Simon Bowkett's Podcast

1 John 5:20b-21 Pt 1 - The True God and Eternal Life

July 23, 2022 Simon Bowkett
Simon Bowkett's Podcast
1 John 5:20b-21 Pt 1 - The True God and Eternal Life
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         •        Introduction

1 John 5:20b-21 “He is the true God and eternal life.

21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

So there you have John’s conclusion to this well-crafted, powerfully written short book.

We KNOW he’s been writing thoughtfully, and not in the genre of the usual New Testament epistle format but more like preaching: 

·       repeating his themes, 

·       developing his thought further from cycle to cycle, 

·       touching on and returning to the themes of the three tests for authentic Biblical Christianity 

… showing that the life of God taking residence in the soul of mankind leads to obedience, love and sound doctrine … 

And that these are the fruits of faith but not at all works that justify us, by our own efforts, with God.

And then the conclusion, the powerful punch packed with emphasis right at the end  lies in these last two verses of the book of 1 John:

  “He is the true God and eternal life.

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

After all the complexity of the artistry, after all the sophisticated structuring of this book so far, what John is saying is that ‘God is like this: so you need to do that’.

The simply stated premise leads to the simply stated consequence, and it is a consequence that would come with incredible force to his readers given their context.

Firstly then, this week, the premise …

         •        God is THIS, v. 20b

“1 John 5:20b-21 “He is the true God and eternal life.

The Gospel is not that God is a great help.

It is not that Jesus can soothe your troubled mind, solve your material problems and difficulties far less make you healthy, wealthy and wise.

Now, no doubt He CAN do those things and no doubt e often does operate in those areas and many others to bless His people … by His grace.

But we are not standing here holding out that prospect to people so much as standing here pointing the way to the One True Living God and proclaiming access to Him by the blood of the Cross and the power of His resurrection, by way of the new birth leading to repentance, faith and baptism.

It all stands or falls at this point:

He is the TRUE God … and in Him is eternal life, which He can and does also give to His people.

Now, I am very well aware that proclaiming the Lord as the One true God is very unpopular amongst people who are conditioned to the ideology of a relativistic culture.

The accepted philosophical and spiritual orthodoxy of our age is that there are many deities, many religious systems in the world and that’s FINE …

You’ll no doubt be told that they all lead different ways up the same mountain to a God that they all see differently.

But – even if we put the Bible aside, which we shouldn’t - in terms of the sheer logic of the situation, that line of thinking has just GOT to be eye wash.

Leave aside the fact that according to the teachings of all these different religions it is a very different deity that you find at the top of these different mountains.

It is also the case that you are supposed to be travelling by totally divergent routes to get to the same point, and that doesn’t work. 

There IS no point of convergence so the routes there are in totally opposing directions.

See it like this.

I’m going up to London shortly … well, up to the suburbs … to bring family back to stay for a bit.

I do like to be up there in the big metropolis, just moving about on the tubes and the buses, of which there are so MANY!

I mean … our village has one bus out and one bus back on TWO days of the week.

It’s so different up there with buses constantly turning up and setting off!

But because of this rich abundance of possibilities, it’s also easier to get on the wrong bus and end up who knows where you are.

And people don’t talk to each other for fear of getting stabbed or something … but I like to just ask the driver when I get on, to be sure of it, ‘is this bus going to (let’s say) Leicester Square?’

Now if I got on and did that and the driver said: ‘Welcome, yes of course, if you like … because, you know, all routes lead to Leicester Square’ how confident would I be that I’d ever get there?

And if it then started off from the Elephant and Castle in the direction of Notting Hill Gate … how confident would I be then?!

My guide, the driver, would not be giving any indication whatever that the fare I’d paid would be getting me where I wanted to go whenever or at all! 


This received cultural orthodoxy which says ‘all roads lead to God’ is not rational, and it is, of course, absolutely contrary to Scripture.

The God of the Bible (says John reiterating the Biblical orthodoxy from at least Abraham on) is the TRUE God first and foremost, so let’s start there.

            •          THE true God 

Truth is something that matters to God.

Did you ever wonder why, or were you ever amazed, that when it describes in Revelation the City of God (what we call Heaven) and describes the sorts that will be excluded from there, it says 

Revelation 21:8 “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”

Why would THAT be?

All liars?

πᾶσιν τοῖς ψευδέσιν

The list of those excluded from what we’d call Heaven is a set of single words describing fornication, witchcraft, idolatry and things like that but then it breaks that pattern to say ‘and all of those who lie’.

Why is that so serious, I mean … everybody does it, right?

If we start check-listing sin, there’s no hope there because we’re all going to end up on the list … but that doesn’t alter the fact that what we show up on is actually a check-list of SINS!

And as if to allow no ‘escape and evasion’ route away from this issue the consequences of lying, John goes out of his way there in Revelation to say: ‘all those who lie’.

Why so serious?

It is the emphasised, concluding matter on that list because it runs so clearly counter to the character of the God Who is TRUE.

As Jesus puts it in John 14:6

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. 

No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John emphasises across the Bible books that he wrote … from the Gospel right through all the three letters … the importance of truth, because we’re living in the universe designed by the God Who is true and we need to live alongside and in fellowship with the true God.

The God, that is, who Paul also describes to Titus as ‘the God Who cannot lie’ (Titus 1:2)

So there are (at least) two things that arise from this.

He is …

            •           The (real) God

When you’re dealing with the Bible’s God, you’re dealing with the real God.

That’s what the five Books of Moses (Genesis through Deuteronomy) were at pains to emphasise … the God Who is ‘I AM’ is the God Who is by definition real because He is the One Who ‘IS’!

