1 John Lesson Twelve: 1 John 5:14-21 – Prayer and Three Christian Certainties

14 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for. 

16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin that does not bring death, he should ask, and God will give life to him—to those who commit sin that doesn’t bring death. There is sin that brings death. I am not saying he should pray about that. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin that does not bring death. 

18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the One who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 

19 We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. 

20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One—that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 

21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (HCSB)

I’ll be dividing this lesson into four parts.

  • Verses 14-15 – Effective prayer.
  • Verses 16-17 – Confronting sin.
  • Verses 18-19 – How Christians act.
  • Verses 20-21 – We know the truth.

Effective Prayer

As we dig deeper into the first two verses in this passage, talking about prayer, we need to focus on the idea that godly prayer is prayer that aligns with God’s will, not our wants. Let’s look at some points John is talking about regarding prayer.

  • We have confidence when we bring our prayers before God.
    • In the original Greek, confidence means “freedom of speech.”
    • We have the freedom to bring our petitions before God and tell Him our needs and the needs of others.
  • First, there are some conditions that must be met before our prayers are heard by God.
    • We need a heart that doesn’t condemn. 1 John 3:21-22 – Dear friends, if our conscience doesn’t condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and can receive whatever we ask from Him because we keep His commands and do what is pleasing in His sight.
    • Unconfessed sin is an obstacle to prayer. Psalms 66:18 – If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.
    • Husbands must honor their wives. 1 Peter 3:7 – Husbands, in the same way, live with your wives with an understanding of their weaker nature yet showing them honor as coheirs of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
    • We must settle our differences with other believers. Matthew 5:23-25 – So if you are offering your gift on the altar, and there you remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Reach a settlement quickly with your adversary while you’re on the way with him, or your adversary will hand you over to the judge, the judge to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.
    • We must abide in Christ, demonstrating love and obedience. John 15:7 – If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want and it will be done for you.
  • Second, we must pray in alignment with God’s will.
    • Matthew 6:10b – Your will be done.
    • George Muller, who ran several orphanages in England during the 1800s housing thousands of orphans, said: “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance. It is laying hold of God’s willingness.”
    • There are times we can only pray, “Not my will, but yours be done.” (from Luke 22:42)
    • If we are immersed in God’s Word, we can determine His will by reading Scripture and listening to the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:26-27 – In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. 27 And He who searches the hearts  knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God
    • God wants to supply our needs, not our greed. Philippians 4:19 – And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 Now to our God and Father be glory forever and ever.
    • If we walk with God, obey His commands, and pray for things that glorify God and build His kingdom, those requests will be answered.
    • James warns about praying with the wrong motive. James 4:3 – You ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your evil desires.
    • We also need to remember that God may answer the request in a way that is different from what we anticipated. Also, God will answer the request in His time, not ours. We may have to wait longer than we’d like to get the answer.
  • As we mature in our prayer life, we must learn to see things from God’s point of view, not from ours.
    • We study Scripture to learn about God’s will in a general sense.
    • As we face circumstances in life, we take these general principles and apply them to specific circumstances.
    • We pray for what God wants, not what we want.
    • When we do that, our prayers will be answered.
    • John Stott wrote – “Prayer is not a convenient device for imposing our will upon God, or for bending His will to ours, but the prescribed way of subordinating our will to His. It is by prayer that we seek God’s will, embrace it and align ourselves with it. Every true prayer is a variation of the theme ‘Your will be done’”.

Confronting Sin

John now talks about sins that don’t lead to death and sins that do lead to death. What could John be talking about when he mentions “sin that brings death?” Scholars and theologians have wrestled with this question and have come up with four possibilities, although none are clear-cut. Here are the four.

  • A terrible sin that God will not pardon. There isn’t anything in the New Testament that fits the definition of this kind of sin. Peter cursed and denied Jesus three times. That’s about as bad a sin as we could imagine. Yet, a short period of time later, Peter was eating a meal with Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
  • It’s talking about some type of apostasy, to deliberately turn from being a follower of Christ. However, 1 John 3:9 appears to teach that a true Christian can’t fall away from the faith. If some do, it’s an indication they were never a follower in the first place.
  • John is talking about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, a sin Matthew says will not be forgiven (Matthew 12:31-32) But how could John call someone like that a “brother?”
  • John is talking about a physical death. Some Christians in Scripture sinned so badly that God took their lives; Ananias and Sapphire (Acts 5:1-11), the man sinning with his stepmother in 1 Corinthians 5, the people who “fell asleep” in 1 Corinthians 11 because they were abusing the Lord’s supper.

Although we don’t know the correct interpretation, we can focus on a positive point from John’s message. We need to be praying for our brothers and sisters who are in sin. This type of request would align with God’s will. Jesus prayed for Peter on the night he was betrayed, and we should do the same for others.

One final point here. John is not being soft on sin. He writes that “all unrighteousness is sin.”

How Christians Act

John is not talking about the occasional or accidental sins that believers commit. John is talking about habitual and deliberate sins. Because a believer has a new nature, their desires should change from the realm of darkness to the kingdom of light. Let’s dig into this deeper.

