1 John 5:18 (ESV) states, “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” In this verse, we see both the perseverance of the believer and the protection of that believer by Christ. Let’s look at these two topics more closely.
Preservation is the work of God whereby He eternally secures and guarantees the final salvation of all believers.
As Christ claimed in John 6:39, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Likewise, He stated in John 10:28–29, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.” In these passages, we see that God and Christ secure and guarantee the believer in his salvation. This idea is present in 1 John 5:18: “he who was born of God [i.e., Jesus Christ] protects him.”1
Whereas preservation is God’s role in securing a believer’s salvation, the believer is responsible to persevere. Perseverance is the divinely-enabled and continued progress of a believer in faith, doctrine, and practice whereby he is assured of his eternal security.
As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:7–8, it is the “Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul states in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Likewise, Christians are those “who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). In each of these passages, God or Christ is described as enabling the believer’s perseverance in some way.
This perseverance involves one’s faith, doctrine, and practice. The believer’s faith is “the victory that has overcome the world” (1 John 5:4). His doctrine allows him to be presented “holy and blameless and above reproach before him” because he will “continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel” (Col 1:23). His practice is to “follow” Jesus (John 10:27), doing “good works, which God prepared beforehand” (Eph 2:10).
Understanding 1 John 5:18 with the above, we do not keep on sinning because God protects us from falling away from Him. He keeps us in our salvation. At the same time, however, we persevere. We do not keep on sinning because we persevere in our faith, doctrine, and practice as He enables us to do so. May God protect us, and may we persevere and be thereby assured of His protection.
- “He who was born of God” is best understood as a reference to Christ. It is not that He has been born, as if to say what is true of believers is true of Him, namely, that He experienced a conversation that has continuing results. Rather, His birth was a unique one-time event, and thus He was born. Thus, Christ is the one who protects the believer in 1 John 5:18, but this is obviously not apart from the work of the Father (cf. John 10:28–29).