How Faith Overcomes the World

The source and effect of true faith [5:1-5]

The belief that “Jesus is the Christ” feeds off the testimony of the entire epistle.

1. Jesus the historical person – This is the person that John gazed on, handled, and heard. From his he heard the world of life. This Jesus took on flesh, died as a propitiatory sacrifice. John concludes his argument in this work by giving another statement of certitude: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little Children, keep yourself from idols.” (5:20, 21).

2. Meaning of the Christ – Jesus, the man who is the eternal Son of God has taken on himself the covenantal work of prophet giving us the true and immediate knowledge of God; he served and serves as priest having completed all that the sacrificial system symbolized by making an absolutely effectual sacrifice; in being lifted to the right hand of God the Father, he overrules all events and all people to make his people willing in the day of his power as king. He is in this way the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one to be all that we need and to do all that we need done. Faith attributes absolute finality in the work of redemption to Jesus and submits all our trust and hope to his blood and righteousness.

Has been born of God [2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:4, 18] In each of these instances, the trait stated serves as an evidence of the new birth. None of them causes the new birth but follow upon it and give evidence that the Holy Spirit’s secret operation of regeneration has given a new heart and new life.

1. Perfect tense – an event in the past having abiding results in the present. In each of the verses listed the verb “has been born of God” shows that the new birth precedes each evidence mentioned: “practices righteousness, . . . cannot keep on sinning, . . . whoever loves, . . . overcomes the world, . . . does not keep on sinning.” As none of these spiritual virtues and blessings cause the new birth but proceed from it, even so believing is not the cause of being born of God but the result of it.

2. Effectual initiative of God – This shows that John, even as he shows in his gospel in John 3:1-8, that the effectual power of giving the life of the new birth is from divine initiative and sovereignty.

3. Seeing ourselves and seeing the kingdom:  John 3 and John 4. Without the new birth one cannot see the kingdom of God in its beauty and excellence and would have no desire to be subject to the king who rules such a kingdom. In addition only the new birth causes us to see ourselves with a view to repentance and desire for worship of the one true God. Look at the relationship between Jesus’ words characterizing the nature of true worship and the response of the much-but-not-now-married Samaritan woman (John 4:18, 23, 24, 29

The foundation of true love for others is that we love God and keep his commandments

1. Compare with 4:20 – As love for brother is evidence of love for God, so love for God is the foundation of love for one’s brother. If we are begotten of God and thus love him, and have been brought to faith in Jesus Christ by this regenerating power of God, this produces the internal affection by which we love all those that are begotten of the Father in the same way we are. If we love the Father we certainly will love all those whom he has loved with an everlasting love.

2. Remember the order of the commandments. The first commandment is to love God with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. To love God in any half-way measure is not to love him at all. Loving our neighbor as ourselves follows upon that and is subservient to it.

3. Calvin comments, “Now he teaches that men are loved rightly and duly when God stands first.  And this definition is necessary, for it often happens that we love men apart from God, as when unholy and carnal friendships think only of private advantage or some other vanishing object.”   John initially emphasized the effect, and now the cause.

4. Obedience to God’s commandments out of a glad heart is the natural result of love to God.

The unregenerate heart is resistant to the law of God, indeed that which constitutes is most striking and dominant feature is enmity – Romans 8:7

Because the flesh still dwells in the regenerate person, he finds an internal battles between the reality of his love for the law of God and the hostile propensities of the flesh. – Romans 7:21-25.

Zeal for the freedom that the Law’s righteousness gives; Philippians 3:12, 13; Galatians 5:13-25; James 1:19-25 “Believers feel that there is no delight save in following God.” The law is, of course, a great burden to the flesh for it challenges its every desire at every point and hinders its activities and threatens its very existence. Thus, in our struggle we do not feel like the law is the perfect law of liberty; but when we have grace to perceive the great joy and perfect freedom that flows from true righteousness, when we connect with the perfect freedom of God himself as he revels in his perfect righteousness flowing from his infinite and immutable holiness, we have a taste of the exuberant freedom that the law gives. We crave it and press toward it, and do not find the upward call a burden, but find it to be the promise of joyful release from oppression.

