13 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.
Imagine farmland prepared for its next planting. The soil is cultivated, the seed distributed, and the plot watered and tended. Due to the diligence of the farmer, eventually, the seed springs forth into visible life. Soon, a harvest arrives.
John has written his letter. In it, he has taught his readers about the Jesus he had walked and talked with so many decades earlier. He urged them to believe Jesus Christ had come from the eternal glory of heaven to earth. He was born as a human baby and lived as an adult man. As the Messiah-Christ-Savior of the world, He died on the cross for sin. He bodily rose from the grave.
John also told them they should adhere to God’s commands. To love God (and others) means we will keep His commandments.
Finally, John instructed them to love one another. This was his constant refrain. He considered love logical outflow of the gospel.
And with the seed of these thoughts in the minds and hearts of his audience, John expected a specific crop to bloom. He thought assurance and confidence would develop.
He wanted his readers to know they had eternal life (13). So he said, “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” (13).
John thought this knowledge, this assurance, would do something in his hearers. Good doctrine leads to healthy action, and John believed his teaching would lead his audience to a life of confidence before God. And this is how he approached the end of his letter, explaining to them what that confidence should produce.
First, prayer. Second, specific convictions.
This week and next, as we draw near to the closeout or study of this letter, we will look at both.
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. 15 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.
Remember, John had witnessed the prayer life of Jesus, had been among the disciples who’d asked Jesus to teach them to pray, and had spent his life in prayer. He had every reason to believe in the power of prayer. Nothing in his theology or experience led him away from prayer. He was a man who prayed.
And he expected a certainty regarding our eternal life would lead to prayer. When you know you belong to God, you will cry out to God. This is why John said, “This is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us”
Notice first that part of prayer is asking. Making requests. John said, “If we ask anything…” (14).
Prayer is more than request-making, of course. We worship, confess, and listen in prayer. But, here, John highlights the fact we are to ask in prayer.
Any believer who’s spent time in a prayer meeting has encountered request-free prayers. In moments like these, the person praying will often explain the situation in minute detail to God (and everyone else in the room), sometimes even reminding God of everything His Word has to say on the subject. Like a sermon for God. Then, in an awkward crescendo, the prayer ends without any request.
But God wants us to ask.
A friend of mine has a beautiful little 4-year-old daughter. She has this cute little habit where she’ll never ask. So, instead of saying, “May I have a cookie?” She will say, “I really like cookies.” Or, “I really like that show,” instead of asking, “Could I watch that show?” She just doesn’t like to ask.
But God wants us to ask. He wants us to make our requests.
Sure, thank and praise Him, but as Paul said:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)
But I’m sure most of you noticed the full statement from John: If we ask anything according to His will He hears us (14).
Now, let me ask you: How does that additional statement feel to you?
“According to His will…”
Does it bother you? Does it sound like a terrible attachment? Is it like the fine print on a contract? Or the restrictions and qualifications on frequent flier miles? Does this feel like a website offering discounts up to 80% off, only to discover most items aren’t marked down at all?
In other words, does this little statement — ” according to His will” — burst your bubble when thinking about prayer? Does it take all the power and life and hope out of the promise for you?
If it does, let me show you a couple of amazing truths.
we confront. Sometimes we restore. Sometimes the church has to discipline. Restoration is an elaborate and robust task. But the first move is prayer.
It is amazing, but God responds to the prayers of His people. He listens to us. Little ol’ Nate Holdridge has an audience with the sovereign, the divine. And so do you.
I believe thoughtful, disciplined, and intentional Bible reading will move you to prayer because the Scriptures testify over and over again of God’s willingness to respond to the cries of His children. Enoch prayed, and God took him home. Noah prayed, and God delivered him from judgment. Abraham prayed, and Lot was spared. Isaac prayed, and Rebekah became his wife. Jacob prayed, and God blessed him. Joseph prayed, and God interpreted dreams for him. And that’s just Genesis. The Old Testament is filled with stories of God responding to the prayers of His people.
