Okay we are back in 1 John this morning and since it has been a while, let me ask you a question. What is the purpose of this book? Why did John write 1 John?
The Gospel of John has an evangelistic thrust, while 1 John is written for believers (i.e., discipleship). When John writes his gospel, he states that its purpose is evangelistic. He is trying to lead his listeners to faith in Christ. But when he comes to his epistle, as chapter 5 and verse 13 tells us, he is talking to a people who have come to faith in Christ, but he's trying to lead them all into a deeper understanding and a further maturity in their life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. 1 John 5:13 ESV
The "these things" is not referring to the whole Epistle but to verses 6-12 that deal with believing. The words, "to you who believe in the name of the Son of God," do not mean to those of you who believe. The Greek here means, "to you believers." Nowhere in this Epistle does John even hint that he thinks some of his readers might not be Christians. The intended audience of this epistle is believers. And they are not in danger of losing eternal life; that can't be lost. But they are in danger of damaging their fellowship with Yeshua and the Father. I see the purpose of this letter as fellowship.
There are several terms in this epistle that John used as synonyms: "fellowship with God," "knowing God," "abiding in God," and "seeing God." These terms all describe the experience of Christians. They all describe our relationship with God in varying degrees of intimacy. Our relationships with people vary. Some are more intimate than others. Fellowship with God is also a matter of greater or lesser intimacy. When we speak of being "in fellowship" or "out of fellowship," we are oversimplifying our relationship to God. For example, a child's fellowship with his or her parents is rarely either perfect or non-existent; it is usually somewhere between these extremes, and it may vary from day to day. All Christians possess eternal life, but not all experience that life as God intended us to enjoy it (John 10:10). John's subject concerns true and false versions of fellowship with God. It is not an invitation to introspective doubts concerning salvation.
We spent two weeks looking at the first half of 5:1, so let's briefly review what we saw.
Everyone who believes that Yeshua is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 1 John 5:1 ESV
This verse teaches us something very important about the doctrine of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation).
"Everyone who believes that Yeshua is the Christ has been born of God"— John uses the present tense, "Everyone who believes" which gives the meaning that everyone who is presently believing in Yeshua, "has been born of God." The perfect tense, which generally refers to an event in past time, indicates results which persist into the present time. So, we have a present tense and we have a perfect tense. The perfect tense would indicate an event that occurred previous to the other. The tenses make it clear that the divine begetting is the antecedent, not the consequent, of the believing.
"Has been born of God"—is a perfect passive indicative which emphasizes a culmination of an action, produced by an outside agent (Yahweh, cf. vv. 4,18; 2:29) into a permanent state of being. So, let me state it like this: "Everyone who is presently believing in Christ has been in the past born of God and will forever be His child." This verse teaches that faith is the result and evidence of being born again and not that being born again is the result of faith. This verse teaches us that birth precedes the believing.
When we talk about birth preceding belief, we are talking about the Ordo Salutis: Ordo Salutis is Latin for "the order of salvation," which deals with the logical sequence of steps or stages involved in the salvation of a believer, and, more importantly, it has to do with who made the first move in our salvation. The wide spectrum of modern Christianity insists that any and every saved person had to make that first move: He needed to reach out in faith to God.
This issue of "Ordo Salutis" is not a mere tedious technicality like the riddle of which came first—the chicken or the egg. It actually answers the question. "To whom do we give the glory for our salvation? God or ourselves?" And this, my friend, is a very important question. The Biblical Ordo Salutis is:
1. Foreknowledge. To foreknow a person is to enter into an intimate relationship with him, and choose him. Foreknowledge or knowledge is a Hebraic term which has to do with intimacy.
2. Predestination. The Scriptures also call this "Election." It is the idea that God chooses whom He loves to be part of His family and to be in His presence.
3. State of Death. It is important for us to understand that even though we were loved and chosen by God from eternity past, we were born into the world in a state of spiritual death; born under the wrath of God.
4. Calling. This calling is an effectual calling. It is God calling dead men to life. This is regeneration or a spiritual resurrection. In the "Ordo Salutis" we were physically alive but spiritually dead. In other words, we were born into a state of death. Then at some point in our life God called us. This is an effectual call; it is a call from death to life. This effectual call (regeneration) is by grace without means. In a supernatural act, God gives a person a new heart, and he is spiritually alive. Man is passive in the new birth; he does no more to produce his own birth than Lazarus did to produce his resurrection.
