1 John 5:1-8 – 2023 Sep 07

KV3:  To love Him is to willingly obey Him

3:  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

As a much younger man, I once heard a young man, a friend I went to high school with, exclaim how he loved God.  I must sadly report that the lifestyle of this individual involved drug use, premarital sex, being drunk, and living that party life that all of my friends became familiar with in high school and early university.  By this time, I was beginning to be affected by the holiness of God in my life, had come into fellowship with real believers, and had repented of my backsliding.  I began to witness to the guy that I went to high school with on the Greyhound bus we were on, going home to visit our families for Christmas.  He agreed with everything I said, at least in principle.  He knew he wasn’t really walking with the Lord by the time we were done, and I suggested that we could pray and that he could repent of that sin.  He declined the offer, explaining that he felt awkward doing that in public.  As we reached Thunder Bay travelling west, we both got off the bus to stretch our legs and go find something to eat.  I found a sandwich and some coffee inside the terminal, and as I was walking around the back of the bus, I ran into my friend and he was toking up with some strangers he had just met at the terminal.  I was saddened, but you know, I understood.  I had been there myself less than two years earlier.  We all had issues and sins that we dealt with and even continue to deal with.  I am also saddened to report that was the last time I ever saw him.  That in itself doesn’t mean anything, but I do wonder how that ended up for him with the Lord.

Over the years since then, I have come to see that if you are living in open and known sin, you do not love God, at least not at that moment.  Was my friend saved?  I don’t know, honestly.  Many say a prayer and then never live the life of holiness and obedience to God that is required by Him to be called faithful.  Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t.  Beloved, that’s just like us.  I think the point that the Lord makes in a statement like what John made in verse 3 here is that if the Lord has truly saved a person, their life will change to obey Christ willingly instead of always doing what WE want, which almost always somehow gives us what WE want, and never what God wants.  There is a component of willingness to that, and if that component is missing, I think it is clear from all over the New Testament that such an individual is not His because they never really believed.  To put that another way, such an individual was never moved by the opinion or persuasion they held into willing action to obey the Lord, the very meaning of believing or having faith in the Greek.

In this passage, John talks about this concept in detail.  He talks about what it really means to love God, what it leads to, how it is possible, and the testimony of witnesses that testify to it all.  I broke the text down as follows:

KV3:  To love Him is to willingly obey Him

3:  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

1-2:  On loving God the Father

3-4:  love = obey = overcome the world

5-6a:  The one who has overcome is God the Son

6b-8:  The triple testimony of the gospel

At this point, it is good to just simply get into the text.

1-2:  On loving God the Father

Like my friend from high school, many people today claim that they love God.  Is this in fact the case?  Dr. Steven Lawson doesn’t think so.  In commenting on an appearance of Joel Osteen on Larry King Live,  Mr. Osteen began to speak about how Hindu people in India loved God.  Dr. Lawson stopped the video and said, “No, they don’t; they hate God.”  That’s a bold statement, isn’t it.  That isn’t a question.  How does one determine whether or not someone actually loves God?  I believe John begins to answer that question in these two verses.  Let’s look.

1:  Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is  born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.

  • The very first statement John makes in this text is in the form of a stated test.  Whoever, a form of the Greek word pas, meaning “all,” believes [pisteuo, the act of living out the opinion or position you have come to be persuaded of] that Jesus is “the Christ” [ho Christos] is born [gegennetai, more at begotten] of God.  Beloved, that’s just the first phrase, and that’s already a lot to unpack.  If you conduct your life because your position is that Jesus has paid in full for all of your sins, you are born of God, or if you like, a synonymous phrase–you have been born from above.  This is a direct statement of the gospel!  If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, you are born of God!
  • Then comes the test.  Whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.  This is nothing John hasn’t already been saying.  Chapter 4, verse 11 says that “if God so loved us, we ought to love one another.”  There it was a command, but here, it’s more like a reminder as John proceeds to build a line of reasoning.  It starts with the gospel and then builds to the first sign by which men will know we are disciples, that is that we love other disciples!  Next verse.

2:  By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.

