Boldness In Perseverance
Tim Temple

Introduction

In any form of drama is the fact the somebody in the story or the audience knows a secret that is going to make everything come out all right. Sometimes it is the leading character who knows that secret; sometimes it is the bad guy in the drama who knows the secret; much of the time it is the audience that knows the secret. But one way or another, included in any drama, somebody knows a secret that the rest of us don't know; and that person, because of that, has perfect calmness and greater interest in what is going on because he knows that secret.

As John concludes his letter, he reminds us of the secret that we as Christians know. In the dreams of eternity, we as Christians know a secret that many other people don't know; but because we know that secret, we can face life and whatever it brings with calmness and assurance that no matter what comes, we can be victorious, as John says in this last chapter. That is the theme of chapter 5. In verses 1-5, we talked about the basis for assurance and in verses 6-12, the basic facts of that assurance. In verses 13-21, which we are in the midst of looking at now, he talks about the bold results of that assurance. The basis for our assurance and our confidence is the fact that Jesus Christ died in our place. We do not have to fear the day when we stand before God and answer to Him for the way we have lived our lives, not because we have lived our lives so beautifully, but because Jesus Christ has stepped into our place and paid the penalty that we would never be able to pay because of the sin and failure that has been a part of our lives, no matter how much good has also been a part. That is the basis for our assurance—the work of Jesus Christ.

The basic facts of assurance in verses 6-12 involve the fact that not only did Jesus Christ pay the debt for our sins, but God the Father saw to it that we found out that information and there are witnesses: the water, the baptism of Christ; the blood, the Cross of Christ at the end of His life and then the Holy Spirit Who opens our understanding to the truth. Because of that assurance, we can have bold results in our lives, John says in the last part of the chapter.

We have talked about boldness in prayer and the fact that because we know Jesus Christ as our Savior and we have become children of God, we can pray boldly. Today we come to a second area of boldness, and that is boldness in perseverance, in verses 18-21. Finishing well is a topic that we hear a lot about these days. It seems that it is one of the basic themes of men's conferences and of the various books that are written for men these days.

It is important that we learn to race well, but it is even more important that we finish well. If you saw this year's Belmont Stakes horse race, you remember the favorite contender to win the race was the horse that had already won the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby and was expected to win the Triple Crown. It would have been the first time in twenty years since a horse had won all three of those races. It was an amazing literal photo finish. A horse came from behind in the very last seconds of the race and that favorite lost by less than a nose. It was a hairline finish. That horse finished well, but the other horse finished even better. There were many horses which started that race far ahead of both of those horses which didn't win the race.

In the Scripture, God often takes that analogy of the race and applies it to the Christian life. John says, “We want to finish the race.” John wraps up his letter, and as he leaves his readers behind (He died not long after finishing this letter.), the last thing that he wants to leave with them and us is the importance of perseverance, continuing in the Christian life and finishing well and living on the basis of all the things that God has provided for us and all that God has been talking about in this letter.

In talking about that perseverance and the boldness in perseverance that we can have, he mentions three certainties. First, in verse 18, he talks about the certainty of righteousness. Then in verse 19, he talks about the certainty of relationship, and in verse 21, he talks about the certainty of reality. Those are the things that we want to look at as we move through this chapter. With those three certainties, we can have the boldness of assurance that we can walk with the Lord; and because we are walking with the Lord, we can face whatever may develop as we move through the difficulties and the joys of life.

The Certainty Of Righteousness

Let's think in verse 18 about the certainty of righteousness. Look with me at verse 18:

I John 5:

18We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

Notice how he begins: “We know…” and throughout this chapter, John has been using that kind of terminology—assurance, knowledge of the truth, the certainty of righteousness. What is it that we know? Well, we know that whoever is born of God doesn't sin. Someone says, “Wait a minute. Is that what it means to be a Christian? It means that I can never commit another sin.” Anybody who has been saved more than an hour or so knows that that is a big problem, isn't it? This is another of those places where we have to understand the technicalities of the original language in which it was written. You have heard of these kinds of things before. In fact, the translation of I John has created a number of places where the English translation leads to some misunderstanding.

The verb, “to sin,” in verse 18, is written in the Greek text in a tense that we call the continuous present tense . We don't have a specific tense like that in English, even though the context can usually indicate that that is what it means; but you need to understand that what this says in the Greek text is, “Whoever is born of God does not keep on sinning. Whoever is born of God does not continue in sin.” It is that kind of an idea—the continuous present. That makes it a bit more understandable, doesn't it? It doesn't mean that a person who is born of God (a term that John uses often to describe a Christian) never sins again. So if you have sinned since you were saved, you don't need to be too worried.

