There is a story about the Greek king, Alexander the Great, while he and his armies were in the midst of their conquest of Western Asia and Northeastern Africa.
Apparently, one of his soldiers had distinguished himself as something of a coward. Each time the army would go into battle, this particular soldier would hang back, instead of charging into the fray, content with the relative safety of the rear guard.
Finally, the king had had enough of this behavior, and one day he confronted the terrified young soldier.
“What is your name, son?” Alexander demanded.
“Alexander, sir,” the young man replied.
“Well, then, either get up there and fight or change you name,” the king replied.
If this young man was going to be called by the name of this great general and fighting man, then he was going to have to learn to act like his namesake and not like a coward.
Today, as we draw near the close of our series on the Book of 1 John, we’re going to see that we Christians, who are called by the name of Christ Himself and who have been adopted as sons and daughters of His Father in heaven, are similarly called to reflect the character of the Christ in whom we have been redeemed and the Father by whose grace we have been saved.
You’ll recall that this message from the Apostle John presents in three different cycles three tests of the depth and authenticity of a believer’s fellowship with God. Those tests are righteousness, love, and belief.
Today, as we look at the first half of chapter 5, we will consider the final appearance of the last two tests — love and belief — but we’ll also see how these two tests are related to one another and how they are both related to righteousness or obedience.
Indeed, we have seen these three tests of fellowship connected with one another throughout this letter, but in today’s passage, we’ll see that they are tied together like a knot — and one tied so tightly that it only makes sense to cover righteousness and belief as one unit today.
Let’s take a look at verse 1-13 of chapter 5.
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Now, when we left this study a few weeks ago, we had just finished looking at John’s third portrayal of love as a test of a believer’s fellowship with God.
“If someone says he loves God and yet hates his brother, he is a liar,” John wrote. “This is the commandment that we have from Him: that the one who loves God should love his brother also.”
The idea was that, for all of us who have come to Jesus in faith that only His sacrificial death and supernatural resurrection can bring reconciliation between sinful man and righteous God, we are all now part of the same family of faith.
Each born-again believer in Jesus Christ has been adopted into the family of God. Each of us has been reborn into the family of God, and each one of us now has a new spiritual father, God Himself.
And so, we see here in verse 1 that John is restating what he has already said: If you have believed that Jesus is the Christ — that He is the promised Messiah — then you have been born of God. And if you have been born of God — if you claim to love God — then you will love others who have been born of God. You will love your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Remember we said that, because God is Spirit and has no need of anything that we might give Him, we have no real way to demonstrate our love for Him aside from doing what He has told us to do, aside from keeping His commandments.
And Jesus summed up those commandments when He said they all boiled down to two things that were essentially two sides of the same coin: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.
What we see in verse 2 is John looking at the equation from the other side. We can know we love our brothers and sisters in Christ by observing whether we love God and keep His commandments.
And this is what it means to say that we love God: We keep His commandments.
So what’s going on here is that John is attacking this equation from three sides of the equals mark. Loving God equals loving one another. And loving one another in a true, Christlike, sacrificial manner equals loving God. Loving God equals keeping His commandments, and keeping His commandments equals loving God.
The point here is that these three tests of fellowship with God are inextricably linked together. You can’t have one without the others, and if you truly have one, you will have the others, because they are, in effect, three sides of the same coin. All three ARE the coin.
But Pastor, it’s easy to love God. It’s a lot harder to love the fellow believer who has hurt me, the brother in Christ who has lied about me, the sister in Christ who gossips about me.
But what John says here in verse 3 is just the opposite. “His commandments are not burdensome.”
The world says it’s easier to hold a grudge than to forgive. It’s easier to hate those who have hurt us than to love them.
But Jesus said:
“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Far from being a burden, obedience to God brings freedom to be who you were created to be — people who were set apart to clearly reflect the image of the God in whose image you were made.
This is the difference between religion and saving faith. Religion is man trying to please God in his own strength, and this is a burden that we cannot bear
But saving faith is a relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ, in which we take on the yoke that is no burden at all — the yoke of the One who has done everything that needed to be done to reconcile us to the God who made us to be in fellowship with Him.