  • John is also stating another test here.  He is telling us how we know that we are loving the children of God–that we are loving God by keeping His commandments.  Think about this.  How does God love us?  John 3:16 tells us, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His  only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  God loved us so much that He had to act, and He did by giving us His best, His Son.  How are we supposed to love God?  That our thanks to Him would cause us to be thankful and act to obey what He says for us to do. 

The concept has been given a name in Christian circles, incidentally.  Before I say what that is, I must absolutely say that before any obedience is required of the believer, God first justifies the one He chose from before the foundation of the world.  Having said that, the concept is one called “Lordship salvation.”  It is the concept that if He has truly saved you, and He becomes your Lord, you will live like that statement matters.  If Jesus is your saviour but he’s not your Lord, then He isn’t really your saviour either.  Why would He be?  Now, I realize that is a very contentious statement to many.  You must realize we are not saying that your obedience or any work that you do saves you.  Our position is that if God has really saved you, you will live your life in obedience to Him, and that isn’t always easy.  There is a difference in the positions I have just stated, and maybe you need to think a bit about it before you try to “educate” me about what you think the Scriptures say.  I read them like you do, and I’m trying to be kind.  The bottom line is that you can agree with me or not, but you cannot deny what is in Scripture.  Moving on.

3-4:  Love = obey = overcome the world

There is a kind of equivalence given to us in these verses, as I stated in my paragraph title.  It works like this.  We love God by obeying His commands, and in obeying His commands, we overcome the world just as the Lord Jesus overcame the world.  Let’s look at what John says.

3:  For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

  • John is directly stating that if we are practicing the love of God, or love for God, both ways of wording this work here, we will keep His commandments.  In other words, we will do what He says.  The caveat here is that we will not find them burdensome, or synonymously, grievous.  But what happens when we find them grievous?
  • That can happen.  It does not mean you are not saved, incidentally, although some self-examination is always called for.  Sometimes, it might mean you are in the middle of a trial or temptation of some kind.  Keep abiding in Christ in that case.  It might mean you have sinned in some way or worse are holding onto it.  In that case, repent.  It might mean you are doing too much, and you need to just remain in Christ for a while and rest.  I am very familiar with that one.  It might mean you are overwhelmed.  Do you think that God will never give you more than you can handle?  Wow, that’s not what that verse says.  It says that He will give you His grace as a means to escape by bearing up under that struggle.  Maybe your routine has become, well, routine!  Whatever it is, you can be sure the answer is that you need to be as close as possible to the saviour and to do what He says.
  • The point John is making here is that God isn’t going to ask you to do the impossible.  He will make a way for you to love and obey Him in a way that you will want to do so, even if it is difficult.  He didn’t say He would rescue us from hard times, beloved.  He just said that we will want to follow Him.

4:  For whatever is  born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.

  • This is a promise!  If you are a real believer, that is if God has really caused you to be born from above, you will overcome the world!  That “whatever” is the same as the “whoever” earlier, it is a form of the word pas and simply means “all.”  It doesn’t explicitly say this here, but I do think it applies.  If you are not born from above, you haven’t got a prayer of overcoming what the world is constantly throwing at us all.  Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but it will for the real believer.
  • Then John talks about the victory itself–our faith.  The Greek word here is pistis, a firm persuasion or opinion held strongly enough to drive our behaviour to live like that opinion or persuasion matters.  It is one of the five solae of the Reformation, sola fide, that is, faith alone.  And you know what?  It isn’t even OUR faith!  Paul puts it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” (Gal. 2:20)  Literally, it is “…I live by the faith of the Son of God…”  It is Christ’s faith.  Think about this, it makes sense.  It is His grace alone, it is His faith alone, placed in Him alone, according to the Scriptures alone, all to His glory alone.  His faith is OUR victory.  We could talk about penal substitutionary atonement here, but we won’t, because we all know He died in our place, and He was the only one who could.

As glorious as that all is, I need to remind you that John is talking about a kind of equivalence.  If we are practicing love (agape, always agape) for God will lead directly to obedience to His word, and that will cause us through Christ to overcome the world.  Why?  Because all of this was from Him to begin with.  That’s a complicated way of saying that our salvation is monergistic I know, but it really is all Him and none of us.

