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The Power, Testimony, and Substance of Faith.
The wonderful power of faith:
v. 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.
v. 2. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.
v. 3. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not grievous.
v. 4. For whatsoever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
v. 5. Who is he that overcomes the world but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
The apostle here virtually returns to the topic with which he opened his letter, showing that faith is the source of all Christian life: Every one that believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God; and every one that loves Him who brought [him] forth loves also him that was brought forth by Him. That is the great test of Christianity, a man's attitude toward Jesus Christ, Matthew 22:42. If he believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the promised Messiah, the eternal Son of God and the Savior of the world, then there is unmistakable evidence that he is born of God, regenerated, that he has received the new spiritual life. Such a person will love God, his heavenly Father, in a twofold sense, as a matter of fact. Just as self-evident, however, ought to be his love for all others that have been begotten of God, for all other children of God, who by virtue of their regeneration are his spiritual brethren. That is a necessary consequence of the new spiritual life: love toward God and toward the brethren. This love of the Christians is a living power; By this we find out that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. Love toward God is not a matter of sentimental feelings and consists still less in the sanctimonious talk that it is our duty to love the heavenly Father. There must be concrete evidence, also for our own satisfaction, namely, keeping of God's commandments, living in accordance with His holy will. True children of God cannot but show their sonship in this manner. With this is most intimately connected, moreover, the love toward the brethren. This is also not a matter of specious, pious talk, but of acting toward the brethren at all times as the will of the heavenly Father desires it.
Since the knowledge of our sonship toward God is so important in our lives, the apostle repeats: For this is the love to God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. That is the essence of true love toward God, that His children find their greatest delight in fulfilling His commandments, in performing and practicing everything that pleases Him, and therefore also in loving our brethren in deed and in truth. And such conduct on our part we do not consider a grievous, bothersome burden, for love feels no loads. Faith in God, love toward God brings strength from God; and "through His love and His strength all His commandments are not only easy and light, but pleasant and delightful" (Clarke).
This fact, that to a Christian the commandments of God are not burdensome, is now explained more fully: Everything that is born of God conquers the world; and this is the victory which conquers the world, our faith. The apostle uses the very strongest expression that he can find to indicate that his statement is a universal principle, that it applies to every Christian without exception. Wherever the new birth has taken place, wherever faith has been planted in the heart, there this wonderful power exists, there the believer is able to conquer the world, all the forces in this world that are opposed to the spiritual life in him, the entire kingdom of sin and evil. This conquest, this overcoming of the world, is a continuous process; that is the work in which the regenerate are always engaged. Not in their own power, indeed, do they battle with the forces of darkness, but in and by the faith which God kindled in them in conversion. Without this faith the professed believers would be lost, no matter what prodigies of cleverness and wisdom they may be otherwise. But with this faith they are victors even in advance, for they become partakers of the victory which their Champion, Jesus Christ, won over the kingdom of darkness. He overcame sin, death, and hell, and therefore these enemies are powerless against the faith which clings to the Savior and His victory.
This faith is, of course, not a matter of the imagination: Who is he that conquers the world but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God? There are many things in our days which are labeled faith that have nothing in common with saving, justifying faith, opinions which deny the redemption of Christ and fatuously rely upon the eventual recognition of the innate goodness of man by God. There is only one true faith, namely, this knowledge and conviction, that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, that God Himself was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself, that He is gracious and merciful to us for the sake of Christ. This only is faith, this conviction only has that almighty power of which St. John speaks; everything else is vain imagination. As the entire Christian life is a fruit of justifying, saving faith, so also the ceaseless conquest of evil with all its power.
The testimony of God:
v. 6. This is He that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is Truth.
v. 7. For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one.
v. 8. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood; and these three agree in one.
St. John here shows that the foundation of our faith is absolutely firm and certain, since it rests upon the powerful testimony of God Himself: This is He that came through water and blood, Jesus Christ; not in water alone, but in water and in blood; and the Spirit is He that testifies, because the Spirit is the Truth. Here the two principal events in the life of Jesus are set before our eyes, namely, His baptism, by which He entered upon His public ministry, and His suffering and death, through which He crowned His work of redemption. These two events prove with special force that Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world. He accepted the baptism intended for sinners and thereby declared His willingness to make full satisfaction for the sins of the world. He shed His blood and gave His life into death for the reconciliation of the world. And it was not only His first willingness to undertake the work of salvation which counted, but the shedding of His blood, His suffering and death. Of these facts the Spirit of God in the Gospel bears witness, testifying without ceasing that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. That is the special work of the Holy Ghost, to testify regarding the truth, to teach the truth, since He Himself is the Truth, the eternally faithful God. Thus the testimony of the Spirit glorifies Christ in the hearts of the believers.
