Posts Tagged '1 John'


The apostle John, writing.


1 John 4:1—21

The recipients of this letter were members of a church in controversy. The trouble-makers who John was dealing with were not worldly pagans, but people who claimed to be Christians. These false teachers were smart and clever; they cloaked their unbiblical teachings in such a way as to lead some believers astray and plant the seeds of doubt in others.

1. Know what is true, 1 John 4:1—6

Without naming it as such, John is about to teach his readers about one of the gifts of the Spirit given to all born again people: the discerning of spirits. Here is how John begins teachings about this spiritual gift:

Dear friends,do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1John4:1)

An interesting point in this verse is John’s use of the word “spirit.” It comes from a Greek word that can mean “wind” or “spirit.” It is the same word of the Holy Spirit. But John’s teachings in this passage are really a profound insight into the spirit-world. Behind every human teacher, false or genuine, is a superhuman force—either the Holy Spirit or an evil spirit, and behind ever spirit is its head—either God or Satan.

a. Test the spirits, verse 1-3

It is the responsibility of individual believers to determine whether or not the person to whom he is listening is teaching something from God or Satan. The Holy Spirit dwells in every true believer, but another spirit lives in the false teachers and John gives two pieces of advice:

  • Do not believe every spirit. Common sense tells us that we are unable to actually see a spirit, but we can certainly hear and understand its teachings. Just because a Bible teacher looks good and uses the right words, that doesn’t mean what he is teaching is from God. This is the first part of the discernment process: listen carefully to the teacher and his teaching; don’t blindly accept it. All teachings must be verified in light of the Word of God (see 1 Thessalonians 2:4 and 5:21).

  • Many false prophets have gone out into the world. False teachers have made the world their classroom; they are literally all over the place, insidiously making themselves a part of churches and denominations. Their goal is to be heard by Christians and to lead as many of them astray as they can.

But Christians don’t have to be gullible; there is a test to determine the origination of the teaching and the teacher.

Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. (verses 2b, 3a)

The test involves a positive confession that hinges on the doctrine of the Incarnation: Jesus Christ came in the flesh. The false teachers of John’s day taught a corrupt version of the Incarnation, denying the lynch pin teaching of the Gospel that the Son of God became the Son of man.

The second part of this test is a negative confession; actively teaching something that is completely contrary to the revealed Word of God that teaches the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Liberal theology involves both of these points. Liberal theologians never accept on faith orthodox Biblical doctrines that Jesus Christ was, is, and will always be the Son of God; that He came from Heaven, assumed the flesh of man in order to save His people; that Herose bodily from the dead, ascended to heaven and that at an appointed time, that same Jesus will return as He left.  Liberal theologians will always seek to rationalize the teachings of Scripture by downplaying the supernatural elements.

b. Live as overcomers, verses 4—6

John’s emphasis shifts now from the content of the false teacher’s message to the character of his readers.

What about God’s people? Positively there are two things to note. First, even if they don’t feel like it, they have already overcome the false prophets. No matter how many false teachers there are or how smart they appear, Christians have overcome them. Second, believers are from God, false teachers are not. We therefore have Him dwelling in us in the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Another important point often overlooked in this group of verses teaches us something about the true message of God and His messengers:

We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood. (verse 6)

Whoever knows God listens to the real Word being proclaimed from real messengers. Those who don’t know God are not interested in hearing any genuine teaching. This makes common sense. Christians love to hear God’s Word being taught because that Word carries with it a divine authority. But the world doesn’t want to be under God’s authority, therefore it will always prefer false teaching to the real thing.

Part of having godly character is to live as an overcomer; as one who recognizes false teaching and avoids it.  This victory over false teaching and false teachers has nothing to do with our abilities,but withthe one who is in us.”  This One, is of course, the Holy Spirit.  No matter what spirit is opposing us,the Holy Spirit within us will enable us to live as overcomers.