Let me tell you, friends, holding a grudge and living in unforgiveness is harder on you than it is on the person you choose not to forgive. Your unforgiveness has little effect on the person against whom you hold that grudge, but it affects every part of you. It hurts you physically, emotionally and spiritually.
When you live with unforgiveness — when you hold onto that grudge — you are choosing to bear the awful weight of hatred, just like the rest of the lost world does, and you are giving up the victory that you have gained over the ways of the world in Christ Jesus.
And it’s a victory that He already won for you at the cross. In essence, you are choosing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Through faith in Christ, we who have become children of God have overcome the world and its systems of keeping accounts of all those who have wronged us. We can live as those who have been set free from those burdens, as those who allow love to lighten the load.
But this victory — this overcoming of the world — hinges on faith, and I want to make sure you understand, first of all, that it hinges on having the right kind of faith, and, secondly, that it hinges on having faith in the right kind of thing.
So what is the right kind of faith? Well, there are two kinds of faith. First, there is propositional faith — the belief in a set of facts. This is not saving faith.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, talked about this kind of faith.
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.
What he meant there is that Satan and his demons have a propositional knowledge and belief about God. They know who He is; they know who Jesus is; they know what happened at the cross.
But they have never ceased in their attempts to overthrow God’s kingdom, and they never can be saved, because theirs has never been and will never be anything but a propositional belief, an acknowledgment of certain facts about God and about Jesus.
Saving faith, on the other hand, is a relational faith, one that doesn’t simply say that what God says is true, but ACTS on what God has said BECAUSE it is true.
This is the point of James’ letter, that faith without works is dead faith.
Living faith on the other hand — faith that brings eternal life — is evidenced by action, and in the context of John’s letter, this action is keeping God’s commandments, especially the command to love one another as Christ loved us.
So now we see what I meant by having the right kind of faith. But what did I mean by having faith in the right kind of thing? That’s the question John answers in the rest of today’s passage.
Who is the one who overcomes the world? Who is the one who has saving faith? The one who believes, first, that Jesus is the Son of God.
The world, for the most part, is willing to concede that Jesus was a historical figure and even that He was a great moral teacher. Mormons believe this, and Jehovah’s witnesses believe this, and so do Buddhists and Muslims.
This is also what the Pharisees of Jesus’ time were willing to believe. What they would not believe — and what they killed Him for — was His claim to be the very Son of God, that He was, indeed, God in the flesh, living among mankind as the promised Messiah, the one who would redeem mankind from the penalty for its sins.
But this is exactly what John says here constitutes saving faith.
When he says here that Jesus is the One who came by water and blood, John is referring to the beginning and the end of Christ’s ministry here on earth, His baptism and His crucifixion.
And remember that when he refers to Him as “Jesus Christ,” John is using a name and a title.
Jesus is the English rendering of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means “Yahweh our savior,” and this name reminds us that none of us can save ourselves from the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion against God, for our sins.
Only God could bridge the gap created between Himself and us by our sins, and He bridged that gap with the cross, where He Himself took on the sins of mankind and paid the just penalty for them in the person of His Son.
On the other hand, “Christ” is the English rendering of a Hebrew word that means “anointed one,” and it refers to the one whom God has anointed to be King of kings and Lord of lords.
So, He who had been anointed by God to be King of kings and Lord of lords came with healing in His wings to bring salvation to mankind.
And we can believe in His power to do just that, John says here, because of three witnesses: the Spirt and the water and the blood.
Now, the laws of the Hebrew people in the Old Testament said that a matter could not be settled in court based on the testimony of just one witness, so it would not have been proper for the people to accept Jesus simply at His word that He was the Son of God.
In fact, He told them that the Old Testament Scriptures themselves testified about Him, and that His miracles testified about Him, and that God Himself had testified about Him.
And here, John appeals to God’s testimony and the testimony of Scripture when He speaks of the water and the blood. At the time of Jesus’ baptism, you might remember that God spoke from the heavens and said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” That’s the testimony of the water.
And John’s reference to the testimony of the blood takes us all the way back to the Book of Exodus, when the death angel came over Egypt and killed all the firstborn of the land, except for those in the homes of the Jews who had spread the blood of spotless lambs upon their doorposts and lintels.
This reference also reminds us of the blood of sacrificial lambs spread on the altar on the Day of Atonement each year, when the sins of the nation would be covered over by the sacrifice of innocent animals.
