1 John 5.18-19


About seven years ago I had a work colleague swear to me
that both he and his brother had had a close encounter with a UFO.
Given the propensity of the guy to play practical jokes on people,
I wouldn't be surprised if he was pulling my leg about the whole thing.

But the business of aliens is one in which many people have been convinced of over the years.
One of the best known hoaxes over the years was the so-called "Alien Autopsy".
It was a film that purported to show two US Army medical doctors opening up a dead alien
and revealing all sorts of horrible goo and organs on the inside.

It's funny, but the word "Alien" doesn't really mean little green men from Mars.
It is actually a word that denotes an outsider
- a person who is living amongst others
but is not from the same world or country or region as the majority.

We, as Christians, are aliens.
We live in this world, but we are not of this world.
We are born of God.
An older word that is sometimes used is "Sojourner"
- which gives us the idea that we as Christians are not only different to the world we live in,
but we are travelling to a better place, a better world.

I've titled today's sermon "Alien Autopsy"
- obviously one of my more creative titles!

So if we to have our own Alien Autopsy
- a spiritual examination of the Christian
- what would we find?

Explanation of the Passage

Turn your Bibles to 1 John chapter 5, verses 18-19.

We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him. We know that we are of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

Let's work through this passage together.

First thing to notice is the opening words.
"We know" it says.
The word here for "know" refers to a complete knowledge.
In other words, it is talking about a solid conviction that something is true,
and a conviction that no other knowledge is required
in order to hold this belief.
It is not talking about knowing a little bit about something.
But what is it that we can know for sure?

The second thing we notice is the phrase "anyone born of God".
What this is referring to are all people who are Christians.
A Christian is someone who is "born of God".
This reminds us of Jesus' words to Nicodemus in the Gospel of John, chapter 3, verse 3:

I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.

A person who is "born of God" is someone who has undergone a spiritual rebirth.
We are born physically once,
but because of sin,
we are born spiritually dead.
In order for us to become Spiritually alive,
the Holy Spirit must come upon us and breathe new life into us.
Theologians call this concept "Regeneration"
- we who were once dead have become alive.
But notice that while our rebirth is something that occurs because of the Holy Spirit,
it is described as being "Born of God",
in other words,
our rebirth occurs because of the will and the decision of God the Father.
So while God the Father is the one who has chosen to make us spiritually alive,
it is God the Holy Spirit that actually does the work of making it happen.

The next phrase we see there in verse 18 is "does not continue to sin".
As I've pointed out a few times before,
this idea is talking about a state of continual sinfulness
- of an attitude of rebellion and disdain for God the Father.
It is not referring to the individual sins we commit.
Taken by itself, this phrase could easily be misinterpreted.
It could be misunderstood by thinking that all true Christians live in a state of sinless perfection.

So the first sentence of verse 18 can be understood like this:

We can know for sure
- we can know completely
- that all those people who have been born again,
all those people who have been brought into God's kingdom by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit
- we can know that these people who have been born of God
do not live in a state of continual rejection of God as their king.

So what now?
Well John goes on to explain why this is the case
- why it is that we can know for sure that the Christian,
those born of the Spirit,
can no longer live is total rebellion against God.
He says "The one who was born of God keeps him safe".
There is only one person that fits this description
- the one who was born of God is simply another way of saying Jesus Christ.
The reason why John calls him "the one who was born of God" is so that our spiritual state can be linked
to the Spiritual state and mission of Jesus.
Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary through the work of the Holy Spirit.
At the beginning of his mission, the Holy Spirit came upon him to equip him when he was baptised by John.
When Jesus rose again from the dead, it was the work of the Spirit that achieved this.
And when Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit continued his work on earth
through the work of the Apostles at Pentecost and beyond.