2. Know God through love, 1 John 4:7—14

If the first group of verses in chapter 4 represents John’s teaching on the gift of discernment, then this next group of verses illustrates just one of the results of having the gifts of the Spirit operating in your life: love for the body of Christ. This section of John’s letter is perhaps the best loved part of any of John’s writings. It is the definitive statement about agape love. It is, also, very difficult to follow.

a. Love starts with God, verses 7—11

Verse 7 marks either an abrupt end to a discussion of false teachers or an abrupt beginning of a new teaching. Actually, it’s a continuation of the idea that genuine Christians are markedly different from the imitation Christians called false teachers. Unlike them, true believers love one another. This may be a fruit of the Holy Spirit, but it is our responsibility.

This love we are to have for members of the body of Christ is agape love; this kind of love does not depend on the quality of its object. If we have fellowship with God, if we are born of God, if we walk in the light, we will love others becauselove is of God.

Love, then, is another test of a person’s relationship with God. John does NOT say that everyone who is born of God manifests love, but rather he says this:

Every one who loves has been born of God and knows God. (verse7b)

But this is not a sentimental or emotional love John is referring to. There is a distinction betweennatural loveandChristian love.”  Natural love, the love a man has for a women or parents for children, comes from within the person himself, but it is conditioned by some quality in the other person. But agape love has nothing to do with anything in the other person. Agape love is the kind of love God has for human beings. His love for us is not a response to our love. The response is ours. This is the kind of love we are to have for others, particularly for members of the Body of Christ, but not just for them, for all people.

b.God’s Spirit lives in believers, verses1216

Verse 12 seems like a statement out of place, but it might have reference to the false teachers who claimed to have supernatural visions of God. John’s response to their grandiose claims is: No one has ever seen God. This is John’s way of saying something Paul said to the Corinthians:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. (1 Corinthians 13:1)

A false teacher can make all kinds of big claims, but if they don’t have God’s love in them, God is not in them. Three times in this paragraph John writes about the indwelling of God in the true believer—see verses 13, 15, and 16. Each time, he cites an evidence of this indwelling. Here is another test to see if the Holy Spirit is in a person:

  • The evidence:...he has given us of his Spirit.(verse13). How is this an evidence?  While we can’t see the Spirit, we can see His fruit. The following two pieces of evidence build on this.

  • The evidence: If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God… (verse15) Any body can claim to believe in God, but faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is evidence that a person is a true believer.

  • The evidence: Whoever lives in love.. . (verse16) The indwelling of the Holy Spirit is really the indwelling of love.  John Stott comments: The natural man can neither believe nor love.  In his fallen and unredeemed state he is both blind and selfish. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of truth and whose first- fruit is love, that man ever comes to believe in Christ and to love others.

3. Know you abide in God, 1 John 4:15—21

a. Confident in the love of God, verses 15—18

The people Jesus saves are the the people who acknowledge the divine sonship of Jesus Christ. Those who make the confession have the God dwelling in them. Of course, that confession is not enough. The phrase, “Jesus is the Son of God” should not be viewed as a mere confessional statement. Knowing and believing in the divinity of Jesus Christ means having complete faith and confidence in Him and in God’s love.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. (verse16)

This verse teaches us something of the nature of saving faith. It involves the intellect: knowing and relying go together. The growth of knowledge results in the growth of faith and they feed off of each other. When it comes to faith, ignorance is not bliss. One of the reasons why so many believers live in disappointment, often feeling neglected by God and being disappointed in God, is because their knowledge of God and how God works is so lacking. These kind of believers have expectations of God not based in His reality.

However, the more we learn about God in His Word, the more we understand His ways, the more our faith and confidence in Him grows because we have realistic expectations of God and we pray prayers that get answered because we pray according to His will.

John’s point is that no believer should ever live in fear because God is dwelling in them. God is love, and perfect love pushes away all fear.

b. Divinely enabled to love, verses 19—21

We love because he first loved us.(verse19)

This is an odd sentence because it is incomplete. We love what or whom? What was on John’s mind when he wrote the words “we love?” Do we love God? Or do we love each other? Perhaps John had both options in mind. No human being can claim that his love for God existed before God’s love for Him! And at the same time, no human being can claim to love everybody on his own! The fact is, our love for God and our love for all people is a copy of God’s love for us. He is the very nature of love and we follow His example.

