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First John 5:1-21

I.               Introduction: The Apostolic Message - 1:1-4

II.             The First Series of Tests - 1:5-2:27

III.           The Second Series of Tests - 2:28-4:6

IV.          The Third Series of Tests - 4:7-5:17

A.             The Social Test (3) - 4:7-12

B.             The Doctrinal Test (3) and the Social Test (4) combined - 4:13-21

Through the first four chapters of 1 John we have seen John remain true to his purpose. In seeking to expose those who merely profess but do not possess eternal life, and with a view to confirming and assuring the true believer, he has made frequent application of the tests of authentic Christianity. The Moral Test has been stated 3 times, the Social Test 3 times independently and once in conjunction with the Doctrinal Test, and the Doctrinal Test 2 times independently.

It is important to remember that these 3 tests are interrelated. It isn't possible to "pass" one or two while "failing" the third and still claim to know God. In other words, if one appears to love the brethren and practice righteousness but denies the Son, such a person is not of God. Similarly, to affirm Christ's full Deity and appear to love the brethren while at the same time living in sin is to expose oneself as a liar. The same would apply to someone who practiced righteousness and confessed Christ while hating his brother. The genuinely born again believer will manifest all three signs, the absence of any one sign pointing to the absence of spiritual life altogether.

Thus unity among the tests/signs is seen in 5:1-5 in which all 3 are neatly interwoven. Belief or faith is found in vv, 1,4, and 5; love in vv. 1,2 and 3; and obedience in vv. 2 and 3. Thus we find in 5:1-5 the final application of each of the three tests: the doctrinal (4), the social (5), and the moral (4). In 5:6-12 John digresses to speak of Christ, the 3 witnesses to him, and the resultant verdict.

C.             The Doctrinal Test (4), the Social Test (5), and the Moral Test (4) combined - 5:1-5

1.              belief, love, obedience: characteristics of one born of God - 5:1-5

a.              regeneration is evidenced by belief in Christ and creates a mutuality of love both between parent and child and among the children themselves - 5:1

Note what this verse says about the relationship between regeneration (= new birth) and faith. The text literally reads: "whoever believes (a present tense participle) that Jesus is the Christ has been born (a perfect tense participle) of God."

The Greek perfect tense: the perfect tense describes a past action, the result of which is present to the speaker or writer. The emphasis is on the state or result that follows from the completed action. This present result is the effect of which the action in the past is the cause. In sum, the Greek perfect tense describes the present continuous state resulting from a past completed action.

Observe John's doctrine of "regeneration" or the "new birth"

The term "begotten" or "re-born" or "born of" (gennao) is found 10x (2:29; 3:9(2); 4:7; 5:1(3); 5:4; 5:18(2). In 3:14 he uses another term which is translated "passed out of" (metabaino).

John says in 5:1 that whoever is presently believing in Christ has in the past been born or begotten of God. I.e., a present action of believing is evidence of a past experience of begetting. Is John then saying that new birth or regeneration always precedes and causes saving faith in Christ? Although I believe regeneration (new birth) does precede and cause faith, I do not believe that is John's point here.

When one examines these texts where the terminology of regeneration is used, one finds that John is concerned with describing the consequences or fruit of the new birth:

Question: "How may I know that regeneration has occurred? How may I know if someone has been born again?"

Answer: "That person will not practice sin (3:9; 5:18). That person will practice righteousness (2:29). That person will love the brethren (4:7). That person will believe in Christ (5:1). And that person will overcome the world (5:4)."

John's point is simply that these activities are the evidence of the new birth and hence of salvation. Their absence is the evidence that regeneration has not taken place. He makes this point, not because he wants to demonstrate the cause/effect relationship between regeneration and faith, but because he wants to provide the church with tests by which to discern between true and spurious "believers".

b.              obedience to the commandments of God, which is the same as love for Him, is evidence that we truly love His children - 5:2-3

It is as impossible to love the children of God without loving God as it is to love God without loving his children. Love for the brethren is deduced from the natural law of affection: you can't love the parent without loving the parent's offspring because the latter share a common nature with the former.