What this phrase teaches us is that our salvation,
our standing before God,
is created and maintained by Jesus.
We can't continue to live in rebellion against God
because the sin and rebellion that is part of our nature has been taken away through Jesus.
And John makes it clear that when Jesus took it away,
he didn't just get rid of it,
he took it upon himself.
It wasn't that Jesus became sinful,
it was that Jesus took upon himself the crime and the punishment that all sinners deserve.
When Jesus died on the cross,
he took our sinfulness upon himself.
When Jesus died on the cross,
he died because God the Father chose to punish him instead of us.
This is how Jesus keeps us safe.
His death on the cross for our sins means that all the sins we have committed in our life,
and the general attitude of rebellion and disdain towards God,
was removed from us and placed upon Jesus.

It is the work of Jesus,
the work of the Son of God
empowered by the Spirit of God,
that keeps all Christians safe in salvation.

But notice what the rest of the verse says - "the evil one cannot harm him".
What John is talking about here is God's adversary, Satan; the Devil.
Now this phrase may seem a little strange.
If we look at the Bible's testimony about Satan's behaviour
we notice a number of important things.

The first thing we know is that Satan was intimately involved in original sin.
If we remember back to the first few chapters of Genesis,
we recall that it was Satan as the snake
who tempted Adam and Eve to eat the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil.

The second thing we know is that Satan is involved in the sufferings in our world.
In the first two chapters of the book of Job,
we learn that God allows Satan to cause sickness and suffering upon God's people.
God prevents Satan from killing Job,
but it is clear that,
given the freedom that God allows him,
Satan has the power to kill saints.
In the book of Revelation we see Satan working through various evil people
to persecute and kill Christians.
And yet here in 1 John 5.18 we are told that God keeps us safe.

What it is saying here is that our ultimate security is totally safe.
The Devil can persecute us, hurt us and even kill us.
But he can never take away God's love for us,
and he can never take away our eternal security.
God has not given Satan that power,
and he will never give him that power.
The one who was born of God
- Jesus Christ
- keeps us safe,
and the evil One
- the Devil
- cannot harm us.

Let's turn now to verse 19.
"We know that we are children of God" says John.
Again, the word here for "know" is complete knowledge.
We can know for sure.
We can have total confidence in the facts.
"We know that we are children of God".
The NIV stuffs up the translation at this point.
"Children" is not in the original text.
It should simply say "We know that we are of God".

What John is saying in this phrase
is that that we can know for sure that we belong to God's people.
We are not of the world,
we are not from the Devil.
We are from God.
We are from God because of the work of Jesus on our behalf
- he has taken us away from the world and from the Devil,
and has brought us to himself and placed us in his kingdom.

The final phrase of verse 19 says this
"we know that the whole world is under the control of the evil one".
The word for "world" here is the Greek word "kosmos".
It doesn't so much refer to the created universe
as it does to those people who live in it who are not God's people.
The "world" here is all people who have not submitted to Jesus as Lord
and have had their sins forgiven.
What this teaches us about God and Satan is quite clear.
The world is being controlled by Satan.
The church
- all those who serve Christ and trust in him for their forgiveness
- are controlled by God.


So now that we have gone through the usual painful analysis of the Bible's words here,
how can we apply it to our lives?
What things do we learn about God?
What things should spur us on in the Christian faith?
What things can we take away and ponder upon as we face the world in the coming week?

There are six things about God that we learn from this passage:

1. God brings us new birth through the Holy Spirit

We have to remember that it is God who has saved us.
When we made the decision to become a Christian,
we have to remember that it was because God acted in us first to do so.
We have to remember that our old lives have been cast off.
We are no longer sinners under God's judgement.
Instead we have been reborn.
It means that God's Holy Spirit lives inside of us.
It means that we who were once spiritually dead are now spiritually alive.