And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. (verse21)

John ends his discussion on love by summarizing the law which his readers knew so well. Jesus also brought together the first and greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) and the second commandment (Leviticus 19:18). Throughout the New Testament, the notion of loving one’s neighbor is stressed. Why is that? We are called to love those around us because to varying degrees they bear the image of God and God has commanded us to love them. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we are able to do just that.

I. Howard Marshall wrote:

The more we realize how much God loved us, the more we shall realize our obligation to love Him in return. It is therefore good for us to constantly renew our knowledge of God’s love as we read of it in the Bible, as we hear it proclaimed in the worship of the church, and as we consider the ways in which our whole life has been molded by experiences of God’s love and care for us.

God’s great love for us allows us to love others the way He loves them. The one who abides in God will obey His commands, and the two greatest commands are to love God and to love others. The two are inseparable.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd


All believers are called into fellowship with God.

Fellowship With God, 1 John 1

The first four verses of John’s first letter are unlike the beginning of most New Testament letters and very uncharacteristic of the author’s style. The structure of the paragraph is complex and we get the impression that John was so excited about his subject matter and the truths he was wanting to write about that his thoughts literally rushed out of his mind and onto the page. There are no greetings and no preliminaries. He gets right to the point.

After declaring some very deep theological truths concerning the Word—Jesus Christ—he states the primary purpose for his letter: that we, believers, may have fellowship with God through sharing the life of Christ. This fellowship that believers may have with one another is best understood in light of the eternal life we share.

1. Fellowship with Father and Son, 1:1—3

a. The Word of Life, vs. 1, 2

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

This “introduction” parallels that of Hebrews, but Hebrews is written is a much more classical style of Greek. John’s letter is typically Semitic Greek, made up of short clauses connected by the conjunction “and.” Let’s briefly look at the clauses;

  • That which was from the beginning. It is interesting that it is “that” and not “who.” John could have used “who,” because certainly Jesus Christ was from the beginning. But he uses “that” because the subject is not really Jesus Christ; it is much broader than that. John is about discus the Person of Christ and the message of Christ. Both the Person and His Gospel are what have existed “from the beginning.”

  • Which we have heard. The “we” is editorial. John has in mind he and all the disciples who personally heard the teachings of their Lord from His own lips.

  • Which we have seen with our eyes. In a sense, this phrase is redundant. It’s a way of saying he and the disciples heard Jesus teaching with their ears and saw Him with their eyes. But it’s also a way of saying they saw Jesus’ physical body; the Son of God was no ghost. This was John’s way of combating the Docetic notion that Jesus was a sort of phantom and not a real person.

  • Which we have looked at and our hands of touched. With purpose, John makes it clear using a series of verbs that he was most definitely not only a eyewitness to Jesus, not only student of Jesus, but he had a close relationship with the Lord: he saw him and touched him. All of John’s physical senses, in other words, came into contact with the Lord.

  • This we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The phrase “this we proclaim” was added by translators to make a kind of summary and conclude the sentence. Both the Word of Life and the Gospel which John preached were from the beginning.

Why did John refer to Jesus as the Word (logos)? The term logos was used by many different religions and philosophies in the first century, so it would have been familiar to his readers, if not to the modern reader. We don’t generally view “the Word” as a person, but John’s readers would have had no difficulty understanding that he was writing about a Word—a Person—much greater than the word of other beliefs.

Verse two is parenthetical in the sense that is a restatement of verse one.

b. Shared life, vs. 3

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

John resumes his line of thought after the parenthetical comment of the second verse and repeats the verb “proclaim.” He is emphasizing that his message, and the message of the other disciples, came straight from the Source Himself. Why does he take such pains to stress this? He was probably wanting to distinguish himself and his friends from the many false teachers that were rampant in the first century church, often preaching doctrines that denied Christ’s human nature and bodily resurrection.

But the exciting part of verse three is not so much John’s emphasis, but his stated purpose. The purpose of this letter was to invite its readers into the fellowship of the apostles who were the eyewitnesses of the life and times of Jesus Christ. Fellowship with God and with God’s people is the natural result of the proclamation of the Gospel and its acceptance by those who hear it. Salvation, then, is the bedrock of Christian fellowship, and fellowship is the visible manifestation—the social consequence—of those whose hearts have been redeemed by Christ.