The text continues: For three there are that bear witness in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one. This is the great mystery of the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, the eternal Word, and the Holy Ghost, three in persons, one in essence. These three in one testify in behalf of Jesus that He is the Christ, the Savior of the world. And with their testimony agrees that of three witnesses on earth: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three concur in one. Here on earth the Holy Ghost is the chief witness. As He led the disciples of Christ into all truth and inspired them to write the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, so He still works faith in our hearts through the Word of the Gospel, He still teaches us the value of the other witnesses for Christ's redemption, of His baptism and of His suffering and death. Thus we have unmistakable and incontrovertible evidence for the fact that Jesus, our Savior, really completed the work of redemption, gained a perfect atonement for the whole world. Thus the three witnesses have only one object, namely, to point to Christ, to testify to the salvation which we have in Him.
The essence of faith:
v. 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.
v. 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.
v. 11. And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
v. 12. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
Here the apostle shows with what confidence we should accept the testimony of the Gospel: If the witness of men we receive, the witness of God is greater, for this is the witness of God which He has witnessed concerning His Son. Here we again have an argument from the smaller to the greater. It is the custom among men to accept the witness of other men, unless there is good reason for suspecting trickery. The witness of God, therefore, must be infinitely more certain and credible, by as much as God is higher than any mere man. The Gospel is the testimony of God Himself concerning the salvation which was earned by His Son Jesus Christ. In holding before our eyes the fact of Christ's baptism and of the shedding of His blood in His great Passion, the Holy Ghost, being Himself true God, gives us evidence that cannot be gainsaid that Christ redeemed the world, all men, from sin, death, and the power of the devil
Faith is essentially the acceptance and application of this fact: He that believes on the Son of God has this witness in himself; he that does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness which God has witnessed concerning His Son. Every one that believes in the Son of God has the trust, the conviction, the confidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the eternal Son of God and the Savior of the world, and that this salvation applies to the believer himself. The Holy Spirit, who lives in the heart of the believer, assures him of this fact, seals this fact in his heart through the Word of the Gospel. Just as sure as the Holy Spirit is the Truth and cannot lie, just that surely we may accept the message of our redemption through Christ. The unbelievers, on the other hand, are not only foolish, but also blasphemous, for in refusing to believe the testimony of God in the Gospel concerning His Son and the redemption through His blood, they declare God to be a liar by treating His historic testimony as unworthy of belief.
John gives a summary of God's witness: And this is the witness, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. That is the testimony of the Gospel; that is the wonderful news which we find on every page of the apostle's letter; that is the message which all the apostles proclaimed, that God has given us eternal life, that this life is a free gift of His grace and mercy. For there is nothing in us that should merit such a reward; the only reason why God has given it, why He is holding it out to all men, is His divine love in Christ Jesus; for it is in His Son that we have this eternal life, if we place our entire trust in Him, if we rely on His perfect atonement in life and in death.
Therefore the apostle adds: He that has the Son has life; he that has not the Son of God does not have life. We Christians, having received the message of salvation, having had it imparted to us through the Word and the Sacraments, place our trust in Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, our Redeemer. By this token we have eternal life as a definite possession. Its actual enjoyment, the bliss of seeing God face to face, is still a matter of the future, but there can be no question as to our being the possessors of the gift of eternal life. The testimony of the Gospel is too certain, too definite to admit of doubt. He who foolishly rejects the Son of God, who is also his Savior, thereby rejects eternal life and deliberately chooses everlasting death and damnation. The unbeliever has only himself to blame if he is given over to that lot which he himself preferred.
A Concluding Summary.
The trust of the Christians:
v. 13. These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God, that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.
v. 14. And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He heareth us;
v. 15. and if we know that He hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of Him.
The letter is finished, and the apostle now speaks his closing words, summarizing the principal points which he made in the body of the epistle: These things I wrote you in order that you might know that you have eternal life, since you believe in the name of the Son of God. The apostle is referring to everything that he wrote in this letter. His entire discussion had the aim and object of confirming the readers who have centered their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their Savior, in the knowledge that they thereby were the possessors of eternal life. Faith has nothing in common with doubt and uncertainty, it is not a matter of personal opinion and feeling; it is glorious, certain knowledge based upon the Word of the Gospel. We know that we have eternal life through faith because the Scripture tells us so.
And this faith has another effect in us: And this is the boldness which we have toward Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. The prayers of the believers, the real prayers, are always heard, they never return unanswered. This cheerful assurance, this frank boldness, we hold. We enter into the very presence of the Lord with the calm certainty that our petitions will be heard as we make them in faith, in firm reliance upon the sonship which was given to us in Christ. It is self-evident that we, as children of God, will ask only such things as are in accordance with the will of our heavenly Father. In other words, we leave the answering of our prayers in His hands, knowing that His wisdom and mercy always find a way to give us what is best for us, regardless of the form in which we clothe our petitions. Note that His promise is not to grant all that we ask, but to hearken to our prayers: He answers in His own way.
This assurance should influence our entire attitude toward God: And if we know that He hearkens to whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we asked of Him. God always listens to the prayers of His children, reading their content even better than they intend it. We are sure of obtaining our requests, that which we are in need of, probably not always as our petition was worded, but always as it was best for us, and as we should have offered our prayer had we been wiser. Prayer is not a dictation to God to do thus and so, but a statement of our needs as we see them. And it is our heavenly Father who gives us more than our short-sightedness permitted us to know. If we have reached this point in our Christian knowledge, then our relation toward our heavenly Father will be unclouded by any lack of trust in Him.
