Faith, Testimony, and Life, Lesson 14

Originally posted at Women of Purpose.

5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:1-12)

In our passage this week, John brings together the strands of right belief in Jesus Christ, love for God and one another, and obedience to God’s commands and weaves them into a single tapestry of assurance for believers. As we’ve read through the epistle to this point we’ve seen that these three tests of assurance must work together, and now John will draw them together, that we may know that we have the victory that overcomes the world—our faith. “What John is at pains to show is the essential unity of his threefold thesis. He has not chosen three tests arbitrarily or at random and stuck them together artificially. On the contrary, he shows that they are so closely woven together into a single, coherent fabric that it is difficult to unpick and disentangle the threads.”[1]

And John and his fellow apostles aren’t the only ones testifying to this gospel of Jesus Christ, but God himself and the Holy Spirit testify to the eternal life which we have been given in Christ. If we believe the testimony of the apostles, as we have already established we should, how much more ought we believe and trust the testimony of God himself?! John also writes of the testimonies of the “water and the blood,” and we will search out what many trusted theologians believe John means.

Victorious Faith

1John 5:1-5 deals specifically with the object, author, and effects of the Christian faith. If it seems repetitive, it’s because he has covered these themes before, and it must be important for us to get a deeper understanding of the nature of our faith, so let’s review what it is that John has taught us about the object of our faith, our Savior, Jesus Christ. As Christians, what do we believe about Jesus?

We believe that Jesus is the Christ—the eternally Promised One—come in the flesh from God (2:22; 4:2; 5:1). He is the divine Son of God (2:23; 4:15; 5:5, 10), whose purpose in coming was to take away sins, being himself sinless, and destroy the works of the devil (3:5, 8b). Jesus is our righteous advocate (2:1), and the propitiation for sins—which is how he took them away, by making satisfaction for them by substituting himself for us on the cross (2:2; 3:5; 4:10). Jesus came to have fellowship with us, making it not merely possible, but accomplishing it (1:3) by cleansing us of our sins by his own blood and forgiving us (1:7; 2:12). As believers we abide in Christ and in the Father, and they abide in us, and we know this by the Spirit whom he has given us (2:24; 3:24; 5:20). The father sent his Son Jesus Christ to give us eternal life; in him is life and whoever has the Son has life (1:2; 4:14; 5:11-12).

According to verse 1, the new birth precedes belief that Jesus is the Christ: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” John does not labor to make this point, but seems to take it for granted that his readers knew this. John’s point, rather, is what happens to one who “has been born of God.” The new birth is no more visible than the Spirit who causes it (John 3:80) but, like the wind, as with the Spirit, the effects of this new birth are visible in the Christian’s love for the Father, our love for one another, and obedience to God’s commandments (1 Jn. 5:1-2).

John asserts that, if we love the Father, we must also love other Christians [1]. John seems to really be pressing this point throughout his entire epistle, and here he lays the obligation to love—even the ‘given-ness’ of our love for one another—directly next to a reminder that those we are to love have, like ourselves, been ‘born of God.’ This reminder makes a tremendous difference in how we view and love one another. For, if I treasure the salvation which is a gift entirely of grace, given to me by my merciful loving Father, not because of anything I have done to earn it, but freely given, then I must also realize that my brothers and sisters are in the faith for the very same reasons—by grace, not having earned their place, but mercifully saved by our loving Father. If I remember that I am gradually being trained in righteousness by a patient Father, even though I often fail, I must remember that my brothers and sisters are likewise being trained in righteousness, even though they also fail, often. And if I long for the forgiveness and cleansing which our Father promises when I confess my sins (1 John 1:9), then I must also extend the grace and forgiveness, in love, to my brothers and sisters who, like me, must run to our Father to be forgiven and cleansed of their sins.

John seems to flip his formula on its head in verse 2. But how does love for God prove that we love the children of God? John has already told us that if we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we will then have fellowship with one another, which is only possible because the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin (1:5-7). As Jesus taught in Mathew 22:36-40, our love for God must come first, before we are able to love others. These were the greatest two commandments. Obeying these first two commandments sets the stage for obeying the rest. For it is only by loving God—which is possible only because he has loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (4:10)—that we are able to love our neighbors, other Christians, our brothers and sisters in the faith, or anybody. Without loving God before all others, we are utterly unable to love anybody else, much less love them well—in deed and in truth (3:18)—as John has already exhorted us.