5. Faith. Faith is understanding and assent to the propositions of the Gospel. Let me just add here that a person must hear the Gospel before he can understand and assent to it. People cannot believe what they don't know. Faith is belief or trust in Christ and Christ alone for our salvation. What happens after we believe?
6. Salvation. Acts 16:31 says, "Believe in the Lord Yeshua, and you shall be saved." Once we believe, we are saved or justified.
7. Glorification. Being "glorified" is essentially being delivered from the damage inflicted by sin and being restored to the perfection of Adam's pre-fallen condition in the presence of God. For an in depth look at the Ordo Salutis see the following article: https://www.bereanbiblechurch.org/transcripts/romans_new/8_28-30.htm
What the first half of 1 John 5:1 teaches us is that a Christian is defined by his or her faith in Yeshua the Christ and not by lifestyle, good works, or obedience to God.
One commentator writes that "The vital signs of the new birth are faith in Jesus Christ, love for others, and obedience to God's commandments." This is not what the text says. The mark of a Christian is faith. We'll talk about this more in a minute.
"Yeshua is the Christ"—the essence of the false teachers' error centered around the person and work of the man Yeshua who was also full deity. The opponents would have had problems with the unique and unqualified application of the title "Messiah" ("Christ") to Yeshua during his earthly career and ministry.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Yeshua is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:1-3 ESV
The test which John gives to his readers relates to what the secessionists taught. It is a doctrinal test. Notice that John did not say that we can tell false spirits by their works. He said we can identify them as false spirits by their message. This was the acid test of a false prophet under the Old Covenant as well (Deut. 13:1-5).
This is the essential doctrinal test for the false teachers whom John was combating in this book. What do you think of Yeshua the Christ? That is a criterion that eliminates a host of heresies. When John states that "Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh," he is referring not only to His true deity but also to His true humanity. The Docetists taught that matter is evil and, thus, Yeshua was only a spirit-being who only seemed to be a real man. The Cerinthian Gnostics, whom John was probably combating, taught that Yeshua was a mere man. "The Christ" was a divine emanation that came upon Him at His baptism and left just before His crucifixion. Yeshua was not literally the Christ and the Son of God. They believed that it was a sort of "phantom" affair. He only appeared to be God's Son in the flesh, but He was not literally so. But right away we see that this eradicates the truth that Christ came in the flesh. John is clear that anyone who does not believe this truth is not of God.
"Yeshua the Christ has come in the flesh"—the perfect tense affirms that Yeshua's humanity was not temporary; it was permanent. This was not a minor issue. Yeshua is truly one with humanity and one with God. "Has come" implies His preexistence as the eternal Son of God.
The false teachers tried to divide Yeshua from the Christ. In their opinion, Christ was God but Yeshua was only a man. They taught that God could not die. Therefore, the Christ did not die. Those who think like this are not born of God. Look at what John taught in the Gospel.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1 ESV
"And the Word was God"—this statement could not be clearer! In fact, these four Greek words may be the clearest declaration of the deity of Yeshua in all the Scripture. The Greek verb eimi, (was) means "to be" or "to exist." It suggests continued existence. So, the Word always existed as Yahweh.
John does not say "and the Word was divine" or "the Word was like God." He makes the bold statement: "the Word was God." He leaves no room for anyone to see Yeshua as less than God in some way or to some degree.
The Word literally was Yahweh. Yeshua is God in a body. Nothing less. He is God in a body. The full mysterious deity of Christ is exemplified in His humility, and unbelievable condescension. And so at the very beginning John lays it down that Yeshua is the living Word, and He alone is the perfect revelation of Yahweh.
It is this teaching that Yeshua is Yahweh that formed the basis for the Arian controversy of the early church and which has caused some contemporary pseudo-Christian cults to deviate from the biblical perspective. The heretic, Arius, and his modern disciples, the Jehovah's Witnesses, argue that Yeshua was not eternal but was the first created being. This led to the mistranslation by the JWs of the Greek text in this last phrase in verse 1. The New World Translation (NWT) renders it as "the Word was a god," thus reducing Christ to a being less than and different from God.