But notice what he says: “We know that he who is born of God does not continue to sin.” Here is something that is a little nerve-wracking to talk about for some Christians, but it is something that the Word of God brings up again and again in various places. This is one of those places where it is important for us to talk about this matter of righteousness, this matter of purity, this matter of living a godly life. John says that a person who is truly born of God does not continue in sin.

If you can sin on a continuing basis, if you have sin in your life that you continue to play around with and continue to allow and you never feel any guilt about that, you are never bothered about that, then you have good reason to question whether or not you are truly saved. Particularly, that is important in a church like ours where the gospel is preached regularly and where a number of you have actually grown up and been in this church all of your life. You have heard the gospel. It is possible to grow up in a Christian home in a Christian family and hear the truth and hear it so often that we just assume that we have trusted Christ; we just assume that we are a Christian. Certainly for many people that is a correct assumption. There are many Christians who cannot remember exactly when they were saved. They just know that at some point, they realized that Christ was their Savior, and they are trusting Him for their salvation. On the other hand, particularly people who are saved later in life can remember exactly the very day or even the very hour that they were saved. The key to it is not remembering exactly when you were saved, but the important thing is that we do know that each of us is sure in our hearts that we have personally, specifically, trusted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. Has that day come for you?

One reason to question that and one reason to be concerned about that is if you are continuing to practice sin and you are not bothered by it and and you are not convicted by it. One of the reasons that I think people continue to sin is that they are not bothered by it. God says that the person who has been born of God does not continue in sin. There is not that continual practice of sin. This does not mean that we are never tempted, and this doesn't mean that we never fall into temptation and give into temptation. It doesn't mean that we never commit a sin here and there, but it does mean that there is not that continuing pattern of sin with no recrimination. It may be that there is some besetting sin that you have. All of us have particular areas of weakness. The things that are an area of weakness for me may not be an area of weakness for you. In fact, the things that are an area of weakness for me may be something that you have very strong defenses against, and you would never commit some sin that is easy for me to commit. Satan knows that, and he continually pushes at us to commit those sins.

When John says the person who is born of God does not continually sin, he is not saying that we don't have that area of sin that we may fall into again and again. The issue is not so much that we continue to sin, but that we continue to sin without any kind of conviction of that sin, without any kind of guilt about that sin, without any kind of confession and assumption of forsaking that sin even though we may fall into it again soon. There is to be a difference between the life of the believer and the life of the unbeliever. I think that this is the kind of thing that appeals to teenagers, the fact that God is asking us to do something different. God is asking us to live in a different way. God wants to make a difference in our lives, and it seems to me that that is more important, and rightly so, to teenagers sometimes than it is to adults. It ought to be more important to adults probably, but God says through the pen of John, “The person who is born of God does not continue to commit sin. He does not continually commit sin.”

As you can see that is not where the verse ends. Notice he goes on to say:

I John 5:

18 …but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

Here is another problem in translation that we need to work on. It would appear as you read this verse in the King James text that this is saying that if you have been born of God and are a Christian, you are going to be able to keep yourself from sinning. However, I would suggest a better translation, and some of the newer translations put it this way: Capitalize the word he. “He who has been born of God keeps him.” That is closer to the original text. It is not possible to translate the original text word for word in English terminology. Turn back to chapter 3, verse 9, and there we are told who this is that God is talking about. In verse 9, he is talking about the same subject, but he puts it a little more clearly:

I John 3:

9Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for His seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.

Notice the word His is capitalized. God's seed remains in him, and he cannot sin because he has been born of God. In chapter 5, verse 18, John is referring to the Son of God. He who has been of God, and, in this case, is the Son of God which is made more clear in chapter 3, verse 9. God's offspring, God's Son, remains within us. When we are born of God, the unique Son of God remains in us. The Holy Spirit of God indwells us. We have God living within us, so in verse 18 of chapter 5, he is not talking about the fact that a Christian is able to just clench his teeth and not ever sin again, no matter how bad it hurts. “I will keep myself from sinning if it kills me.” No, it is that when we have been born of God, we have God living within us. That is why there is conviction of sin and that is why when there is sin, it bothers the believer. Maybe he continues to fall into that same besetting sin. Not to say there is never temptation, but because God's seed remains in us, we cannot sin on a continuing basis. Sooner or later, God brings us face-to-face with the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and we confess that sin and we turn from it.