Following this thought, John tells us that these commandments which we are to keeping— whether “this is the love of God” means God’s love for us or our expression of our love for him—are not burdensome. How could this be, when so many feel as it they can’t possibly live up to perfect obedience of God’s commandments? Consider the words of Jesus and the teaching of Paul:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:30).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Rom. 6:16-18)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Rom. 8:1-2)

Jesus’ commandments aren’t burdensome because he has freed us from bondage to sin and death. God’s commandments were given to his chosen people, not when they were slaves in Egypt, but after they had been led out of Egypt through the upstanding waters of the Red Sea to freedom. God’s commandments are not forced upon us from outside, but written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33), and the Spirit who indwells us causes us to walk in his statutes and obey his rules (Ezekiel 36:27). This is how we become obedient from the heart, because we have been set free from sin and become slaves of righteousness, no longer fearing condemnation, but free to obey Christ. We are yoked together with our Savior, who, by his perfect obedience removed the weight of our guilt and sin, carries the weight of the yoke for us, and gently guides us by his Spirit into the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Many of us may be laboring under burdensome commandments—not from Jesus—which we need to lay down and walk away from. Perhaps your burden is the false belief that you must still, somehow, earn favor with God by your obedience, fearing his condemnation whenever you step out of line. Or maybe you feel the need to portray to the world and fellow believers an image of perfection; always cheerful; serving faithfully in church; showing up for every class and worship service; raising perfect children who love Jesus, dress modestly, and are always respectful; always the giver and never the receiver—and the burden of holding that mask in front of your broken face is overbearing.

In Christ, our motive for obedience is no longer fear of condemnation or striving to earn our salvation, which are terrible burdens to bear, but gratitude for all that God has done for us in Christ. As broken image-bearers, we were unable to faithfully reflect God’s image while in the darkness of sin. But now, God is repairing the brokenness of his image in us, and we are free, in his light, to be who we were created to be—weak vessels in the Potter’s hands. We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which he prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). So let’s shoulder our easy yoke alongside our mighty Savior and walk the path he has set before us.

John’s declaration that Jesus’ commands aren’t burdensome is followed by John’s explanation for why they aren’t burdensome in verses 4-5. There we see John linking the ease of keeping Jesus’ commandments to our overcoming the world because we have been born of God. In verses 4-5, ‘overcoming’ is not the same as “we have overcome because Jesus overcame the world,” but is directly linked to our faith in Jesus which is demonstrated by our right belief in him, our love for one another, and our keeping of his commandments. We have overcome the world because we believe the truth, love one another, and obey God’s commandments—all of which result from our faith, which is a free gift— because we are born of God.

The Testimony

In verses 6 -12 John launches into an explanation of the historical verifiability that Jesus is, indeed, the Son of God based on the trustworthiness of the threefold testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. If that seems confusing, there’s good reason for that: it is confusing. John is speaking of the elements of water and blood as bearing witness to Christ. The Gnostic heretics of John’s day denied that Jesus the man was also and always ‘the Christ’: the God-man Jesus Christ. They held that the divine nature came upon him at his baptism and left him before his death.

Theologians down the centuries have pondered what John meant by “the water and the blood,” and have come up with different theories. What was needed, was “to find an interpretation of the phrase which makes water and blood both historical experiences ‘through’ which [Jesus] passed and witnesses in some sense to his divine-human person.”[2] The most likely explanation, according to every commentary I consulted, is that the water refers to the Baptism of Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and the blood to his death, in which his work was finished.

At Jesus’ baptism, before he stepped into the river, John declared him to be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and he balked at baptizing him, because he knew that Jesus, as the spotless Lamb, had no sins for which he needed to repent. But Jesus insisted, so that he might “fulfill all righteousness.” After Jesus was baptized, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit of God descended upon him—not the Spirit of the Christ, as the gnostic heretics insisted—and the voice of the Father was heard, saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13-17; John 1:29-34). God himself testified that Jesus was his Son, the pre-existent, already divine, third member of the Godhead, with whom he was already pleased. Jesus himself indicated by being baptized that his mission was to fulfill all righteousness, for only then could he be the sufficient substitutionary sacrifice and thus atone for the sins of all his chosen people. For that was the goal, as we see in our next point.

The testimony of Jesus Christ’s blood is set before us in the book of Hebrews together with the Old Covenant images which foreshadowed his sacrifice. Read through these carefully, watching for the author’s comparison of the lesser (Old Covenant sacrifices) to the greater (Christ’s New Covenant sacrifice). Listen, as the evidence is brought before the court. Look and see those assembled in the courtroom of the Great High Judge of all, even God Almighty, as his Son Jesus Christ brings his blood before the bar of justice as the final witness to his own finished work and the inauguration of the new covenant.

Not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:18-22)

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 11-14)

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Hebrews 10:12-14)

But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)

Christ’s blood of the New Covenant declares that he has accomplished what the Old Covenant, with the oceans of blood shed by bulls and goats, never could: sins are forgiven, eternal redemption is secured, consciences are purified from dead works to serve the living God, those who are being sanctified are perfected for all time. It is finished! His sacrifice was accepted. His work is done. Abel’s blood cried out for justice; Christ’s blood testifies that justice has been met and now mercy is granted to all who believe in his name. And what’s more, Christ’s blood, offered by himself, the resurrected, victorious High-Priestly King, declares to us that Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!

