1 - 5 Love and Overcoming Faith
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the [child] born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
V1. John passes on a new characteristic which is typical for a person who is born of God: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” Jesus, the humble Man on earth, is the Man of God’s pleasure. It is He in Whom God finds all His joy and in Whom God executes all His plans. Jesus is not a temporary manifestation, but the Son of God Who became Man and Who will always remain Man. At the same time He is no one else than the Son of the living God, the eternal Son of God (Mt 16:16). What He is for the Father He is for everyone who is born of God.
Wherever you find love for God as “the Father”, or literally, as “the one who begets”, thus as the Giver of the new life, you also find love for everyone who is begotten of God. If you should ask yourself who your brother is, then that is everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ. That faith is the proof that such a person has the same new life that you yourself also have. You and the other person have that new life of Him Who begets. You have the same Father. Your relationship to each believer runs via God, of Whom each believer is born. You cannot love the Father without also loving His children. It would attack the very heart of God if you say that you love Him but hate His children.
Therefore the love for all God’s children is a common fact. That love is there because of the same Father Who is shared by all children of God. You may have heard somebody say that all people are children of one Father. Of course that is a harsh denial of the fact that all men are sinners and are therefore separated from God because of their sins. Conversion and a new birth are necessary. Only when there is life from God, only when He has begotten somebody, this person has been brought in relation to God as his Father.
V2. In verse 2 John turns it the other way around. In verse 1 he says that you can know that a person loves God when he loves the children of God. In verse 2 he says that you can know that a person loves the children of God when he loves God and keeps His commands. The common love toward the children of God gets a standard here. You may say that the common love toward all children of God is guided by the love toward God and that the love toward God in its turn is determined by being obedient to His Word. In practice that means that you cannot always go the same way of faith with each believer. I would like to clarify that with an example.
John and William are sent on an errand by their father. Their father also tells them which way they should follow. On their way John says that he has a better and faster way and he proposes to follow that way. But William replies that father has said that they are to follow a certain way and he wants to obey that. He loves his father and trusts that his father has presented them the best way. His love toward his father and also his love toward his brother prevent him to accept the proposal of his brother and they make him remind his brother of what their father has said.
The lesson is clear, I think. Our love towards one another is to be directed by our love towards the Father, a love that appears from obeying His commandments.
V3. It is clear that obeying God’s commandments does not exist of keeping laws or rules, but it is a state of mind. It is asking for His will, His commandments. The commandments of the Father were determining for the Lord Jesus in His life on earth. By that He knew what He should say and speak (Jn 12:49) and what He should do (Jn 14:31). By that He also knew that He had to lay down His life and to take it again (Jn 10:18). He submitted Himself to God and we are to do that too (Jn 15:10). Then the thoughts of God about our brothers and sisters will turn to be our thoughts too about them and therefore we will remain in the love of the Lord Jesus.
John says very concisely that God’s love simply means that you obey His commandments. Directly to that he adds, as an encouragement, that His commandments are not burdensome. Keeping God’s commandments, meaning to keep them in your heart and to live by them, is doing what is pleasing to Him. Still, at times you may experience that it is not quite easy; on the contrary, sometimes it can be hard. How can John say that His commandments are not burdensome? If you for example think about brotherly love, it can be quite difficult and hard to practice.
In what John says you have to consider again the way he presents the things. He speaks about the new life. Do you think that God’s commandments are burdensome for the new life, the Divine life? I don’t think so. It is the commandments that characterized the life of the Lord Jesus. The commandments and the new life belong together as a fish and water. When you command a fish to swim in the water it is not a burdensome order for that animal. The fish will fulfil that command with the greatest pleasure. The saying: to feel like a fish in the water, is not for no reason. This is how the commandments are being carried out through the new life with the greatest pleasure.
Here you see at the same time the enormous difference between these commandments and the commandments of the Old Testament. The law was a burdensome and even unbearable yoke to Israel (Acts 15:10). Indeed the law was given to a people in the flesh, a sinful people, with the command for them to keep and in that way they could earn life. The difference between the law and the faith is, that the law says: do this and live, while faith says: live and do this. The law has man as a starting point, but the faith has God as a starting point. When you believe, you have become wholeheartedly obedient to the doctrine in which you have been taught (Rom 6:17). You have received a nature that longs to obey. A commandment is not burdensome when it is in accordance to what you want.