Then comes into play what the Scripture tells us in Hebrews, chapter 12, that God disciplines His children. As God's seed remains in us, and yet we continue to play around with sin, we may have some conviction and we confess it. Then we continue to play around with it some more. God loves us too much because we are His children to let us get by with that, and then in steps God the Father disciplines us because He loves us. Among the things that we love and honor and appreciate about our human fathers is that they gave us a good whipping sometimes. They disciplined us; they did whatever discipline they somehow figured out was the most effective for us. God does that too.

Not only do we not continue in sin because we have the Holy Spirit within us, because we have He Who is born of God within us, we have His seed within us; but as double insurance, God the loving Father disciplines us as we fail to respond to the convicting power of the Holy Spirit within us. Sooner or later a believer will get right with God and will abandon that sin. I can tell you from experience, as some of you know from experience, sometimes God has to get pretty drastic in His dealing with us to bring us to that point. Sometimes he has to peel away that commitment to sin, that practice of sin, and in some cases that addiction to some kind of sin, and chip that away and pry our fingers loose from that; but God will not let His children continue in sin. He will not let us get by with it. One of the proofs of our salvation is that God will not let us continue in sin. It may be a tremendous struggle; it may take severe discipline, but sooner or later, God will deal with that in our lives. In many cases, it is sooner.

I don't mean to imply that every Christian has the kind of struggle I have been describing, but let me say again that if you are continuing to commit sin, many or a particular one, and it is no bother to you and it is no concern to you and God never seems to make your path more difficult, you need to question whether or not you have ever trusted Jesus Christ as Savior. He who is born of God does not continue in sin.

I think that that is a message that needs to be preached in this day in which we live. It is not a very popular message, and if you leave that message out of the gospel, you can get a great many converts. I don't mean to be critical of anybody who preaches the gospel in whatever way they preach it, and I don't mean to single out a particular organization that uses the slogan I am about to us, but it is an example of the kind of preaching that in my opinion is not quite in line with the Scripture: “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”

That is true. God loves you and God has a wonderful plan for our lives, but a part of the gospel is that you are a sinner and you are on your way to Hell, and God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. If we leave out the sin, we may get some converts who want to be in on that wonderful plan for our lives, but they don't really understand that they are sinners on their way to Hell. If we understand that, we can have the certainty that comes with righteousness. The certainty that comes may be in the midst of a struggle with sin, maybe in the sense of God's discipline of sin in our lives, but the certainty that comes because we know that God does love us enough to keep dealing with us about that sin and helping us with that sin and enabling us to overcome that sin brings boldness and assurance. God provides that kind of assurance for us.

Notice the last line of verse 18: “…the wicked one does not touch him.” The word that is translated with our English word touch is a Greek word that is translated in other places with the idea of reclaiming someone. Here is another of the many places where the doctrine of eternal security is at least touched on. If the seed remains in us, the wicked one cannot reclaim us; he cannot touch us—the certainty of righteousness.

In verse 19, he comes to a second certainty. Notice as we read:

I John 5:

19And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.

The first phrase of verse 19 is kind of a summary of what we have been talking about in verse 18—we know that we are of God. How do we know that we are of God? One of the ways that we know we are of God is that we have been talking about the fact that we do not continue in sin. God does not let us get by with it. So having that assurance, that certainty of righteousness that we see in verse 19, we know that we are of God.

Have you ever stopped to think what a stupendous statement that is? We are of God. It seems that it is easy for us to talk about being of America. We are American citizens. Most of you here are American citizens, but there are some who are not. If you have ever talked with someone who is living in the United States, but is not a citizen of the United States, you know what a privilege we have, what a blessing we have, to be of America. There was a time when that meant more around the world than it does now. I am afraid it is not as much of an honor around the world as it used to be, but it is still a tremendous privilege to be recognized around the world to be of America. Students still in school are of whatever school they go to, whatever college they go to. Some of us are of the Rotary Club. We are of various things that we take pride in, that we enjoy being a part of, that we let people know we are a part of, and that is all well and good; but nothing begins to compare with the statement that we can boldly make in verse 19: “We know that we are of God.”

