18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was 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 lies in the power of the evil one.
20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding, in order that we might know Him who is true, and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life.
21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
(1 John 5:18-21, NASB).
So, having cleared away the idea that this verse is pointing to some exclusive “God club”, we can move on to realize that he is writing this to believers and determine what exactly he is saying to us.
First, again we see the importance and centrality of knowledge. We know that no one born of God sins. We know that we are of God. We know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding. It is important that we know things, that our minds have grasped the essential truths he is writing about.
Secondly, we see that it is a communal knowing: Christian epistemology is a community epistemology. It is not enough for me to have a private knowledge, because it is a love born of a triune God that is expressed as love. Love is about relationship, and Christian epistemology only takes root in terms of relationship. So, it is important to note that he says “we know”. It is perhaps true that no epistemology can exist in isolation, because knowing something requires communication and resonance in an other.
We are of God
We know that we are of God. I think this is such important knowledge! If we think that we merely have a nice opinion about things, that perhaps we’ve arrived at notions about the world that are better than others, then we don’t walk with an assurance that the living God is our Father, that we are the beloved bride of Christ, and that our sufferings and trials all have context. We are of God. Everything that happens gets turned for our good. Every mistake we make, every triumph, every failure, every win, can be construed according to grace. We have an independence and freedom and power that is not of the general bent of the world. We do not exist under wrath and our life does not consist of digging out from under the nagging suspicion that we do not measure up. We are greatly loved with resurrection power, and nothing can change that because it is an eternal gift.
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one!
The whole world lies in the power of the evil one. There is a huge and overarching grand conspiracy, a spirit of evil, who has power over everyone who is not of God. The lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life have a coercive hold upon non-believers. There is an intelligent and coordinated plan to play these things out in order to harm people. The whole universe of unbelievers, the universe which is the society of those under law and judgment, is controlled and confined under the power of the evil one. The evil one has active power! Unbelievers in the one-way love and mercy of God imagine they are free and that we believers in grace and the power of Christ’s blood are the fools, but they lie under an evil power.
We know this but apparently this is not something they know, or they would seek escape. I think this is helpful in realizing that when we are talking to someone, perhaps a religious non-believing moralist or an agnostic skeptic, we are not merely trying to convince them. We are confronting an evil world-wide conspiratorial power that is larger than they are. They are not merely unconvinced; they are worshipping an idol and seeking freedom from condemnation through its favor, and we are threatening that. There is also the problem that we know these things, but they don’t, but they think they know all that they need to know. There is therefore a Cain and Abel hostility dynamic (1 John 3:12,13). It will take one-way love, persistence, prayer, and grace to overcome those barriers.
It is an evil power. It sets up tempting desires, immoral desires, and then condemns harshly when those desires are grasped. It isn’t just that the idols of the world are dissatisfying – they are tempting and shaming. Have you ever wondered at the fact that the dynamic of temptation is to set up something wrong as desirable, and then when the thing is grasped, to swoop down with condemnation? When a politician is caught in an indiscretion, why is there such a delight in discovering it and condemning him or her? Because the world is under the power of the evil one, and this is an evil delight in someone’s destruction! It is interesting to contrast this with the kingdom of God, where the right thing is promoted, not as a temptation but as what is right, and when it is transgressed, there is forgiveness and covering of shame. The two are in exact opposition. The one is a kingdom of rightness and love and forgiveness, the other is a kingdom of wrongness and hatred and condemnation. The whole world lies under the power of this lustful boastful condemnation, and this is what we have escaped in Christ. The moralist thinks we escape by doing right and thus deserving forgiveness, but the truth is that we first escape condemnation and receive acceptance as a pure gift, and as a fruit or consequence of that we begin to have the unction and freedom to do right. Christ is the door, and there is no other way into the universe of one-way love (John 10:1,9).