This atoning sacrifice is what Jesus gave Himself to be when He died on the cross at Calvary. And when He raised Jesus from the dead, God effectively said that He had accepted the sacrifice as full payment for the sins of those who would follow Him in faith.
Thus, the testimony of both the water and the blood spoke to the truth of who Jesus is and what He had done to save mankind from its sins.
But these believers to whom John was writing had a further testimony, and that was the same testimony we believers have today — that of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, who lives within us from the moment that we first believed.
This is the testimony of God Himself through the third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
All who believe in the Son of God, John says in verse 10, have this testimony within themselves as we allow the Spirit to build up our faith.
And those who do not believe in Jesus Christ — that He is who He said He is and will do what He said He will do — make God a liar, because He is personally testifying through the Holy Spirit about Jesus.
So, what is it that God testifies to?
That He has given those who believe in Jesus eternal life, and that eternal life is in His son.
Now, I want you to understand something about eternal life as it is portrayed in Scripture.
We often think of eternal life as meaning that we will exist forever. But that is a gift that God gives everyone, whether they believe in Jesus or not.
It breaks my heart that so many lost people go about their lives as if this mortal existence is all there is. The Bible is clear that the souls of all who have lived will be raised from the dead one day, and all will stand before God.
Those who have rejected Jesus will, sadly, have no more opportunity at that time to confess Him as Savior and Lord. Their souls will be cast into hell, where they will suffer eternal torment and eternal separation from God.
Having chosen in life to live as if there is no God, they will live in eternal punishment without Him.
But those who have followed Jesus in faith will be given glorified bodies like unto His own, and they will live with Him and with the Father through eternity.
So both the saved and the lost will exist eternally, and, therefore, the promise of eternal life must mean something more.
In fact, what it refers to has as much to do with the quality of that life as it does the length of it.
This is the life that you were created to have. This is the walking-with-God life of Enoch in the Old Testament, the one who walked with God, and then he was not, because God took Him.
This eternal life is a gift; it’s not something we can earn or that we deserve. It is a gift of God’s grace that is received by faith in Jesus Christ, by having the right kind of belief in the right kind of thing.
And it is a gift that God has already given you if you have followed Jesus in faith.
Too many of us Christians live as if this is an unfulfilled promise. I want to encourage you today to live in the knowledge that this is a promise God has already kept if you have a saving relationship with His Son.
Many of you have been praying for a close family friend of ours lately, a woman named Arden, who learned in January that she had Stage IV cancer.
I am sorry to tell you today that she died on Friday. But I want to tell you a little about her, because I’ve never met someone before who lived the reality of eternal life in the present quite as well as she did.
Friends of Arden’s set up a “Prayers for Arden” Facebook page a while back, and lately that page has been filled with memories of people’s time with her.
Dozens and dozens of posts in the past couple of weeks have spoken of how well Arden loved others, of how she encouraged people in times of trouble, of how she sacrificed so that others could experience the love of Christ through her.
I told our daughter, Desiree, who was very close to Arden and to whom Arden desperately witnessed about Jesus even up until her last days, that all that love poured out to Arden could only have been the result of Arden pouring out love to all those people in the past.
Arden was a woman who truly loved the Lord, and it was evident because of how truly and sacrificially she loved others.
I can think of few other people I have known who passed these tests of fellowship with God in such a beautiful manner.
And I am convicted today as I wonder whether those are the sorts of memories people will have of me one day. Will they remember me as someone who demonstrated his love for God by sacrificially loving others, by obeying His command to do so?
How will people remember you? Will they remember you as someone who SAID they loved God? Or will they remember you as someone who demonstrated that love by loving one another?
Will they be able to say that you were living your eternal life even here on earth? Or will they say that you were waiting for heaven to experience the joy of walking in genuine, deep fellowship with God?
John wrote this particular passage of this letter so that we believers might know that we have eternal life, even this very day.
Do you know it? Do you experience it?
I’m here to tell you that you can, and I’m here to tell you that I have seen the impact that one person can have if they have that kind of assurance and that kind of obedience, and that kind of belief, and that kind of love.
Be like Arden.
If you bear the name of Christ, BE like Christ. If you can’t, then maybe you should change your name.