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.”
At first glance, the meaning of “everyone who has been born of God” seems to spill into “he who was born of God,” which would indicate that a believer “protects him,” that is, himself. Having done so, the believer’s protection of himself keeps the evil one from touching him.
The idea of protecting or guarding one’s self is not necessarily wrong. Jude commands his readers to “keep yourselves in the love of God” (Jude 21). At the same time, God is not absent in the matter. One keeps in the love of God by the power of God “who is able to keep you from stumbling” (Jude 24). It seems that a closer look at 1 John 5:18 gives us this same idea―that it is actually divine protection and not one’s own protection from the evil one that is in view.
Were one, however, to understand “he who was born of God” to be the believer who protects himself, it would be for the following reasons:
- In the preceding clause in 5:18, those “born of God” are believers. Naturally, “he who was born of God” is just one of “everyone who has been born of God.”
- The designation “he who was born of God” is not used elsewhere to describe Jesus Christ, which would be the other understanding of this phrase (see below).1
While context and comparing Scripture to Scripture seem to side with identifying “he who was born of God” as a believer, a better understanding is that this one so-born is actually Jesus Christ for the following reasons:
- “Born” describes believers in the perfect tense, an event with ongoing results, but “born” then describes Christ in the aorist tense, a one-time event (i.e., His birth).2 Despite this difference, however, the similarity in language brings out the solidarity among Jesus and us (cf. 1 John 4:17).3 In context, even when a believer temporarily engages in sin, he does not lose the Son and will eventually imitate Him again.4
- As would be otherwise expected, a reflexive pronoun is not used it indicate that the one born is protecting.5
- Scripture elsewhere supports the concept that Christ protects the believer (cf. John 17:12–15; 1 Pet 1:5; Jude 24; Rev 3:10). While the phrase to identify Christ is certainly unique in the NT, the notion of Christ’s protection is not.6
- “He who was born of God” contrasts fittingly with “the evil one,” that is, Jesus Christ protects the believer, and Satan does not touch the believer. These statements are two sides to one theological coin.7
Having concluded as we do above, we could paraphrase 1 John 5:18 like this: “We know that everyone who is a believer who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God, that is, the One uniquely born, Jesus Christ, protects him, and the evil one does not touch him, the believer.”
- Simon J. Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Backer, 1986), 365–366; Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John (Dallas, TX: Word, 1989), 302–303.
- Daniel L. Akin, 1, 2, 3 John (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2001), 212; Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, 365–366; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303. By speaking of Jesus’ birth in this way, perhaps John subtly emphasizes again the Christ was human from His birth and continues to be thereafter.
- Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303.
- Karen H. Jobes, 1, 2, & 3 John (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 238.
- Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 212; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303.
- Akin, 1, 2, 3 John, 212; Colin G. Kruse, The Letters of John (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2000), 195; Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, 302–303.
- Kistemaker, Exposition of James and the Epistles of John, 365–366.