Jehovah's Witnesses deny the eternality of the Son, making them Arian-like in their Christology. They deny the Trinity, and they deny the deity of the Son of God as well. The Mormons also deny the deity of the Son of God. They speak of Him as the Son of God, but they deny His eternity. They also deny the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity. I don't say this to be mean, but anyone who denies the deity of Yeshua or the Trinity is not very familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures.
David Flusser, who was a devout Orthodox Jew and a professor of Early Christianity and Judaism of the Second Temple Period at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said "You poor Christians, you wonder why the Bible doesn't say Jesus is God more often. It says it all the time, you just don't understand Jewish thought."
Let me give you an example of what he means:
"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." Revelation 1:8 ESV
Here Yeshua is saying, "I am from eternity to eternity." The Jews would express the whole compass of things by א aleph and ת tau, the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. If we go back to Isaiah we read:
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. Isaiah 44:6 ESV
In light of Isaiah, Yeshua was clearly claiming to be Yahweh of hosts, the only living and true God!
Wayne Grudem writes that "Although our finite minds cannot comprehend the mystery of the Trinity, Scripture is clear that God is one God who exists in three distinct persons. Each person is fully God and yet He is not three Gods, but one God" [see Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Zondervan, 1994], pp. 226-258].
John goes on in our text to say that >"And everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him." Some try to make this phrase refer to the love of the Father for Yeshua, but I think it is best to see it as love for God and love for His children. They are inextricably bound together. If you love the Father, you will love the child born of Him. You can't divorce the first and the second great commandments.
John is at pains to show that you cannot divorce love for God from love for your brother and vice versa. One clear application of verse 1 is that we must love all that have truly been born of God. If there is evidence that a person is a child of God through the new birth, then he is my brother, even if I disagree with him about certain doctrinal matters. I must accept him, just as Christ accepted me:
Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. Romans 15:7 ESV
John goes on to say:
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 1 John 5:2 ESV
This verse, along with verse 3, repeats one of the major themes of 1 John, which is love. At face value, this verse says just the opposite of 4:20,
If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 1 John 4:20 ESV
Here John says that you can't love God if you don't love your brother. But in 5:2, he states that you can know that you love your brother when you love God. How do we sort this out?
John seems to be saying in 5:2 that our motive for loving the children of God should come from a genuine love for God in obedience to His commandments. In other words, the reason we love others should not be natural factors, whether in them or in us. Rather, we do it to please God in obedience to His Word.
John's thought appears to go in a circle. This is perhaps because the two things involved, as far as he is concerned, cannot exist apart from one another. You cannot love God and keep his commands without loving the children of God, and you cannot love the children of God without loving God and keeping his commands (cf. 2:7–8; 3:22–24; 4:21).
Even though we may have little in common with some Christians, we can still "love" them because we share the same Parent and are members of the same family. How can we love another Christian when we do not particularly like that person? The key is found in the meaning of "love." Loving our brethren means doing what is best for them. It does not mean feeling affection for them. God does not require us to feel equal affection for all of our brethren, but He does require us to do what is best for them. As we have seen, biblical love is primarily a self-sacrificing commitment to seek the other person's highest good.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
The force of the genitive "of God" could be understood as objective, subjective, or both. Here it refers to our love of God (objective genitive) and not the love of God for us (subjective genitive). An objective sense is more likely here because in the previous verse it is clear that God is the object of believers' love.
One commentator writes that "Obedience to God's commandments is a vital sign of the new birth (5:2, 3)." Is that true? Do you remember what we have seen in this epistle so far? What is the sign of the new birth? Faith. Obedience to God's commands is a sign of what? Love for God.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, 1 John 2:3-4 ESV
These verses are often taken as a way of knowing whether or not we are really saved. Do you know that you are a Christian because you keep His commandments? What commands do you keep? All of them?
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 1 John 3:11 ESV
How are you doing with this command? Before you answer look at what Paul says about love:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 ESV
Love "does not insist on its own way." In other words, love is not selfish. This means that "The loving person is willing to forgo their own comfort, their own preferences, their own schedule, their own desires for benefit of the person loved." So, do you know that you are a Christian because of your love of others?
Viewing this verse as a test of knowing whether one is saved could certainly cause a believer to doubt his salvation. This view also flies directly in the face of all Johannine Theology that we are saved by believing in Christ.
Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. John 5:24 ESV
Eternal life is by grace through faith and works play no part.
The test suggested by 1 John 2:3 is not of the saving knowledge of God but of the experiential knowledge of God. To get this wrong is to completely misread the Epistle!
"Know him"—what does the author mean by "knowing" Him? In 1 John, the verb "to know" (ginosko) is used in a number of different contexts where "knowing" has various shades of meaning. In our text, John uses "know" in its Hebrew sense of personal relationship. Knowing God involves fellowship with Him (1:4), walking in His light (1:7), being "in Him", abiding in Him. (2:5-6). These are all parallel versions of a single claim to be in an intimate relationship with God. John uses "know" here as a synonym for fellowship. For John, loving obedience is a natural result of fellowship with God. He is talking about our communion here and not our union. Our union is permanent and unchangeable; our communion can fluctuate.
The Greek here reads like this: "by this we may know that we have known Him (perfect tense—something done in the past), because we are now keeping His commandments (present tense)." John is saying that a believer's present willingness to keep His commandments is a sign of "knowing Him, being in fellowship with Him."
So, John says, "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." This is a third-class conditional sentence which involves potential action—maybe we will, and maybe we won't. If we as believers don't keep His commandments Johns says that we have not come to know Him.
"Keep" is a translation of the Greek word tereo which means "to keep watch upon, to guard, to watch over protectively." Greek scholar Alford says in his lexicon the word means: "to guard or watch or keep as in the case of some precious thing." It's in the present subjunctive which means it's continual. There's a continual sense in which you exercise a guardianship of the commandments because you consider them precious.
John uses the Greek entole, translated as "command," 14 times in 1 John. Sometimes it is found in singular form, other times in plural form. When he uses the singular form, it always refers explicitly to Christ's command that His followers should love one another (2:7 [3*], 8; 3:23 [2*]; 4:21). The plural form occurs where there is no explicit reference to Yeshua's command (2:3, 4; 3:22, 24; 5:2, 3 [2*]).
In 2:4 we see that knowing God and keeping His commandments are inextricably linked. John states that keeping His commandments is one way that we know that we know Him.
John no doubt had the words of Yeshua in mind when he said this.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 ESV
In John 14:15-31 Yeshua makes similar statements about love for Him and obedience to Him over and over:
"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (14:15).
"Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me" (14:21).
"If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word" (14:23).
"Whoever does not love Me does not keep My words" (14:24).
"If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father" (14:28).
So, three times Yeshua says "If anyone loves me, he will keep my word." This means that Yeshua neither assumes that His followers love Him nor assumes that they do not. But if they do love Him, they will keep His Word.
So, if someone is not living in obedience to Christ's teaching, do they love Him? No, love is not a feeling; it is obedience to the revealed will of God. Listen, believer, if you don't obey the Word of God, you don't love God no matter what you say. So you really shouldn't be singing, "O, How I Love Jesus" unless you are living in obedience to His teaching. Loving God consists in keeping his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 1 John 5:3 ESV
"This" has the hina-clause as its referent. The hina-clause is epexegetical (explanatory) to the preceding phrase. It explains what the love of God consists of—"that we keep his commandments." So, believer, it is easy to test our love for God. How committed are we to being completely obedient to His will? That is the measure of our love. Love for God and God's children, in this verse, is essentially defined by obedience to (keeping) God's commands. What is crucial is not so much how we feel about God and other believers. What is essential is how we choose to relate to them.
"And his commandments are not burdensome." Are Christ's commands burdensome to you? The term "burdensome" is a figurative way of describing a commandment as "difficult." The test of the genuineness of your love for the children of God is whether you let the commandments of God govern your relation to them and whether these commandments are burdensome to you. When you love someone, the things they ask of you are not difficult; they are a pleasure to do. An immature believer may view God's commands as restrictive. But our heavenly Father knows that sin will damage and destroy us.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4 ESV
Believers, we are overcomers. Twice in verse 4 and once in verse 5 believers are identified as those who have overcome the world. We are overcomers. This is a descriptive term.
