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1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
1 John 5:1-5
John is now beginning to close his letter, and as he does so, he now brings all three tests of authentic Christianity together. Again, John's three tests of authentic Christianity are these: 1) The Doctrinal Test: Faith in Jesus, 2) The Relational Test: Love for God and his people, and 3) The Moral Test: Obedience to God's commandments. John does this in order to summarize his letter, but he also wants us to see that these three tests all have something in common: They all depend on the spiritual new birth. If a person has truly been born again, these three evidences will serve as vital signs pointing toward that reality. While it is true that these vital signs grow stronger over time, if there is no evidence of these signs at all, a person should possess little to no assurance of salvation.
“The three tests of authentic Christianity are these: 1) The Doctrinal Test: Faith in Jesus, 2) The Relational Test: Love for God and his people, and 3) The Moral Test: Obedience to God's commandments.”
FAITH COMES FROM GOD
In verses 1 and 4 of our text, John mentions the concept of being “born of God” three times. The new birth is always the starting point of any genuine relationship with God. Before a person is born again, they are spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). As Jesus told Nicodemus, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). Therefore, the new birth is completely a work of God.
“The new birth is always the starting point of any genuine relationship with God.”
Many mistakenly think that regeneration is a matter of our own free will. Certainly, it is necessary for each of us to choose to trust in Christ (John 1:12), but a person who is spiritually dead in their sins will never make this choice on their own. The Scripture plainly teaches that, “[Christians are] born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Just as none of us had any say in whether we would be born physically, we do not determine whether or not we will be born spiritually.
“Many mistakenly think that regeneration is a matter of our own free will.”
In verse 1 of our text, John says, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ 'has been born' of God...” The Greek verb is in the perfect tense, which indicates an action that took place in the past with continuing results in the present and future. In other words, John is revealing that faith is the “effect” of the new birth, not the “cause” of it. A person who has been born of God in the past will be characterized by initial and ongoing faith in Jesus as the Christ.
“A person who has been born of God in the past will be characterized by initial and ongoing faith in Jesus as the Christ.”
Then in verses 4-5 of our text, John mentions “overcoming the world” three times. John’s point in these verses is that the faith that God imparts to us at the new birth results in a life of consistent victory over the evil forces of this world. While none of us will be completely untainted by worldly influences in this life, those who are born of God will progressively grow in sanctification. Therefore, faith in Jesus as the Christ and as the Son of God is a vital sign of the new birth. True faith causes us to trust in Jesus as the solution for both the penalty and the power of sin.
LOVE COMES FROM GOD
In 1 John 4:20, John said that a person cannot love God if they do not love their brother. However, in verses 1-2 this particular text, John says that a person can know that they love their brother when they love God and keep his commandments. At first glance, it seems as though John has become trapped in a vicious cycle of circular reasoning. So how do we make sense of this?
“Christians can know that they truly love their brother when they love God and keep his commandments.”
First, John is saying that our motive for loving the children of God should be genuine love for God himself. In other words, the reason we love others should not be due to natural factors. Rather, we love others because we desire to be pleasing to God. Second, John is also saying that genuine love for others must be defined by obedience to God’s commandments, not by constantly evolving definitions of love presented by our culture. For example, our culture says that if a someone falls into serious sin, the loving thing to do is to be “nice” and overlook this person's sin. According to our culture, to confront sin and offer correction is to be judgmental. However, in order to truly show genuine love to a sinning brother, we must love God and obey his commandments. This necessarily includes confronting those who have fallen into sin and seeking their repentance. Anything less than this is not biblical love. And none of this will ever be possible unless we have first been loved by God and resurrected to live a life of love through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.
“According to our culture, to confront sin and offer correction is to be judgmental.”
OBEDIENCE COMES FROM GOD
Now in verses 2-3 of our text, John uses the word “commandments” three times. As we have seen, John is not saying that believers obey God perfectly. Rather, he is calling us to examine the overall direction of our lives. A Christian’s life should be marked by obedience out of a heart of love for God. When a child of God sins, they are grieved by their sin due to their love for the God they have sinned against.
“A Christian’s life should be marked by obedience out of a heart of love for God.”
John goes even further by adding an incredibly comforting word at the end of verse 3: “[God's] commandments are not burdensome.” John does not mean that obedience to God’s commandments is always easy. He is simply saying that God’s commandments are not burdensome because we now have the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit and a new nature granting us the power to obey. This is the implication of the word “For” at the beginning of verse 4. So John is saying, “[God’s] commandments are not burdensome... 'For' [or because] whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” Jesus has not only paid for the penalty of sin, he has also defeated the power of sin by purchasing for us the gift of regeneration and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.
“Jesus has not only paid for the penalty of sin, he has also defeated the power of sin by purchasing for us the gift of regeneration and the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit.”
God’s commandments are also not burdensome because they are always given and received in the context of love. A loving father does not tell his child to stay away from a busy street because he wants to deprive them of fun, but because he loves the child and wants to protect them from injury or death. A young child may think that their father’s commands are restrictive, but as they mature, the child will come to trust their father’s love and obey even if they currently cannot see the reason.
Our primary source of assurance of salvation is our faith in the Lord Jesus and his shed blood as the propitiation for our sin. It is only through Christ's blood, not our works, that our sins are atoned for. However, because Scripture frequently warns us that it is easy to be deceived, God has graciously given us a way to know that our faith in his Son is genuine. None of these evidences will be present to the degree that we know they should be. But can we say that some of these evidences are at least present in part? Perhaps, we could speak to a pastor, or a fellow member in our local church, in order to determine if they have witnessed any of these signs in us. Remember, fruit is not an instant product. Faith and love always take time to grow (Philippians 1:9).
1) Are you focusing more on what spiritual fruit is lacking in your life, or what is present?
2) Which of these three vital signs (faith, love, and obedience) is weakest in your life? Why?
3) Which of these three vital signs (faith, love, and obedience) is strongest in your life? Why?
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