Context is Everything–1 John 2:17

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. –1 John 2:17

In Isaiah 40:7 we read that the things of this world are impermanent, a sentiment echoed exactly in 1 Peter 1:24 and in a variety of other texts. The things of the world, the flowers and grass, “the world and its desires,” pass away. That much is clear, but what lasts. In the Isaiah text, it is the “Word of God” that endures, but here in John’s letter, we read, “the man who does the will of God lives forever.”

What does that mean? Has John suddenly slipped over to the camp of works-based salvation. Apparently, if this verse is any indication, the key to eternal life is not believing in Jesus, as John 3:16 had us believe, or by grace through faith, as we learn from Ephesians 2:8 or Romans 5:1.  Is this one of those examples of the Bible contradicting itself. In fact, is this a case of John undermining his own position? Maybe we ought to just chuck this whole Word of God into the ditch since it is so far from enduring forever as to be apparently expiring before nightfall.

Of course this isn’t the case. If we read this verse in the entire context of the 1 John letter, then we can see the folly of thinking John has suddenly shifted his theology. In fact, if you’ve been with me through these two chapters, you’ll already see how the context of 1 John makes this idea of a works-based salvation sound ridiculous.

Good works are like good Bible verses. They only have meaning in the proper context. Many of the people you and I will pass by today have done things God would approve of. Does that mean they’ll be granted eternal life for their trouble? No. There’s a difference between stumbling into the right action and truly doing God’s will. John has made it abundantly clear that obedience to God is an indicator of walking in the light; therefore, doing God’s will in this verse simply marks a person as redeemed, a bearer of the Word of God and thus someone destined to live forever. It’s all clear when you take it in context.