“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. And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 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” (I John 5:13-15).
John writes to tell Christians how to know we are saved. “…you who believe in the name of the Son of God…may know that you have eternal life.” This is the stated purpose of his letter. Throughout this epistle, John discusses the security and assurance of believers. Even so, a rejection of once-saved-always-saved doctrine leaves many people in a constant state of anxiety, doubting their salvation and therefore always being in dread of eternity. This should not be. So in this lesson, we will examine John’s message to learn how we can be sure we will get to heaven. Knowing what we do of God’s holiness (I John 3:6) it should be no surprise this confidence is not to be based on the mistaken assumption that God will ignore some of our sins. Rather, John bases our confidence on our obedience. So really, this lesson will involve a discussion of how we can be confident that we are free of ignorant sins. Restated, if any sin will separate us from God, how can we be sure we have no sin?
To begin, just notice John repeatedly mentioning knowing we are saved:
“And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (I John 2:3-6).
“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. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him” (I John 2:28-29).
“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us” (I John 3:19-24).
These are just a few of the many times John mentions knowing, or having confidence, that we are saved. Each reference roots our assurance in our obedience. None of the passages mention simply being sincere or having the right attitude. Yes, these things are important, but they are not all that is included in keeping God’s commandments. According to John, knowing we are saved means knowing we are obedient.
So how can we know we are obedient? How can we know we have not sinned unawares?
First, we must realize God is on our side. He is not waiting for us to slip up so that He can kill us on the spot and send us straight to hell. Instead, He is “is patient … not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (II Peter 3:9). God wants us to do what is right and will do everything consistent with His nature to help us do what is right. After all, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). This divine aid brings us back to our text where John mentions a specific way to know we are saved; prayer.
Our text states that if we ask anything according to God’s will, and believe that He will grant our requests, He will. It is God’s will that we repent of sins, confess them and ask His forgiveness (Acts 8:22; I John 1:9). Therefore, when we ask God to reveal any sins of ignorance so that we may repent of them, and truly believe that He will answer our prayer, He will. Understand that we can neither repent of, nor confess, sins of ignorance. Repentance involves turning away from something. How can we turn away from an action we think is right? For example, how can we repent of a sinful marriage if we are ignorant of God’s law on divorce and remarriage? How do we turn away from drunkenness if we do know it is sinful? How could we confess we have sinned through drunkenness if we do not know drunkenness is a sin?
What are the consequences of not having faith in our text? Unbelief in I John 5:13-15 is not only sinful, and therefore damning in and of itself, but this refusal to accept the truth leads to the additional sins of heresy or worry (Philippians 4:6). If we teach God will simply overlook our sins of ignorance, we may have peace in this life, but we will not have salvation in the next. Unless we repent of teaching false doctrine, we will be lost.