We know that everyone who has been born of God does not sin, but the one who is born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true one. We are in the true one—that is, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (18-20)
The words John uses here intrigue me. In verse 18, he uses the phrase “born of God” twice: once in reference to us, and once in reference to Jesus.
We are born of God, made into new creations, because 2000 years ago, Jesus was born of Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit that was responsible for the birth of Jesus into this world is the same Holy Spirit that is responsible for our spiritual birth.
And the one who was born of the Holy Spirit 2000 years ago is the same one who now keeps us from sin. Though Satan would tempt us and deceive us so that we would fall into the destructive trap of sin, Jesus is ever by us to watch over us and to lead us on the safe and right path. Though this whole world is under the sway of the evil one and is headed for destruction, we are now under the sway and care of the One who loved us and gave his life for us.
Just as John uses the phrase “born of God” twice in verse 18, he uses the phrase “true one” twice in verse 20. It’s a little vague as to whether he’s referring to the Father twice, or to the Father once and Jesus the second time. Translators differ on this, as you’ll see in various translations of this verse (Compare the NIV and ESV for example). But it seems to me that the first time, John is referring to the Father, the second time to the Son.
Jesus gives us understanding that we might know the Father, who is completely true and trustworthy.
The reason Jesus is able to do this, however, is because he himself is completely true and trustworthy, and we are in him, and he in us.
As Jesus told his disciples,
The one who has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14:9)
This is not to say that the Father and the Son are the same person, but that the Son is the perfect reflection of the Father. And by being in Jesus, by learning of him and resting in his love, we come to know the Father.
And whether John is talking of the Father or the Son, it can be said of both truly,
He is the true God and eternal life. (20b)