  • A Christian faces three enemies, all of which want to lead them into sin.
    • Satan.
      • The whole world is under the sway of the evil one – 1 John 5:19.
      • Satan is the god of this age, meaning this world. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – But if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case, the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
      • Satan is the ruler of this world. John 14:30 – I will not talk with you much longer, because the ruler of the world is coming. He has no power over Me.
      • Satan is the spirit who works in the children of disobedience. Ephesians 2:2 – in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens, the spirit now working in the disobedient.
      • Satan tells lies. Genesis 3 and 2 Corinthians 11:1-3. When people listen, they turn from and disobey God’s truth.
      • Satan may inflict physical suffering.
        • Job.
        • Paul: 2 Corinthians 12:7b-9 – Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.
        • David: 1 Chronicles 21.
    • The flesh.
      • The old nature still lies within us even after we are born again.
      • We have a new nature, but we don’t always yield to the new nature.
    • The world.
      • The world is our enemy. 1 John 2:15-17 – Do not love the world  or the things that belong to the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything that belongs to the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride in one’s lifestyle—is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 And the world with its lust is passing away, but the one who does God’s will remains forever.

A believer faces three very formidable foes. How does a believer keep from sinning? The answer is in verse eighteen. 

  • Jesus keeps us. The word “keep” has two meanings here.
    • One is to “watch over.” Jesus watches over us, so the evil one doesn’t touch us.
    • Because Jesus “watches over” us, we are able to obey His instructions.
  • We see an illustration of this in Luke 22:31-32 – “Simon, Simon, look out! Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
  • Satan can’t touch a believer without God’s permission.
  • If God gives permission to Satan to attack us, it also means He has given us the ability to resist the attack through His power. God will never allow us to be tested beyond the capability of our strength in Him. 1 Corinthians 10:13 – No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape so that you are able to bear it

We Know the Truth

The truth John is talking about here is that the Son of God has come to redeem us, and He’s a reflection of the Father. Let’s take a deeper look at these last two verses,

  • Jesus is God the Son.
    • Jesus, in human form but fully divine, was a reflection of the Father.
    • The characteristics that Jesus displayed are the same that make up the Father.
    • When we study and understand who Jesus was, how He acted toward others, and how He acted in situations, we see the Father on display, and we see how we should act as followers of Christ.
  • Because we know, worship, and serve the true God, we are connected with reality.
    • The “true One” means the original as opposed to a copy or the authentic as opposed to an imitation.
    • Jesus is the true light. John 1:9 – The true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
    • Jesus is the true bread. John 6:32 – Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Moses didn’t give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the real bread from heaven.
    • Jesus is the true vine. John 15:1 – “I am  the true vine, and My Father is the vineyard keeper.”
    • Jesus is truth. John 14:6 – Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
  • Jesus came into the world to give us an understanding of the truth.
    • The truth of Jesus repudiates the false teaching in the world.
    • Some of the false teachers claimed to have a special knowledge of God and salvation apart from Jesus.
    • God can only be known in one way, through Jesus.
    • Truth can only be known in one way, through Jesus.
    • Anything that claims something different from what Jesus taught is false and a work of Satan.
  • Christians live in an atmosphere of reality or truth, while unbelievers live in an atmosphere of lies and falsehood.
    • Followers of Christ have been given spiritual discernment to know the truth from lies.
    • Unbelievers don’t have this understanding.
    • Christians don’t choose between good and bad; they choose between true and false.
  • John doesn’t end Colossians with a typical farewell. Instead, he delivers a stern warning.
    • By using the phrase “little children,” John is indicating a deep love for the recipients of the letter.
    • It may seem out of place for John to be addressing the issue of idols here. But, a theme of the entire epistle was the idea of truth versus lies. John is warning them to reject idols and cling to Christ; reject the false and embrace the real.
    • What idols was John warning against?
      • The best interpretation is that John was warning against anything that would take the place of God.
        • 1 Thessalonians 1:9 – For they themselves report what kind of reception we had from you: how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.
        • Ephesians 5:5 – For know and recognize this: Every sexually immoral  or impure  or greedy person, who is an idolater, does not have an inheritance in the kingdom  of the Messiah and of God.
        • Colossians 3:5 – Therefore, put to death what belongs to your worldly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.
      • In the context of this letter, John was most likely referring to the “idols” of the false teachers who were saying Jesus was less than God.
        • The god of the false teachers was not just less than a perfect god; it was an idol.
        • The god of the false teachers was not true but a god of men’s imaginations.
      • For believers today, it is essential that they guard against any God-substitute. What are some of the idols that control people today?
        • Covetousness. A person may “worship” their bankbook or stock portfolio.
        • Adultery. A person may be addicted to pornography.
        • The thing we “serve” is the thing we worship. Whatever controls our lives is our god.


  • Be active in prayers that align with God’s will. All believers should have an active prayer life. But being active in prayer is not enough. Our prayers must align with God’s will. As we mature in our spiritual walk, we will grow in our understanding of God’s will for any given situation. One question to ask ourselves as we pray is, “Does this request bring glory to God?” If the prayer is answered, will God be glorified? Or is it a selfish prayer that benefits the person praying or another individual? 
  • When we see a fellow believer involved in sin, we are instructed to pray for them. Are you praying for those around you who are involved in the sinful activity? Everyone sins, and we all need the prayers of others to help us in this life.
  • Guard yourself against false teachers. There are many false teachers who preach an “attractive” message. We should always compare what a preacher/pastor/Bible teacher says against what Scripture says. If the message and Scripture don’t agree, it’s a red flag for false teaching. If you find yourself in that situation, you need to discuss it gracefully with the teacher. It’s possible they made an honest mistake, and they’ll correct it with the group who received the false message. If they don’t accept the charge of false teaching, you need to warn others who heard the message. Everyone in that group is in danger of being led astray.
  • Guard yourself against the idols of this world. In today’s modern world, there are too many potential idols to list. Some examples are jobs, positions, social media, pornography, drugs, or alcohol. The bottom line is that anything that takes a primary place in our lives and pulls us away from God is an idol.

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