God’s Promise of Eternal Life

The Point:  You were created for eternal life in Christ.

Life Only in the Son:  1 John 5:6-15.

[6]  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. [7]  For there are three that testify: [8]  the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. [9]  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. [10]  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. [11]  And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. [12]  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. [13]  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. [14]  And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. [15]  And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.

Evidence – the key to faith. The faith that overcomes the world is the very specific belief that Jesus is the Son of God [5]. This was precisely what Cerinthus and the other false teachers were denying when they insisted that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. But, as John has shown us throughout the letter, to dispense with the deity of Jesus is to dispense with the only way by which we human beings can come into any fellowship with the living God [3:23-24; 1:6]. The false teaching did not stop there, however. It went on to claim that the divine emanation, Christ, was joined to Jesus , the natural son of Joseph, at his baptism in order to equip him for his ministry – only to leave him again at his passion to die as nothing more than an ordinary man. For them Jesus was a great man, a fine teacher and a wonderful example. He might even prove to be an intermediary (one among many) between God and man. But he was not the eternal Son of God, the second person of the holy Trinity, the Word made flesh. Although the route by which they reach such a conclusion may be different, that is exactly what millions of people in the Western world today would give as their answer to the question, ‘Who was Jesus?’ These verses are designed by John to refute such erroneous opinions. He begins with the robust assertion, This is he who came. The Greek form (aorist participle) of the words indicates the once-for-all, historical fact of His coming into the world, sent by the Father [4:9-10]. So once more John stresses the identity of the historical person of Jesus of Nazareth, a real man who really lived in time and space, with the eternal Son of God. John is asserting the historicity of the incarnation as the foundation stone of his defense of Christ’s deity. He now proceeds to assemble his evidence.

1.  The three witnesses [6-9].  Water and blood are to be seen as the means by which Jesus came into the world to accomplish His mission of salvation. From Augustine onwards, a long line of commentators has interpreted this to mean the water and blood which flowed from the side of Christ when pierced by the spear as He hung on the cross. In John 19:34-35, John emphatically underlines his eye-witness testimony to this real death of a real man. But it seems very unlikely that John would build such a major argument on such a comparatively small historical detail, even if he was an eye-witness. Others have drawn attention to the water of baptism and the blood (wine) of the Eucharist, and have seen here a symbolic foreshadowing of the two great sacraments of the church. These things may well be true, but they do not sufficiently account for John’s meaning in its own context. In what sense did Jesus come by water? This cannot be a reference simply to His physical birth, as a human being, since that matter was not under dispute. Much more likely and pertinent is that the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, when His coming began to be widely revealed, was marked by water in His baptism in the river Jordan [Mark 1:9-11]. Not only was this the public beginning of His ministry, it was also a divine witness to His identity. The Spirit descended upon Him, like a dove, and the voice of God was heard affirming that this was His beloved Son with whom He was well pleased. It was a coming by water to take up the work which the Father had entrusted to Him. What John is at pains to stress is that He did not come by water only, but by the water and the blood [6]. He means that the one who came, whom Christians confess to be the Son of God, was as fully and thoroughly the eternal Son, the Christ, at His death as He was at His baptism or His birth. The Jesus who died on the cross was not just a man from whom the divine Spirit had been withdrawn; He was nothing less than God. The purpose of His coming, explained at His baptism, was fulfilled only in His sacrificial death. The same Son of God became the atoning sacrifice for our sins and it is faith in Him alone and in His completed work that brings eternal life, love for God and for His children, and victory over the world. There is a third witness mentioned in verse 6: the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. Here John goes behind his own role and that of his fellow apostles as those who have seen and therefore testify [1:2; 4:14], to reveal the ultimate authority and undergirding of what they declare, in the Spirit who is the truth. There is no truth apart from God, for truth is grounded in God’s character alone. Truth is not the majority view in the opinion poll. It is not feeling good about something. It is not an emotional encounter. All truth is God’s truth, because only He is the ultimate reality. It is the function of the Spirit, then, to testify to the truth, as it is in Jesus. This was what the Lord Jesus Himself had promised His disciples in John 15:26-27. The apostles were the human channels through which the truth was relayed. The Spirit was their guarantor and enabler. The Spirit bears witness through the Scriptures, God’s Word of truth, by which human minds are instructed and human wills are changed, as He brings Christ’s obedient followers increasingly into likeness to their Lord. The Spirit of God still takes the Word of God and produces children of God. So the three witnesses are assembled [7] and are found to be in complete agreement [8]. This is an important ingredient in the confidence we can have in their veracity. Verse 7 begins with For (because). It is because there are three witnesses, so united, that we can have certainty, since in any court of law this would provide the strongest evidence of truth. Whenever that same Spirit brings the truth to light in our lives today, we are brought to confess Jesus as Savior, Lord and God. Yet human witness is of little significance in comparison with God’s own witness to His own truth. In verse 9, John reminds us that the testimony of God is greater. But in what sense? We realize, of course, that God is infinitely greater in His eternal nature and power than finite, mortal man. But John is wanting to convey both the greater trustworthiness of God’s testimony because of its origin, and also its greater importance and value because of its content. For this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son [9]. Probably the locus of that testimony to which John wants to direct our attention is the baptism of Jesus. There the Father’s voice and the Spirit’s descent unite the Trinity in powerful witness that Jesus is the Son of God. That is the content of the Christian gospel. It is stated and authenticated by God Himself and confirmed by His three witnesses.

