If you’re like me, your faith comes under threat. Sometimes it’s my sin that causes me to ask questions about God’s work in my life. “How can a believer sin in this way?” Sometimes my experiences cause me to question the benefits of belief. “Why is my life filled with so many challenges?” Sometimes these internal and external threats to my faith cause me to question the very character of God. “If God is good, why would He allow such things!?”
Whether we have questions about our faith, our situation, or our God—uncertainty is the fruit of a faith under threat. Thankfully, God doesn’t desire that we harvest such “uncertain” fruit. Rather, it’s God’s desire that we harvest the fruit of certainty. This is possible as we rehearse what we know about God’s gracious gifts to us.
You and I can find certainty, even amid uncertainty, when we focus on what we certainly have in Him.
I believe this is what the Apostle John is instructing in 1 John 5:13–20. John is writing to an audience with their faith under threat. Apparently there were antichrists and false teachers spreading lies in the church (e.g., 2:22, 26; 4:1). In an effort to combat the uncertainty that such lies would cause, John highlights five of God’s gracious gifts.
God’s Gift of Eternity
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13)
First off, John wants us to know that we possess—here and now—a present certainty of the life we have received in Christ. This is not a knowledge that John intends for us to grow gradually into. It ought to be fixed permanently in our minds. Believing in the name of the Son of God means we have eternal life (cf. 5:11-12).
Uncertainty has a way of pulling our focus downward. Some of us, like Martha, busy ourselves with serving. We fill our calendars. We take action. But, often our actions are not in faith. Rather, they are our attempts to find certainty in our own strength. Others close their hearts to the needy (cf. 1 John 3:17–18). In a world of uncertainty, we may hold on to tangible things, our goods and possessions. We close our hearts because we don’t know what tomorrow might bring.But by possessing eternity, we don’t need to trouble ourselves with controlling every detail of our lives. We don’t need to worry if things don’t go as planned. With eternity in view, we don’t have to cling to worldly goods. Although we don’t know what tomorrow will bring, knowing that we have eternal life allows us to release the white-knuckle grip we have on our plans and our goods. The gift of eternal life liberates both the controller and the hoarder. It frees us to trust and to give.
God’s Gift of Prayer
“And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us” (5:14).
Having obtained eternal life means we can approach God with confidence. The gift of eternity secures access to God, and we can ask anything according to his will. You and I are free to pray whatever we wish. Yet, the requests to be answered are those that lay not within our will, but God’s. We’re reminded how Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done…” (Matt 6:9–10).
Important as it is to understand that our prayers are answered in alignment with the will of God, John’s main point is more general. John continues, “And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him” (5:15). If we know he hears us, then we know he has our requests. The point is not that our needs are under debate with God, rather it is enough just that he hears us!
Here’s what we know in the midst of uncertainty: God hears our prayers! He has our requests. When your faith comes under threat, know that God hears you. According to John, prayer is “a bulwark against despair. Hope and confidence thrive in the certainty that God listens to his children.”
God’s Gift of Transformation
The gift of transformation is a major theme found throughout John’s epistle. John addresses it at length in 3:4-10 and summarizes it for us in 5:18, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning…” While much has been written about what John means by this, I’m convinced that John means this: to live in persistent rebellion to the commands of God is outside of the logic of Christianity. It’s a violation of terms. To live in persistent un-repentant, openhanded sin is to give testimony to un-forgiveness and unbelief.
Yet, here we have hope because we don’t live such a life! We sin when we are swept away, when we stumble, when we fall into it. However, we hate our sin, feel shame, and wish to purge it from ourselves. In contrast, the man who “keeps on sinning” does so “completely deliberately, in cold blood, with his eyes wide-open, of set purpose taking his own way, even when he is well aware that it is wrong.” Even in our worst condition and under the direst circumstances, cling to the fact that your aim is to please Him. Cling to the fact that God has delivered from the bondage of sin and death (cf. Rom 6:15–23). Find certainty in God’s gift of transformation.
God’s Gift of Craftsmanship
The fourth gift of certainty is the concept of the Lord's craftsmanship.
“We know what we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19)
We are from God because we have been born of God. We are his handiwork. We were not only created, or formed physically, but we as Christians have been born again. We have been re-created. When John says, “we are from God,” he asserts a fact, not a mere thought or idea. You and I are owned by God having been re-made in Him. In the words of Paul, “we are His craftsmanship, created in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:10).
What does it look like to be gripped by the certainty that you are God’s craftsmanship? It means that from inside of us there is a source that can dissolve or deliver us from the bondage of sin and shatter any power that worldly fear or pleasure might have over us.
As God’s creations, we are protected from the “world,” which languishes in the “power of the evil one.” It’s this world and its invisible system of evil that lies in the power of the evil one. Importantly, John doesn’t say the world is ofthe evil one. Satan did not create the world, rather he is the usurper who has control…for a time. In contrast, we were created “as from God,” and though our earthly lives are tainted with sin, we have the miraculous choice to serve either our ultimate Creator, Savior, and Lord, or to serve the one bent on destroying God’s craftsmanship.
God’s Gift of Understanding
“And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding…” (5:20)
According to John, God has not only given us the gift of eternity, prayer, transformation, and his craftsmanship, but He has given us the faculties to take hold of them. As we know, understanding relates to our thinking or cognition. The author of Hebrews uses the word in 8:10, speaking of the New Covenant, “[The Lord] will put [His] laws into [our] minds, and write them on [our] hearts…” Peter charges us to be “preparing your minds for action” (1 Pet 1:13). Literally, gird up the loins of our minds.
With the certainty that Jesus has come and that He has given us understanding, John connects the historical and experiential. What happened in the past has present implications. You and I are able to understand true reality. Or, as Francis Schaefer used to say, “true truth.” What is true reality? What is true truth? It’s hard to say it better than John did in the purpose statement of his Gospel. “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30–31).
There are many things to be uncertain of in this world. You might not know the divisions of Euclidean geometry. You might not be able to explain Plato’s Forms. You might be uncertain about how gravity operates in a black hole. You might not be able to name a novel written by Dostoevsky (you might not know he was a famous author!). You might be uncertain about the philosophy of Descartes, Voltaire, Kant, Nietzsche, or Foucault. You might not know where the Beatles got their name or who will win the Superbowl! None of this you may know, but this you can be certain of: the Son of God has come. As the Apostle Paul declared, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Tim 1:15). And, “I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Tim 1:12).
Uncertainty is the fruit of a faith under threat, not a lack of faith. Thankfully, God doesn’t want us to harvest the fruit of uncertainty, rather, it’s God desire that we harvest the fruit of certainty. This happens as we rehearse what we know about God’s character and His gracious gifts to us. You and I can find certainty in the midst of uncertainty when we focus on these gracious gifts from God.
 R. Alan Culpepper, Quoted in D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1991), 256.
 William Barclay, The Letters of John and Jude (Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1960), 142.