John opened his epistle emphasizing the apostolic testimony to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and now he calls God to the stand as an even more credible and authoritative witness (9). God’s Testimony, after all, is absolutely trustworthy. He is above all, and he is true; there is none greater by whom to swear, so when he made his promise to Abraham he swore by himself, because the character of his purpose is unchangeable and it is impossible for him to lie (John 3:31-33; Heb. 6:13, 16-18). The promise, by the way, which the author of Hebrews references, was the covenant he made with Abraham to bless and multiply him, which has been fulfilled in Christ, the Son of God. And to this John is calling these three witnesses to testify: that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God, in whom alone is eternal life, and this gift of life which is given to everyone who believes in him was the unchangeable purpose which God guaranteed with an oath to Abraham.

The nature of God the Father’s testimony was, and is, as we saw at the baptism, that Jesus is his Son in who he is well pleased. Throughout Jesus’ ministry he testified to this by the works that he gave Jesus to do, from his perfect obedience in fulfilling all righteousness, to the miracles and healings which he performed. All of the signs, wonders and miracles which Jesus did, and later the apostles in his name, testified to the deity of Christ. And now God shines in the hearts of every believer with his inward testimony, illuminating our hearts and minds with the knowledge of Christ (Matt. 17:1-6; John 5:36-37; 2 Cor. 4:6; Heb. 2:3-4).

The Holy Spirit also testifies, proceeding from the Father and the Son and bearing witness about Jesus to the elect. The Spirit is the scalpel by which our hearts are circumcised, the conduit by which the love of God is poured into our hearts, and the pen by which the law is written on our hearts and minds. By the Holy Spirit, God raised Jesus from the dead, and therefore by the Holy Spirit our mortal bodies are given life as he dwells in us. And the Holy Spirit interprets spiritual truth for believers who are indwelt by him (John 15:26; Acts 5:32; Romans 2:29; 5:5; 8:11; 1 Cor. 2:12-14; Heb. 10:15-17).

The Spirit is the one who bears witness to an individual that the apostolic teaching of the gospel is true and trustworthy.[3]

In 5:1, John declares that Christianity is available to everyone who will believe, without distinction. And yet there, as in verses 10-12, he makes it clear that Christianity is, if you will, an exclusive club, allowing only one kind of person. The single ‘membership requirement’ to Christianity, as John, and indeed, the entire New Testament makes clear, is to have Jesus Christ, believing and confessing that he is the Son of God; that only he has the words of life; that he alone is the way, the truth, and the life, such that none come to the Father but by him; and that there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved  (5:11-12; 2:23; John 6:68, 14:6; Acts 4:12).

The Covenant Thread

In lesson 13 we investigated the character of God’s love and found that it is a holy love. As such, God cannot, indeed—will not—compromise his holiness by allowing sin into his presence. Yet, because of his holy love he calls sinful creatures to himself, promising to cleanse them from their sins so that they may enter his presence, and he establishes this relationship and confirms his promise by means of covenant. The old covenant, established with Abraham, and confirmed with the addition of the law with Moses, was a shadow of the new covenant to come, pointing forward to the Christ who was to come and fulfill all righteousness. The old covenant was a bloody covenant, with daily and annual rituals that emphasized the death which our sins deserved. In this lesson, we have looked at the testimony of the blood of Christ, shed in the death which we—not he—deserved, upon the cross, by which we are cleansed, forgiven, redeemed, perfected, reconciled, and brought into covenant with God.

Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord… And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the Lord. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” (Exodus 24:3-8)

Hundreds of years of observing these rituals brought the people no closer to peace with God through their own obedience. Oceans of blood could not wash away their sins. A better sacrifice was needed; a better covenant must be established. Our Savior gave the better sacrifice; by his cross he established the better covenant. There is a sacrament which we now observe, as Christians, which does not serve to pardon our sins, but to remind us of how our sins have been pardoned.

As he shared the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus described his impending  self-sacrifice on the cross as he held aloft the bread and the wine, proclaiming that they were—in fact, always had been—representative of his own body and blood: his body which would be broken for us and his blood of the covenant which would be poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. The benefit to us of observing the Lord’s Supper is that we stop in the midst of our bust lives, and make space to remember Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. We not only remember, we proclaim his death until he comes (Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Cor. 11:23-26). His blood still testifies and we join in the testimony.

What is the meaning of the Lord’s supper as a Christian partakes of the holy elements?… We experience Christ’s presence at the communion services… It is a time of reflecting, rejoicing, and thanksgiving. As we experience the spiritual presence of the Lord at the table, we with the church of all ages and places fervently pray Maranatha, “Come, O Lord.”[4]

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again!

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb. 13:20-21)

[1] Stott, 171.

[2] Stott, 177.

[3] Jobes, 221.

[4] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1993), 395-396. (paraphrased)

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