V4. Now we have paid attention to the relation towards God and towards the brothers, we will continue with dealing with the relation towards the world. The relation towards God and the brothers is determined by the new life. That is what causes the connection between you and God on the one hand and between you and the brothers on the other hand. However, when you look at your relation towards the world you see nothing that connects to the new life. There is in no way a touch point. The new life has its own sphere in which the world has absolutely no involvement. Due to your new life you have your own world, which is the world where the Lord Jesus and the Father are everything.
Your relation toward the world is not only characterized by the absence of any touch point between the whole company you belong to and the world. That relation is also characterized by the presence of a state of war. The world wants to exert its wicked influence on you. The great encouragement you are getting now, is that you may know that you belong to the company of conquerors. And what does that victory consist of? It consists of your faith. To be able to really lead this life of victory, it is important that your faith is also practically focused on Christ as the center of the world of the Father. Be occupied with Him, read about Him, remember Him, speak to Him. Be ceaselessly in the company of conquerors and listen to what they know of Him.
The whole company of the family of God’s children is standing in the world as a conquering power. The power of their victory is their faith, because faith teaches them to refrain from the hostile world and makes them to be focused on the invisible world of the Father. The world is the company of men that has murdered the Lord Jesus; it is the domain of satan. You are living in the midst of that world. That means war. But you possess the life of victory from God with Whom you are connected in a life relationship by faith. As long as you are in the world the war will continue, but you also have a continuous victory. The victory is a steadfast fact through your faith. The devil will never succeed to have any control of the new life that is lived in the power of faith. That is the victory.
V5. The victory over the world by faith is the part of each “who believes that Jesus is the Son of God”. At the beginning of this chapter John said that whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ, is born of God (verse 1). In that way a person becomes a member of the family of God, which also causes him to come into conflict with the world. With a view to the victory over the world, John speaks now about the faith in Jesus as the Son of God. That emphasizes His Being as truly Man on the one hand and on the other hand it emphasizes His eternal Deity. In these both aspects of His Person (if I may and am allowed to say that) the whole mystery of His Person is indicated. He is both as Man and as God the object of the faith of each child of God.
He who does not believe in Him in this way, has no part on Him. But the victory is secure for anyone who believes in Him like that.
Now read 1 John 5:1-5 again.
Reflection: Why are the commandments of God not burdensome?
6 - 13 God’s Testimony Concerning His Son
6 This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit 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 the three are in agreement. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
V6a. Now John expands on the Person Whom he just mentioned ‘Jesus, the Son of God’ (verse 5). He tells Whom He is and he also tells about the work that He has accomplished. He firstly points to Him as the One Who has come. That refers to His coming on earth and His whole sojourn on earth. In that way He has established what He said to God with His coming into the world: ”Behold, I have come … to do Your will, o God” (Heb 10:5-7). It proves that He was with the Father and He came into the world.
His whole sojourn on earth was characterized by ‘water’. That means that He fully lived through the Word of God (Mt 4:4), of which the water is a metaphor (Eph 5:26).
V6b. However, He came “not with the water only”. His blameless, God glorifying life alone was not enough to bring you salvation. He also came “with the blood”. His perfectly devoted life to God had to come to an end by the shedding of His blood. He had to give His blood for your sins. His work on the cross is not to be separated from His life on earth. Without His blood there is no life for us. Jesus Christ has lived through the Word of God and has given His blood.
When Christ died, blood and water came out of His side (Jn 19:34), as a proof that He had truly died. It is also a witness that in that way we were able to receive eternal life. In his gospel John firstly speaks about ‘blood’ and then about ‘water’. You may call it the historical order. This is how it happened on the cross. The blood is the ground for God in order to be able to redeem men from their sins. In that way He can give eternal life to men. The water puts the purification of the sins of the sinner by the power of the Word more in the forefront.
Here in his letter John firstly speaks about ‘water’ and then about ‘blood’. You may call that the practical order. This is how you came into contact with it. First the water purified you from your sins, for they were a big obstacle between you and God. Then you saw that the blood has removed all your sins before God. Water refers more to what you needed and blood refers more to what was needed for God.
V6c. After the witness of the water and the blood the witness of the Spirit follows. “It is the Spirit who testifies” of the Lord Jesus, Who He is and what He has done. Water and blood are metaphorical or symbolic witnesses. They relate to something. The Spirit is not a symbolic but a personal Witness. The Spirit is used as Witness after the witnesses that speak of the life (water) and the dying of the Lord Jesus (blood). He has come as Witness after the Lord Jesus has risen and has been glorified (Jn 7:39). Through the Spirit we learn the meaning of the metaphorical and symbolic witnesses. “The Spirit is the truth.” You have found the truth of God through the work of the Spirit of the truth.
