The Epistle of 1 John is primarily directed toward Christian believers. It’s not so much about coming to Christ as it is about abiding in Christ. As John came to the close of his First Epistle, he encouraged readers to build their Christian lives around the virtues of faith, love, and obedience. One of the key words in 1 John 5 is “faith.” The way to live with confidence and to conquer the forces of evil is to keep on believing in the presence and power of Christ day after day.
1. Overcoming the World System (1 John 5:1-5)
To believe “that Jesus is the Christ” is to accept the fact that the human Jesus is indeed the divine Christ who came to earth to die for our sins—and to believe the truth about His incarnation, atonement, resurrection, and His future return to earth. The belief to which John is referring involves full surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, not mere intellectual conviction. All who hold to a staunch confession of faith about Jesus Christ which results in repentance and a changed life have been born of God.
The sentence, everyone who loves him who begot (that is, whoever loves God), loves also him who is “begotten of him”—refers to loving other children of the same Father. Just as one generally expects those who love their own father to love their father’s other children, so Christians are to love others who are children of God anywhere we meet them. We prove our love for our common Father by our conduct towards our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Verse 2 indicates that the ability to love God’s children springs from our love for God in the first place. It is not that those who are born of God must love their fellow Christians. Rather, if we love God and keep His commandments, we will love “the children of God.” Loving God means obeying God, and obeying God means loving God’s children.
Loving the children of God does not refer merely to a warm feeling toward other people in a general way. It is a reference to doing good deeds for specific individuals. Real love for others is expressed in hard work, loyalty, generosity, and showing a long-suffering spirit even toward awkward people. It includes providing meals when there is illness, caring for children when there is an emergency, and doing chores such as mowing the grass and cutting wood for those who have been incapacitated by an accident. Real love is caring deeply about others, and involves attentively listening to someone’s concerns.
Our love for God is demonstrated by obedience to His commandments—and very quickly, John adds that His commandments are not “grievous,” or burdensome (verse 3b). God’s yoke is easy and the burden is light (Matthew 11:30). The reason God’s commands are not unduly burdensome for the believer is that in the New Birth God has given power to overcome the world when we turn to Christ by “faith” (verse 4b). At that point the world’s grip on us begins to break down.
The “world” (verses 4-5) speaks of the moral pressures that we face to conform to the outlook and standards of the godless society which surrounds us. There are temptations to be dishonest, and to give in to sexual looseness. There is pressure to satisfy the urge, to give in, to give up, to go along with the crowd, and to swim with the tide. There is pressure to harbor wrong ideas, to react against others in the way the world does—to strike back, to be resentful, and to be envious. The world would like to mold our thoughts. How shall we conquer it?
Believers that choose to live by faith in Jesus Christ day after day will intentionally choose not to make the world’s opinions their standards of right and wrong. They separate from the vain customs and wicked morals of the world system. By faith they know that this world is going to pass away, and that those who walk after the flesh are headed for judgment.
The reason God’s commands are not unduly heavy is that the believer who is born again has a new desire and ability to obey Him. The Holy Spirit gives special power to overcome the world. The world is not subdued all at once, but the new nature presses on toward victory, and will conquer in the end. The word “overcometh” is in the present continuous tense, and indicates that the Christian’s conflict is still in progress, but that greater ongoing victory is possible.
The new nature implanted in the believer’s life is constantly in a battle, warring against the old sin nature. We feel the force of temptation in our lives, and we find that sometimes we fall into sin in unguarded moments. But the more the Christian is committed to abiding in Christ, the more sensitive he becomes to the evil of sinful living. The more he seeks to draw on the Lord’s unlimited resources, the more he will experience increasing victory over sin.
The Apostle Paul says (in 2 Corinthians 5:7) that we are to “walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith is the means by which we lay hold on the power of God, and is therefore the spiritual weapon by which temptation is met and overcome. The world is not subdued in our lives all at once, but the new nature presses on toward victory—and will conquer in the end. The evil forces of the world cannot ultimately prevail against those whose confidence is in the Lord Jesus. Our goal is to escape the grip of its sinful ways.
2. Affirming the Identity of Jesus (1 John 5:6-12)
In this section of 1 John 5, readers are given a description of the solid foundation upon which our faith rests. True faith is based on trustworthy testimony. John calls on several witnesses to show that our faith in Jesus Christ is well grounded. If faith is the victory by which we overcome the world, we are now told to understand exactly Who it is in Whom we believe.
