Faith is the Victory
American Journal of Biblical Theology,
True Christian believers, those who have truly placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, will always find conflict between the Holy Spirit that works to lead their hearts, and the unholy spirit that works to drive this world in the direction of its own agenda. Christian (and Jewish) history is replete with the conflicts between the church and the world that it refuses to submit to. The Jews have faced resistance and persecution from virtually every other people group. The early church faced resistance and persecution from both the pagan culture and the Jewish community. There is no period of Jewish or Christian history when those who gave their lives to the LORD were not facing persecution ranging from marginalization of their social experience to violence and martyrdom.
Christians have also faced similar persecution from within the organization of the Christian church by those who demand adherence to unbiblical and ungodly doctrines and practices as the church seizes for itself a form of authority that is to be held by the LORD alone. Also, the church is not insulated from those who hold to a false and powerless profession of faith and continue to demonstrate self-centered behaviors that often serve to bring conflict to the congregation.
Finally, Christians find themselves in conflict with their own spirit as the Holy Spirit reveals areas of necessary changes in our thoughts, opinions, and behaviors.
However, when we observe the biblical model of a Christian life, one that is characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit, we do not find freedom from conflict among the fruit. One only needs to make a cursory study of the life of the Apostle Paul to understand that the battle for the heart and mind of the faithful Christian believer is real and pervasive. Yet, among the fruit of the spirit is peace. How can one have peace amid the turmoil of conflict? How can only experience true joy in the many sorrows that seem too often accompany the struggle?
The early church faced these same questions that still remain today, and the Apostle John was sensitive to the needs of the fellowships of believers in the new, struggling church.
John wrote this letter to the churches so that they would be encouraged by the truth, confident in the testimony of their faithfulness, and be able to overcome many of the struggles they faced.
1 John 5:1. Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and every one that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him.
John has been dealing in this letter with the invasion of heretical doctrine into the fellowships of believers, and because of a dearth of sources of sound doctrinal teaching, the people tended to be easily swayed away from the truth. In this last chapter of John’s first of the three known epistles, the writer moves from his focus on the identity and doctrines of the heretics to focus more on the state of the heart of the faithful.
There were many who were teaching the members of the fellowships that there was something still lacking in their lives, something that would prevent them from realizing the true and lasting reward for their faith. Those of Jewish background demanded that Christians hold to strict Mosaic Law. Others taught methods of salvation that were inconsistent with the Truth of God’s word, causing believers to doubt in their hearts, and leading them away from the truth.
Though John has already described several attributes that contrast true faith with heresy, he addresses and important one here: salvation is not found in the methods that the heretics propose. John describes two important characteristics of those who are safe in the secure fold of the salvation of God.
First, those who are saved are fully accepting of Jesus’ nature as described in God’s Word. This characteristic of a person is a choice, not an action. It is a belief, not a work of the hands. One who loves the LORD accepts Him fully for who He is: the Messiah, the Christ, YAHWEH who came in the flesh, born of a human woman, lived as a human, and returned to His state in eternity. The idea that God could inhabit a person makes no logical sense. There is no mechanism in this physical universe that would serve to model this truth. Acceptance of the person of Jesus Christ is an act of faith. It is through this faith that salvation is found.
Second, John describes another characteristic of those who are secure in their faith: they truly and deeply love the LORD, and one another. This love is a Holy-Spirit-led fruit of salvation and serves as a litmus test that the first decision to love the LORD is real.
John states that it is these two characteristics define a born-again, true Christian believer. If anyone requires any additional requirement to salvation, they are teaching heresy. Likewise, if anyone works to take away anything from John’s description of a Christian, they are teaching heresy. Finally, if anyone teaches any other means of salvation, they are teaching heresy.
These words would have been very encouraging to an early church that was being drawn in multiple directions. Likewise, Christians today can be encouraged by these words. Anyone who accepts in their heart and mind the eternal lordship of Jesus, and demonstrates agape love for Him and for others can be confident in the voracity of their salvation.
You can be sure and confident of your salvation, free of any work or rule of man. Salvation is by faith alone.
1 John 5:2. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
There is no work, no actions, no set of rules, and no dress code that provides eternal salvation. Though our work, our actions, the rules we live by, and the way we determine our appearance are informed by the Word of God and the counsel of the Holy Spirit, these are not the agent of salvation, they are simply the fruit of a salvation that has already been obtained. However, being informed of the Holy Spirit, there is yet a third indicator of true salvation: the desire to be obedient to the LORD. When John refers to the keeping of His commandments, he is not stating this as a law, nor is he referring solely to the Ten Commandments given to Moses in the Old Testament.
Christians do not seek to obey God because God demands it: they seek to obey the LORD because of their love for Him. Furthermore, keeping the commandments is not the act of adherence to a long-list of written rules. It is the constant submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He informs our choices and encourages us to make them consistent with the Word of God as revealed by the Spirit and leaned through the teaching of the Word.