“Fellowship” comes from the Greek koinonia, and means “to share something in common with another.” What Christians have in common is unique to the Christian community. What ties Christians together is not family or children or careers, but mutual experiences with Jesus Christ. Koinonia can only happen in the context of the Church of Jesus Christ, among true believes.

2. Fellowship in the light, 1:4—7

a. Joy in Christ, vs. 4

We write this to make our joy complete.

Here is the secondary purpose for this letter: to make his joy, and that of his friends, complete. True joy for the believer is found in fellowship with God and fellowship with other believers. Christian fellowship is something that transcends time and space for nothing can interfere with it, not even death.

The essence of what John is teaching is this: there can be no real fellowship which produces joy outside of Christ. What does this mean for Christians? It means that the closest, most meaningful relationships in our lives will necessarily be with those who themselves are in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

b. No darkness in Christ, vs. 5

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.

The “substance” of the message John heard from Jesus Christ was that “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.” What a simple, but deeply profound statement! The way it is written in the Greek stresses it’s emphatic meaning. “Light” occurs first in the Greek sentence, giving it place of prominence; while its opposite, “darkness,” is seen with a double-negative, underscoring its emphasis.

God is pure light, meaning two things: God has revealed Himself to man perfectly and He Himself is morally pure. God is a revealing God; He is not an arrogant, game-playing god like the Gnostic gods of John’s day and the imitation gods of today. Yahweh doesn’t reveal Himself to a select group of enlightened individuals, but to all who seek Him. Light is not mixed with impurities, like darkness. Light is pure in every sense.

c. Cleansing by Christ, vs. 6, 7

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

When one is cleansed by Christ, certain verifiable changes occur in the believer. The word “if” introduces a new thought, which is a refutation of false teaching of John’s day. The false teaching, a result of Gnostic heresy so widespread in first century churches, went something like this: You could live in sin and still have fellowship with Christ. John insists this is impossible, though he is in no way teaching that Christians may live sinless lives. “Walk” is written in the present tense, and it refers to one’s continual moral activity. John is not referring to occasional lapses into sinful acts, but a habitual lifestyle of walking, not in the light, but constantly in the dark.

Here is a tremendous truth: a Christian can only have fellowship when they have literally surrendered their dark ways and are, to the best of their ability with the help of the Holy Spirit, walking in God’s light.

3. Fellowship through cleansing, 1:8—2:2

a. Self-deceit, vs. 8

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.

John must have been familiar with Proverbs 28:13 when he wrote this verse:

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.

Here is another powerful truth that seems lost on many modern believers. The Gnostics of John’s day truly believed in “sinless perfection.” They believed they had progressed beyond sinfulness; they had become perfect.

John’s choice of words in verse 8 is significant. He does not write, “we do not sin,” but rather we claim to be “without sin.” Again, the notion is a state of being. The fact is, we all sin, only a deluded person could claim to be “without sin!” If we say we have no sin, then we are not seeing ourselves clearly. People who think this way are way out of touch without reality.

b. Confession of sin, vs. 9, 10

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.

If we see ourselves in God’s light, we see that do sin. Confession of those sins is essential. We must be honest with ourselves and with God; we must not hide or cover up our sins or make excuses for them. We must confess our sins to God and He will forgive us.

As if to answer the reader who may be fearful of God’s reaction to his sins, John makes sure they understand that God is faithful and just. God cannot do anything but forgive a repentant sinner. God is absolutely true to the terms of His New Covenant:

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

c. Our advocate, 2:1, 2

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

With the exception of Jesus, we are all sinners. We may know God’s Word, and we may walk in the light, but we all stumble from time to time. What is the remedy for those who fall into sin?

John refutes the Gnostic claim of verse 10 (claiming we do not sin) with these two thoughts.

