Read the Passage: 1 John 5
Listen to the Redeemed Mind Podcast: 1 John 5
Obedience and Overcoming (5:1–5)
As he continues his letter, John again circles around to the same topic of loving God and loving others, drilling down deeper with each mentioning of his theme. At the beginning of chapter 5, John summarizes the gospel, writing, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1a). Then, reiterating the necessary connection between loving God and loving others, just mentioned at 1 John 4:21, John writes, “Everyone who loves Him who begot, also loves him who is begotten of Him” (1 John 5:1b). While it may be more difficult at times to love God or to love others, these ideas are inextricably linked to one another. In 1 John 5:2, John added yet another element to the faith and love he has been discussing: namely, obeying God’s commands. These three elements—faith, love, and obedience—are cited in conjunction elsewhere in Scripture, too (cf. Rev. 2:19).
In the following verses John explains the tie between the love of God and obedience, writing, “This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 John 5:3a). This echoes Jesus’ earlier teaching, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). It is interesting that John also writes, “His commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3b). At first, this claim may seem counterintuitive; yet, upon reflection, it becomes clear that Jesus’ teaching is true, “My yoke is easy and My burden [is] light” (Matt. 11:30). Indeed, true freedom is the ability to do that for which were created—that is, to love and to obey God. Next, John teaches that if we are in Christ, we will overcome the world (cf. 1 John 3:4–5). However, this victory is not accomplished by our own strength, but by faith in Jesus, which itself is a gift of God (cf. Rom. 12:3; Eph. 2:8–9; 2 Pet. 1:1).
Witness and Testimony (5:6–13)
In 1 John 5:6–13 John writes about the divine witness that “Jesus is the Christ” (1 John 5:1). To elaborate, here John writes about water, blood, and Spirit, as he notes “For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one” (1 John 5:7–8). The Spirit is the Holy Spirit, who testifies about Jesus’ deity and teachings (cf. John 15:26); the water is a reference to Jesus’ baptism, where the Father testified, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17); and the blood is a reference to Jesus’ death, where Christ testified about Himself (cf. Luke 22:20). John writes that if the testimony of 2 or 3 witnesses is acceptable (cf. Deut. 19:15), then the testimony of the Trinity that Jesus is the Christ can be believed. John mentions this divine testimony, so “that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Prayer and Protection (5:14–21)
A natural result of believing that Jesus is the Christ, and putting one’s faith in Him, is prayer. 1 John 5:14–17 is a helpful passage on prayer; however, it is challenging for two reasons. First, in 1 John 5:14–15 we read, “If we ask anything according to His will . . . we know that we have the petitions we have asked of Him.” This is a difficult teaching, for all Christians experience prayers that are not answered. Unanswered prayers could be a matter of timing (cf. Luke 11:5–13; 18:1–8), of faith (cf. Matt. 21:18–22), or of not asking according to God’s will (cf. Jas. 4:3). Second, in 1 John 5:16–17 we read about a “sin leading to death” about which we should not pray. This sin leading to death is most likely the willful rejection of the gospel after a clear presentation of its truthfulness. This sin is elsewhere referred to as the unpardonable sin (cf. Matt. 12:31–32; Mark 3:28–30).
In the closing verses of this letter, John returns to his binary style of writing, noting, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin” (1 John 5:18a). This claim, which is a reiteration of John’s teaching at 1 John 3:9, needs to be tempered considering John’s teaching at 1 John 1:8 as he wrote, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (cf. 1 John 1:10). 1 John 5:18b is an encouraging verse as here John teaches that God guards believers from the wicked one, who is Satan. Of course, this does not mean that Christians will never experience temptation. Rather, it means that salvation is assured, and that believers will never be tempted beyond that which they are able to bear (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). Lest this assurance of salvation lead one toward a life of passivity, in 1 John 5:21 John exhorts, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”
- Do you find it more difficult to love God or to love others? What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced regarding sanctification?
- Do the important ideas of faith, love, and obedience always go together, or can they ever exist in isolation within the life of a believer?
- What advice would you give to a churchgoer who is not experiencing present victory at overcoming the world?
- Are most church leaders as concerned as is John to provide a sense of assurance of salvation to their congregations?
- How can Christians know if they are praying according to God’s will (cf. 1 John 3:22)? What is the sin leading to death?