The Overcoming Life - Chapter 5.1-13
We now enter the final major theme of the epistle. Although there is a clear link between these opening verses and the closing verses of the previous chapter, they form a bridge into the great subject of life. The epistle began with the reminder of the fact that we belong to the light, and have fellowship with the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and from this with all who are His. The next subject was that of love, and here we saw the testimony which was borne in the world by the love of believers for one another. This is a love which transcends human love, and defies carnal imitation. Against this background, we are brought into the final subject of the fullness of life which is ours in our Lord Jesus Christ. There is an abundance of life which is only available in our Lord (Jn 10.10), and it can only be enjoyed when we have learned to walk in fellowship with Him, and to allow the Holy Spirit to control our lives to such an extent that we manifest His love in all our dealings with one another. Once this is enjoyed, we shall learn the victory that is ours in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1. The Basis of Victory (vv.1-5)
There is a clear path laid out for victory over the world, which we cannot afford to miss. The verse begins by a direct reference back to 3.23. The twofold commandment of God was that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and that we should love one another. The first verse of this chapter tells us clearly that these are not two commandments, but they are rather two aspects of the same commandment. If we are living our lives in the good of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, it will be impossible for us not to love one another. This is a challenge to our hearts because most, if not all, have to confess that our love for fellow-believers is at best partial, both in the scope of those whom we love, and in the depth of our love. John makes it clear here that if we really love God, then we will love every one who is born of God. The previous chapters have already made clear that this love is not limited to those who agree with us in every detail. It is the basic evidence of new life.
The next verse emphasises the fact that love for one another is consistent with love for God and obedience to His commandments. This is perhaps the greatest challenge for us. There is no question of compromise here. If I find that obedience to the truth leads me to a loss of love for my brother then I must take care to determine before the Lord whether my appreciation of truth is at fault. The truth of God must always lead me closer to my Lord, and to my brethren in Christ. If my heart is right with my Lord, it will never be grievous to love those whom He loves.
It is from this background that we come to the note of triumph in Johns writings. This is what he has intended from the outset. Having dealt with all the pre-requisites, he is now able to announce the triumph of the child of God. The truth of the last two verses of this section is double-edged. On the one hand, we have the assurance that through faith in the Son of God, we have been delivered from the world, and can never be brought into judgment with it. On the other hand, there is the challenge that if we want to know the victory over the world in our personal experience, it will be as we live according to the profession which we made when we first trusted Christ. Every one who is born of God has the capacity to overcome the world. This triumph is on the basis of faith. Our life is based on faith. The fruit of faith is that we love one another. The result of this is that we gain the victory over the world.
2. The Witness to the Life (vv.6-9)
What witness was borne to the Person of Christ? He came by water and blood. There may be a connection here with the cleansing of the leper, or the sanctification of the priest for service. In each of these examples, both water and blood were applied to typify that sin was cleansed, and life imparted. Our Lord came as the One who would provide the means to fulfil both pictures. The leper tells us of the sinner being saved from sin, the sanctification of the priest tells us of the fact that, once saved, we are fitted for service in the heavenlies. All this is a result of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. The water might be linked with the baptism, and the blood with the death of Christ. The life could not save us, we needed the blood as well. The force of these verses is that the Holy Spirit is the witness to the Lord. It is impossible for man to bear witness to the Son of God, it can only be done by One of the Godhead. Again, there are echoes here of what we frequently call the Upper Room ministry (Jn 14-16). In those chapters, the Lord tells the disciples of the coming and work of the Holy Spirit. Here John tells us how that work is continuing right up to the present day. Just as the Son of God was the embodiment of truth, so is the Holy Spirit. He cannot be false in His witness. We have the undeniable witness of the perfect life and sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ, along with the Holy Spirit who came when the Son returned to the Father. It is a challenge to our hearts that we are called to go out in this assurance. We are not relying on ourselves. We have the indisputable testimony of God. As John writes this, he returns to the original theme of his epistle. The direct link between those who had seen the Lord on earth and the saints who remain is about to be dissolved. John, by the Holy Spirit, is here encouraging our hearts with the assurance that we have something which is far greater than the witness of men. We have the witness of God both in the Person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Person of the Holy Spirit.
3. The Assurance of Life (vv.10-13)
The closing verses of the section remind us of the assurance with which we can rest. If we believe on the Son of God, we have the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirits to the fact that we are the children of God. This is something which cannot be removed by the arguments of men, however plausible they may seem. Even those who would try to use the Scriptures cannot argue against this testimony. In contrast, those who will not believe as the Word is preached are making God a liar because they refuse the testimony of His Son. This should give us great boldness as we go out with the Word of God, whether in conversation or in public preaching. It also brings us to a great challenge. While we have this assurance, we can lose the power if we are not living in the good of what we profess. John is not concerned here with the question of giving encouragement to the feeble believer who needs strength. His concern is for all believers who have begun the pathway of life with our Lord Jesus Christ, but have never entered into the glorious reality of a life of faith with its triumphs and joys. In the Son of God we have a life which is far greater than anything that the world can know. We face a foe who marshals his forces to maintain his grip over the world. This is the enemy who needs to be overcome, and can only be overcome by a life of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. If He is consciously living in our hearts, we can enjoy the fullness of life secure in the knowledge that nothing can touch us. If He is not in our hearts, then we are the losers.
Are we prepared to go in for the victory over the world that will bring us into direct conflict with the powers of darkness arrayed against us? Are we ready to rely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit to work in our lives to accomplish what we can never achieve for ourselves? All this is available to us if we are prepared to yield everything to Christ. It is this which will transform the witness to His Name in any days that may lie to our hand before He comes.
To be continued.