Apostle John’s Three Letters . . . 1 John 5:1–12
Overcoming the World
First John 5 starts out by announcing that "everyone born of God overcomes the world." To "overcome" is to "defeat," "trounce," "overpower" an enemy. For believers, such victory comes by faith. This chapter was written to reassure us of Christ's promise of eternal life with him. John the Elder reminds us herein that we can remain confident before God, being able to ask him anything according to his will; he'll certainly hear our request and answer it as he deems appropriate. John will close chapter 5 by reminding us that the Spirit of Jesus who lives in us enables us to know what is true and respond righteously to such truth.
More than any other New Testament writer, Apostle John expands on the theme of "overcoming," particularly overcoming the world. He wrote this epistle to not only encourage saints but stir up those in the church to self-examine themselves. In it he identifies the enemies that true believers are to overcome. First he clearly cites the arch-enemy, “the wicked one” (2:13); next he draws attention to Satan's attacks through “the spirit of antichrist” (4:3); here in chapter 5, he focuses on what's more formless and deceptive — “the world” (5:4).
The first two enemies of faith — "the wicked one" and "the spirit of the antichrist" — are relatively easy to identify, while the third enemy's visualization and identification are more difficult. Today's study discussion will hopefully enlighten you about the meaning of Jesus' question in v. 5: "Who is it that overcomes the world?"
Do You Believe that Jesus Is Father God's Son? (1 John 5:1–5)
Without a doubt, no other book of the Bible highlights “love” as much and as often as First John. Approximately one in every 50 words therein mentions “love,” with fifty-or-so mentions of love in it's five brief chapters. That shouldn't surprise us, since he teaches and reminds us of two critical love-specific biblical principles: (1) love is the proof of salvation (3:14) and (2) God himself is love (4:8). With “love” being the key element of this epistle, John makes five mentions of it in chapter 5's three opening verses.
Faith in the Incarnate Son of God
5 1Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (5:1–5).
Note the two parallel statements in v. 1; each begins with, "Everyone who." One points to the importance of having a strong faith in Jesus; the other emphasizes the importance of loving one another. They aren't two separate commands that need to be obeyed in order to become a child of God; instead, the two convey what a child of God is to believe. Both "faith" and "love" are active ingredients of God's work in our life. Each focuses on the person of Christ Jesus: Our faith is in Jesus being God's Messiah; it's Jesus who provides the fundamental provision of God's love for us.
We can find in v. 1 one criterion for believers to test the veracity of their claim to know and love God is their ability to love God's children. But in v. 2, Elder John states that if we love God, we can rest assured that we also love God's children, which is more difficult to fully understand, since, as John has already acknowledged, "no one has ever seen God" (4:12). That said, how can our love for God prove that we love others? We find that answer in v. 2: "We know that we love the children of God by loving God and carrying out his commands." Then in v. 3, John helps us appreciate his term "loves the Father" when he writes "to keep his commands." Note John's usage of the plural "commands." Verse 1 speaks of two things, "believing" and "loving." In unison, both characterize believers who know and love God and Jesus and all his children.
We see in these first five verses that no Gnostics or others who deny Jesus' deity and incarnation can be "born of God" or "overcome the world." Being "born of God" (vv. 1, 4) relates to being born again, having a new spiritual birth. Those who are truly dead in their trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) need a new, righteous life, one that only Father God can provide. Such a regeneration is totally a work of God, not of man's efforts. All that's needed of us is to have faith! As a result, we have this new birth. You can know that you're born again when you give this question a firm "Yes!" answer: Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God?
Only those who truly believe in Jesus being God the Father's Son, and who love God and his children, can have that God-given opportunity to be born again. To believe that Jesus is the Son of God requires the understanding and acceptance that Jesus is God eternal in human flesh. Pastor Emeritus Steven J Cole says this about what it means to believe in Jesus: "You believe that He paid the debt to God that you owe. Your faith rests completely upon the person and work of Jesus Christ."
John tells us this in the first three verses: A true Christian is born again, born from above; the life of God remains alive in a believer's soul; a faith-filled follower of Christ believes that Jesus is, without doubt, born of God as his one-and-only Son; and believers love the Father and all the children of his family. Verse 4 assures us that every born-again Christian will overcome the world, as a result of faith. Do you meet all the requirements of "overcomers"?
But v. 4 introduces a new term, "the world," which John commands us to overcome. Generally speaking, "the world" represents the evil system that John had experienced firsthand, an organized system under Satan’s authority, opposed to God and his purposes. Here, John advises readers that to overcome the world requires obedience of God's commands. Pastor Cole adds this: "The emphasis is not on our faith, but on the object of our faith, Jesus Christ. . . John’s point is that the faith that God imparts to us in the new birth results in a life of consistent victory over the evil forces of this world. . . Thus the new birth is the basis of the Christian life. Faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, is a vital sign of the new birth."
Although you may not realize that you've overcome the world and you're living victoriously, your faith in God relies on the fact that Jesus had miraculously defeated death! You're not equipped to fight the world and overcome it. You overcome the world only as a result of strong faith, which is what enables victory. Why? It's your faith that teams up with Christ, who, on the cross, won the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. United with Jesus by faith, you have overcome the world.
