Summary: If you want to be certain that you have nothing to fear from death, then put your confidence in Jesus Christ.
Death! It’s one of the 2 great certainties in life. Death and taxation aren’t they? Death! If you ever want to kill a conversation, just start talking about death. We’ll all face it in the end, but none of us seems to want to face it now. It’s almost as though we’re scared of it. For some there’s even a superstitious fear that if you talk about death someone might die. That the grim reaper is prowling around just waiting to pounce on anyone who draws his attention to themselves. I was looking through the list of funeral request forms this week and I found that out of the 60 or so adults in the congregation I’d only received forms from 5 (including myself). Is that because people here don’t want to think about death? Perhaps some think that not thinking about it will put it off. Well, don’t be fooled none of us knows the day or the hour.
For the people of the new Testament death was often in their thoughts. They were a persecuted Church for whom the next day, the next hour even, could signal arrest and possible death. So we find some 200 odd references to death or dying in the letters of the New Testament. But notice that death was never referred to as a thing to fear. Rather the message of the gospel was that the fear of death has been removed. In the place of death is eternal life. Far from fearing death, the Christian can see death as a necessary step that leads to new life, to release from all the ravages of this world.
So John writes to the Christians in the late first century words that are equally applicable to us at the end of the 20th century. He says: "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." There’s no need to fear death if you believe in the name of the Son of God, because belief in Jesus’ name brings eternal life. Back in ch 4 he told us that there is no fear in love but perfect love drives out fear, and it’s the same here. Believing in Jesus Christ isn’t just about knowledge and belief, you see, it’s about a relationship. It’s about a relationship of love. Believing in the name of Christ and loving Christ are synonymous. That’s what we found last week in 5:1. And that relationship of love drives out all fear of death and judgement, because we know that a relationship with Christ leads to forgiveness and eternal life. At the start of that prayer we just read from John 17, Jesus says this: "this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3 NRSV) In other words, if you believe in the name of Jesus Christ, if you have a relationship with him, you’ve already begun to experience eternal life and you can be sure that that life will be yours after you die.
But John doesn’t leave us there. That could have been the end of his letter, but he has more to say about what this assurance of eternal life means for us in this life. He wants us to understand what it means to enjoy eternal life in the here and now. In fact there are 4 things that arise out of being in this new relationship with Jesus Christ. They are: A new assurance in prayer; A new antipathy towards sin; A new attitude to the world; and a new awareness of God.
A new assurance in prayer;
If we’re in a relationship with Jesus Christ of love and trust, the first difference it will make is that it will give us a new assurance in prayer. He says, "This is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." The word boldness, there, might better be translate freedom of speech. It indicates a confidence, an openness in God’s presence. He’s saying when you come to speak to God you can do so in the same sort of uninhibited, relaxed manner that you would if you were talking to your best friend or someone in your family.
There was a time when Christians in some circles were taught to be very formal in their approach to God. There are still some of them around. I remember one man who when he got up to pray made it sound like a speech to parliament, or an oration for the Queen. But John says here, you can speak openly to God, boldly, with confidence. You don’t need a special phrase book. There’s no style guide that you have to use. Just talk to him as you would to a friend, because you know that you’re his child if you believe in his only Son.