What are the implications for Christian living of the statement in v. 3: "His commandments are not burdensome"? The grounds for this remarkable statement are found in v. 4a. See esp. Deut. 30:11 and Mt. 11:30.

c.              he who has been begotten of God overcomes the world - 5:4-5

1)             it is not the person, but his/her birth from God, that overcomes the world - 5:4a

Here we see the reason stated for the assertion in v. 3. The reason why his commandments are not burdensome is because we now have the power, by virtue of the new birth and the resultant "seed" of God and indwelling Holy Spirit, to keep them! The phrase "whatever is born of God" is neuter, most likely pointing to the power of the new birth itself.

2)             the victory which overcomes the world is our faith - 5:4b

This "faith" is our faith in Christ, in particular, our faith in who he is (God in human flesh = the incarnation) and what he has done (propitiation for our sins = atonement). But what precisely is the "victory" or "overcoming" that we experience? Is it 1) conversion (hence a victory over sin and death); 2) decisive rejection of the false teachers; 3) an ongoing victory over the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the pride of life; 4) an ongoing victory over the temptation of the world; 5) victory over Satan? Or is it all of the above?

3)             he who has such a victory is he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God - 5:5

D.            A Digression: Christ, three witnesses, and a verdict - 5:6-12

Having briefly mentioned faith in Christ or belief in his full deity in 5:5, John proceeds to discuss the testimony borne to him and its inevitable verdict.

1.              the nature of the testimony: the witnesses to Christ are 3 - 5:6-9

a.              Christ is he who came by both water and blood - 5:6

Among the many theories about this statement, I mention three.

*          Some say water and blood refer to the two sacraments or ordinances of the church: water = baptism and blood = the Lord's Supper. This was the view of both Luther and Calvin. Whereas "water" may well point to baptism, "blood" is an odd way of describing the Lord's Supper. After all, blood is one of the things signified, not the sign or symbol itself. And what of Christ's body? Also, John says Christ "came" by water and blood. How did he "come" by the ordinance of the Lord's Supper?

*          Some say water and blood refer to that which poured from the side of Jesus when pierced with the spear during his crucifixion. This is possible, but the water and blood came "out" of him. He did not come "by/through" them. Furthermore, as Burge notes, the closing phrase of v. 6 ("not by water only but by water and blood") indicates that "John is making a counterpoint to some claim involving only (or primarily) water" (202).

*          Others say water and blood refer, respectively, to the baptism and death of Jesus, the former that by which he was commissioned and empowered for his work and the latter that by which his work was finished. This would certainly refute the false teachers by showing that Jesus was the "Christ" before and during the baptism and during and after the cross. It wasn't "at" the water (baptism) that Jesus "became" the Christ, but Jesus who "is" the Christ came through the water. The second half of v. 5 is a repetitive and emphatic declaration by John required because of the gnostic notion that the "Christ" left or departed from Jesus before the cross. John says No. It wasn't just Jesus who bled. It was Jesus Christ!

Some have suggested that 'water is indeed a reference to baptism, but rather than the baptism that Jesus himself experienced it is the ministry of baptism that Jesus himself performed (cf. John 3:22,26; 4:1-2). But it seems strange to say that Jesus 'came by water = he performed the baptism of others.

b.              the three which agree in their witness to Christ are (1) the Spirit who is truth, (2) the water, and (3) the blood - 5:7-8

c.              it is God who has thus borne witness to his Son, a far more compelling testimony than any man could give - 5:9

The reason why the three agree is because it is God who is behind them. The three form a single testimony to Christ. God bore witness to his Son at his baptism, at his death, and now through his Spirit.

2.              the result of the testimony: he who believes in the Son has both the witness in himself and eternal life, whereas the unbeliever makes God a liar and does not have life - 5:10-12

a.              the contrasted results of belief and unbelief are startling: he who believes has the witness in himself; he who does not believe has made a liar of God - 5:10

The believer is given a yet deeper assurance by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit that he/she was right in trusting Christ! On the other hand, to refuse God's testimony concerning his Son is to say, "God, you are a liar!"