Now what does all this mean for us today?
It means that God's people live transformed lives.
Because we no longer live in rebellion against God,
we live pure and holy lives.
One of the most famous sections of scripture is Galatians 5.22-24:

The Fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

This is the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The Holy Spirit has given us new birth.
We are no longer under God's judgement and we are no longer living selfish evil lives.
It is because of the Holy Spirit living in us
that we now lives full of love for God and other people;
lives that our full of joy because of our salvation;
lives that promote peace with others;
lives that are patient with other people's sins and shortcomings;
lives that show kindness and concern for all people, even those who do not deserve it;
lives that show the goodness and grace of God;
lives that show that we are faithful, that we can be trustworthy;
lives that reflect gentleness rather than harsh and rude behaviour;
and lives that reflect self control, where we are able to stay in control of our sinful urges
and not indulge ourselves or lash out in anger and bitterness.

If we are truly born of God then we will be known by our fruit.
The fruit of the Spirit is not what saves us,
but it is a pretty good indicator that the Spirit is in us.

2. God keeps us in new birth through Jesus Christ

Since it is God who has saved us and given us new birth through the work of his Spirit,
we can know for certain that our salvation is secure.
Because of the one who was born of God - Jesus Christ.

It still astonishes me that people can be so shocked by the Christian who claims 100% certainty of heaven.
Yet that is what we are promised.
All who belong to Christ,
all who have had their sins forgiven through his death and resurrection,
all these people have the certainty of heaven.

It is so easy to be depressed about sins.
We claim to be Christians and yet we sin.
The fruit of the Spirit,
which we have just looked at,
is difficult to do.
It's much easier to hate.
It's much easier to be bitter and to be selfish.
And yet when we sin we might be tempted to doubt our salvation.
But that is not the case.
Yes we should be ashamed of our sins
- that is why we confess them and repent before God at the beginning of our worship service
- but we do so knowing that they have been forgiven already.
God has given us new birth
and it is God that will maintain our relationship with him.
God has not only created the means by which our sins have been forgiven,
but also the means by which we remain Christians and persevere to the end.

When we sin we should be angry with ourselves.
When we sin we should be sorrowful before our Lord.
But throughout all this we must remember that it is God's grace that saves us,
not our obedience.
We should confess our sins and repent,
but we do so because we belong to God,
and because he keeps us in his kingdom through Jesus Christ.
The one who was born of God keeps us safe.

3. God has defeated Satan through Christ

The evil one cannot harm us.
That is what God is saying to us here in verse 18.
We have to remember that Satan is a real being.
The Devil does exist.
Banish from your mind all the images you have of Satan with horns and wings and pitchforks and red skin.
I know that the movie The Passion has a figure that represents Satan as well.
If you've seen that movie then banish that image from your mind too.
Images do not give us complete knowledge
- a picture doesn't tell a thousand words
- and Satan is no exception.

We only learn of the person and work of Satan
through what God tells us in the Bible.
I've said before that Satan is the perfect businessman, and he is.
Satan is not interested in flair or finesse.
Satan is only interested in results.
He is only concerned with the bottom line
- how to keep people from entering the kingdom of God.
And Satan does all sorts of things to achieve this.
Satan uses false teachers to confuse the church
and make sure that God's people are leading ineffective Christian lives.
Satan does not want the Gospel to be preached,
and he is happy when Christian preachers forget to preach the Gospel
or expound the Word of God.
Satan will use sickness, sufferings, persecutions and death to hinder God's work in the church.

Satan will use historical events to bring about his goal
- think of the Holocaust in world war two
and all the unconverted Jews who perished and are in hell because of Hitler.
Think of the Rwandan genocide in 1994
which killed over a million people,
most of whom would have perished without knowing Jesus as their saviour.
And think now of the situation in Iraq,
where Moslems the world over see the work of "Christian America" in torturing and humiliating people,
with Satan hardening their hearts against hearing the Gospel of Christ.
These people will die with their hearts set against the God of truth.

And yet we can know that our God is in control.
We can know that despite Satan's efforts we still have eternal life.