V7. Therefore there are three witnesses of which each one has a particular testimony, while they together form a unity in their testimony. None of the three witnesses stands apart from the other witnesses. The Spirit speaks from the Word. The Spirit speaks about the water and the blood out of the Word and therefore you have accepted the perfect and indisputable testimony of these three witnesses. The testimony is absolutely reliable, for “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2Cor 13:1).
V8. John mentions the witnesses again in verse 8 (see verse 6), but now he mentions the Spirit first. He does that because the Spirit has caused you to accept the testimony about the Son of God. It is because of the work of the Spirit in your heart through which you have understood and accepted Who the Lord Jesus is and what He has done. The three witnesses “agree as one” in their testimony about what you needed in order to partake of the eternal life which was given to you in the Son. This threefold testimony gives the unmistakable security that you have the Son as your life.
V9. John compares “the testimony of God” with “the testimony of men”, by which he most probably means the false teachers in particular. Men may say what they want, but if they do not know the meaning of the water and the blood and therefore also do not have the Spirit, they are liars. There are men who claim that they know how you could come into contact with the Son without the blood. They speak for instance about Jesus in relation to ‘the water alone’. That means that they present Him as a good person and a model that is worthy of imitation. But they actually do not say a word about Him as the Propitiation that a sinner needs.
You therefore need to listen carefully to the witness of God, which is greater than the witness of any man whosoever. God has testified of His Son when He was baptized in the Jordan river and also at His glorification on the mountain (Mt 3:17; 17:5). The testimony had sounded, but the sound did not fade away. The testimony resounds at a fully un-muffled force until this day and that will last till eternity.
V10. If this is the testimony that the triune God has testified of His Son, how could it be that you would want to listen to even one single word that people, who do not have the Spirit, say about the Son? They may be the most educated people with the most respectable names who speak in the most impressive way about Jesus, but still they are blind people and fools. Aside from the fact that their testimony is false, you absolutely do not need it. You have the testimony within you. You believe in the Son of God. You have accepted the testimony of God about His Son. You have agreed to that. That’s how you obtained new life. You possess it, it is in you. That new life is complete, it does not need any addition. Of course it must grow, but that is something different than that it would lack something of which the false teachers claim to be able to give you.
Those false teachers have not believed “in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son”. They simply do not believe what God has said and therefore they have made Him a liar. This is how also today there are many people who call themselves a Christian, but dispute God’s Word. They explain in their own way what God has said. They think they know better than God and in that way declare Him a liar.
V11. Whatever they may claim, the testimony is solid and it is untouchable for the most vicious and rude attacks. You therefore do not need to be impressed by the fiercest oppression. The content of the testimony is that God has given you eternal life and this life is in His Son. Therefore it is completely independent from anything from man whatsoever and it is also untouchable for any false doctrine whatsoever.
You may know and also experience that you have been brought into a relation with God through the possession of eternal life that you have received from God. Even though you do not understand everything about eternal life, the point is that you have received it. It is within you. Thereby bear in mind that this life is the life which is “in His Son”. He is that true God and the eternal life, as it is written further (verse 20). You may compare it with your hand that has indeed life, but only in relation to your body. The life of your hand is the life of the whole human. If you separate the hand from the body, the life will be out of it. In the same way also a leaf on a tree has life. Therefore eternal life is not to be enjoyed outside the Son.
V12. Despite what anyone may say or claim, the brief and fervent conclusion is: If you have the Son you have the life and everything that is in it. But if you do not have the Son, you have nothing and you miss everything that is related to life. The big difference is made by whether you have or not have the Son of God as your life.
V13. John is about to conclude his letter. As an introduction to his ending words he tells you why he has written all the foregoing. Where the security is concerned of what is said, the Bible puts an emphasis on the written Word. He has ”written”, so that you may know with your heart and not only with your understanding that you have eternal life.
You know that you have it, because you have seen what eternal life is. You have actually seen Who Jesus Christ is, that He is the Son of God. You believe in Him, in His Name. His Name is an indication of the full revelation of Who He is. It embraces all radiance and splendor that this Name contains. In order to know more of it you should read and explore God’s Word. You will surely absorb everything in your heart that you discover of Him therein with great sincerity and gratitude.
