1 John 5:14-15
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.
The Story: Because he could assure his readers of their eternal future with God (verse 13), John could also assure them of God’s care and concern in this life. Salvation is not just for someday. God’s love for His people is present now and nowhere more so than in answering prayers. God answers prayers that are according to His will. Selfish prayers that fed “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life,” (2:16) John already ruled out. He, like Jesus from whom he heard these words (John 14:13-14; 15:7, 16:23-24), referred to prayer that is in keeping with Christ’s character and mission. In prayer, John implied, we need to conform ourselves to God’s desires, not attempt to conform God to ours. When we ask in that way, according to His will, then “whatever we ask” (a very extravagant promise), He will give us what we ask.
The Structure: As part of a Christian worldview, we embrace mystery. Not everything can be explained and rationalized. And nowhere is that more true than in the mystery of prayer. We pray for our brothers and sisters trapped in the Middle East and subject to persecution, torture, and death. Why doesn’t it stop? Why don’t knives miraculously turn to jelly when they touch a Christian throat? Wouldn’t such miracles win many to faith in Jesus and bring glory to God? One would think so, but suffering and death go on. The miracles we’d like are not the ones we receive, and more and more martyrs cry out from under the altar in Heaven, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (Revelation 6:10). Meanwhile, we keep praying, believing that the mysterious ways of God will make all things right in the end and that all our prayers will be answered.
How do you know what to pray for? How does prayer align you will with God’s will?
1 John 5:13
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.
The Story: John had two interlocking purposes in writing. “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray,” he wrote in 2:26. False teachings plagued the churches, and John wrote to affirm the truth and to confirm his readers in the truth of Jesus Christ come in the flesh. Tied to that, he intended to write so that, confirmed in truth, they could resist the false teachers with a strong sense of assurance. Eternal life was not, as the false teachers of Gnosticism believed, dependent on special esoteric knowledge, but “what you have heard from the beginning” (2:24), that is, the message John so simply stated in his gospel: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The Structure: There are two mistakes we can make regarding our salvation. On the one side is constant worry. Years ago a friend came to me battling spiritual exhaustion and fatigue. The underlying problem wasn’t clear until one day I mentioned assurance of salvation and he flew off the handle. There was no such thing, he said and he was living his life in constant fear of being thrown into Hell if he stepped out of line. The other side is presumptuous assurance: I prayed the prayer, so I’m saved, and I can now do anything I want. Both sides are horrible and harmful errors, even if, in the short term, one is a great deal more fun. A biblical Christian walks between the two. He or she has confidence in the Father’s love, but at the same time knows, with Paul, that regarding the attainment of salvation, “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
In your relationship with God do you tend to be uncertain and nervous or presumptuous and careless? How can you settle into a quiet confidence as you resolutely press on toward the goal?
1 John 5:11-12
And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
The Story: In this verse we see another of John’s favorite themes, eternal life. And like all the others, he is, for the most part, repeating what he heard from Jesus. “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness,” Jesus told Nicodemus, “so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Jesus came to die for sins so that believers could have eternal life—right now. Commenting on Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, John wrote (John 3:36), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Note John’s interplay between “believes in the Son” and “obey the Son” that we’ve seen in this letter. Note too that eternal life for John was not something we get someday. “God gave us [past tense] eternal life,” he wrote. We receive the life of God, wrote John, when we receive the Son of God. And, he added, this is God’s testimony.
The Structure: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it,” can be an excuse for not thinking deeply and critically about the Christian faith. On the other hand, there is, as we can see from John’s letter, some truth to it. “Long ago, at many times and in many ways,” begins the letter to the Hebrews, “God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Later he went on to warn his readers, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”—a salvation declared by Jesus and attested to by God in “signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit.” (Hebrews 2:2-4). So while we should think deeply and critically about our faith, we should guard against muting the sheer power of “thus saith the Lord.”
How well do you trust God’s testimony in the Scriptures, the life of the Church, and in your inner life?
1 John 5:9-10
If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
The Story: Two or three human witnesses were required to establish the truth of a matter in ancient Israel (Deuteronomy 19:15). Water, blood, and the witness of the Holy Spirit were then sufficient to establish the truth about Jesus, God come in the flesh. John then goes one step further by reminding his readers that the Holy Spirit’s testimony is God’s testimony. Anyone who doubts or outright rejects the Spirit’s witness to Jesus is guilty of calling God a liar. That is only possible if the one giving witness, the Spirit, is God. While it would be several centuries before the doctrine of the Trinity was codified in the Nicene Creed, John asserted the divinity of the Holy Spirit, warning his readers not to doubt God’s testimony regarding the divinity of Jesus. The word “Trinity” is missing along with the Creed’s formulations, but there is no doubt that John affirmed one God—Father, Son, and Spirit—and urged his readers to affirm the same.