Think about that. We are of God. Somebody says, “That is just what I hate about you Christians. You are so superior.” No, we are not superior; we are saved. They say, “You are so proud.” We are not proud; we are preserved. We can say, on the authority of the Word of God, “I am of God.” God says, “We know that we are of God.” The certainty of relationship—we can talk to God the Father because we know His Son personally. We can walk with His Son into the throne room of the Father any time we want to because we are with the Son. We don't deserve to go into the throne room, but we can go in with His Son—a relationship with God. We are of God.

Notice something else in verse 19. Here is that contrast again: “…and we know the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Do you know that? The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. Then again, someone says, “That is a pretty mean thing to be saying. You mean that anybody who does not know Christ is controlled by Satan?” If that is a pretty mean thing to say, then you have to blame the Bible because it is God Who says, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Recognize this: We are either of God or we are of the Devil. Unfortunately, many times we who are of God live as though we were of the Devil, and yet we have just seen that the wicked one cannot reclaim us. We are of God. The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. Where is your relationship? Are you of God or are you of the wicked one? It can't be both. It is one or the other. As I say, we who are of God many times live as though we were of the wicked one, and sometimes those who are of the wicked one put on a pretty good front trying to live like those who are of God, but God knows which is which, and there should be a difference. The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.

Of course, as I have been referring to it, you know that this is Satan, this is the Devil, this is the archenemy of God and God's children. Jesus referred to Him as the god of this world . John wasn't just off on some kind of a fringe movement when he said that the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. Jesus said that too. Paul referred to him, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as the god of this age . Satan is in control of this world and this world's system. That explains a lot of things. Many times people reject God because they ask, “How can a loving God let all of these kinds of things happen? Where is God when teenagers start shooting their classmates? Where is God when serial rapists are allowed to go free?”

Let me tell you something. This is Satan's world; and those activities take place in Satan's world. Certainly God is sovereign over all things of the world, but in His sovereignty, He has allowed Satan in this period of human history to be the god of this world, to be the prince of this world, to have the whole world in his sway. So it is Satan who is to blame for those kinds of things, and it is the lack of our faithfulness in telling people about Jesus Christ and bringing people to know Jesus Christ that adds to that kind of thing. It is our laxity as a nation for allowing our government to put us in a position where it is illegal to talk about the Word of God in public places. That contributes to that kind of thing. We are playing right into Satan's hands. The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one, and too many times we as Christians don't do anything about that. Too many times we allow our government to get by with keeping us from doing anything about this.

I have been convicted personally in the past few weeks, and this is a very delicate issue to talk about. I have to be careful that I make myself clear. I am afraid that many times when we think about all that is wrong with our nation and all that is wrong with our world, we think that the solution is to get politics cleaned up. Certainly politics need to be cleaned up. I don't mean to imply in way that they do not. We need to pray that Christians will run for public office. I have heard during the past week that in the state of Louisiana, there is a group of people who have as their stated goal to have Christians running for every elective office in the state. That is well and good, but let me tell you something. We can get this government cleaned up to the point that it would be exactly like the founding fathers envisioned it, and we would still have problems because the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one. Listen, the world lies under the sway of the wicked one, and if you want to do something about changing conditions in our nation and our world, get busy and preach the gospel, or if you are not gifted or bold enough to preach the gospel, get busy supporting those who are preaching the gospel. That is the answer to the needs of our world, and that is not an over simplification because God says, “The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.” Certainly vote for the best political one you can find and support them and help them; but let's keep things in priority here and let's recognize that that kind of thing, as important as it is, is still only secondary. If you have to make a choice of where to put your money and you have to make a choice where you spend your time, spend your time and your money to get people saved because that is the only hope for our nation, and that is what will lead to getting the kind of government that God would like to bless us with.

There is a difference between those who are of God and those who are under the sway of the Devil. Does your life reflect that difference? Does my life reflect that difference? That is a sobering question, isn't it? If we will be honest with ourselves, it is a sobering question. The certainty of relationship—what ought to come from that? Certainly we need to be with those under the sway of the Devil. This doesn't mean that we should build a moat around our church or neighborhood and never have anything to do with non-Christians. Let me ask you something. How many unsaved people are you personally acquainted with? I think that this is another weakness of twentieth-century Christians. We keep ourselves inside the moat, and we don't really take the trouble to get acquainted with unsaved people. I know that many of you do have unsaved ones in your own families, but we need, in order to win people to Christ, have a relationship with them. We need to do some of the same things they do and go where they are. We need to reach out to them, but we will not think like they do, and we don't respond like they do because we are of God and they are under the sway of the wicked one.