It is like with the people of Israel to whom all blessings of the promised land were given even before they took possession of it. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses presents the rich blessings of the land before the people. But in order to really be able to enjoy those blessings, it was necessary for the people to take possession of it step by step (Jos 1:2-3). This is how you are blessed with all spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3), which you may summarize with what John calls “eternal life” here.
You are in that heavenly land, but you are to discover its treasures. Spiritually speaking you must set your foot on the ground there. You are allowed to call each place that you set your foot on, your property, while basically the whole land has been given to you. If in that way you discover step by step what all has been given to you in the gift of eternal life, you will also be eager to thank the Father for it (cf. Deu 26:1-2; Jn 4:10,14,23-24).
Now read 1 John 5:6-13 again.
Reflection: What does the testimony consist of that God has testified of His Son and what is the meaning of it?
14 - 21 Knowledge of Eternal Life
14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears us [in] whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. 16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not [leading] to death, he shall ask and [God] will for him give life to those who commit sin not [leading] to death. There is a sin [leading] to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. 17 All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not [leading] to death. 18 We know that no one who is born of God sins; but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him. 19 We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in [the power of] the evil one. 20 And we know that the Son of God has come, and has given us understanding so that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, guard yourselves from idols.
V14. Verse 14 describes a wonderful result of the possession of eternal life that John has spoken about in the previous verse. He who has eternal life also has “confidence”. This confidence or boldness comes to expression in your prayer life, for therein the fellowship with the Father and the Son comes to expression. It is the unreserved talking with the Father and the Son about all issues that affect your life, such as children have, who have an unreserved relationship with their father. Confidence also includes trust, security and safety. You are familiar with God, you are at home with Him. It all results from the possession and the knowing of the eternal life.
If you live like that in His presence, in that sphere of confidence, then you share your desires with Him. Of course He knows all about them already. Therefore it is not about telling Him what He would not know, but it is about the fact that praying means that you very consciously have fellowship with Him. The Lord Jesus has prayed continuously. His life was prayer (Psa 109:4b), but He also had specific times for prayer. He always lived in conscious fellowship with God, but He also prayed with a view to specific events. With Him there was no unfamiliarity regarding the answer to His prayers. He did not need to question Himself whether the Father had indeed heard Him, for He knew that the Father always heard Him (Jn 11:42).
V15. With us it is not always like that. Sometimes you do not know how to pray and you also do not know whether you ask for the right thing. Nevertheless you are allowed to pray. You have the confidence to do that. And when you pray for something that is according to His will, He will hear you, meaning that He will answer you, for He always hears you, after all. A nice example of somebody who had the certainty of getting the petition she prayed for, is Hannah, the mother of Samuel. She prayed for a son. After she had gained the certainty of prayer, meaning that she had the certainty that her prayer would be answered, she looked different (1Sam 1:17-18).
A practical point for our praying is that we often take too little time for it. That actually indicates that we do not consider it that important. We need to take time for prayer. When you cease to pray, it means that you will also cease to receive the blessing. Prayer needs time, perseverance and encouragement in the form of an answer. The only way to learn the lessons of prayer is by praying. In that way you for example can pray for the sake of the ministry of a brother or sister. When you pray for his or her sake to receive strength and blessing from God, then you know that it is a prayer according to His will. He wants us to pray for that. And He will surely answer.
V16. A special prayer is the prayer for the sake of a brother who is sinning. When you see a brother sinning, you respond – that’s what the apostle presumes – with Christian love. That love is expressed in praying for the sake of the other person. The fellowship between him and the Father has been disturbed. He has no more confidence and is no more able to enjoy the blessings of that fellowship. Therefore your love will firstly cause you to pray for him.
When sin has entered into somebody’s life, death has also entered into his life, which implies in this case the absence of the joy of life. The effect of the prayer is that the brother is being placed back in the joy of the life in the company of the family of God’s children, where death and sin do not belong.
Now John makes another distinction in the sin which is committed. He speaks about “a sin not [leading] to death” and about “a sin [leading] to death”. For the first sin it is allowed to pray, for the second one it is not allowed. How are you to distinguish the kind of sin you’re dealing with? That will become clear in the relationship with the Lord.
You can be sure that when a believer sins, it is a sin not leading to death. When it is a sin leading to death, it will become clear by for instance certain circumstances (e.g. 1Cor 11:30). It was clear to Peter that Ananias and Sapphira had committed a sin leading to death (Acts 5:1-10). Moses also had committed a sin leading to death, for he was not allowed to enter into the land because of his sin. When he asked God if he could still enter into the land, he received the answer to speak no more of this matter with Him (Deu 3:25-26). And Jeremiah was told to pray no more for the people. They were deviated that far away from God that it became inevitable to make them to be taken into captivity (Jer 11:14; 15:1).
