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Observations for discussion and questions:

The overall unity of this passage may be seen in the density of recurrences of the clause we know that. The subunit of 5:14-17 defined by the recurrences of the word request in the former half with a shift to mortal and sin in the latter half. Then in 5:18-19 the recurrences are of God and the evil one. The last unit before the conclusion in verse 21 has three occurrences of true in relation to Jesus/God(?), i.e. him who is true/true God.

14 And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we request anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we request, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. 16 If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he shall make a request, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.

18 We know that any one born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one.

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, to know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. This (one) is the true God and eternal life.

21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.

The introductory clause this is the confidence together with the five recurrences of we know that underline the author”s concern that his addresses should have confidence in what they know. There are three other references to ”confidence” in 1 John.

They are used in connection with the following:

  • 2:28 – abiding in him in order to have confidence rather than shame at his coming.
  • 3:21 – confidence whenever our hearts condemn us since our love is genuine and God knows everything.
  • 4:17 – confidence for the day of judgment since love is perfected/matured by abiding in God and it casts out all fear.

Also, there are ten other references scattered in 1 John besides the five that are repeated here (2:3, 18; 3:2, 14, 16, 24; 4:6, 13, 16; 5:2). Among them the following are the ones that also explicitly deal with having confidence:

  • 2:3 – we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
  • 3:14 – we know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren.
  • 3:16 – we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he has given us.
  • 4:13 – we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

In our passage we find confidence focusing on what ”we know” in terms of the following:

  • that requests made according to his will are heard and answered (5:14-15),
  • that one born of God does not lead a life of sin and is protected from the evil one by Jesus (5:18) , that we belong to God while the world is under the evil one”s power (5:19),
  • that we know that God”s son came to give us understanding, i.e. knowledge of “him who is true” (5:20).

Questions:

  • In 5:20 Jesus is clearly referred to as giving us understanding to know God referred to here as “him who is true.” Then John goes on to say that we are “in him who is true” after which he adds “in his Son Jesus Christ.” After this he makes the assertion: “This (one) is the true God and eternal life.” Does the “this (one)” refer to God the Father or to Jesus as “the true God.” In other words, is the “the true God” the one Jesus has made known, or is John referring to Jesus himself as “the true God”? It could go either way? What would you say in the light of what we have studied in 1 John?
  • In 5:15-17 we hear about making requests according to God”s will. The author makes obscure references to “mortal sin” (literally ”sin unto death”). The requests should not be for someone committing a “mortal sin” but other sins. Several attempted solutions to what “mortal sin” could mean:
    1. the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit (see Matt 12:31),
    2. the Gnostic-like denial that Jesus in the Christ and that Jesus came in the flesh, which would do away with atonement,
    3. later on in the church it was associated with post-baptismal apostasy, murder, and fornication or adultery (on apostasy see Heb 6:4).

    From our study of 1 John which seems to be the more likely alternative? Why would one not pray for people in any of such states of affairs?

  • Note from the passages on confidence above how important the reception of the Holy Spirit is? How many of us, if we found the validity of our belief called into question, would present our experience of the Holy Spirit as the primary evidence for confidence? Would it play a large role in our defense of our faith to others? Why or why not?

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