Post Series on 1 John 5:18-20:
- He Who Was Born of God Protects You from the Touch of the Evil One (1 John 5:18)
- The Whole World Lies in the Power of the Evil One (1 John 5:19)
- Jesus is the True God and Eternal Life (1 John 5:20)
- Little children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
John closes his First Letter with three “We have come to know” statements and one command. In 1 John 5:18, the Apostle writes the first of these statements:
We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
It’s not horrible for the ESV to translate the first word as “We know,” as though this were present tense, but v. 18, 19, and 20 actually uses the perfect tense: “We have come to know.” The perfect carries the idea of a past action with ongoing significance (which is why a present tense translation isn’t horrible), suggesting that these are principles that we have come to learn in the course of our Christian experience, and that these principles have a huge impact even today on how we think of God, ourselves, and even the evil one (v. 18, 19).
Just as in 1 John 3:4-10, John explains that being born of God is incompatible with ongoing sin. John writes the phrase “everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning” to convey two senses of meaning: (1) a pure description of the nature of those born of God; and (2) an exhortation to continue to put the remaining sin in our lives to death by the grace of Christ.
First, John genuinely does mean to convey the idea that we are radically changed by virtue of being born of God so that we cannot sin any longer without compunction. When we become the children of God, sin slowly begins to lose the flavor that we once enjoyed, and even when we still crave sin, it sits bitterly in our stomachs no matter how sweet it tastes in our mouths. The children of God increasingly develop a palate suited for, and satisfied by, the Bread of Life alone.
But second, John writes this statement as an exhortation to abandon whatever sin still remains in our lives. Although this isn’t phrased as a command (e.g., “do not keep on sinning”), we might as well read it as such.
What we should not do, however, is to think that we are alone in the war that we wage on the lingering sin in our lives. On the contrary, John is explicit that we have supernatural help, for “he who was born of God protects” us. This is a play on words, moving from describing “everyone who has been born of God” as a whole, to then singling out the one Person who could uniquely be described as “he who was born of God,” Jesus the Christ.
But Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is our Great Protector not only against sin, but even against the evil one himself. No matter what temptation the Great Tempter throws at us–despair, lust, envy, greed, pride, hatred, etc.–John tells us that Satan cannot “touch” us because of the perfect protection of the Son of God.
More precisely, the word “touch” might be translated as “fasten to, take hold of, cling to” (Donald Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, 393). No matter what Satan tries, he is not in an evenly matched fight. The eternal Son of God–Jesus, who is the Christ–has conquered Satan forever through his death and resurrection.
And here is what we should learn from knowing this: our struggle against sin is not something that we do alone. Yes, by the mercies of God I implore you–put to death your sinful nature! But it is not as though God simply watches us from heaven, curious to see how well we end up doing. The whole story of the gospel is that God came down from heaven to come to our rescue!
As you struggle against your sin, remember that God himself has sworn an unbreakable oath to assist you–the Father issued the promise, the Son sealed the promise in his own blood, and the Spirit confirms the promise by his anointing on your life. Prayer is your greatest weapon against sin, because through prayer you enlist the Triune Warrior in your battle.
He who was born of God protects you, even at the cost of his own life. The Evil One has no chance of touching you.