Sure of Victory
1 John 3:19–4:4
First John 3:4–18 presents two commands central to the letter: Do not sin, and love fellow believers. Anyone who has closely examined his or her own life will have to admit failure in keeping these two commands. Yet John counters that we can be assured of victory despite our failures.
We have victory over doubt. (19–22)
Doubt can be debilitating. It can be the antithesis of faith and, according to James 1:6, can limit our ability to receive anything from God. External doubt coming from others is easier to counter than internal doubt coming from one’s own heart. Who knows how many Christians have been frozen in their growth and service in the Kingdom because they have convinced themselves they are unable or unworthy?
John encourages believers to rely on the true teachings they have heard: Jesus died so believers might live. That is a fact. Condemnation that comes from the heart is not fact, but feeling. The facts of who Jesus is and what He has done are greater than the feelings of doubt and condemnation that can come from the heart. Because of this, believers can come boldly before God in prayer (the word for “confidence” also means “boldness”).
We have victory because we remain in Jesus and He remains in us. (23–24)
John takes the two commands from earlier in the chapter and forms them into one command with two parts: believe and love. The name of Jesus is not a magical formula of just knowing and speaking His name. It is a placeholder for the character, message and sacrifice of Jesus. It appears 19 times in the book of Acts alone.
The result of believing in Jesus’ name is that God remains in us, and we remain in Him. The word translated “remain” (meno) means more than just to “stay” or “be with.” It means to be in union with, to be in the same place at the same time and in the same state of being. It can also mean “inseparable” as when water and alcohol are mixed.
As we believe in Jesus and express our love for fellow believers, we are in unity with Christ and with His Spirit He has given us.
We have victory because Jesus has conquered the world. (4:1–4)
This passage has often been used as a guide to deal with spiritual beings like angels and demons. Remember that John’s focus is on protecting believers from false prophets, and he mentions them specifically. So spirit refers to spiritual teaching or ideas, not spiritual entities. One common false teaching of the day was that of the Docetic Gnostics who believed Jesus could not have been flesh and blood because the flesh is evil. They said Jesus just seemed to be in physical form.
John encouraged believers to avoid any teaching that did not present Jesus as being fully human as well as fully divine. He uses the term “antichrist” again and, though he supplies the definite article (the), this is not a single person, but includes all who teach against Christ.
John closes this section with a verse that has given comfort to generations of believers. No matter what false teaching, false prophets or false doctrine comes into the world, it will never be able to defeat true believers. Jesus remains in us, and He is greater than anything in this world or the next.
By Daryl Watts
Watts is a church consultant in Fresno, California.