And in the New Testament, when they prayed for boldness, God granted it to them. He poured out His Spirit, provided for them, and made them effective ambassadors of the gospel, often in response to prayer. Prayer leads to real help.
The sentiment of the Scripture is condensed in this statement:
“Then if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14, NLT)
Humble prayer leads to real help from God.
letter itself teaches that true brothers won’t go that route.
Still, others think John is talking about brothers who, though saved, have committed a sin so heinous God has decided to discipline them, not with eternal death, but physical death. Ananias and Saphira from the book of Acts are examples of this type of sin and death (Acts 6).
And others believe John was talking about the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is at its core a rejection of Jesus (Matthew 12:31). I think I am in this camp.
But I am tempted to quote the great theologian, Andy Candreva (our Middle School Ministry Leader), when he taught 1 John to our kids:
“There are a few things this might mean, but I don’t really want to get into them.”
“I don’t want us distracted from the real issue. The big point here is to pray: pray for God’s will, and pray for the life and holiness of other believers.” — Andy Candreva, to the Calvary Monterey Middle School Ministry
Well said, Andy.
Siblings in Trouble
You see, John’s bigger point was that when we pray, God moves. And one people group we should pray for is believers who have gotten themselves into spiritual trouble. When they are stuck in sin, we must cry out to God for them. John said, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life” (16).
John’s recommendation to engage in this type of prayer should come as no surprise. Over and over again, throughout the whole letter, John has told us to love one another. And one way to love each other is to pray for those who are spiritually unhealthy because of sin they’ve gotten sucked into.
Now, this isn’t the only response to seeing someone in Christ sputter along in sin. Sometimes we confront. Sometimes we restore. Sometimes the church has to discipline. Restoration is an elaborate and robust task. But the first move is prayer.
Each summer, when my family heads up to Lake Tahoe, we end up spending a lot of time at the beach. If I see a child struggling out in the water, I will rush out to help them. But for at least a couple of those beach ventures, some of our friends are there too. And one of my friends used to play water polo and lifeguard in his younger years, so he is a far better swimmer than I am. On the days he is there if I see a kid floundering in the water, I turn to him and say, “You should go help that kid.”
This is the first move when we see a spiritual sibling drowning due to sin. We must pray for them. Earnest, wholehearted, crying out to God is required. Pray like their lives depend on it.
You see, Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins. He took responsibility for us. And to be Christlike means you will take responsibility for others. Including in the way you pray.
A Word on Prayer
Before moving on, I feel compelled to say a few words about prayer in general. It is all too easy for modern believers to think prayer is impractical, or something they’d like to engage in but likely never will with much resolve.
But, if we are called to be Christ’s disciples, to follow Jesus, there isn’t much that’s more Jesusy than prayer. His entire life centered upon spending time talking to His Father.
Prayerlessness seems to be an excellent barometer, a canary in the coalmine, announcing other issues.
- If someone has a weak understanding of the position the gospel gains for them, they will not pray.
- If someone has a life too cluttered and without any healthy Sabbath rhythms, they will not pray.
- If someone spends the bulk of their life feeding the flesh, jumping from one form of entertainment to the next, they will not pray.
- If someone is engaged in habitual sin, secret or not, they will not pray.
- If someone is too trusting of their own power and ability, and has too little admiration for God and His power, they will not pray.
- And if someone has allowed their mind to become a warzone of distraction, to the point they can no longer read a book or have a conversation because their phone or other screens have destroyed their ability to do so, they will not pray.
You see, it takes all of these to pray. You have to know the soundness of your position in Christ. You have to become a person who knows how to step away and Sabbath. You have to crave the spiritual dimension more than Netflix. You have to walk in the light. You must think highly of God’s ability. And you have to be able to concentrate.
Without these elements, prayer is a frustrating cycle of failure. But with these elements, it will be the best part of your day. Let’s pray!