It seems that a sin leading to death is a sin that violates the testimony of God in a particular way. Due to that sin the Name of God has been seriously and publicly dishonored. The conduct of one of His Own gives the enemies of God an extra motive to blaspheme His Name. Then it can happen that God will no longer maintain such a person as His witness on earth and takes Him away. When that’s the case, then there is mention of sin leading to death.
V17. By putting this emphasis on the sin leading to death, it may seem as if other kinds of sin are not that serious. That would be a tragic mistake. John again explicitly declares that “all unrighteousness” is sin, even if it is often a sin not leading to death. We must be very aware that this can only be said in this way because the Lord Jesus went into death for each sin of God’s children. “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23). Therefore sin is absolutely not allowed to have any room in the life of a child of God. In case he still sins he has to confess it as soon as possible. Praying for the sake of one another is a great contribution to achieve that.
V18. John concludes his letter with three verses which all three begin with “we know” (verses 18,19,20), with thereafter in the last verse (verse 21) a general warning. With this three times “we know”, which implies that you have conscious knowledge, John once more records the clear principles that he has dealt with extensively in his letter.
The first ‘we know’ concerns the knowledge “that no one who is born of God sins”, whatever people may say. You are born of God and in accordance with your new life you have no part in the practice of sin. The new life cannot sin and does not want anything else than doing the will of God. You are born of God and therefore have His nature. Can God sin? Impossible! In Him there is no sin. Therefore you also cannot sin in your new life. Every believer knows that.
John sees you and addresses you in the new life that you have received because you are born of God. That new life “keeps him”. It is completely safe and untouchable for the evil. The evil has no point of connection therein, just like the Lord Jesus says of Himself (Jn 14:30). And He is that new life within you. The evil cannot possibly gain his grip on your new nature any more than he could on the Lord Jesus.
V19. Apart from the evil, you also have to deal with his instrument, which is the world. In his second ‘we know’ John points at the radical separation between those who are of God and the whole world. Therefore here it is not so much about your being born of God, but about God Himself as the One to Whom you belong and with Whom you are related. You belong to God, while the world belongs to the evil and is totally surrounded by evil. The whole world, without anything being exempt from it, breathes wickedness and is the means through which the evil is trying to gain his grip on you. Because you know to Whom you belong, you have a sharp eye for what the world is and for your place on the other side of the borderline. You do not want to have anything to do with the world.
V20. The third ‘we know’ focuses your attention on Him Who is the center in God’s world, the Son of God. You know that He has come into the world and “has given us understanding” that you may know “Him who is true”. Formerly you were darkened in your understanding (Eph 4:18), however intelligent you may be. Now you have the understanding, how little you may be of account in the world. You owe that to the coming of the Son of God. Had He not come, then you would have remained in darkness. But He has come and has opened your understanding (Lk 24:45). You have gained insight into the plans of God and of how He is going to fulfill them. Everything happens through His Son.
You know Him Who is true, that is God as the One Who is true in Himself. In the world the lie rules, but that does not find any point of connection in the new life. That’s because you know Him Who is true and Who always speaks the truth about all things. You do not only know Him, it is even said that you are in Him. That is not a knowledge on a distance, for you have been brought into the closest connection with Him.
That doesn’t imply that you were brought into the Godhead. After that John directly adds in which way you are in Him Who is true and that is because you are in His Son Jesus Christ. In Him Who has come as Man you are in Him Who is true. You were not able to become God, but God indeed was able to become Man and in that way identify you with Him. At the same time He remains to be the One Who became Man, the true God and the eternal life. That places you before the inconceivable wonder of His Person. In this respect the appeal ‘Come let us adore Him!’ is appropriate.
V21. The last verse is also appropriate in this light. Keep yourselves from idols, those are things or people that demand, ask for or provoke adoration, for all adoration is to be ascribed to the Son alone. John has presented Him as the eternal life to you in this letter. The eternal life that you have received is He. You know the Father and Him Who He has sent. You therefore have been brought into the sphere of the eternal life (Jn 17:3). Spend your time there and be involved with Him Who is the eternal life. Don’t let yourself be tempted to spend your time, your attention and adoration to something or someone else. Only the Father and the Son are worthy of adoration, now and forever. Amen.
Now read 1 John 5:14-21 again.
Reflection: What have you learned in this letter about the eternal life?