Assurance of Salvation
Jesus told Nicodemus, the Pharisee, the one must be born again, or from above, to see the kingdom of God. He explained the one must be born of the Spirit to enter the kingdom of God. John recorded that message in chapter 3 of his gospel. Jesus went on to say, in what is the most famous verse in the New Testament, that one who believes in Jesus as the only Son of God would have eternal life. (John 3:16)
So, we see that, for one to be saved (have eternal life), one must be changed from his or her old self who does not believe, to his or her new self that does believe. That change is a work of God. It is particularly the work of God the Holy Spirit. One must be born of the Spirit. We call this work “regeneration”.
One must believe in Jesus as God’s Son to have eternal life. Therefore, a sign that one has eternal life is that one believes in Jesus as God’s son. (1) One who has been born again loves the Father, loves the Son, and loves the ones born of the Father. Believers are those born of the Father. Love for Christian brothers and sisters as a sign of regeneration is a constant theme in this letter. Love for brothers and sisters in Christ also implies a love of the church, the gathering of those who love the Father and the Son.
How do we know we love the children of God? We know this when we love God and obey his commandments. (2) John has this circle going in this letter: if we love God, we keep his commandments and love our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we keep his commandments and love our brothers and sisters, we know that we love God.
This seems to be a reflection of the “greatest commandment”. Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment is, and he replied ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Next John makes a dramatic, and counter-cultural statement, that God’s commands are not burdensome. Well, a lot of people think they are burdensome, don’t they? They say his commandments are no longer applicable to modern society, that they keep us from being happy, or even that they are mean.
Those people have not experienced regeneration. The heart that has not been changed is hostile to God and his commandments. But the heart that has been changed loves God and wants to please him. Believers realize God wants the best for them and that his commandments are meant to accomplish that. Living your best life now is not being wealthy and popular. It is living within God’s will.
That is why the “beatitudes” in Matthew 5 say repeatedly “blessed are …” then describing the poor in spirit, those who seek righteousness, this who are merciful and so on. They are blessed, receiving the favor of God, when they live according to God’s commandments.
Jesus said “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:29-30. It is restful and delightful to live under the yoke of Christ. HIs commandments are not burdensome.
The world does not understand this and is hostile to it, but we know we have overcome the world by our faith in Christ. To the original readers of this letter, John likely meant the “world” to be those who left the church and had been preaching false doctrines. Those false doctrines seem to include denying that Jesus is the Messiah and God’s Son, that he came and took on human flesh, that he actually, physically died, and that his death was for our sins. John’s readers overcame them, their teaching, and any doubt that their teaching might cause, by their faith in Jesus as they had been taught all along by John and others.
For us, the “world” is everyone who teaches anything other than the gospel in which we believe and God’s Word, the Bible. No matter how forcefully or charmingly false doctrine is taught, you defeat it by turning to God’s Word for the truth and standing on it, always believing that Jesus is the Son of God.
Who Is Jesus Christ?
So, who is this Jesus in whom you believe? It is he who came by water and blood. He came by water in that he baptized, or had his disciples baptize, all of those who believed in him. He also came by blood, giving his life as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. John says he not only came by water, baptizing believers, with which the false teachers would agree, but also by blood, dying for our sins, which the false teachers did not believe or teach. That is why John wrote that Jesus came not by water only, but by the water and the blood. (6)
The Holy Spirit also testifies to these truths and agrees that Jesus came by water and blood. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth. He testifies to believers that the gospel message is true: Jesus came in the flesh and died for our sins on the cross.
The testimony of God is always greater than the testimony of men. (9) Since it is, the implication is we should accept it. We know that the Father testified to the Son. He did it by giving numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that point to Jesus. Even more so, at Jesus’ baptism, a voice spoke from heaven that said “this is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. (Matthew 3:17)
Again, at Jesus’ transfiguration, a voice from the bright cloud which overshadowed them said “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased, listen to them”. (Matthew 17:5)
Jesus also testified to himself as the Son, a testimony heard by John firsthand and communicated to the church in his preaching, and then recorded by John in his gospel.
If we believe in the Son of God, we have this testimony in ourselves. We have the Holy Spirit in us, testifying to our spirits and our consciences that Jesus is the Son of God as we agree to that in faith. But those who do not believe make God out to be a liar. God has testified and they dispute it, essentially calling God a liar by their unbelief. What a horrible position to be in, making Holy God out to be a liar!
God’s testimony to us, in addition to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, is that God gave us eternal life in his Son. That again is the message of John 3:16. Whoever has the Son has life. Those who do not have the Son do not have life.
No other provision is made by God for eternal life!
In conclusion, John said he wrote the letter to give assurance of salvation. He wrote so they would know they had eternal life, despite anything the false teachers might say.
In addition to eternal life, we have a special relationship with God so that he will hear all of our prayers that are given in accordance with his will, and he will grant those requests.
There are those who teach that God will let a believer go astray, out of his will, even though the believer is earnestly seeking God. I do not agree with this. If we pray according to his will, he will grant our requests. He does not make that promise for things that are out of his will. He may not grant those.
As part of prayers, our asking, we should pray for those who commit sins that do not lead to death. John says if we do, God will give him life. God will answer prayers for those in sin, granting repentance and forgiveness. But, he will not give life to those who reject Christ, believing and teaching falsely about him. A lack of saving faith cannot be forgiven. (16)
John repeated his instruction that those who are born of God do not live a life of continual sin, for God protects the believer from the evil one. (17) We, the believers, are born of God and receive this protection. But those in the world do not, and are under the power and influence of the evil one.
We can understand this things because we are in Christ, who gives us understanding. (20) He is true, he is the true God, and he is eternal life. We must devote ourselves to him.
We must keep ourselves from any belief, attitude, or practice that stands in the place of Jesus. Anything less than faith in him as the Son of God is idolatry. (21)