Letters From an Old Man, Part 9

Faith is the Victory!

1 John 5:1—5

One of the things that becomes obvious when reading the Bible is how often it repeats things; phrases, words, thoughts and things like that.  John does that a lot in his first letter.  In fact, to the modern reader, it seems almost cumbersome to the point where we skip over whole paragraphs because they sound so familiar.  This is the case with the first paragraph of chapter 5.  However, as we shall see, while the words sound familiar, John is introducing a whole new line of thinking.

Love for the Body of Christ—members of the Church—proves or demonstrates our love for God.  But that love must be for every member of the Church.  It is easy to love certain people; people that agree with everything we say are easy to love; people that are attractive are easy to love; people that love us back are easy to love.  But not so with disagreeable people or people who aren’t so pleasant to be around.  Yet we are to love all members of God’s church equally.

John begins with a deep thought.

1.  Believe in the Son, verses 1, 2

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

The first three words are important to understand.  The subject of the verb is a small Greek word pas, translated as “everyone” in the NIV.  It is a stronger word than if John had said, as is common in Biblical writing, “he.”  But that word does cause problems for anybody can say they believe that Jesus is the Christ, born of God.  If we take out all the extra words, the meaning becomes clear—

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…loves his child.

The word “child” refers to those born of God, that is, His children, Christians.  So love for God must be followed by love for His children; faith in Jesus Christ cannot be separated from love for God’s children.  There are three main points in these two verses:

Faith.  I use the word “faith,” but John used the word “believes.”  The verb of the sentence is pisteuon, “believe.”  Previously, John wrote things like this—

    This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.  (1 John 4:2)

    If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.  (1 John 4:15)

    It sounds like John is saying the same thing in these two verses as he is now saying in 5:1, but it’s completely different word with a completely different meaning.  The verb used previously was homologei, and that word is used as a verbal expression of faith; it is confessing with your mouth that Jesus is the Son of God.  In chapter 5, however, John is not referring to a mere understanding and verbal statement of belief; he is referring to an inner witness or a spiritual conviction that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God.  Simply signing on to a creedal statement is not what John is writing about here.  If that were the case, anybody could be considered a Christian.

    This kind of “belief” or “faith” is linked to the main verb of the first sentence, which is the word “born.”  This means that the believer is a child of God—he is born of God—because God causes a spiritual birth to occur inside the person’s heart and soul.  The believer’s “belief” or “faith” in the Divine Sonship of Christ is undeniable proof that he is born again, and that faith causes him to love other members of the Church.

    Love.  The second part of verse one binds faith and love together.  “Believing” in Jesus (which is in the present tense in the Greek) is a direct consequence of being “born of God” (also in the present Greek tense) and becomes another test or proof of that rebirth.  From this spiritual reality, John writes love will be manifested to other believers.   John Calvin writes about love for the brethren like this:

      Since God regenerates us by faith, he must necessarily be loved by us as a Father; and this love embraces all his children.

      Obedience.  John states a truism showing that faith and love are linked; whoever loves the father will love those born as he has been born.  The words used of “father” is ton gennesanta, which means “progenitor,” meaning Christians “came out of” God; we proceeded from God.  In obedience, we love others who proceeded from the same Source.  A lot of people stumble over verse two because it is unexpected.   After what John as written, we expect John to say this:  “This is how we know that we love God:  by loving his children and obeying his commands” (Barker).  Instead, this is what we read this—

        This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.

        At first reading, that sentence is awkward and it doesn’t even seem to make sense.  The best paraphrase I found is from Glen Barker’s excellent commentary on 1 John—

        Even as one cannot love God without loving his children, so also it is impossible to truly love the children of God without loving God also.

        In fact, it is not just John’s opinion; his brother said exactly the same thing years earlier—

          If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  (John 15:10)

          2.  Overcome the world, verses 3—5

          This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for 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.

          This group of verses is among the most powerful and encouraging in all of Scripture, and deserves more attention than we can give them.  Nevertheless, there are five key points to be noted.

          (a)  Love for God.  As a writer, John comes up with the best pithy definitions for such big ideas as eternal life and other deep spiritual truths.  Here he gives us the definitive definition of what love is:  “to obey His commands.” What is significant about this definition is that feelings, emotions, and words are not what love for God is all about; it is about action; it is about doing things in accordance with God’s will.

          (b)  His commands are not burdensome.  To the unsaved, God’s will is a strange thing; living righteously, putting the needs of others ahead of your own needs, etc.  But when God becomes part of our lives—when He takes up residence in our hearts in the Person of the Holy Spirit—those “righteous requirements of the law” become, not a burden, but an attainable lifestyle because those of us who are born again seek and hunger after righteousness, and we consciously avoid those things that would hurt God and our relationship with both Him and other in the Church.  Indeed, living according to the commands of God becomes a way to freedom and liberty all men seek but never find apart from God.  The words of Psalm 119:47 come to mind—

          I delight in your commands because I love them.

          (c)  Everyone born of God.  This is another one of those translations that is more of an interpretation than a translation.  In the Greek, the word the NIV has translated “everyone” in pan, which is usually translated as “whatever” or “everything.”  The NIV has decided what John was referring to is this:  “people who are born again overcome the world.”  This is, of course, correct. However, Alfred Plummer in his commentary on 1 John offers an insight worth considering—

          It is not the man, but rather it is his birth from God which conquers.

          Is this not precisely what Jesus said?

            [T]ake heart! I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

            Incidentally, “born of God,” is in the present tense, meaning it is an ongoing process.  We are born again one time, but the translation process—our moving from this world to the next—is happening even now.

            (d)  Has overcome the world.  Because Jesus has been victorious, we are victorious because we are in Him.  Jesus has overcome the evil one and set His people free from his power forever.

            The battle has thus been decided, even if it is not yet over.  (Gunther)

            (e)  This is the victory.  The Greek literally says, “The victory that is victorious has overcome the world.”   What is it that overcomes the world?  Many read this verse and see that it is our faith that overcomes the world.  But still, the Greek construction of this phrase must also be considered.  John may have in mind that it is our faith in Jesus Christ that enables us to overcome the world, but he may also be telling us something else.  John is referring back to an event in the past.  In other words, John is referring to a victory already won, and that by our faith in that victory, we have may be partakers of it.  Jesus accomplished the victory, and we are part of that victory.

            Conclusion

            When we think of great men and women, we think of heroes; those very public people who do things worthy of our attention.  The media love people like that.  Young people idolize heroes and try to imitate them.

            The Bible is full of heroes, especially the ones noted in Hebrews 11:4—32.  When we look at these heroes, we regard them as being almost superhuman or more than human because of all the endured.  But what is that made these Biblical men and women so great?  It was their faith in God that made them conquer, and the faithfulness to the ideals of God’s Word that made them victorious.  May it be so with us.

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