5-6a:  The one who has overcome is God the Son

Now why do we know this is monergistic?  Because it is Christ that overcame, not us.  John speaks in this section about it and in very plain language.  Let’s see.

5:  Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

  • This is almost a restatement of the previous verse.  All the components are there: the overcoming, the believing, and Jesus the Son of God.  When you put them together, you remind yourself of several things.
  • First, there is a need to overcome the world and all the chicanery it throws at us.  All of the temptations of the world system [the word used here is kosmos], the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life.  Only one man I know has ever beaten that whole system, and He did it about 2,000 years ago when the enemy of us all tempted Him in the wilderness.  If we do not overcome it, it will overcome us, and that will have consequences.
  • Second, the way to overcome the world system is the gospel!  Who is the one that overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?  Beloved, that’s the gospel in a nutshell.  God the Son, became human in the person of Jesus, and was the Messiah (the Christ) who was fully human and fully God at the same time so that He lived a perfect life of obedience under the law and then at the right time perfectly laid down that perfect life as the perfect atoning sacrifice for our sins to satisfy the perfect wrath of God.  That was His job, described throughout the OT, especially in Isaiah 53.
  • Third, Jesus really is God made flesh, the perfect man who was God at the same time, the very Son of God.  Believing that will allow us that victory in Jesus over the world to apply to our own lives as we follow Him.

6a:  This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ;

  • In my mind this time through the text, this phrase is a fitting close to the paragraph and a perfect bridge to the next thought unit.  This is the One.  Jesus Christ is the One.  John’s gospel emphasis has been hammered home repeatedly in this letter, from the beginning to the end.  The emphasis on a proper view of the Lord Jesus Christ is key to understanding the whole letter, and indeed all of Scripture because it all speaks of Him.  He is God in bodily form, and the only way John or anyone else can emphasize that is to say it as often as possible.  This one came by water and by blood.  We will look at this in the next section, so I won’t say a lot here other than to mention that there are competing theories as to what exactly that means.  We’ll discuss those then also.

Why is it so important that we have a proper view of Christ and that we properly understand the gospel?  I believe it is because there is no hope for any of us without it.  If there is no Christ, we are all lost in our sins forever.  All alcoholics are forever enslaved to drink.  All drug addicts can never be free of their addictions.  All thieves are bound to steal whatever they can for the rest of their lives, regardless of the consequences.  I could go on with that list, but it would only depress us.  People are enslaved to sin.  They are without hope except in Christ, who is the Truth that can set them free from that slavery if they will only turn to Him in repentance and faith that will motivate and move them to live differently.

What is that proper view of Christ?  That He is God Himself.  God the Son, who became human at the request of God the Father, lived a perfect life of obedience under the law, and at the right time laid down that life for us by dying the most painful death imaginable on a Roman cross.  God found that sacrifice on our behalf so satisfying in terms of His own justice that He raised Christ from the dead!  Jesus is that Anointed One, that Christ, that Messiah, God the Son.  If we see that, we understand the gospel, and that’s necessary, because it is in Christ alone that we can overcome everything the world system throws at us. 

That brings us to our final paragraph for the evening.

6b-8:  The triple testimony of the Gospel

We have already revealed the gospel in this study, and talked about the implications that has for us and the tests of self-examination we can use to determine if we ourselves are in the faith.  Again, I find myself necessarily repeating that these tools are for self-examination.  The last thing we redeemed saints should be doing is self-appointing ourselves fruit inspectors and then beginning to condemn everyone around us that we don’t like or that doesn’t measure up, even if we’re right and they don’t. 

Instead, we need to understand and make our focus on the right view of Christ and who He is, and more importantly what He has done for us.  That’s what John is talking about here.  Let’s look and see what John says.

6b:  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.

