Our culture is infected with oath-breaking, reneged campaign promises, defaulted debts, divorced marriages, & fake news. Promises are only as good as the promiser. The Gospel promise is salvation from sin & eternal life. It insults the idolatrous religion of self-sufficiency. It tears down & defiles the altars of works righteousness. It fills the believer with swagger. And the world despises it. So, should we believe it?
Summary of the Text
Believing that Jesus is the Christ & being born of God are inseparable, you can’t have one without the other. The new birth results in both love for the Father who begot you and love for all those whom the Father begets (v1). Loving God’s people flows from love to God & obedience to His Word (v2). Loving God means obeying God. This doesn’t make God a dystopian tyrant, because His commandment—to believe upon His Son—results in our eternal life & joy (v3, cf. 1 Jn. 1:4). Whoever is born again is assured of their victory over the world, because they trust in Jesus—who has conquered sin, the devil, the world (vs.4-5).
The incarnation & death of the Word has Trinitarian fingerprints: the Father sent His Son, & the Spirit bears witness to the truth of this Gospel (vs. 6-8). God Almighty is witness to the eternal Sonship of Jesus; this doctrine wasn’t cooked up in the lab of man’s cranium (v9). Refusing to trust that Jesus is the Christ makes God out to be a liar, because God has testified that eternal life is given only through His Son. Without Jesus you do not have life (vs.10-12).
John repeats his slogan: all this is written that your faith––and assurance of eternal life––may be strengthened (v13). The practical cash-out of this assurance is that we can pray like Calvinists (vs. 14-15). Prayerful intercession for a brother in sin isn’t a hopeless cause; however, a warning is here: rejecting Jesus as the Christ is a sin that most certainly ends in eternal death (v16). Unrighteousness is sin, but Christ is our promise of cleansing (cf. 1 Jn. 1:9), our assurance of eternal life, & our salvation from the wicked one (vs.17-18). The world’s humanistic doctrine ensures it remains in league with the wicked One & his wickedness. Only through the light of Christ can we behold the truth of our union with the true God, the source of eternal life (vs. 19-20). All other saviors are idols. So John adjures his little children to forsake idolatry’s many forms (v.21).
Water & Blood
John is rebutting the rising heresy of Cerinthus: the eternal Christ merely came upon Jesus at His baptism, and left him at the cross. If Cerinthus was right, the water & blood from Jesus’ side meant the man had died, but his death was pointless & retained no promise of resurrection or eternal life.
The Jews knew that covering for sin & entrance into God’s presence were only through the ceremonial washings & bloody offerings of Moses’ Law. John sees in Jesus the fulfillment of the Law’s ceremonies & offerings. John is the only Gospel writer who recorded how after a soldier pierced Jesus’ side, blood & water came pouring out (Jn. 19:34). John pauses to add this commentary:
He that saw it [John] bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done, that the scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced (Jn.19:35-37).
This episode was a big deal for John. It not only showed that Jesus was a real man who had really died. It also revealed that His death was pregnant with redemptive meaning. The questions which the OT raised were answered by Jesus’ death. He was the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:46). He was the fulfillment of Zechariah’s cryptic prophecy (Zec. 12:10).
The Jews quibbled & puzzled over what in tarnation Zechariah could have meant. Surely he didn’t mean God was pierced by the sins of His people. How could you even pierce God? John’s eye-witness account of Jesus being pierced by the spear, cinches up this question. Contrary to Cerinthus, it wasn’t a phantom on the cross. It was a man who was also God. He was the final sacrifice for sins. All who look upon Him find salvation & life. John bore record that you (the reader) might believe; and then bear record yourself.
Living Like a Martyr
We think of a martyr as someone who dies for the faith, but that only describes what happens to a martyr. It doesn’t tell us what a martyr is & does. A witness (martys) declares what it is they have witnessed (martyreō)––that is their testimony (martyria); a martyr testifies regardless of personal consequences. John is bearing witness to the fact that “the life was manifested (1 Jn. 1:2).” But John makes it plain that his testimony is second fiddle to the witness of the triune God. In believing upon Jesus for salvation & eternal life, it is not man’s witness, but the witness of God which we believe (1 Jn. 5:9-10).
John calls Jesus Christ “the faithful witness/martys (Rev. 1:5).” Jesus washes us from our sins in his own blood, He makes us kings and priests unto God & his Father (cf. Rev. 1:5-6). Those who trust in Him are joined with Him, made new, & are made witnesses of the miraculous power of His life, death, resurrection, & ascension to all dominion. Christians live like living martyrs. We declare the power of the Gospel. No matter the cost. John is joined by Paul in making this clear: our testimony doesn’t come from us, nor is it about us. “You are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart (2 Cor. 3:3).” Our witness is carved on our heart by the Spirit.
The Victory Lap
The Word was made flesh (Jn. 1:2) that He might destroy the works of the devil (1 Jn. 3:8). But since we fight a sore loser, we’re told that we’ve “already overcome, in order that [we] may fight more courageously & more strenuously (Calvin).”
As John concludes this letter of assurance, he takes us on a victory lap of what Jesus—the Word made flesh, the true Christ, Whom the Father sent to be our Savior, Propitiation & eternal Life—has done for you. “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh (nikaō) the world: and this is the victory (nike) that overcometh (nikaō) the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh (nikaō) the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God (1 Jn. 5:4-5)?”
Your union with God is not dependent on your ability to solve the problem. Your salvation from sin & hope of obtaining eternal life are found in a man who was God in the Flesh.John doesn’t hand us the chalk, fold his arms, & watch to see if we can solve the theological calculus problem on the board. Your union with God is not dependent on your ability to solve the problem. Your salvation from sin & hope of obtaining eternal life are found in a man who was God in the Flesh. Your salvation is in Christ, who was the eternal Word, the life, the propitiation, the life, the Spirit Who indwells you, the Father Who secures you.
What does it mean to be born again or born of God? It means you believe that Jesus is the Christ. How can I be sure? Because God Almighty––Father, Son, Spirit––says so. What about the penalty of my sin? It is covered. What about when I die? You are given eternal life. What if I sin again after believing in Jesus? Look to Jesus, only, ever, always. Are you sure about all this? John’s answer, “Oh, yeah!”