First, another purpose of this letter is to help his readers not to commit sinful acts. “Will not sin” is written in the aorist tense, speaking not of a habitual lifestyle this time, but of individual acts of sin. He wanted his readers to be as sinless as possible; this must be the ideal for all believers.

Second, we see that this ideal, as worthy as it is, is not possible 100% of the time. John may have wanted them to not commit acts of sin, but he assumed they would, and provides a wonderful truth: the redeemed sinner has an advocate in Heaven, with God the Father!

The word “advocate” comes from the Greek paracleton, elsewhere seen as “comforter.” The term “advocate” has a variety of meanings in the New Testament. The “paraclete” is one who comes to comfort, one who is sent to help. Here, the word describes the One who pleads the Christian’s cause before God. Jesus is the One in Heaven, speaking in our defense. Our advocate does not claim our innocence, but confesses our guilt and secures forgiveness from God the Father. He can do this because He Himself is completely righteous.

Adam Clarke observed:

From these verses we learn that a poor backslider need not despair of again finding mercy; this passage holds out sufficient encouragement for his hope. There is scarcely another such in the Bible, and why? That sinners might not presume on the mercy of God. And why this one? That no backslider might utterly despair. Here, then, is a guard against presumption on the one hand, and despondency on the other.

John’s teaching about fellowship stood in stark contrast with the errors that filled the first century church, and it stands against the false teachings of that riddle the Church today. We cannot enjoy unbroken fellowship with God and God’s people if we are living in sin. Sin cannot be taken lightly, and it will be exposed for what it is. Our actions betray our hearts and they are measured against God’s standards.

Letters From An Old Man, Part 11

1 John 5:13—21

The thing that strikes us first in these concluding verses is their similarity to what John wrote in his gospel—

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.  (John 20:31)

Elsewhere in this letter John had suggested several reasons why he wrote it, but, just like in his gospel, he left the main purpose until the very end—

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.  (verse 13)

The phrase “these things” points the readers back to the things he has written throughout the letter.

The second thing that strikes us about verse 13 is exactly to whom the letter was written.  Note the phrase:  “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God.”  John has a specific and exclusive group of people in view; Christians who continue to place their faith in Christ.   He is not an evangelist here; he is not trying to win converts with his letter; he is writing to people who already have faith and his is purpose is singular in nature:  “…so that you may know that you have eternal life.”  The phrase “you may know” means properly, “to know with certainty.”  These people already know that they have eternal life, but John wants them to have assurance.  His gospel was written in order that people might have life and his letter in order that they may know with full assurance that they have it.

There is a minor but important lesson here for us.  Even believers, whose faith seems unswerving, need encouragement and words of assurance from time to time.  False teachers, bad teaching or just the cares of day-to-day living can all conspire to wear our faith down.  This is why church is so important.

1.  The grounds of our assurance, verses 14—17

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.  And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.  All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

John actually repeats himself in these two verses, for earlier he wrote—

Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.  (3:21—22)

There are two points of interest in these four verses (Kistemaker).

  • Confidence.  Three times previously John wrote about confidence; twice in connection with judgment and once in connection with prayer.  The Greek word used each time, parresia, and means to “have full assurance” or “confidence” or to be “convinced” of a thing.  In Christ, then, we have confidence not only of the future, but also of the present.  We know we have access to God and that when we pray to Him He hears us.   In John’s writings, “hearing” not only means “being listened to, but “heard favorably” (Barker).   This is exciting news for the genuine believer:  when we pray, God hears our words with a favorable attitude.  But, there is a qualifier:  when we pray, we must pray according to God’s will.   This is, of course, exactly how the Son of God prayed—

Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  (Matthew 6:10)

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  (Mark 14:36)

Our confidence (or boldness) is linked to our freedom:  we must approach God.  When we have a need or a petition, the onus is on us to approach God.

  • Promise.  Verse 15 seems repetitious, but John adds a word of encouragement that is absolute.  When a believer prays according to God’s will, he not only has the assurance or the confidence that his words are being heard, but that he possesses the answer to the prayer the moment it is prayed.  John could not write more directly or definitely when he wrote the words, “we know that we have what we asked of him.”   John does not write in the future tense (we will have), but the present tense:  we have.   In other words, during the process of praying, we have the answer.   Now, that answer may take a while to be manifested, but we need to have the assurance that the thing asked for will be granted, if the prayer is prayed according to God’s will.   This cannot be stressed enough.  We are not pray in hopes of convincing God to fulfill some desire of ours, even if it is a worthwhile desire.  No, we must learn to lift up our wills to meet God’s will and pray to that end.