1 John 5:3. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
One may note the use of a chiasmic structure that is common in Greek literature and often used for effect: each phrase is a repetition of the last, with another part added on to the repetition. The sequence is then repeated in reverse order. Here John adds the simple point that when one truly loves the LORD, they will find obedience to be a pleasure, not a burden. One is burdened by another when there is no love relationship between them.
A dictator can easily place a tremendous burden on another. Those in the fellowship that are acting like little dictators create a burden on those who they work to control. When one is forced to submit to such an authority, there is little joy in the effort. However, the fundamental relationship between the LORD and a person of faith is love. Though the Law of Moses can serve as a dictator over those who do not love the LORD and are forced to adhere to its tenets, the Word of God, which includes the Law and much more, is a comfort to those who love God.
1 John 5:4. For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Though the faithful have been marginalized, persecuted, and even martyred, they have not been defeated, and never will be. The evil nature that pervades this world seeks to devour all who will submit to it, but that evil is powerless against the Holy Spirit, and simply cannot destroy the spirit of a faithful believer in the LORD. By indwelling the heart of the believer, the Holy Spirit is the seal of salvation, a seal that cannot be “overpowered” by the evil one. Satan, his minions, or the evil people of this world cannot take away the salvation from any believer. Consequently, the believer has eternally overcome this enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We might be reminded of a poem by John H. Yates:
His banner over us is love,
Our sword the Word of God;
We tread the road the saints above
With shouts of triumph trod.
By faith, they like a whirlwind’s breath,
Swept on o’er every field;
The faith by which they conquered death
Is still our shining shield.
Faith is the victory!
Faith is the victory!
Oh, glorious victory,
That overcomes the world.
The power to “overcome the world” comes from one simple promise of God: when one places their faith and trust in Him, one is no longer condemned by their sin. The very point of salvation is that one is saved from an eternity apart from God. Sin no longer has the power to condemn a person who has placed their faith and trust in God. Sin has been overcome by the forgiveness that God has gracefully granted to those who love Him.
1 John 5:5. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
We understand that God created man in “his own image.” This simply means that mankind is unique among all of the creatures of this world in that God has given to him an eternal spirit, one that has the capacity to know that God exists and to have a relationship with God. Consequently, every human civilization has sought God, knowing that He exists. However, our search for Him has often been so influenced by our sinful nature that we fail to find Him in a way that He will accept. God’s plan is that we come to Him in faith, finding forgiveness for our sin. However, that forgiveness is found only in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary, the One who is the Messiah, the Son of God. If we reject the nature of Jesus Christ and His work of salvation for us, we have rejected God. Consequently, though all world religions, beliefs, or non-beliefs will eventually bring us to the final judgment (since every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is LORD,) the only way to come to that judgment with forgiveness is through faith in Jesus.
There is simply no other way to overcome the eternal consequences of the sin of this world.
1 John 5:6a. This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.
John uses several terms to bear witness to the nature and person of Jesus Christ. Though there have been several variant interpretations of this verse, we must remember to keep the scripture with the margins of the biblical context. In this passage, John states that Jesus “came” by the water and blood. Some hold that these words refer to spear that pierced Jesus’ side in His death when “blood and water flowed.” However this position is inconsistent with John’s point that Jesus “came” by them. Other ideas have similar difficulties.
One of the primary purposes of this letter is to counter arguments by the Docetics who hold that Jesus was not human. John often refers to Jesus as the “Word,” equates the Word with the Messiah, the Christ, and states that the “Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Messiah, YAHWEH, LORD, became human and lived among us. He came to us by water, a physical property, not a mystical one. Some may argue that John is referring to the process of childbirth since the phrase is idiomatic of the birth process. Some hold that the water refers to the baptism of Jesus, the point when Jesus’ ministry on earth began. The Messiah returned to Glory through the event on the Cross where He shed His blood. All of these points still hold to the truth that Jesus was fully human, yet fully YAHWEH.
1 John 5:6b. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
It is easy for this world to reject the true identity and purpose of Jesus Christ, and the vast majority of the people of this world do so. These do not bear any witness to the truth, and have no interest in doing so. However, the Holy Spirit of God, who is the power behind all of the work that God has done and will continue to do, bears witness to the truth of Jesus’ identity and purpose. The Holy Spirit always represents truth. The Holy Spirit never performs any work that serves to deceive or present any form of falsehood. When one relies on the witness of the Holy Spirit concerning the nature and purpose of Jesus Christ, one can only come away with truth. Jesus is who He says He is. Jesus is who the Holy Spirit says he is. Jesus is who the Father says He is. Jesus is YAHWEH, LORD, the agent of creation, and through the work of the Cross of Calvary, the judge of all people.
1 John 5:7. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
Some deny the nature of the Holy Trinity simply because the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the biblical narrative. However, this is simply a word that has been used to refer to the unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity that is described many times in scripture. This passage is one of these. John is again referring to witnesses to the nature and work of Jesus Christ. By referring to all three persons of the Trinity, John is stating that God is a witness to the truth of Jesus.