The Structure: We see the Spirit’s testimony in the Scriptures, in Church teachings through the millennia including the Apostles and Nicene Creeds, and in our own lives as we respond to words that have, as Bible translator J. B. Phillips put it, “the ring of truth.” Yet studies indicate confusion among self-identified Christians about the identity of Jesus and about the identity of the Holy Spirit. I confess that I have to suppress the desire to loudly and rudely correct any Christian who applies the pronoun “It” to the Holy Spirit as if He were somehow inanimate. When I hear it from the pulpit (which I have) it takes even more control, since I have a great desire to smite as well. The Holy Spirit is not a force or a power. He is the third person of the Trinity, and thus, as the Nicene Creed says, “is adored and glorified” along with the Father and the Son. He reveals God’s truth. He inspired John and the other authors of Scripture to give us God’s true word. He illuminates God’s truth to each of us and then He converts our minds and hearts.
How well do you understand the divinity of the Holy Spirit? If there’s confusion, make the time to engage in corrective reading and study. Either way, spend a few minutes today adoring and glorifying Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
1 John 5:6-8
This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
The Story: The false teachers of John’s day said that Jesus was just a man at His birth and His death. At His baptism, “the Christ” came down upon Him and it was “the Christ” who inspired His teaching and performed His miracles. But then “the Christ” left Him prior to His crucifixion when Jesus, now a mere man, died. John pointed out the lie in that and argued that both the water of His baptism and the blood of His crucifixion witnessed to the essential unity of “Jesus Christ,” who is both fully human and fully divine. Jesus was the God-man in His conception, birth, baptism, life, death, and resurrection. To the witness of water and blood John added the witness of the Spirit who was present at Jesus’ baptism (John 1:32-34) and enlightens the minds and hearts of believers (John 14:26). Truth in the Jewish tradition had to be established by two or three witnesses (Deuteronomy 19:15). By water, blood, and the Holy Spirit, wrote John, the truth is assured.
The Structure: Much to my dismay—but, alas, not to my surprise—stores have been decorated for Christmas for weeks already, and ads featuring snow, comfort, joy, and generous materialism are already upon us (and I’m writing this more than a week before you are reading it). Our culture is, to say the least, deeply confused about the meaning of Christmas and thus about the meaning of Jesus. In the midst of the combination of commotion and confusion, like John, we need to be explicit and unambiguous about what we believe and proclaim. Jesus is “the reason for the season,” but that doesn’t say nearly enough. Jesus, the divine Logos, is the reason for everything (John 1:1-3). Now is the time, before we deck the halls, to renew our grasp on what scholars call Christology—Who is Jesus? What did He do?—and to review the best ways of joining with the water, the blood, and the Spirit to witness to the truth about Jesus not only at Christmas, but throughout the year.
How well do you understand Christology? How can you prepare to answer the question, “Who is Jesus?”
1 John 5:4-5
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
The Story: Six times in his letter, John used the word “overcome.” The word means to conquer or to be victorious over. In 2:13 and 14, John told his readers they had conquered Satan. In 4:4, he added demons to the list of the vanquished. In these verses, their faith has conquered the world. Earlier, he defined the things of the world that the Christians had overcome: “the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life.” The world and all these things, he said, are passing away (2:16-17). Thus by faith, the Christian, wrote John, gets beyond sinful desires for the here and now and can have victory over them. Faith in Jesus, the eternal Son of God come in the flesh, has given the believer an eternal time horizon. That eternal perspective replaces the limited and temporal point of view that forms the worldview of most humans, to the neglect of the eternal and to the delight of Satan and his demons.
The Structure: When Peter confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus blessed him and told him, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18-18). The image here is almost universally misunderstood. Jesus did not describe the Church as a locked fortress withstanding the onslaughts of Hell. Instead, the image describes the Church as a conquering army battering the gates of Hell, gates that are helpless to withstand the victorious throng. That is, Jesus did not expect His people to be playing defense—though there are times when that is necessary—but to play offense, to overcome, to conquer, to live out His glorious victory.
How do your understanding and your Christian life reflect the victory that is ours by faith?