The false teachers of Asia were insisting that Jesus was the natural son of Joseph and Mary. They taught that Jesus was a great man, an excellent teacher, and a wonderful example—but the truth is that Jesus is God come in human flesh. As a God-Man, He became the only way by which human beings can come into a right relationship with God.
The false teachers denied the true identity of Jesus, and failed to understand the central role that He plays in the victorious life of a believing Christian. This is why John spent a considerable amount of time declaring that Jesus is both God and man. He gives a more precise description of Jesus in verse 6, by saying that He is the One who came “by water and blood.”
These words may refer to the spear thrust into the side of Jesus, and the blood and water that came out of the wound (John 19:34-35). It is more likely, however, that the “water” and “blood” are references to Christ’s baptism (at the beginning of His ministry), and to His death (near the end of His earthly ministry).
Verses 7-8 name the witness of the water and blood along with the witness of the Spirit, and say that the three agree. Jesus identified with humans in His baptism, and died for the sins of humanity in His death. The voice from God gave approval on both occasions (Matthew 3:17; John 19:36-37 as prophesied in the Old Testament).
John includes “the witness of God” (verse 9). It is actually God who speaks to us through the Spirit, the water, and the blood (verse 8). If we receive (as we do) human testimony, much more are we bound, John says, to accept the witness borne by God (verse 9a). It seems to be a typical human reaction to accept man’s word regarding material matters, but to doubt God’s Word about eternal things.
John also speaks of the inward witness of the human heart (verse 10). The meaning is that those who believe the Gospel message are given a profound certainty of the rightness of committing themselves to Christ. There is a deep feeling of peace which comes to believers through believing in Jesus as the Christ. The latter part of verse 10 says that not believing in the Son is equivalent to not believing God.
In verses 11-12 God gives the content of the inward witness mentioned in verse 10. God has given us eternal life, and this life “is in his Son.”
By human standards, people may be looked upon as good citizens, good neighbors, and good parents—but by the standard of the Gospel, those who have no saving union with Christ do not have eternal life, and cannot properly be called Christians. John says, “He that hath the Son hath life; he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (verse 12).
There is no eternal life apart from the Son of God. Jesus Christ is not one of several possible “saviors.” God Himself has testified about His Son through the witnesses listed earlier in the chapter. The question for unbelievers is this: “Are you willing to believe what God has said?” If you are not willing to believe the testimony of God’s witnesses, then in essence you are saying to God—”You are a liar.” God has spoken through the Son, and we must respond to that truth. It is a very serious matter to refuse to accept God’s testimony about Jesus Christ.
Many persons think of “eternal life” primarily in terms of its duration—life that goes on forever. It is true that eternal life never comes to an end. The “eternal life” promised in verse 11 includes endless life, but it is more than that. It is a certain kind of life—full and abundant and complete—never to be destroyed even by death. It is a special blessing that begins in this life (John 3:36) and reaches its fullest expression in the future. God has good things prepared for those who serve Him.
Those who know Jesus as personal Savior can experience a taste of eternal life here in this world, because they know that God promises a glorious eternity in the world beyond—which will be a life without death, mourning, crying, and pain (Revelation 21:4). Real life—eternal life—as God intends it for His children, comes through having the Son (verse 12). Jesus said that He came in order that “they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
When we accept Jesus as Savior, we are uniting with Him, and inviting Him to be the controlling partner in our daily lives. He becomes a constant Companion and promises an abundant life.
An abundant life is not necessarily an affluent life; some of God’s most noble servants have been poor in this world’s goods. It is not necessarily a long life; some very godly Christians have lived only a few decades. It is not necessarily free from sorrow; all human beings experience the ups and downs of earthly life. The “abundant life” points to a depth of living now—and to a joyous living in the hereafter. The abundant life includes constant access to God in prayer, the knowledge of full pardon for our sins, and the possession of God’s Spirit to guide us along the way. The abundant life is life in its fullness. There is a life of satisfaction that comes from knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord.
Whoever believes in God’s Son (with a faith that is validated by obedience to God’s commandments) has eternal life. We need not worry about it, for it is promised by God Himself (verse 12).
Christians are victors over the sinful world by having believed in the atoning work of Christ, and by the same faith are continuing to overcome the world. This includes walking daily in the light, abiding in Christ, and loving the brethren and sisters in the Lord.