The Certainty Of Reality

Finally, in verses 20-21, we have the certainty of reality. In verse 18, “We know…” Verse 19, “We know…” and here is the third thing we know in verse 20, where we read:

I John 5:

20And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life.

John doesn't want us to misunderstand this difference. In verse 19, he introduces with the phrase “we are of God.” We have just been talking about that, but now notice how specifically he puts that: “We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true…” It is not that we are superior to those who are under the sway of the wicked one; it is that God has given us an understanding of Himself. He has opened our eyes. We talk sometimes about when we found the Lord. We didn't find the Lord; He found us. We didn't somehow become wise enough to understand God; He opened our eyes. But we know that. We have that certainty, the certainty of reality. “We are in Him who is true,” he says in verse 10, and he says farther down in the verse, “This is the true God, and eternal life.”

The word true there is a translation of a Greek word that can be translated “real” or “reality.” You see, we whom God has found and drawn to Himself and opened our eyes and given to us an understanding, we are the ones who understand reality. We are usually thought of as the oddballs and the lunatic fringe and the radical right. The Word of God says that we are the ones who see things as they really are because we have an understanding given to us by God of what the truth is. The certainty of reality. This is the true God and eternal life.

I have mentioned before that when John uses this term, eternal life , he is talking not just about quantity of life, not just about length of life, but he is talking about quality of life. When we know Jesus Christ, eternal life has already begun. Heaven has already begun because we are His children. Even though we live outside the gates of Heaven, we are still His children and we have a home being prepared for us where eternal life, Heaven, has already begun for us. John says, as he closes his letter to them, “I want you to remember the certainty of reality, the boldness that brings, the assurance that brings.

A Warning

It is no surprise that he ends his letter in verse 21 with this little warning. If we hadn't read through these other verses so carefully, it might surprise us to find this. Look what he says:

I John 5:

21Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.

Sometimes we hear about a very wealthy person who has decided not to take advantage of all of his wealth for whatever reason. We hear about a wealthy person who lives as a bag woman in some major city or a homeless person even though he is from a wealthy family. We have been talking about the wonderful riches that are ours and the boldness and the assurance of which we ought to live, but John knows the problem that we all know. It is easy to forget when we get excited and start talking about these things of assurance. There is a little underlying current here that John knows he must mention before he closes the letter, and that is idolatry.

Those of you who have listened to me preach very long are not going to say it, but there may be somebody who hasn't heard it very much and you will say, “Idolatry! That went out with the time of the Romans.” Yes. John wrote to those first century Christians, and it is just as true today. “Keep yourself from idols.” With all the assurances that we have and all of the truth that we have, with all of the reality that we know in the relationship that we have and the life which is ours, there is something that can trip us up more quickly than anything else—idolatry.

In some of the reading that I did in studying this passage, I read about a person who had made a trip to Greece and Rome, and he had been impressed with the idol temples that were there. He is a Christian, and he talked about the antiquity of those idols. As he was on the plane coming home, he thought about how all of those idols had died out, and it was almost as if a light bulb came on when he thought that and he realized that those idols hadn't died at all. We still have those same idols with us today because he had seen a temple to the god of wine and women and song, and he realized that the idol was still alive today. There are people who worship Bacchus, even though they may not even know his name. Their lives are built around getting pleasure in any way that they can. That is their god.

There is a goddess of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. You realize there are bigger shrines in California and in other parts of our country to Venus than there are in Rome. Hollywood and the media promote the worship of Venus by another name. I believe the most powerful idol of all is Narcissus and he was the Greek god who fell in love with himself. How many of us worship at the shrine of Narcissus? What I want. What seems right to me. And if you don't seem to share the same opinion that I do, then there is something wrong with you. I am the one who will decide what I will do with my life. You see, whatever it is that causes you to make the decisions that you make, that causes you to spend your money where you spend it and your time where you spend it and treat people the way that you do and determine the priorities of your life, that is your god. It may not have a name. It may not fit specifically in one little category, but whatever it is that determines what we do and what we think and where we go, where we spend our money and how we try to look, that is our idol. So in the face of all of this reassurance and all of this boldness that is legitimately ours and ought to guide our lives, it ought to characterize our lives. I think if John were reading this for us like an author sometimes reads his own work, he would lower his voice almost to a whisper and he would say, “Keep yourself from idols,” and he would walk off the stage.

Conclusion

What an appropriate way to end our study of his letter. In the face of all the assurances, the things that we have so much to be thankful for, the things that we have every right and should be enthusiastic in laying claim to, keep yourself from idols.


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