  • Okay, here we go.  The Spirit we can be assured is the Holy Spirit, what other Spirit would testify to Jesus so powerfully and consistently.  But what does the water and the blood signify?  It is clear from John that both are important, not just the water, but also the blood.  What could these mean in the text?
  • Some commentators make a connection between the water and the blood here with the passage in John 19:34 where the Roman soldier pierced the side of Jesus as His body hung on the cross dead.  It says, “But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”  However, it is difficult to understand how this is a witness of Christ’s deity, and there is no real reason to connect John’s thoughts to the events that John would later record in his Gospel.  We’re looking for something else if you ask me.
  • Other commentators see it as a connection to baptism and the Lord’s supper.  Again, however, there is no reason to make a connection contextually to these ordinances of Christian observance.  Besides, these ordinances are the church’s witness to Christ, not the Father’s specifically.  Yes, these are ordinances of the church, but I think we are again looking for something else here.
  • I think it is most consistent with the Scriptures if we look at the water as Christ’s own baptism, and see the blood as a reference to His own crucifixion on our behalf.  As Dr. MacArthur opines in his New Testament Commentary series on this passage, these events bracket the earthly ministry of Christ, and God witnessed to the world in both of them.
  • Some commentators of the more liberal variety have commented that this cannot be John the Apostle because this sentence is redundant.  I don’t read it as redundant, but instead addressing what is an important point of theology.  The proto-Gnostic heretics that John was facing in the church would say that God of course witnessed to Christ at His baptism but not at His death.  This can be seen as John firing back.  The heretics said that the “Christ spirit” descended on the man Jesus at his baptism making Him the Anointed One (Gk., Christos), and that He therefore gave his mystical ethics teachings [that only their initiates could understand and only if they followed and financially supported them I bet], but that this “Christ spirit” left Him before His crucifixion, and that He died as a mere man.  If you’ve been with us as we have been reading through The Gospel’s Power & Message by Paul Washer on Fridays on Rumble, you would know that He was fully God and fully man and why both were necessary.  Last week, we read the reasoning that Paul Washer so eloquently presented in his book.  And beloved, that knowledge comes free by the Spirit of God from the Scriptures.  It says here that the Spirit testifies because the Spirit Himself is Truth, and not just any truth, but the truth as it is in Jesus, sacred and holy truth given by God to man as the greatest news of all time, the gospel of Jesus Christ.

7:  For there are three that testify:

  • John is summing that argument up.  The water, the blood, and the [Holy] Spirit are the three here that testify, and John goes into some detail about that.  Next verse.

8:  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

  • The three things that testify, or “bear witness” [Gk., martus] to the Christ are the [Holy] Spirit, who is the Truth (v.6b), and the water, His baptism, the beginning of His earthly ministry where God the Father audibly spoke to the world to identify His Son to us, and the blood, that is His crucifixion on a Roman cross, the very completion of His earthly ministry, where God miraculously raised Christ from the dead because He was pleased with the obedient sacrifice Jesus made on all of our behalf.  These three are, as John says, “in agreement.”  All of these things say that Jesus was God and that He paid in full the price of our sins to redeem us and save us from the very wrath of God that is coming to all those who will not turn to Him.  Beloved, how much of a moron do you have to be to take man’s word for things that are less impactful on our eternal fate than the triple witness described here?  I’ve been preaching the gospel for at least 30 years now, and I have never met a person with a real intellectual problem with the Scriptures.  I’ve met a lot of people who were pretending to be smart to themselves (and only to themselves) with a lot of intellectualized excuses, but never one with a real problem.  I cannot tell you how many times I have heard the statement “I have an intellectual problem with the Bible.”  No, my friend, I’ll say it kindly.  You don’t, you’re not that smart.  You have a SIN problem with God, whether you believe in Him or not.  Until you provide for that problem before God, you simply will not understand the rest of this.
  • These three things, the water (His baptism), the blood (His death on the cross), and God the Spirit all speak their evidence for Christ, and it is as compelling a case as can be made.  You can choose not to believe it if you like, but then you will never know the freedom with which Christ makes us free from our real taskmaster, sin.

 The Apostle John is not mincing words and is not hiding what he says to his chosen audience.  Those who do not understand may not because he did write in a kind of code that left name and place details out of things, but it’s because they were not important details.  What John saw as critical to communicate to his readers was the gospel, and he has done that.

That’s what I saw in this text. 

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