Let us not be surprised when we get sick,
when we suffer,
when our lives are in the balance,
or when people persecute us or disown us for our faith.
Let us not be surprised that Satan will try to use our moments of darkness to undermine our faith.
But through all this let us remember that our hope of heaven remains rock solid and secure
- not in anything we have done,
but through the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

4. God has given us complete knowledge of our relationship with Him

The reason why I spent a bit of time discussing the meaning of the word "Know" here at the beginning of verse 18 and 19
is because we can so easily be unaware of just how powerful the word "know" is.
John used this word because he was teaching us that our knowledge of the situation is sufficient
- it is everything we need.
It is not saying that we can know everything about God
- that's impossible
- but it is saying that God has given us everything we need to know,
and that such knowledge gives us assurance of everything that God says.
If we are a Christian,
we don't sit there and wonder if our sins have been forgiven.
If we are a Christian,
we don't sit there and wonder if we are going to heaven.
If we are a Christian,
we don't sit there and wonder whether Satan is able to take us away from God.
We don't do that.
We know that our sins have been forgiven.
We know that we are going to heaven.
We know that Satan can't take us away from God.

This also means that we can know everything that God wants from us.
The Holy Spirit works in our lives to make us more like Christ.
When we read God's word,
the Bible,
it is quite easy for us to treat it like a chore,
like reading some meaningless book.
But when we read the Bible,
we need to remember that it is God speaking to us.
Something spiritual, something fantastic occurs, whenever we pick up the Bible and read it.
When we do so the Holy Spirit works in us.
And when we hear that word expounded and taught when we come to church,
the same sort of thing occurs.
Hearing and understanding the Word of God is the most amazing thing that can happen to us,
and yet it appears to be very simple and very unspiritual.
Yet God works through such an amazing thing.
You see, in the Bible, we have God giving us complete knowledge.
Everything we need to know about God,
about Christ,
about the Gospel,
and about living the Christian life
can be found in the Bible.
We don't need anything else.
The Bible gives us complete knowledge,
which in this case means sufficient knowledge,
about everything that God wants us to know about.

You may have heard of a man named Mordechai Vanunu.
The man was a technician in a nuclear power plant in Israel during the 1980s.
In 1986 Vanunu travelled to London
where he revealed to an investigative reporter that Israel had been building nuclear bombs.
He provided enough technical information and photographs to prove his case,
and there was an international uproar
it made the front pages of almost every major world newspaper
- Israel wasn't supposed to have any nuclear bombs at all.
Later, Vanunu travelled to Rome
where he was captured and drugged by Israeli secret agents
and shipped back to Jerusalem.
There he faced trial for treachery,
and was sentenced to 18 years prison.

What is often forgotten about this man is that,
in 1986, before he went to London he spent time in Sydney.
While in Sydney he underwent a spiritual crisis
and walked into an Anglican church there.
He befriended a minister named David Smith,
who told him the gospel.
Vanunu accepted it and became a Christian.
It was after his conversion that he decided to go to London and reveal his nuclear secrets.

Vanunu spent 18 years in prison.
Most of the time was spent in solitary confinement.
He was allowed very few personal belongings,
but because of his Christian faith,
his gaolers let him have a Bible to read.
Recently, Vanunu was released - his 18 years were up.
What was his first stop after leaving gaol?
He went to the Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem with his Christian friends,
including David Smith,
to pray and give thanks to God for his release.
After 18 years the guy was still a Christian!
God kept him safe from the evil one.
He had God's spirit in him,
and he had God's spirit-inspired Word to read and study.

5. God has chosen us to be his special people

In verse 19, John says that "We know that we are of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one."
When John says this he is being very black and white.
He is essentially saying that there are two types of people in the world
- those who are of God, and those who are not.

We have to remember that as God's chosen people, we are unique.
We are not like the world.
God hasn't chosen us to be his people by anything that is good or wonderful in us
- he has chosen us because of his free gift of grace.
He has taken us out of the world
and made us into his special people.

