Ever pasto ral, the Elder closes his letter with three statements of assurance, each beginning we know . . . Each statement points to a truth that John affirms as well as to a reality that his readers have experienced. By assuring them that they can properly claim these realities for themselves, the Elder reaffirms to the community its identity as those who are rightly related in fellowship to God. As he does regularly throughout the epistle, he tells his congregation not only what they are to believe, but what belongs to them as children of God. In short, he is eager that they reflect on who they are and on how they gained their identity.
Several things are said to remind the readers about their identity. They are born of God (v. 18), the children of God (v. 19), those who have understanding, and those who are "in him who is true" (v. 20). These descriptions of who they are predicate an intimate relationship with God, a relationship which depends upon the mediating work of the Son of God (v. 20).
Thus his closing comments aptly summarize what has been said throughout the epistle. It is as if John has heeded the advice often given to writers and speakers that one should "tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you've told them." The preface (1:1-4) introduces the theme of the life available to the world, and the epistle develops the implications of how that life is received and what life entails and demands. These concluding verses recapitulate the argument. And yet, even granting the summary nature of 5:18-21, the assertion of the "sinlessness" of those born of God, a sentiment remi niscent of the difficult passage in 3:4-10, follows oddly on the heels of the discussion in vv. 16-17 about the fellow Christian who sins. One might rather have expected a return to the comment that to deny one's sin is to be guilty of making God a liar (1:8-10), while those who confess their sins can be assured of forgiveness. And verse 21 seems to introduce a problem—idol worship—which has not been dealt with previously. Once again the context of this passage is helpful in tracing the author's thought as he summarizes his reflections to his readers.
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