgive you, is that it isn't specifically mentioned in the passage and neither is the Holy Spirit that the sin is meant to be against. Of course, the literal sin was attributing to the ministry of the Lord Jesus the motivation and animation of the evil one, that the devil was behind everything that Jesus did rather than the Spirit of God - and I think Jesus would have to be in His earthly ministry for you to literally commit that.
Then the third interpretation is the literal physical death, that this sin unto death is actually dying - as a Christian going too far in sin, and God having to pull you out of the scene. Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter 5 are a case in point. They lied against the Holy Ghost in the gift that they brought to the church, and they were struck down. First Corinthians 5:5, the man that sinned and was disciplined, if he didn't repent he would be devoured in the flesh by the evil one. Then in 1 Corinthians 11, there were those around the Lord's Table in Corinth eating and drinking damnation unto themselves, in the flesh they were getting drunk and the Lord said that that was the reason why many were weak and sickly among them and many slept - meaning died.
Now that is a scriptural phenomenon, I believe that, but I'm not sure that that's what John's writing of here. If you look at verse 12 you will see that the context of the life that John has spoken of right throughout this whole book, but in this portion, is spiritual life - verse 12: 'He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life'. The other context of this book is the apostasy of those who were rejecting what Christ had revealed of Himself and the apostles had said and testified to, and also the faith, the historical, biblical faith - and to express unbelief in that was to lose your soul and be condemned already. I believe that - very tentatively, I have to say - that this sin unto death here is the denial of saving truth through the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and the salvation that He has procured. Someone has said that John is singling out those who have walked out of the community of God's people and openly denied the doctrines of salvation. No matter what they may once have professed to believe, they have put themselves beyond the reach of the church's prayers.
A similar line of approach is taken in Hebrews 6, whilst I agree it is a difficult passage, but it does espouse that there is a certain step that professors can take, and it's a step too far: 'For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame'. Just as the body, when it starves itself to a certain extent of food, the digestive system begins to reject the reception of any food, and eventually it becomes impossible - so if you refuse the offers of God's grace, you lose the very power to receive it.
Can I suggest to you tonight that, just as Romans 10:9 tells us that: 'That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved' - through that confession of mouth and heart, salvation unto life is brought, so a denial of Christ with the mouth and in the heart is the sin unto death. It doesn't mean that it cannot be forgiven of, but if persisted in it will not be forgiven. Indeed, in 2 John that we will look at in subsequent weeks, and in verses 9 and 10, John says: 'Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed'. We'll look into that in more detail, but those whom he is telling the believers not to even welcome into their home or bid God speed, he's also telling them here that there's no use even praying for them. He doesn't forbid prayer, but he says it's no use - because if they go on rejecting the Christ of God and the Gospel of God, that is the sin unto death, the sin of unbelief!
Now, as I close let me say this: we tend to spend, and I can just see that you're all looking in your Bibles and your concordances now, we spend the time on exceptions like this sin unto death, and not the central message of the passage. What is it? His point is this: we should be praying for believers who are falling into sin. There's a mighty resource here in prayer for us as believers: are we using it for one another?
'Thou art coming to a King,
Great petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and power or such,
You can never ask too much'.
Oh, that we would have such power with God and with men, to be confident as we pray in God's will that He hears and He answers our prayers! The leader of the 1843 Disruption in Scotland in the Presbyterian Church, Thomas Chalmers, once wrote in his diaries these words - and this is the desire of my heart, and I hope tonight it will be yours: 'Make me sensible of real answers to actual requests as evidences of an interchange between myself on earth and my Saviour in heaven'. Do you have sensible, real answers to actual requests as evidence of an interchange between you on earth and the Saviour in heaven? Not only is the certainty of eternal life your possession in Christ, but so is the certainty of answered prayer. May God grant it to you.
'Come my soul, thy suit prepare,
Jesus loves to answer prayer'.
Our Father, we want to thank You this evening for the certainty of eternal life that we have through Your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to thank You for the certainty of answered prayer that can be ours when we abide in Christ and He in us. Lord, give us the realisation, the experience of such prayer - and though we have to wrestle before the answer reaches us, let us believe that it has been dispensed immediately when we pray by faith according to God's word. Lord, we know that there are great questions and considerations in all those statements - but Lord, help us not to lose faith in the midst of it all that Thy word is true, and though heaven and earth shall pass away Thy word shall never pass away. Lord, give us such pray-ers and give us such answers, for Jesus' sake, Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixteenth recording in his '1, 2 and 3 John' series, entitled "Sure Life And Prayer" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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