5. Connected with the desire to keep God’s commandments is the defeat of the world and its power and purpose. Looking back at 2:15-17, we understand that the world that holds forth an empty promise of fulfillment through pleasure, possessions and prestige will pass away. The sin that is characteristic of the world, that has brought to death all that participate in it, has been overcome by Christ. He has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). All who have been begotten of God overcome the world, participate in that complete victory [5:4,5].

Again, the key to our participation in all that Christ brings is the new birth. We are not united with Christ except by the work of the Spirit in uniting us to Christ and forming Christ in us.

Again, the connection between the new birth and our enjoyment of Christ’s redemptive labors and victory is the faith that we have in the Son of God. The new birth grants the disposition, the affection, from which this faith flows; and faith is the willful uniting on our part with all that Christ has done for sinners.

Those that are born again, or born of God, overcome the world, which is precisely the same thing as saying, “Those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world.” He who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God and in his resultant union with Christ overcomes the world.

This victory in reality has been secured with such certainty that John uses the past tense to seal our conscience with assurance, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Victory over the passing and deceptive allure of this perverse world that has set its resolve against the righteous rule of the triune Jehovah already is the prize of the begotten of God—those who have been brought by the Spirit to place their full trust in the completed victory of the Son of God

To overcome the world involves being freed from the power of the prince of this world (See Ephesians 2:1-3). The one who is born of God does not keep on sinning because “he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.” This means that Jesus, the true and natural Son of God as the only one born of God in the sense of eternal generation, keeps those that are born of God according to spiritual renovation by an effectual work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus referred to the mystery of this reality in John 10:28, 29, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch the out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John made a clear distinction between the children of God and those still in the system of the world: “We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.”(1 John 5:16, Compare with Hebrews 2:14, 15).

Witnesses to the true faith [5:6-10]

By water and blood:  Jesus baptism and satisfaction which incorporates the fulfillment of all the rites of the Law. The water prefigured his death, signified his purification for the work of sacrifice, and identified him with the message of John the Baptist as the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Then, what he prefigured and symbolically embraced, he empirically and perfectly performed. His blood perfectly fulfilled the water.  “The whole perfection of holiness and righteousness” is comprehended in this.

Testimony of the Spirit – at his baptism, through his righteous life, in his resurrection, at Pentecost, through the ministries of the Apostles and prophets, in the charismatic gifts to the first century church, in the regeneration of the Spirit, in revelation, inspiration, and illumination.

Note the prominence of this theme also in the gospel of John particularly summarized in chapter 5. “This is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.” [John 5:31-47]

1. John the Baptist as the forerunner

2. The Works of Jesus – Jesus testified to the testimony of his works in 5:36 and reiterated the power of such testimony in 10:25, 26: “The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me.”

3. The call of the Father [John 5:37, 38; Mt. 16:7:17; 1 Corinthians 1:9]

4. The Testimony of Scripture [John 5:39-47]

Whoever believes has the testimony in Himself – Picking up the thread of thought from chapter 2, the internal witness of the Spirit in anointing continually witnesses to our souls, to our enlightened spiritual perceptions, that Jesus is the Christ (2:22, 23, 27).

1. John points out that all the other testimonies will fall short of bringing a person to believe without this testimony of the Spirit. He summarized Jesus teaching in John 6:37-40; 44, 45, 62, 63. All of these evidences being seen only with the eyes of flesh will come short of giving proper credit to their power and leave a person yet in unbelief and under the power of the world.

2. The rejection of these testimonies, however, still is culpable, for all the testimonies given to the person and work of Christ should bring a person to worship, adore, and trust Christ. Only a deeply entrenched moral bias set especially against God can give such a twist. God has spoken and acted in Christ and given written testimony accompanied with a multitude of verifying evidences of the truthfulness of this testimony, yet it is rejected and ignored. Rejection is tantamount to calling God a liar. Commenting on the implications of Verse 10, John Calvin observed, “The highest glory of God turns on this.  Since He wanted to show a special example of His truth in the Gospel, those who reject the Christ there offered to them leave Him nothing.  Therefore, although we may grant that a man in other parts of his life is angelic, yet his holiness is devilish so long as he rejects Christ.”

Summary of true faith in the true Faith. [5:11, 12]

God has given:  God initiates. He gave though we did not ask.

We are given over to death until he intervenes.

Eternal life is the greatest gift we can seek from him [cf. 1:1,2]

Only in union with Christ does the reality of eternal life become ours.

The whole world is divided into life and death on the basis of the Son

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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