Is your faith in Jesus strong enough to overcome the world? Sometimes we miss seeing the complexity of certain circumstances in our life. Other times, we might over-complicate matters. John sought to cut through complications related to standing fast in a world that's hostile to the gospel by reassuring his readers today that our belief in Jesus, being God’s Son, means everything for us if we're to achieve spiritual victory today. In a nutshell: Being an overcomer through faith in Christ implies three truths: (1) not everyone is an overcomer; (2) those who victoriously overcome do so by their faith; and (3) faith consists in our obedience to God's word and his essential truths. Do you meet the New Testament definition of "overcomer"?
The Spirit's Testimony to Father God's Son (vv. 6–9)
6This is the one who came by water and blood — Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son (5:6–9).
The focus in vv. 6–12 turns to our making a proper confession about Jesus. The Elder teachers his readers this appropriate confession: Jesus Christ is "the one who came by water and blood." Examine usages of "water" and "blood" in John's Gospel, shown here. References to "water" emphasize purifying, especially the purifying achieved by the Spirit of Jesus. References to "blood" relate to Jesus' self-sacrificing death. Together, "water and blood" in John's gospel account refer to Jesus' side being pierced by soldiers at his crucifixion. We read in John 19:34 that both "blood and water" flowed from the puncture, proving that Jesus had definitely died. The two elements also signify that his death released (a) the gift of the Spirit [water] and (b) a purification from sin [blood], together signifying eternal life.
The second half of today's passage (vv. 6–12) presents Father God's testimony or witness in relation to his Son having come into the world. Believing this testimony brings us the promise of eternal life. The Gnostics and others, then in John's home churches, as well as many in our world today, didn't believe it; therefore, they weren't given the gift of eternal life spent with Jesus. The fundamental question that everyone must ask, then answer correctly is: What do I believe about Jesus?
Where you search for the correct answer to that question is essential. Thankfully, John reminded his readers, then and today, of two types of testimonies from which to choose: (1) the less important secondary testimony made by man and (2) the indispensable primary testimony made by God. That's why our hearing, reading, and meditating on what God reveals about his Son is of tremendous importance. We're to believe his words because God testifies using a most-authoritative voice.
The Greek word for "testify" or "bear witness" — martureó — is used no fewer than ten times in vv. 6–11. The witness of a sufficient number of credible men of good character is always accepted in court cases. But no matter how "acceptable" human testimony may be, the testimony of God is much greater, more valuable and conclusive. It can be more firmly depended on, since it's infallible because God doesn't deceive. The three witnesses — the Spirit, the water, the blood — become the infallible testimony of God, not of men. John’s point is that God’s threefold witness to His Son is trustworthy.
Comparing the Witness of Man to the Witness of God (vv. 10–12)
10Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given 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 (5:10–12).
These three concluding verses present two benefits of believing God's testimony. John reveals the first benefit, as presented in v. 10a: "Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts his testimony." Believing God's testimony gives believers an internal witness. That means, if we believe that Jesus is Father God's Son, God testifies to the truth about Christ Jesus through the indwelling Spirit of the living God. You believe that testimony about Christ because God has changed your heart, making you a new child of his. Previously dead in your sins, you become alive to God in Christ.
But notice what John adds in v. 10b regarding those who don't believe God's testimony: They make God out to be a liar and God calls them liars, which is a serious matter. Unbelievers treat with contempt the valuable gift of God’s Son, Jesus. Sin can certainly shake our faith in external security, as shown in this Bible Project video titled "Khata: Sin." Thankfully, God promises to forgive every unbeliever's sin, so long as he or she accepts the truth about him and asks him to become Lord. God has given more than sufficient external testimony about his Son. In the end, if you believe that testimony, God will give you the additional inner testimony that he is true. But if you reject his external testimony, you'll never receive the Spirit's internal witness.
The second benefit of believing God's testimony about his Son, Jesus, is expounded upon in vv. 11–12. Therein we learn that God gives eternal life, with his Son, to those of us who believe Father God's testimony about Christ Jesus. Clearly, eternal life is truly a gift that believers receive when they accept Jesus as their Lord; there can be no greater gift to mankind! Eternal life with Jesus isn't received because of our God-honoring efforts. Realize, too, that Jesus Christ is everything in a true believer's life. When you have him you have eternal life.
Can we be sure of our eternal security? Our heavenly Father wants us to know assuredly that we believers have eternal life through and with his Son Jesus. What assurances do we have that we're permanently secure? First, we see Father God's unconditional love by what he allowed Jesus to accomplish for us on the cross (4:9–10). Second, it's clear through Christ's sinless life and death that he qualified to serve as our substitute and take our place on the cross (John 19:30). Third, we appreciate Jesus' promise that we'll spend eternity with him, never being separated from him (10:28), and that he's already prepared a place for us in heaven and will bring us there (14:2–3). Fourth, we have the Holy Spirit within us, acting as a seal that guarantees that we belong to Father God and serves as a pledge of our future in heaven with him (2 Cor. 1:21–22).
God's word is filled with his promises that those who've chosen Jesus to become Lord will spend eternity with him. If you struggle with doubt about God's external and internal testimonies, meditate on Scripture, asking the Spirit of Jesus to guide you into a biblical understanding of your salvation.
- Q. 1 Who are those who "overcome"?
- Q. 2 Assuming that you are an "overcomer," what exactly have you overcome?
- Q. 3 If you're an "overcomer," what did it take for you to succeed at overcoming?
1 John 5:1–12