Some have difficulty understanding how the Father, the Word (Jesus), and the Holy Spirit can be God. We often refer to these as the three “persons” of the Trinity, where a person can be described as a definable set of attributes:
The Holy Spirit is that person of God through which all of His work is accomplished. He communicates to people through the “still, small voice” in their hearts as He reveals truth to those who seek Him.
The LORD, Jesus Christ is that person of God through which He has directly interacted (and now directly interacts) with mankind. As the LORD, He spoke to Moses through the burning bush, spoke to Israel from Mount Sinai, and wrestled with Jacob. As the LORD He came to earth in the Christ Child, grew to be a man, and following His baptism by John the Baptist, proclaimed the good news of the Kingdom of God until His death on the Cross when He provided salvation for all who place their faith and trust in God.
The Father is that person of God that has the characteristics of a loving Father who is in relationship with His children.
The nature and glory of God is vastly beyond the greatest of our imaginings, yet He has revealed Himself to us in some ways that we can understand. God has revealed parts of Himself in each of the persons of the Trinity so that we can turn to Him in faith and have the relationship with Him for which we were created.
Again, John is stating that God, Himself, bears witness to the truth of the identity and purpose of Jesus Christ.
John 5:8. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.
Using the same logical structure, John continues to gather together witnesses to the true nature of Jesus Christ. When John first writes in the gospel of the nature of Jesus, he states, “We beheld His Glory.” There were many, including the Apostles and disciples, who were first-hand witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. The heretics who are teaching a different gospel did not personally know Jesus. However, John reminds us that there are many who did. They saw the birth and baptism of Jesus. They witnessed the work of the Holy Spirit through Him. They witnessed His death, His resurrection from the grave, were witnesses of his last 40 days of ministry that preceded their witness of His ascension into heaven.
John is one of those many people, though probably few remain, who had a first-hand witness of Jesus Christ, yet that witness still exists.
1 John 5:9. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
The term that John uses for “witness” refers to those who are called upon to give binding testimony in a court of law. The Mosaic Law requires two or three witnesses, and Jewish tradition preferred three. John has drawn his defense team from two sets of three witnesses, three witnesses from men, and three witnesses from God.
By calling upon the primacy of God’s witness of the Son, John works to destroy the false doctrines of the heretics who deny the truth of Jesus’ nature and purpose. His use of the three earthly witnesses certainly hold more authority than that of the heretics since the former witnesses are giving first-hand testimony. However, John does not stop there, as he also notes that that God Himself, as revealed to us through the Trinity, is also a witness to the true nature and purpose of Jesus, and a testimony from God certainly has greater authority than both the heretics and the first-hand human witnesses.
1 John 5:10. He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.
Another witness that John brings to the stand is the Holy Spirit who speaks to the heart of every believer. These words are more for the fellowship of believers than it is for the heretics: every believer has a relationship with the Holy Spirit who teaches the truth of Jesus’ nature through the deep recesses of their heart. True believers have accepted the Lordship of Jesus Christ and the truth of His nature and purpose by faith. However, once that decision has been made, as they grow in faith they come to understand the truths of the gospel as the Holy Spirit illuminates it as they become immersed in the Word of God.
Consequently, John calls upon every believer as a testimony to the true nature and purpose of Jesus Christ, a population who all agree to a truth that is taught to them by one source: the Holy Spirit. Those who have not placed their faith and trust in God do not have this resource. They do not hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Consequently, it is easy for them to reject the gospel and proclaim that what God says, what the Holy Spirit says, or what Jesus says, is all a lie.
1 John 5:11. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
In the last verse and this, John uses another legal term, in this case, a record: a written testimony. The idea is that something that is written down cannot be changed. A written testimony cannot be altered. This is a piece of solid, substantial, evidence that is presented to the court.
The final evidence of salvation that John brings to the stand is the gift of eternal life that is found in Jesus Christ, and through Him alone. All religious expression and effort is focused upon reconciling the gap between God and man, and John points to the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ as the one true means to fill that gap. With this, he rests his case with a final summation:
1 John 5:12. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
Standing against the heretics and critics of this world, John has made the case from his own experience, from the shared experience of the Apostles and disciples, and from their collective experience in a relationship with God. His position is in agreement with the words of Jesus Christ, with the testimonies of the saints, and with the entire content and context of the Word of God: salvation is found only through Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Those who have turned to Him in faith have life and those who have not turned to Him in faith do not have life.
The life to which John refers is certainly a proclamation of eternal life in heaven with the LORD. However, that experience of a relationship with God does not begin at death: it begins at the point of salvation when the decision is made to turn to God in faith. It is a life that is changed from the moment of decision. It is a life that is lived within the comfort of knowing that the sins of this world have been overcome by the One with whom they have placed their trust. To come to the LORD is to overcome the world. To come to the LORD is to overcome the consequences of the sin of this world. To come to the LORD is to receive the richness of His blessings that begin a new life both in this world, and in the kingdom to come.
“The faith by which they conquered death Is still our shining shield.
Faith is the victory!”