And that’s Who the prophets were constantly having to call the people back to, away from the dead paganism of their times, when the people kept getting tempted away through 

·       fear of trusting a God they could not physically see and 

·       the material and carnal pleasures that ran alongside idolatry.

Elijah’s famous contest with the prophets of the very popular Baal cult (the strongest alternative religion of his day) was based almost entirely on proving that Elijah’s God was REAL.

And because Elijah’s God was real, fire fell from Heaven when Elijah prayed and licked up the wet fuel on the altar.

So He is the true God in the sense that He’s the REAL One.

… and then He is exclusively God because HE is the true one.

            •           (Exclusively) true God

You see, here’s where the rubber hits the road.

If He’s the true One and the REAL One, then He’s the ONLY one.

“He is the true God …”

Now, just so you know, the text here uses a personal pronoun:

οὗτος ἐστιν ὁ ἀληθινὸς θεὸς

’THIS One is THE true God …’

And it seems best to understand ‘This one’ in 5:20 as a reference to Jesus Christ. 

The Christological affirmation which results is striking, but is totally consistent with John’s theology throughout (see John 1:1 and 20:28): 

This One [Jesus Christ] is the true God and eternal life.

It is every bit as exclusive about Jesus, as the Lord’s own truth claim in John 14:6 is, that He is the way, the truth and the life … which is in fact where 1 John also takes us next.

He is the true God, and He is …

            •          The LIVING God

It was CONSISTENTLY the claim of the Old Testament prophets that Israel’s God … in contrast to the gods of the nations … was the Living One, the Living God.

Exclusively so.

So, very famously, Isaiah pursues a highly humorous and even brutal apologetic in Isaiah 44:13 ff

It bears taking a little time to follow Isaiah’s logic through …

“The carpenter measures with a line 

    and makes an outline with a marker;

he roughs it out with chisels

    and marks it with compasses.

He shapes it in human form,

    human form in all its glory,

    that it may dwell in a shrine.

14 He cut down cedars,

    or perhaps took a cypress or oak.

He let it grow among the trees of the forest,

    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.

15 It is used as fuel for burning;

    some of it he takes and warms himself,

    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.

But he also fashions a god and worships it;

    he makes an idol and bows down to it.

16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;

    over it he prepares his meal,

    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.

He also warms himself and says,

    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”

17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;

    he bows down to it and worships.

He prays to it and says,

    “Save me! You are my god!”

18 They know nothing, they understand nothing;

    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,

    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.

19 No one stops to think,

    no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,

“Half of it I used for fuel;

    I even baked bread over its coals,

    I roasted meat and I ate.

Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?

    Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”

20 Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;

    he cannot save himself, or say,

    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

You see, Isaiah is getting pretty lively with them to point out that the things they are worshipping are DEAD WOOD!

He then hammers the futility of that in the very next chapter:

“Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save.”

(Isaiah 45:20)

‘Ah, yes,’ we say.

‘Primitive people were SO … primitive’

But is it REALLY so different in our times?

What DO people worship now?

Well, John is sayng, the God of the Old Testament and of the New is the God Who is vibrantly ALIVE … the Eternal.

            •           The ‘Being’ of this Living God

John is talking about God’s nature as the basis for the implications of His being … which will follow …

1 John 5:20b “He is the true God and eternal life.”

This is simple to say but hard to get your head around.

It isn’t just that He HAS this life given to Him, but that He IS it.

It is self-generated life.

(Incidentally, that’s what people living in rebellion against God are so often trying to do … to make a life for themselves … but that’s just something to think through when you have a moment of quiet to yourself on a Sunday afternoon!)

Here’s the point: we’re dealing here with the AUTHOR of life, but the author who had that lead in His pencil before He started writing with it.

So … He IS the true God and eternal life and that means that He can give it.

It is His to give, so …

·       In John 3, Jesus teaches Nicodemus that He must be born again, born from above … be given this life by God.

·       In John 4 Jesus speaks to a Samaritan woman at a well about having the Jesus-given gift of living water, the water of life, springing up in her soul to eternal life.

·       In the tail end of that chapter in John 4 while Jesus is in Cana an official sends Jesus a request for help because his son over in Capernaum with him is sick to the very point of death and Jesus speaks the word and saves the boy’s life and makes him well …

·       And then in the next chapter, John 5,  Jesus speaks about the whole issue of life (John 5:21-25) “just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honour the Son just as they honour the Father. Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.


24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”

That’s a sizeable - though glorious - section of Scripture, but the point that’s really relevant for us here lies in the next verse:

·       Because then in John 5:26 Jesus explains

“For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”

The true God is the Living God … and we’re thinking of Jesus in particular here  … because the Father is not just alive but ‘has life in Himself’.

He has self-generated life, life existing in His very self, not given Him by anyone else.

And Jesus is in the same position because of the sharing of this ‘life in Himself’ kind of life across the three persons of the Trinity.

So what we’re saying is that, having that self-generated and self- existing life in themselves, the Trinity is the Living God 

·       not only in the sense that they have life in themselves but 

·       in the sense that ‘owning’ it, they are able to GIVE it.

            •           Giving this God-sourced life

Even back in the days of the prophets there was the inkling of an awareness of this truth that God is the One Who can give this ETERNAL life:

Micah 4:5 says: “All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God for ever and ever.”

That’s a game-changer really, isn’t it?

Now this is just an inkling and not really isn’t a mature, well worked through awareness in Micah 4.

Not at all.

But the true and Living God even way back in the Books of Moses is the author and the Giver of life, and THAT’s what we’re dealing with in John’s much more developed and highly nuanced theology.

“And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

And He’s that to us, says John.

·       True God to us.

·       Eternal life to us.

·       So what are you going to DO about that?

(And that's what come next so check out the next in this series: 1 John 5:20b-21 Pt 2)