I believe that this applies to us today because we are overcomers through faith. But remember that John is writing to first century saints who were in the midst of a spiritual battle. Look at what Paul tells the Ephesian believers.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 ESV
This verse is addressed to the first century saints and to
them alone. Paul tells
them that they are not fighting "flesh and blood." It is a battle with spiritual forces, not flesh and blood. This is talking about the "divine council" and the battle that was going on between Yahweh and the lesser gods. I believe that the battle that the first-century saints were fighting was against "spiritual beings." Notice the terms Paul uses. The word "rulers" is from the Greek word arche which has a wide range of meanings. The word "authorities" is from exousia which means "power, ability, privilege." These titles are used of human and spiritual powers.
But notice the other words that are used. "Cosmic powers" comes from the Greek kosmokrator. It is used only here in the New Testament. But it is used of spiritual beings in Testament of Solomon. In the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, kosmokrator means "lord of the world, world ruler." This meaning occurs in pagan literature as well as the meanings gods, rulers, and heavenly bodies. Why would Paul use this word that is used only once in the Bible but was used in other literature for spirit beings unless he intended to convey the meaning of spirit beings?
Paul goes on to say "against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." These forces are "spiritual"; they are not human. That they are found in "heavenly places," denotes the spiritual realm, the place where Yahweh dwells.
In the first century, then, their battle was with "spirit beings." What about us? I do not believe that we are fighting with Satan or spirit beings today. This spiritual battle was unique to the first-century saints (see my 6-part series on spiritual warfare). Let me add, however, that I believe that we can find application of these verses in our lives today.
We are not fighting Satan, demons, or gods, but, as believers, we are in a battle with evil. As Christians, we battle the worldview and regulations of some very evil non-believers. So, I am not saying that we are not in a battle. We are. But we (twenty-first century believers) are not fighting against "the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places." That battle was fought and won by our Lord Yeshua two thousand years ago.
Let's go back to our text. The word "overcome" here is the Greek verb nikao. The noun form is that from which we get the word "nike." Today it reminds us of the popular tennis shoe manufacturer. The Greeks loved the word nikē. They actually had a goddess by the name of Nikē. She was the goddess of victory, of triumph. And the Greeks actually believed that victory could not be achieved by mortals, but only by the gods.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world." John 16:33 ESV
Here our Lord uses nikao of Himself. He uses the verb form when He says "I have overcome the world." This is why we are conquerors. It is because we are in union with Christ. In our union with Christ, all He is and has we are and have.
Paul uses a form of this word in Romans 8.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 8:37 ESV
Paul says we're not just overcomers; we're not just nikao; we are hupernikao.
The prefix, huper, gives the meaning of super-conquerors. We are the ultimate conquerors. Paul then goes on to say:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 ESV
There is nothing that can conquer us—not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword. We are super-conquerors. We are the unconquerable. We are overcomers.
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 1 John 5:4 ESV
"Everyone" is the Greek word pas used in the neuter gender. The NASB renders it as "whatever" and not whoever. In the next verse, John addresses "who," but here his meaning is "whatever is born of God overcomes the world." In other words, the power of the new birth is being stressed.
Literally the text says in verse 4 that "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world" (present tense, is "continually overcoming the world"). The use of the present tense is very significant. It is habitual present; it is permanent; it is ongoing. We are permanently triumphant, permanently the conquerors. We can never lose. The victory can never be taken from us. In this phrase "overcomes the world," overcomes is in the Aorist tense ("has overcome" literally). It indicates a victory which has been achieved in the past, once for all, but the effects are present today. What is it talking about? Calvary!
"World" refers to the evil, organized system under Satan's dominion that is opposed to God and His purposes.
"And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." Victory is the noun form nike [nee-kay] of the verb nikao [nee-ka-o] "has overcome." Believers are overcomers and continue to be overcomers in and through Christ's victory over the world.
"Our faith"—this is the only use of the noun form of the term "faith" (pistis) in all of the writings of John! When John says faith, his primary meaning is not the personal faith by which we believe. Rather, it involves what we believe concerning the great doctrines of the word of God, that Yeshua is the Christ. Every Christian has "overcome the world" by his or her initial "faith" that Yeshua is the Christ.
Believers, it is our faith in Christ that has given us the victory over the world. Our faith has given us deliverance/salvation. And we have faith because we have been born of God. God gave us life, and we believed the Gospel and were saved. All the glory for our salvation goes to Yahweh.