With verse 16, John seems to be starting a new topic, but he is really continuing the same topic, namely, prayer.  Believers should never pray only for themselves or only for their own needs, especially if those needs are spiritual in nature.   The sense of what John wrote is this:  If you, as a Christian, see a fellow Christian falling into sin, you are obligated to pray to God on his behalf.  This is God’s will; there is no question about it.

The question that comes to mind is this:  Why does John say we should pray for such a person?  Why not simply tell the person to pray for himself?   Here is another minor, yet very important lesson.  As members of the body of Christ, we are all interconnected.  If one member commits a sin—and here the suggestion is an “inadvertent sin”—that sin not only affects the one who committed, but it also affects the entire church.   Or, another way to look at it, when a brother sins, he not only sins against God, but against the body of Christ, as well.  So, that brother needs to be forgiven through intercessory prayer as an expression of the church’s forgiveness.   This is in line with the teaching of Jesus in John 20:23—

“If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

The second half of verse 16 bears closer examination because is somewhat difficult to understand.  What did John mean when he wrote:

There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that.

Clearly, intercession is not needed if the sin committed “leads to death.”  Some scholars suggest that John is teaching the doctrine of “the unpardonable sin.”  However, in this passage, John gives us no clue as to what kind of sin or habit that God will not forgive.  He may have in mind the sin of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” (Mark 3:29), although in the context of this letter, perhaps John has in mind false teaching.  That is, if a brother has sold out to the false teachers, now hates their brothers, and refuses the mercy of God, then the needs of that person should not be prayed for.  Indeed, prayers for a believer who has wandered from the Church should be limited to asking for their repentance and a return to the body of Christ.

2.  Divine knowledge, verses 18—20

In the letter’s final three verses, John summarizes three main things that his readers have learned.  Each of these eternal truths begins with the words “we know.”

  • We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him (verse 18).  The first part of this verse is a repeat of what John wrote in 3:9.  This time, however,  he adds “We know,” suggesting that while a child of God may occasionally sin, his normal state is to resist the temptation to sin (Plummer).

The next clause is a little more difficult to grasp:  the one who was born of God keeps him safe. Obviously two individuals are mentioned, one born of God and the one he keeps safe.  So the question, then, is who are these two people?  As to the one being kept safe, that obviously refers to the believer.  The believer is kept safe and the Devil cannot touch him.  But who is “one born of God?”  It must refer to Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ, the one born of God is the one who keeps the genuine believer from continuing in sin.

  • We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one (verse 19).  This second eternal truth builds on the first one, but emphasizes the believer’s position:  they are children of God.  This is exciting, especially when read with verse 18 in mind.  The one born of God keeps those born of God from sinning! Like the Son of God, genuine believers have their origin in God and like the Son of God, we belong to God.  John contrasts our position as God’s children with the position of the world:  it is under the control of Satan.  But notice what John does not say:  he does not say that the world belongs to Satan, merely that at this moment he has control of it.  We know that his control is temporary and was given to him by God.  Consider what Satan told Jesus in Luke 4:6—

And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.

One day, though, things will change—

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:   “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ,  and he will reign for ever and ever.”  (Revelation 11:15)

  • We know also 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—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life  (verse 20).  This last eternal truth is a summary of the whole letter (Barker).  This verse alone strikes a blow to the false teachers and their teaching.  Genuine Christian faith is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who through the Incarnation came into human history.  Plummer comments—

Both revelation and redemption are His gracious work.  With Him we could neither know God nor overcome sin.

The Son of God has “given us understand,” wrote John.  Kistemaker makes a keen observation—

In a world of deceit and falsehood, God has revealed Himself in the Son of God as the one who is true.  God has not forsaken us to the powers of darkness, but has endowed us with the ability to discern truth from error.

