After John’s strong statement in 5:20, verse 21 can seem quite a letdown – a seemingly disconnected, irrelevant appendage that subtracts from the power of the supreme statement he has just made about Jesus Christ.

But, when we pause to think about it, verse 21 – ‘Dear children, keep yourselves from idols’ – is a necessary command flowing directly out of what he has just said about Jesus Christ.

John is, in this command, warning us against any concept of God, of Christ, of salvation, that is different from what he has just said in verse 20, and from what he has been affirming right through this letter.

An ‘idol’ is not limited to a physical ‘idol’ made of wood or metal or stone. An ‘idol’ is any concept of ‘god’ that is not the ‘true God’ made known by Jesus Christ. An ‘idol’ is any human idea of ‘god’, a human philosophy, a human religion – anything that puts a man-made ‘god’, the product of human labour or human imagination, in the place of the one true God.

So John says to us ‘keep yourselves from idols’ – don’t accept any concept, any idea, any teaching, about ‘god’ that is not made known by Jesus Christ.

In the context of John’s first letter this command ‘keep yourselves from idols’ – from human concepts of god – means rejecting, distancing oneself from:

Any concept of ‘god’ that offers ‘life’ from any source other than Jesus Christ (1:1, 2; 5:11, 12, 20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that leaves people in the darkness (1:5 – 7).

Any concept of ‘god’ that denies forgiveness of all sins through the blood of Jesus (1:7, 9; 2:1, 2, 12).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches that personal perfection is possible (1:8, 10).

Any concept of ‘god’ that validates disobedience of God’s commands (2:3 – 6; 3:4 – 10).

Any concept of ‘god’ that does not promote love for one another (2:9 – 11; 3:11 – 18, 23; 4:7 – 11, 19 – 21).

Any concept of ‘god’ that suggests we cannot know God (2:13, 14; 5:20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that leaves us under the power of the evil one (2:13, 14; 4:4; 5:18).

Any concept of ‘god’ that makes no distinction between God’s standards and those of the world (2:15 – 17; 4:5; 5:19).

Any concept of ‘god’ that denies that Jesus is the Christ (2:18 – 25; 3:23; 4:1 – 3; 5:1 – 10,).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches that there is more to know about God than what Jesus Christ revealed and the Holy Spirit confirmed (2:26, 27; 5:20).

Any concept of ‘god’ that does not promote confidence of acceptance in those who are God’s children (2:28 – 3:3; 3:24; 4:13; 5:14, 15, 19).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds those who believe in God under condemnation (3:19 – 24).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds believers at a distance from God (3:24; 4:12 – 16).

Any concept of ‘god’ that promotes or expresses the viewpoint of the world (4:5, 6).

Any concept of ‘god’ that refuses to listen to the foundational apostolic proclamation (4:6).

Any concept of ‘god’ that holds believers in fear of judgement (4:17 – 18).

Any concept of ‘god’ that teaches Christians are not secure in Christ (5:18).

John’s final command means keeping ourselves away from, guarding ourselves against, anything and everything that promotes any idea of ‘god’ that differs from the truth about God revealed in and through Jesus, the Son.

We would, perhaps, expect that John would write this command in the present tense, because it is obviously something that needs to be done continually – we need to continually ‘test the spirits’ to see if they are from God or from the evil one. However, John wrote it in the Aorist tense. This expresses the urgency of this command: that we are to make a deliberate, decisive decision, to guard against idols – a once-for-all-time decision that will determine all other decisions we ever have to make: the once-for-all-time decision to avoid, to reject, any teaching about God, and any expectations or perceptions about God, that are contrary to the revelation of the true God given to us in and by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2022