Eternal life is available only through faith in Jesus—and nowhere else. Those who refuse to believe that Jesus is God the Son cannot claim Him as their Savior, and neither can they experience the eternal life that only He can give. Those who refuse to believe the message about the atoning work of Jesus continue to live under the wrath of God, which some day will bring eternal destruction (John 3:36).
The most serious question every man, woman, and child must consider with deep and careful thought—is the question: “Do I have Jesus, the Son of God, living in my heart?” Those who have the Son living within, have life; those who reject the Son face eternal death.
3. Being Assured of Eternal Life (1 John 5:13-15)
John wanted his readers to be assured about their decision to believe in Jesus as the only Savior and the only way to Heaven.
The first two words in verse 13 (“these things”) refer to all that John had already written in the Epistle. “These things” include walking in the light (1:7), confessing one’s sins (1:9), obeying the Lord’s commands (2:3-5), loving the brethren (2:9-10), believing that Jesus is the Christ (2:22), and practicing righteous living (2:29; 3:6-9). Those persons who are genuinely seeking to follow the Lord in these areas—and are committed to continuing in them, can know that they have eternal life (verse 13).
The term “eternal life” is not only endless in duration, but is also spiritual in nature. Those who come to Christ for salvation will exist eternally in God’s presence. One writer says, “Who would not want to be forgiven, freed from the sense of guilt, accepted, pardoned and acquitted, given a new start? By faith in Christ we are forgiven because we’ve aligned ourselves with the one who satisfied God’s standard of righteousness. He paid the debt we owe through his undeserved crucifixion. He offered himself for the sins of . . . everyone who believes in him . . . we have a new start in life (John 3:3), a renewed mindset (Romans 12:2) . . . inner peace (Romans 5:1), joy and hope (Romans 15:13), and the promise of life with God forever (John 3:16).”
It is interesting to contrast John’s purpose in writing the Gospel account, with his purpose in writing this First Epistle. The Gospel was written so that the readers might have life (John 20:31). The Epistle was written that his readers might know that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13). The Gospel of John was written with evangelism in mind; John’s first letter was written with the nurture of believers in mind.
After John spoke about the assurance of eternal life, he told about the promise of answered prayer. Getting answers to prayer (verse 14) involves asking for those things that are in accord with God’s will, and God’s will can be determined by searching His Word. The purpose of prayer is not to demand that God should adjust to our wills, but to encourage us to adjust our desires and requests to be in accord with His will. God’s children can be certain of an answer when they pray according to God’s will.
Prayer is not a mere supposition or a mere probability. Prayer is an exercise of the spiritual life that is as certain in its results, as is the character of the true and living God. Those who by faith have the Son of God as their Savior can have great confidence in approaching God in prayer anywhere and any time (verse 14).
The word confidence (verse 14a) speaks of boldness as we approach Him in prayer. The word hear (verse 15) includes the idea of “hearing favorably”—and thus includes both hearing and answering.
This does not mean that Christians get everything they ask for. There are some limitations (given in other Scriptures) to receiving the answers to prayer. Prayer is to be offered in Jesus’ name (John 14:13), must proceed from an upright life (James 5:16), must be asked without selfish motives (James 4:3), and is to be offered in faith (Matthew 21:22).
The Christian who prays can know that “we have the petitions that we desired of Him” (verse 15b). With our limited knowledge, we sometimes project a solution in prayer that is not God’s way. God does not and will not change His mind because the Christian thinks he has a better idea. Prayer is not an attempt to get God to see things our way, and to get from Him all those things that we have decided we need or want. Prayer is learning to say, “Thy will be done”—as Jesus prayed in the Lord’s Prayer.
Verses 14-15 assure us that God hears and answers the prayers of believers who pray “according to His will.” Confidence (in the spiritual realm) is the sense of assurance that the eternal God keeps His promises. Verse 12 assures us that those who have the Son of God have life. Those who have committed their lives to Jesus can say with confidence, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day!”
And while verse 14 is not a sweeping promise that we will get whatever we ask for, we can be sure that in some way beyond our understanding, the eternal and all-powerful God hears and responds when we knock gently on the doors of Heaven—seeking His blessing.
The confidence that John is speaking of does not originate within self. Rather, confidence is developed through having a consistent faith in God. Assurance rests upon Him, and upon Christ’s finished work. Satisfaction comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Savior and knowing that He has all things under control, especially when things don’t go our way. Through faith in Christ, the new nature in us will press on to a victorious conclusion!