That is such a powerful thought.  A Christian need never be deceived because God sent His Son “so that we may know him who is true.”  How do we acquire this knowledge?  Through knowledge of the Word to be sure, but the verb to know is this case illustrates knowledge acquired through association.  In other words, as we fellowship with God the Father and His Son, we come to know the truth.   The false teachers by contrast, taught that only fellowship with God was necessary.  Time and again throughout this letter, John has confronted that teaching to stress the absolute necessity of fellowship with both the Father and the Son.  God can only be known through grasping the historical and spiritual reality of the Son.  Divine revelation cannot come apart from knowledge of the facts surrounding Jesus Christ, and those facts are put forth in the Word of God.

The last phrase, He is the true God (NIV), has caused some debate.  The NIV assumes John is referring to Jesus Christ; HE is the true God.  Others believe John is referring, not to Jesus, but to God the Father as being the true God.   It’s all a matter of translation and interpretation and both views could correct.

Those who hold to the first view point out that the whole emphasis of John’s letter was to show Jesus Christ’s position as the Son of God.  A major theme, for example, is that eternal life descends from, not the Father, but the Son (1:2).  It seems logical, then, that at the summation of this majestic defense of the divinity of Jesus Christ, John should make the definitive statement to that effect:

He is the true God.

3.  Conclusion, verse 21

Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

The letter ends on a distinctly affectionate note.  John, for the last time, uses the term “dear friends,” or “loved ones” in addressing his readers.  Despite their problems or wavering faith, they forever remain close to John’s heart.  But the admonition to avoid idols seems a bit out of place, not having been even hinted at in the rest of the letter.  Did John write this last verse?  Did he intend to write a little more?  Was more written that is now lost?  Not likely.   The connection between the false teachers and their teaching and idolatry is clear:  to leave the truth for a lie is the ultimate apostasy from the true faith.  To follow after false teaching is to become nothing more than an idolater.  John could not be blunter.  The purpose of the false teachers was to promote a false god, an invention of their own minds.   And believers should give a wide berth to people and teachings like that.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

Letters From an Old Man, Part 10

Spirit, Water, and Blood

1 John 5:6—12

Last time, we discovered that believers have certain victory over the world—

[F]or everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1 John 5:4, 5)

Now, John will go on to show the grounds on which that belief is based.  Our victory over the world is based on:

  • Historic facts; Jesus was a real man who was the Son of God;
  • Divine testimony; God Himself testifies to us about His Son;
  • Christian experience; the Holy Spirit convinces us.

1.  Historical fact, verse 6a

This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood.

Notice carefully what John says.  He writes in the past tense saying Jesus Christ “came.”  The coming of Jesus into the world is an accomplished historic fact.  He says, “Jesus Christ” and not merely “Jesus” for a purpose.  First, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.  The false teachers had taught that a man called Jesus was born and that this man became the Son of God at his baptism.  John chose his words carefully:  Jesus Christ came.   It was the Son the God who came into the world, not a man who became the Son of God temporarily.

It was the Son of God, not some kind of supernatural man, who intruded into our world, who was baptized in and filled with the Spirit. It was the Son who was approved of by God the Father, who suffered and bore our sins on the cross in order to redeem humanity.

Of this Son of God, John writes that he “came by water and blood.”  What exactly did John mean by that enigmatic statement?  Augustine thought it was in reference to the piercing of Jesus’ side on the cross—

Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.  (John 19:34)

John Calvin and Martin Luther see the sacraments, water baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  Still other scholars think John was referring back the Old Testament sacrificial system.   John’s meaning is a lot simpler than that.  Jesus began his ministry on the Earth after He was baptized in water and He accomplished His mission by shedding His blood.  The salvation of mankind was accomplished after the water and after the blood.  The reference of blood was important.  The Gnostic false teachers, whom John was combating, claimed that Jesus never really died.  John says, in fact, He did die when He shed His blood.

2.  Divine testimony, 6b—9

And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.