2. The fourth dimension [10-12].  We could call this further witness the personal, or subjective, dimension of faith. Certainly it is internal. But clearly there are dangers here, not least in the over-subjectivism or mysticism into which both liberal and conservative Christians may fall. Many contemporary theologians, following Bultmann and Brunner, would want to stress that the only authentication needed for faith is the inner, personal witness, irrespective of history or the Bible. It is the existential encounter of the individual with the Christ of faith which validates belief in the resurrection, however that may be defined. From a totally different perspective, evangelical Christians will readily affirm that Christ living within them is the guarantee of the reality of their faith and of His resurrection. ‘I know that Jesus is alive’, they assert, ‘because I spoke to Him this morning.’ The question that must be asked is, ‘How do you know you are not deluding yourself?’ All sorts of people do delude themselves in both their emotions and their experiences. What John is affirming is that this testimony is in the Christian because he or she is believing in the Son of God. The Greek present participle (whoever believes) indicates a permanent and continuous action. The preposition in, which follows, shows that John means much more than simply believing what Christ says, in the sense of understanding or even accepting it. To believe in the Son of God is to commit oneself to Him as fully as one knows in faithful reliance on Him. This is, of course, John’s favorite description of saving faith in His gospel, where he uses believe in on over forty occasions. It is as we meet the historical Jesus, through the apostolic testimony and the work of the Spirit, that the objective realities of all that He accomplished for us in His death and resurrection become internalized in our experience now. The new birth takes place and following it there develops the growing inner conviction that these things are true and they are true in and for us as individuals. We must be careful to preserve John’s strong emphasis on believing, intensified by the negative correlative in the second part of verse 10. For it is not our subjective experience of Christ that saves us, but our believing in Him, which is then confirmed and deepened by the inner witness of the Spirit. This agrees with Paul’s teaching in Romans 8:16, The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and Galatians 4:6, And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” It is a major theme of biblical theology that God wants His people to be assured of their relationship with Him as reconciled, forgiven sinners. The only alternative is actually to make God out to be a liar [10b]. That is how clearly the Bible draws the line between faith in Jesus and unbelief. This is not surprising when we consider how strong is the evidence for faith that has been presented to us. There is an element of unwillingness to believe, seen in the rejection of the witness which God has given and is still giving, through the activity of His Spirit, concerning His Son. There is ample evidence for faith, but mankind’s problem is not ignorance, so much as rebellion; not that we cannot believe but rather that we will not (see Paul’s argument in Romans 1:18-25). Verses 11 and 12 must stand as among the most magnificent in the whole of the New Testament. The consequences of believing God’s truth or denying it could hardly be more important or far-reaching. John is not merely concerned about academic disagreements over theological niceties. Eternal destinies are at stake. Eternal life means literally the life of eternity, the life of the world to come. Yet this is something which God has already given to those who believe in Jesus. It is the present possession of every Christian believer. In Jesus, the invisible God has revealed Himself in terms that can be understood anywhere, any time – a perfect human life. In Jesus, the powers of the unseen world, the age to come, are being revealed as He demonstrates His sovereignty over all the hostile forces ranged against man – sin, disease, demons and even death itself. Supremely, the life of eternity is life that has overcome the grave, and that life can be found in Christ alone who triumphed over death by His glorious resurrection. This life is in His Son. Not surprisingly, this is a theme developed very extensively in John’s gospel, which underlines that only in Jesus can such life be known and experienced [cf. John 5:21,26,40; 6:40; 10:28; 11:25-26; 17:2-3]. What John is saying in his letter is not a new claim. It runs throughout his gospel account of Jesus’ ministry. This life is in His Son and nowhere else. But it is experienced here, or it will not be experienced in the world beyond [12]. Those who do not believe that Jesus is the Son cannot have Him as their Savior, neither can they have the eternal life only He can give. John’s focus is undoubtedly on the false teachers who demonstrated that they did not have the Son by denying His incarnation and deity [4:2]. As such, they stood under sentence of death. What could be simpler, or more profound? 

