The Threefold Secret of Life

Study Guide to 1,2,3 John
by Francis Foulkes ©


'I write this to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence which we have in him, that if we as anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him' (5:13-15).

We have realized that this letter says a great deal about what the Christian can know and have as the certainties of faith in his life. At the beginning of our study we notice that this is the very purpose of the writing of the letter. It is expressed most clearly here in verse 13. We saw also the great purpose of John's Gospel as the writer tells his readers (in 20:31) 'that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ. The Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name'. Now the purpose of this letter, he says, is 'that you may know that you have eternal life' (verse 13).

a. The certainty of eternal life.

This is the great certainty for which the Christian should give thanks to God. Because Jesus Christ has come, died and risen again, we have the way back to God, the way of forgiveness and so of life in its right relationship with God. That is 'eternal life' that we can know here and now. It means also that we can face death without fear. The Lord Jesus has conquered death. For us, therefore, the death of our body is just the leaving behind of that part of us which is weak, is growing old and must one day perish. Our real life remains. As the apostle Paul puts it in his great chapter on the resurrection (see 1 Corinthians 15:53-47), 'this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality... death is swallowed up in victory ... thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ'. So John can say 'I write... that you may know that you have eternal life'.

It is not a boast or any confidence based on our own pride if we say we believe that God has given us that life. The acceptance of the gift of God's love is not pride. It is like a child trusting his father, and accepting thankfully what his father gives him. We can be sure of eternal life because we have accepted the gift that God has offered to us. We can be sure because of what has happened. The Son of God has come to our world to give us life: life by His death, life eternal and victorious over death because He conquered death and rose from the dead. This is the great certainty of faith for the Christian. We live by faith and in hope, but our faith and hope are based, not on feelings in our hearts, but on what God has done.

b. The certainty of prayer.

In 3:19-22 John wrote of the fact of our acceptance with God by His forgiveness. He went on to say that the result of that confidence that God will receive us could be realized day by day, by God's hearing and answering our prayers. 'We receive from him whatever we ask'. Now when he has spoken of the certainty of God accepting us and giving us eternal life, he again goes on to say what this means to us day by day in God's hearing and answering prayer. '... if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have obtained the requests made of him.'

There is one condition, notice, of answered prayer, and what is said here in this way is like what has been said in 3:21-22. There in chapter 3, it was said that confidence was based on our obeying God. As we studied that passage we thought of the way in which the Christian life day by day is a matter of doing God's will and Christian prayer is a matter of asking for His will to be done - in our lives and in the lives of others. So here true prayer, prayer that God certainly hears and certainly answers, is anything we ask 'according to his will'. What greater privilege and blessing for our daily lives can there be than this? Our Almighty heavenly Father loves to hear and answer our prayers. He has accepted us. And now, nothing in all the world, in all the universe can separate us from His love, 'neither death, nor life,... nor things present, nor things to come ... nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 8:38-39). So we can come to Him in prayer day by day and at any moment of the day, and ask Him for His wise and loving will to be done in our lives and in the lives of people anywhere in the whole world: - When we pray like that, we can even say, as verse 15 puts it, 'we know that we have obtained the requests made of Him'; we have obtained them already, even if we have not seen the answers to our prayers.


'Here indeed, is something on which to ponder. We are so apt to think that prayer is asking God for what we want, whereas true prayer is asking God for what He wants. We are so apt to think of prayer as talking to God - as indeed it is - whereas it is even more listening to God' (William Barclay).

For further thought and study.

1. The word 'confidence' is used four times in this letter - in 2:28, 3:21, 4:17, and 5:14. In what situation is it said in each of these passages that the Christian can have confidence?

2. In 1 Peter 3:15 it says that we should be ready to give to those who ask us a reason for the faith and hope that we have in Jesus Christ. How would you try to express to someone else why you feel assured of God's acceptance and His gift to you of eternal life?

Note. Verse 13 speaks of believing 'in the name of the Son of God'. We have had words like this in 3:23 and given explanation of them in a note there at the end of Study 11.