1 John 5:13–17: Prayer
John’s first letter—the letter we are studying in this book—does not stand alone. John wrote another book called the Gospel of John, and the two need to be read together. The Gospel of John and the First Letter of John are unified in their message and theology, but John writes each with a different purpose in mind. Taken together, John’s Gospel and his first letter complement and reinforce each other.
If you remember from all the way back in the introduction to this book, we looked at how John’s primary goal in his Gospel is to evangelize—that is, to tell the good news of Jesus to people who do not yet believe. He does not reveal this purpose until near the very end of his Gospel, where he writes the following:
30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30–31)
So, John tells us that his purpose for writing this Gospel was to introduce us to Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God so that by believing in Jesus, we may have life in his name. For this reason, the Gospel of John narrates the story of Jesus, telling us about his disciples, his teachings, his miracles, his enemies, his crucifixion, his death, and his resurrection—everything we need to know and believe to be saved.
John wrote this letter, however, for a different purpose. Instead of writing a letter to evangelize those who do not yet believe, he wrote it to perfect and strengthen the faith of those who already believe in Jesus. As in his Gospel, the Apostle John does not reveal his purpose for writing until the end of 1 John. Here, John uses strikingly similar terms to what he wrote in his purpose statement from the Gospel of John:
These things I wrote to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, to those of you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:13)
John’s Gospel was written “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,” but John’s letter was written “to those of you who believe in the name of the Son of God.” The goal of John’s Gospel was “that by believing you may have life in his name,” but John’s letter was written “that you may know that you have eternal life.”
In other words, the Apostle John wrote 1 John as a primer for disciples. His goal in this letter is to help people know and love Jesus better who already believe that he is the Christ, the Son of God, so the entire letter is filled with warnings against falling away and instructions on how Christians ought to behave on the basis of the love of God we have already come to know.
This doesn’t mean 1 John has no value for non-Christians. I have personally seen someone come to know Jesus through studying 1 John. Because of the way 1 John gives such a clear picture of what lifelong, faithful discipleship after Jesus should look like, people who do not yet believe in Jesus can learn a lot about Christianity from studying this letter. Likewise, the Gospel of John has extraordinary relevance for disciples of Jesus, so it’s important we don’t make the mistake of pushing this generalization too far.
What this means, though, is that all the subjects John tackles in 1 John—his explanation of the gospel, his instructions about love, his insistence on truth, and even his encouragements about perseverance, persecution, and discernment—have been written to teach those of us who believe in the name of the Son of God that we indeed have eternal life. John has a practical purpose in mind for gaining this knowledge, but for now, let’s take a closer look at what John is telling us in verse 13.
1. Has your understanding of what discipleship training should look like changed at all through studying 1 John? If so, how?
2. In what ways has 1 John helped you to know that you have eternal life?
3. When you feel confident, are you inclined to pray more or less? How does John’s definition change how we normally think about confidence?
4. Who are the prodigal believers whom you need to pray for?