The obligations of divine sonship:
v. 16. If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and He shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death; I do not say that he shall pray for it.
v. 17. All unrighteousness is sin; and there is a sin not unto death.
v. 18. We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that "Wicked One toucheth him not.
v. 19. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.
v. 20. And we know that the Son of God is come and hath given us an understanding that we may know Him that is true, and we are in Him that is true, even in His Son, Jesus Christ. This is the true God and eternal Life.
v. 21. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. Amen.
Having given the assurance that every true prayer of a Christian is heard by God, the apostle now specifies one form of prayer, that of intercession: If anyone see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall pray, and to him will be given life, to them that do not sin unto death; there is a sin to death, I do not say that he should pray concerning that. Our brethren are always in need of our most earnest intercession, but what they need most of all is that they be kept from sin. And should one of them fall into sin, transgressing some command of the Lord in such a way as to fall from grace, as to lose his hold on Christ for the time being, then we should not turn from him in disgust and self-righteousness, but earnestly admonish him and also pray with all fervor that God may turn him back from the error of his way. If we thus follow the will of God, we, on our part, will do our share in giving back to such fallen brethren or sisters that life which had for the time being slipped out of their grasp. Only one sin there is where prayer is futile and foolish, namely, the sin of willful rejection of the accepted truth of salvation, the sin against the Holy Ghost. This sin will only very seldom be identified with certainty, but when this is the case, intercession may as well cease, for this sin, by its peculiar nature, precludes forgiveness. See Matthew 12:31; Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10; Hebrews 6:4-6.
At the same time we should remember: All unrighteousness is sin, and there is sin not unto death. Whenever our life does not measure up to the holy will of God, whenever we transgress His commandments, no matter whether the trespass seem ever so slight and insignificant in the eyes of men, yet such unrighteousness is sin. The apostle therefore sounds this warning: Resist the beginnings. Even the smallest failing must not be taken lightly, lest the habit of sinning grow on us and we finally become guilty of that one terrible blasphemy which is unto death, eternal death and damnation. Through the grace and power of God let us make the time between transgressions longer and longer, and let us arise from every fall with a firm trust in His mercy.
Lest we brood over our sins without aim, the apostle writes: We know that every one that is born of God does not sin; but he that has been born of God observes Him, and the Evil One does not touch him. See chap. 3:9. So far as our new spiritual nature is concerned which we have received by virtue of our regeneration, we Christians do not sin; we do not, according to the new man, commit any sin, we do not serve sin. Instead of that, all true children of God keep a watchful eye on Him, they observe His holy will very carefully. This attitude is the best form of defense against the attacks of the devil, who finds it impossible to make a successful attack under such circumstances. Even if he does succeed in placing a poisoned arrow and causing a Christian to fall, the latter will arise with undaunted spirit and hurry back to the true fellowship with God.
In addition to the security which we enjoy through the guardianship of Christ we have that of God's embrace and fellowship: We know that we are of God, and the entire world is lying in evil. We Christians are of God, born of God, regenerated through His power in the Gospel. We are God's dear children and mean to keep this relation toward Him, though the entire world, the great mass of unbelievers and enemies of God, is lying in wickedness and sin, is full of enmity toward God. We are secure under the protecting power of God as a child is in its mother's arms.
And a final assurance and guarantee is ours: But we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding that we may get to know the True One; and we are in the True One, in His Son, Jesus Christ. If a thousand doubts should assail us with regard to our salvation, the certainty of our entering into the joy everlasting with our Savior, this knowledge will sustain us. The eternal Son of God was made flesh, and His incarnation is not only an overwhelming demonstration of God's interest in us and His concern for our soul's salvation, but He has also wrought in us the understanding of faith. Through His merciful power we know the true God as the God of all grace. The fellowship in which we stand with God and with Jesus Christ, His Son, is not a matter of our imagination, but it is a certainty which no man nor any other enemy can take from us. We are not trusting in a mere man, whose most serious attempt at gaining salvation for the world would have resulted in miserable failure, but: This Jesus Christ is the true God and eternal Life. He, our Savior, Jesus of Nazareth, true man, is at the same time true God with the Father; and He is Himself eternal Life, the Life which came into this world to bring the world life and in whom we have perfect, glorious, unending life.
With a final affectionate appeal the apostle closes his letter: Little children, guard yourselves from the idols. His readers, with many of whom he was connected by the bonds of the closest affection, knew Jesus, Christ as the true God, as the one Savior in whom they were sure of eternal life. To Him, therefore, they should cleave, and not accept the anti-Christian substitutes which the false teachers were trying to introduce. While they should watch for dangers from without, they should be just as assiduously on their guard for perils from false brethren. It was not a matter to be taken lightly, since it involved their soul's salvation. Thus we also, in these last hours of the world, must be vigilant and sober to reject all anti-Christian errors and to keep ourselves unspotted for the glorious revelation of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Summary. The apostle discusses the power, the testimony, and the substance of faith, and concludes with a summary showing the certainty of the Christian's trust, the obligation, of his sonship, and the deity of Jesus Christ, his Savior.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 John 5". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent