EPISTLE | 1 JOHN 5:13-21
13I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him. 16If you see your brother or sister committing what is not a mortal sin, you will ask, and God will give life to such a one — to those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin that is mortal; I do not say that you should pray about that. 17All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal. 18We know that those who are born of God do not sin, but the one who was born of God protects them, and the evil one does not touch them. 19We know that we are God’s children, and that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one. 20And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
This is the end of John’s first letter to his churches. But what a complicatedly long end!
I feel like John wrapped it up at “eternal life” (v.13), and then “boldness in him” (vv.14-15) came as a bit of an afterthought, or implication of “eternal life”, which leads him to give an example of “boldness in him”, but that example was way more complex than he anticipated, so he gives a last-minute excursus on “mortal sin” (vv.16-18), and, shoot, now he’s made us all anxious again, so he assures us that “we are God’s children” (vv.19-20); phew! finished. OH, wait! “Keep yourselves from idols” (v.21). Okay, send it out!
This is a playful way of connecting with John as he writes, but I doubt this emotional frenzy is actually how the Spirit used John to craft the Word of God. Honestly, as I read and re-read this text for today, this is how I feel.
I feel like I am unraveling. I have reached the end of my rope, and I see it frantically fraying, so all my thoughts and assignments and to-do lists and responsibilities are becoming less and less coherent. I see many long-time projects coming to a close, and I feel less like a craftsman enjoying the bliss of putting those finishing touches on a labor of love, and more like a runaway train with too much coal and too little track.
And I come to the text exhausted and manic, desperately needing the Word to ground me and settle me and tie me back together. Come, Holy Spirit.
But John wants to write to me about “mortal sin” today. I looked at the Greek, and this phrase literally translates “sin to death.” This is not a non sequitur or a random excursus after all, but a thread within John’s discussion the eternal life we have in light of our Lord’s resurrection. I have been given life; any “sin to death” would be a blatant rejection of that life. And John’s warning about idols is not a random afterthought, but another thread in the eternal life discussion. The life we have is “in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (v.20). Any chasing after lesser goods is another rejection of eternal life.
God has offered me new, abundant, everlasting life in the Easter resurrection of his Son Jesus. The death I feel all around me is ultimately defeated, dead, vanquished. Lord, give me eyes to see your life in spite of death, and always give me this life.