“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).- 1 John 5:20–21
We come today to the final two verses of 1 John. As we have seen over the past few days, John has been concluding with practical applications for his audience. Today we will see how he closes his epistle by reminding us of one final thing we know as children of God and how this knowledge is to determine our behavior.
John writes, “the Son of God has come” (1 John 5:20). This is yet another reference to the real incarnation of our Lord. The divine Son has come into the world and has taken on human flesh, a fact denied by the proto-Gnostic false teachers who confronted the audience of this epistle. However, those with faith and assurance will embrace the incarnation wholeheartedly.
John continues, writing that this Son has not only come, He has also “given us understanding” (5:20). This is an interesting choice of words since the conception of salvation by right knowledge would have been important to John’s opponents. However, knowledge is also important to biblical Christianity. We cannot know God without a revelation from the Son (Matt. 11:27), and thus knowledge is vital for salvation. Unlike the false teaching of John’s opponents, the knowledge leading to salvation is knowledge of a person — the incarnate Christ — and it involves not only a reception of facts but also personal trust in Him as Savior and Lord (James 2:19–20).
This is why knowing “him who is true” — the Father — is inseparable from being in union with His true Son (1 John 5:20). To know the true God and to have eternal life is to be in the Son. Only those who are disciples of the Christ have everlasting salvation.
Finally, knowing the true God demands we keep ourselves from idols (v. 21). There is only one God, and we must never set up anything else in His place (Ex. 20:3). And though we may not worship gods of wood or stone, we must always be careful lest we make our careers, money, families, reputations, or anything else the center of our affections. John Calvin writes about this verse: “the vivifying light of the Gospel ought to scatter and dissipate, not only darkness, but also all mists, from the minds of the godly.”
What are those things you put in place of the living God? Are you consumed with fame and fortune? Do you pursue work to the point of neglecting private and public worship of the Lord? Perhaps you are tempted to worship at the idol of physical beauty and sensuality? Ask a trusted friend if he can see anything in your life you might have made into an idol. Ask that person to help you cast aside this idol.
Passages for Further Study
1 Cor. 10:14