This is important because it is a badge that we have to wear.
We should publically identify ourselves as Christians to those who know us.
I'm not saying that we should say
"I'm a Christian and isn't that great?",
and I'm definitely not saying we should go on about how great the Presbyterian church is!
But what I am saying is that our friends and family who know us should be aware of the fact that we are committed to God through Christ.
Now I realise that's hard
- especially when our friends and family know our sins!
But this fact still needs to be brought out.

I bumped into a young guy the other day (May 2004) while out shopping.
He was in year 12 in a Christian School,
but he told me that he wasn't a Christian.
When I asked him about the Christians at his school he was dismissive of them.
When I asked why, he told me.
All the Christians at his school were the type that went off on Friday and Saturday nights
and got drunk at parties
and swore and carried on.
But when they came back to school on the Monday they were nice Christians again
and were upheld by the teachers to be upstanding Christian leaders
and examples for others to follow.
He told me how hypocritical these people were,
and I couldn't help but agree with him.
I have grave doubts that these particular Christians at this Christian school are genuine Christians
and I think their future lives will bear this out.

It is the same with us.
If we are truly God's people,
if we truly trust in Christ for our salvation and are committed to God as our King,
then we should be obvious about it.
We should avoid sin and hypocrisy and we should lead holy lives.
And as we lead these holy lives,
people will see our good deeds,
our good attitudes,
our honesty
and our trustworthiness.
And they will see what a Christian lives like,
and they will be attracted to the Gospel
- they will ask us about our faith and what we believe.

6. God has made us aliens in this world

John says that we are of God.
We are not of the world.
The world we live in now is controlled by the Devil.
It should not surprise us that our world is opposed to God.
We should not be surprised that people will ridicule us, demean us and persecute us for our faith. We should not be surprised when our nation's laws reflect the ungodly behaviour and thinking of our lost world.

But we need to remember not to get on our high horse about all this.
We have laws in our nation that allows homosexual behaviour,
that allows sex before marriage,
that allows other religions and other gods to worshipped,
that allows greed.
Let's not be surprised.
The whole world is under the control of the evil one.

The only way things can change is when people are made spiritually alive.
People can only become spiritually alive through the sovereign work of God
as he sends his Holy Spirit onto people.
And these people can't have the Holy Spirit work in their lives
if they do not hear the message of the Gospel.
And people will not hear the Gospel
unless we as God's people tell them.
Our mission in this world
- all of us
- is as a witness to the God of grace.

But we need to remember too that this world is perishing.
A day will come when Jesus will return and take us away.
And on that day we shall be in glory,
but the world of sin and the world of the Devil will be judged and punished in the depths of hell for eternity.
While we ache at the sin of the world
and weep at the injustice and sin that wracks our society,
we must remember that our ultimate goal is eternal life,
and that our place in this world is to love God and enjoy him forever,
and in doing so we act as a witness to others of the greatness and graciousness of God.


So what does it mean to be an alien?
How are we different to those around us?

We are different to the world because God has brought us new birth.
Through the work of the Holy Spirit
we have been turned from a spiritual corpse to a living spiritual being.

We are different to the world because God keeps us in our new birth.
We cannot change who we are.
God has made us alive.
We cannot lose the salvation we have.
Because of Christ's death on the cross for our sins,

We are different to the world because Satan's power over us has been defeated.
When Jesus died on the cross, Satan was defeated.
And now he is our enemy
because we have been brought to new life.

We are different to the world because we know that God has saved us.
Because of what Christ has done on our behalf,
we can have total assurance that our destination is eternal life.

We are different to the world because we are God's chosen people.
God has taken us out of the world
and he has made us into his own special people.
A people who love God and will enjoy him forever.

And we are different to the world because God has made us aliens.
We have pledged allegiance to God,
we trust in what Christ has done on the cross,
and we are merely passing through this world,
heading towards heaven,
and inviting those we meet along the way to join us.

God has taken us out of this world,
and he has given us new birth
through the spiritual work of Jesus Christ on the Cross.

From the Kerygmatic Department

© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.