Kruse does not believe that the 'witness or 'testimony that the believer has 'in himself is the inner witness of the Spirit. He believes that 'the testimony believers have in themselves is the true testimony concerning Jesus Christ which they heard from the eyewitnesses and have accepted and internalised (181).

b.              since life is in the Son, he who believes has life, he who believes not has not life - 5:11-12

E.             A Digression: assurance of eternal life and confidence in prayer - 5:13-17

1.              the purpose for this epistle is to lead people into the certain and confident knowledge that they have eternal life - 5:13

John's point is not that we might grow gradually in assurance, incrementally as it were, but that through reading what he has written, through examining our lives in the light of what God has done for and in us, we might possess here and now a present and firm certainty of the life we have received in Christ. He's talking not just about a present assurance of present salvation, but a present assurance of final salvation.

2.              the Christian may have confidence before God, not simply in the future (2:28; 4:17) but even now in prayer; such confidence that if our prayers are in conformity to his will we know we have that for which we pray - 5:14-15

3.              such a great privilege in prayer should not be selfishly expended on ourselves only but should be used to the benefit of a brother who, because of sin, is in need of intercession - 5:16-17

See the special study on these two verses found under the heading 'Controversial Issues.

V.            Conclusion - 5:18-21

A.             Three Affirmations - 5:18-20

1.              the Christian perseveres in righteousness and is beyond the touch of Satan- 5:18

For the meaning of v. 18a, see the discussion of 3:9. The argument is made that it makes little sense to say, on the one hand, that the evil one cannot "touch" a Christian and yet, on the other hand, that he could conceivably indwell him. Response:

*          We can't press the term "touch", for according to 1 Pt. 5:8 it is possible to be "devoured" by the Devil! See also Rev. 2:10. Thus, whatever "touch" means, it does not suggest that all Christians are automatically insulated against demonic attack.

*          To "touch" a believer may mean to rob him/her of salvation. If so, then Satan cannot "grasp so as to destroy" the spiritual life of the believer.

*          The promise could be conditional, perhaps on the fulfillment of v. 21.

What is the meaning of John's statement that 'He who was born of God keeps him (v. 18b)? As Kruse notes, 'in 1 John most references to being born of God relate to believers (2:29; 3:9 [2]; 4:7; 5:1,4,18 [2]). However, the reference here in 5:18 to 'the one born of God' is best interpreted as a reference to Jesus himself (195). This is a profound statement concerning the preservation of the saints by the savior: Jesus is the one who ultimately accounts for our continuing faith and loyalty to him; he supplies the energy and power and incentive by which we maintain our faith in him (see esp. Heb. 13:20-21 and Phil. 2:12-13; cf. also Rom. 15:5).

2.              the whole world lies in the evil one - 5:19

Observe the contrast. Whereas the "whole world" is in the evil one, we who are "of God" (v. 19) are in God and in his son, Jesus Christ (v. 20). The point is that everyone is in someone! "John wastes no words and blurs no issues. The uncompromising alternative is stated baldly. Everyone belongs either to 'us' or to the 'world'. Everyone is therefore either 'of God' or 'in the evil one'. There is no third category" (John Stott, 194).

Note: what significance is there in the fact that this passage was written after the cross, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus?

This forever shatters the illusion of neutrality, the idea that so-called "good" people who are not Christians are neither for God nor for Satan, are neither in God's kingdom nor in Satan's. The fact is, all people, young and old, male and female, belong to one of two kingdoms: the kingdom of light or the kingdom of darkness. If one is not "in Christ" one is "in the power of the devil," even if there is no visible, sensible awareness of being in the devil's grip. Thus, not to serve God is to serve Satan whether one is conscious of it or not.

"IN" = languishes in helpless passivity; lives under the influence, power, and under the authority of Satan; in his grip and subject to his dominion (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 17:15; Acts 26:18; 2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 2:1-2). Apply this notion to the "whole world", i.e., to the financial world, business and industry, the stock market, the banking system, political institutions and parties, entertainment (TV, films, media, radio), sports, education, the family, the home, the neighborhood, civic clubs and social service organizations, country clubs, . . . everything! PT: there is a satanic global influence with which we must reckon.

This is a stunning, shocking revelation. It takes one's breath away when the implications of such an assertion are unpacked. Indeed, it is a frightening revelation that could easily instill fear and dread were it not for another assertion that John makes in 4:4!

3.              the Christian has perceived him who is real - 5:20

B.             A warning about Idols - 5:21