3. You can be sure [13-15].  We are to read verse 13, not simply as a concluding statement about the purpose of the letter, but as the climactic assertion to which the preceding chapters have been relentlessly moving. These things must surely refer to the whole letter rather than simply to the immediately preceding sentences. When John began his letter, he expressed his purpose in writing, so that our joy may be complete [1:4]. Now he shows us what the content of that joy is. It comes in seeing his little children continuing in the faith, believing in the name of the Son of God and rejoicing in the certainty of eternal life. Joy, for the apostle, for his children, and for Christians in every generation, is found in the conscious experience of fellowship with God the Father, through Jesus the Son, within the community of His family, the church. It is the joy of assurance, leading to the discipline of faithful perseverance in the truth, that is his heart’s desire for his readers. Eternal life is a personal-encounter knowledge of God, leading on to a lifetime of fellowship with Him, which cannot be counterfeited. But again John stresses that it is only by affirming the incarnation of the Son of God that one may be said truly to believe in who Jesus is. Not only does John want his readers to have an incontrovertible personal encounter with God in Christ; he also wants their belief to be solidly grounded, intellectually and theologically, as they clearly understand why eternal life can be found nowhere else, and what the non-negotiable ingredients of that saving faith really are. One result of this knowing that you have eternal life is confidence in our approach to him [14; cf. Heb. 4:16]. This will naturally be expressed in prayer, where the mark of Christian reality is confidence or boldness. Our conversation with God is to be uninhibited, open and relaxed, yet not without reverence and submission. Its manner reflects the fact that we are children of a loving heavenly Father. Yet verse 14 does introduce a limitation on confident praying; or, more accurately, it underlines and explains the restriction that the Lord Jesus Himself placed on asking in John 14:14. Asking must be according to his will if He is to hear us. Within that proviso, we may ask anything. Our praying is never on a surer foundation than when it is grounded in Scripture, for here God’s will is revealed. As we pray Bible prayers, we know that God will hear and answer. Of course, we still have to make sure that, at our human end, we are not vitiating our prayers by unbelief or disobedience. Prayer is not an attempt to get God to see things my way and to extract from Him what I have decided I need or want. Prayer is submitting my will to His. And this means that prayer is God’s means by which my submission to Christ’s lordship can be developed. This should be a great stimulus in our personal lives to find out God’s will, to build on the commands and promises of His Word in our prayers, to talk every situation through with Him, and to submit all our thinking, planning and deciding to God. Answers to prayer do not depend on a right diagnosis or analysis of the problem by us as we pray, but on a childlike submission to the Father, knowing that He will give what is best according to his will. A further confidence in verse 15 is that we can know that, with God, to hear is to answer. This is the force of we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him [15]. Though from our perspective the outworking of the answer may not be seen until sometime in the future, our requests are granted at once. The trust that opens up our needs to God is not disappointed.”  [Jackman, pp. 146-162]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What is the relationship between evidence (factual data) and faith? What indisputable historical event forms the basis for the Christian faith? 

2.         Note how John presents his case for the deity of Jesus. What three witnesses does John present? What do each of the three witnesses testify to concerning who Jesus is? What testimony has God borne concerning his Son? All this evidence presents every person with an unavoidable choice that has eternal consequences [see vv. 10,12].

3.         What fourth dimension of testimony does John present in 5:10-12? What is different about this testimony compared to the three witnesses and God that John appealed to in 5:6-9? What is the relationship between the objective testimony in 5:6-9 and the subjective testimony in 5:10-12? Explain why subjective testimony must always be based upon objective testimony.

4.         Why did John write these things [13]? Do you have this knowledge and assurance? What is the practical consequence of being assured of our eternal life [14-15]? What do we learn about how to pray from these verses?



The Message of John’s Letters, David Jackman, Inter Varsity.

The Letters of John, Colin Kruse, Eerdmans.

The Epistles of John, John Stott, Eerdmans.

1-3 John, Robert Yarbrough, Baker.

Get Founders
in Your Inbox
A weekly brief of our new teaching resources.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Teaching BY TYPE
Teaching BY Author
Founders Podcasts