14 And this is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
15 And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this.
17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death.
(1 John 5:14-17, NASB).
This is the confidence which we have before Him. Confidence! I must share the Greek lexicon’s definitions of this word, “parrhesia”:
1) freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech
1a) openly, frankly, i.e without concealment
1b) without ambiguity or circumlocution
1c) without the use of figures and comparisons
2) free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance
3) the deportment by which one becomes conspicuous or secures publicity
We have confidence in speech before Him. This is a fairly incredible thought! We can ask anything according to His will, and He hears us. Of course we could always ask anything at all, and He would hear us because He is omniscient and He knows everything. However, this confidence is that He hears us. What is the difference?
First there is the obvious issue of our guilt. Without Christ, we have no confidence; our conscience makes us hide in the shadows and we literally don’t come and ask in the first place. If we do, the only thing we know in our heart that we could expect is wrath. People try to hang the blame for this expectation of wrath on the church, which may be somewhat true. But it is mostly the active conscience working in concert with the reality of sin and failure in a person’s life which prevents them from asking. As Jesus said, “men love the darkness”. Going to God to ask for something would be like a robber who got robbed going to the police – he just wouldn’t do that. He wouldn’t have any confidence to ask for justice, because justice stands first against him. Outside of Christ, there is something within us that knows this is how it is. As long as we have some secret part of us that believes that the blood of Jesus is insufficient, we lack this confidence of speech before God. So He wouldn’t hear us in this sense because nothing has really been asked of Him in the first place.
Secondly, there is the issue of the reality of His wrath. People may think they can make certain promises of reform in dire situations and then pray to God, expecting Him to bargain with them. This is not a confident prayer! The truth is, even if the unbeliever does ask anything of God, the right and beautiful and loving justice of God stands against them. Justice says, you have taken this wrong turn and this wrong turn, ignoring the needs of many people around you and making decisions which enhance your own short-term pleasure while harming or destroying yourself and others in the process. Then, from the bottom of the hell you have made for yourself, you ask for God’s blessing, based on some merit-based promise as atonement. None of this works! Justice not only demands that your request go unheeded, but almost that things would go the opposite way from your request. There isn’t just apathy going on here, there is wrath!
So, without Christ, without His atoning and propitiating blood, we go to God laden with very present guilt, if we go at all. If we go, the reality and truth of our guilt means that the love and justice of God demands that He ignore us, at best. In Christ, we have confidence from our conscience that our true sins have been richly avenged and declared awful. We have a confidence that God the Father honors Jesus’ blood, and that our justification is true. Thus we can go with confidence and make our request.
According to His Will
We have an interesting little caveat embedded in the middle of this verse: the request must be “according to His will”. I have always thought it means, that God has a secret plan or agenda, and as long as you are asking for something which was already in line with His secret plan, He would do it because He was already going to do it anyway. So praying for something wasn’t so much about making a request, but figuring out what He is already all about and praying for that instead. I think there may be some truth to that notion, but I don’t think that is entirely what is being said here. One of the problems with this idea is that it presupposes an incredible level of mystic knowledge of God’s agenda that I don’t think we have. It would be impossible to really know God’s will to this level, and it would have the effect of either shutting down our prayer life entirely or else of praying under a damaging and false pretense that would be a bad basis for having God listen.
However, the real problem with this interpretation is that it violates the notion of the word “ask”. When we ask something, we are inquiring about something that we don’t know. If we knew, it wouldn’t be a situation where we ask – we would be agreeing. Asking implies that there is something we want, but we’re not sure if we will get it. If it is not according to His will, He will answer without wrath: there is a better way. If we are to ask Him something, it does not mean that we have foreknowledge of His will and that we should not ask unless it is according to His will. It means that He is God, all-knowing and all-wise and perfectly just and loving, and He will listen and do what is best in response. He wants us to ask, which means He doesn’t want us to pretend to know His response. So the truth is, if you really do want cadillacs and a big house and a super-model spouse and fame and fortune and such, you can ask! In Christ there is no wrath, and no request is off the table. It just includes the idea that His answer is His own, and He is going to respond in a way that is consistent with His love and justice and concern for your whole genuine well-being.
So when it says that if we ask according to His will, He hears us, it doesn’t mean that there is an imperative lurking there that we should only ask if we already know it is according to His will. We can ask anything. We don’t know what things are according to His will, and presuming such knowledge violates the very nature of asking Him for something. Ask away! Ask for anything! Just do it with the understanding that He is real, and He is God, and He will respond according to His will.
Grace changes what you freely ask
Asking in accordance with His will means that we ask from a standpoint of faith in Christ – that we have come to know and to believe the love which God has for us. It means that we perceive that we have unending resurrection love coming at us all the time underserved, a perfect love which persists beyond all of our selfishness and pride and plans to end all of our relationships. It means that we are looking forward to the incredible blessing of eternal life! If we have come into that mindset, it changes a lot of the dynamic. For one thing, it changes what we want. It isn’t so much that we want creature comforts, because we see these things as passing away, and we are looking to the longer term in Christ because of our great assurance. It also means that our main goal becomes seeing people escape their entanglement in wrath and judgement in order to enter into a life of confidence in God’s love for them. We see people not as objects of wrath, but as objects of God’s love and mercy and grace. I find myself wanting to invite people who need it into my home, and so I ask for a better place to be more hospitable so that I have more chance to speak eternal grace and truth into their life. My requests begin to naturally hinge around the eternally substantive – I pray for the church to grow, for resources to grow the church and help needy people and launch people into their ministries. But I do not have confidence to pray because I am asking for wiser things – I don’t have any confidence about this! I have confidence to ask because Jesus has taken away the wrath against my sins!
He Hears Us
He hears us! God the Father, the maker of heaven and earth, perfect and eternal, the source of all wisdom and power and truth and love, is listening to us! He wants us to ask Him for stuff! Ask! This is amazing! He wants us to ask with confidence, and He doesn’t want us second guessing what we should or shouldn’t ask for; He wants us to ask for ANYTHING. He wants us to realize that He will answer as is best for all of us. When we ask, He does things that He otherwise might not do, so our requests have the effect that God changes His plans to accomodate us! This is incredible. Expect favor and love and affection from Him through Christ, and ask ask ask. He loves you, and He wants to know what you want. Expect good from Him; He longs to bless you!
23 “Truly, truly, I say to you, if you shall ask the Father for anything, He will give it to you in My name.
24 “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.
25 “These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; an hour is coming when I will speak no more to you in figurative language, but will tell you plainly of the Father.
26 “In that day you will ask in My name, and I do not say to you that I will request the Father on your behalf;
27 for the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me, and have believed that I came forth from the Father.
(John 16:23-27, NASB).
Hearing = Having
It is an amazing thing to know that God hears us when we pray. It is an amazing thing that He receives our requests with kindness and respect and dignity, and that He seriously weighs out whether or not to grant the request.
But John goes further here. He says, if we know that He hears our request, we know that we have our request! We have such favor and even such respect from the Father that there really isn’t all that much weighing out and deciding going on at all. He bends things and arranges things in order to grant our request! If He hears the request, He grants it! God the Father is quite a softy, when it comes to requests made from a group of people who believe in His Son and cling to the grace that comes through Him.
Can this really be true? Can we really have an assurance that He not only hears but grants our requests? Well, after all, that’s what it says. Rejoice!