The very first phrase of this paragraph is jam-packed with meaning.  “And it is the Spirit who testifies” is written in the present tense, as though the Spirit continually testifies to the truth.  He never stops testifying to the greatness of the work accomplished by Jesus Christ on our behalf.    If we skim over the New Testament, we see the Spirit testifying to Christ’s conception and birth (Matthew 1:20; Luke 1:35), His baptism (Matthew 3:16), His teaching (John 6:63), and His ministry (Luke 4:1, 18).   What John wrote here is just a confirmation of something Jesus said earlier—

When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.  (John 15:26)

How does the Holy Spirit do accomplish this?   Simply by confirming the Word of God to our hearts.

Why does the Spirit have to do this?  The answer is in the second phrase, “because the Spirit is the truth.”   In John’s day, with all the false teachers and false teaching flooding the Church, the people had to know how they could know the truth.  It isn’t much different to day; there is much bad teaching and preaching spewing over the pulpits of the country.  How can a believer, whose ears are itching for the truth, know the truth?  Who can they trust?

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  (Romans 8:15—16)

So the Holy Spirit, then, is the agent of our adoption—He makes us children of God—and as we read and meditate on and hear the Word of God preached, He takes that Word and makes it live in our hearts; He convinces us of the reality of our position in Christ as we are exposed to the living Word.  So many Christians are unsure of their salvation or they are riddled with doubt because they don’t allow the Spirit to testify to them about Christ because they ignore His Word!   If you want the victory over the world John wrote about, you have to put forth the effort to obtain it!

Verse 8 is difficult for us to understand.  We can understand how the Spirit can speak to us, supernaturally through the Word, but how can inanimate things like water and blood do that?  What is John getting at?   In the Jewish mind, impersonal objects testify all the time.  For example, we read in Genesis 31:48—

Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed.

Laban and Jacob made a deal and piled up a heap of stones that would testify to their agreement.  We see things like that all over the Old Testament.  But why water and blood?  It is because of this verse in the Mosaic law—

One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.  (Deuteronomy 19:15)

John is not leaving anything to chance:  not one, not two, but three witnesses bear witness to the truth about Jesus Christ.  This is vital because man on his own cannot grasp the deep truths of God.  The Spirit Himself provides what man is unable to acquire himself:  a knowledge of Jesus Christ; the witness of the Holy Spirit accompanies every sermon, every Bible study and every time you open your Bibles at home, you are not alone!

3.  Christian experience, verses 10—12

Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Just how important is belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God?  Here John spells it out in no uncertain terms.   Anybody who believes in the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood, receives yet another inner witness:  the Father!  Stott comments—

He is given a deeper assurance by the inward witness of the Spirit that he was right to trust in Christ.

What John is getting at is simply this:  When we believe, we are given faith by God.  Faith is God’s gift to the believer to lay hold of the truths of God’s Word.  But it starts with believing in Christ.  Believing becomes receiving.

The overwhelming gravity of the witness of the Spirit is shown by the corollary:

Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar.

In other words, a person who refuses to believe the witness of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ has made God out to be a liar.  There are not too many offenses more serious than declaring God is a liar by your actions.  By rejecting God’s Word, you not only reject it, but you reject God and you impugn His character by saying that He is a liar.

John, of course, had the false teachers in sight as he penned those words, but they are applicable anybody who rejects God’s testimony.  John Stott wrote—

Unbelief is not a misfortune to be pitied; it is a sin to be deplored.

The unbeliever’s sin lies in his deliberate refusal to accept and believe God’s testimony about His Son and in his arrogant denial that God and the Son are one.  No man can claim to believe in God on the one hand and on the other hand reject God’s testimony about His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Do you know what means?  It means that when somebody says to you, “Of course I believe in God,” that statement means nothing.  According to the demons, they believe in God, too, and that belief doesn’t do them any good.  No, it is the gift of faith given us by God that enables us to have faith in Jesus Christ that saves us.  But it is not faith in an idea or a system of faith or faith in our salvation that saves us.  It is faith in a Person and what that Person did on our behalf.  That Person is Jesus Christ.  That Person is to live in us, His love is dwell in us and be manifested through us, and we are to live in Him.  And to live in Him is eternal life.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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