As we enter the fifth and final chapter in our study of 1 John, we find that the Apostle John wishes to conclude this letter by encouraging and building up the assurance of faith of his readers, “those who believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). And so, we are encouraged in our faith in Christ and the assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:6-13), to pray to the Lord with confidence (1 John 5:14-17), and to worship our God rightly (1 John 5:18-21).
That’s where we’re headed in this final chapter, but in the opening verses of this chapter, John teaches us something about the ordo salutis (the order of salvation) – that is, the order of the events of redemption of the individual believer. At this point, you may be asking, “How in the world does understanding this seemingly esoteric doctrine of ‘the order of salvation’ give assurance to the believer?” Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s how.
If you recall, we’ve found that in this letter, John provides us with basically three tests that we may apply to ourselves – three essential and necessary marks of the person who walks in the light – who is born of God: (1) Right Doctrine: what you believe – particularly, what you believe about Jesus Christ, the Son of God; (2) Right Morality: how you live – particularly how you live according to God’s commandments; and (3) Right Relationships – who and how you love – particularly how you love God’s people, His children, other Christians.
And now, in the opening verses of 1 John, chapter 5, we see all three of these elements – or tests – of the Christian faith tied together and intertwined. More so, than in any other part of John’s letter, in these verses, we see how these three: faith, love, and morality are inextricably linked. In these first five verses of chapter 5, the Apostle John talks about these three things in terms of faith (or belief), love, and obedience.
The Priority of the New-birth
We’ll get to those in just a moment, but first we need to understand – as John teaches us in verse 1 of this chapter – the priority of the new-birth. Consider the very brief, but important, statement at the beginning of this chapter:
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God,
The key to interpreting this statement is to understand the tenses of the two main verbs in this short sentence: “believe” and “born.” Now, normally, getting into the nitty-gritty details of verb tenses is not essential to understanding the meaning of a verse, but in this case it’s very helpful. The verb “believe” is in the present-tense. It’s happening right now – “Whoever believes (right now, presently) that Jesus is the Christ.”
The verb “born” is actually in the perfect-tense. Perfect-tense means that it is a completed action in the past with results that continue into the present. Some translations do a better job of conveying these tenses, but literally the verse could be translated – “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
If you never did well in grammar, think about it this way. If someone “is born of” something – by necessity – it had to happen in the past. If I said, “I am born of my father” you wouldn’t be confused and think, “Now does he mean he was born of his father in the past, or he is presently being born of his father?” It’s just common sense. If I am born of my father, that means that it happened in the past.
The New-birth Begets Faith
So, why is it important to understand the tenses of the two verbs in this statement? Here’s why: It teaches us that the new-birth precedes faith. Faith (believing that Jesus is the Christ) does not come before being born again. Some people think that they were born again because they believed; however, this passage (along with other Scriptures, e.g., John 1:12-13) teach that we believe because God has already caused us to be born again! God must first work in our hearts, or we will never believe and trust in Him. That’s foundational to understanding the rest of our passage – “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.”
Faith Begets Love
1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him.
In the first half of verse 1, we learn that the new-birth (God’s causing us to be born again) begets faith; in the second half of verse 1, we learn that faith begets love. Specifically, if you love God the Father, then you will love those who are born of Him, those of the household of faith, other believers.
This is a reminder that love for God and love for His people are so bound up with one another, that you cannot have one without the other. We’ve seen this already in this letter. Here are a couple of examples:
(1 John 3:10) 10 By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.
(1 John 3:17) 7 But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?
(1 John 4:20-21) 20 If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. 21 And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.
Love Begets Obedience
Look at all we’ve learned in just this first verse of chapter 5! We’ve learned of the priority of the new-birth (being born of God), that the new-birth begets faith. Then, we learned of how faith in Christ begets love (love for God and love for His people). Now, in verses 2-3, we learn that love begets obedience; in fact, love and obedience are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.
2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.
3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.
Notice in verse 2 how the two different loves, as well as obedience are intertwined: love for the children of God, love for God, and observing – or doing – His commandments. And, in verse 3, John equates love for God with obedience.
This is nothing more than a restatement, or elaboration, on the specific teaching of Jesus regarding the relationship between love and the Law of God. When a lawyer asked Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the Law,” Jesus responded (Matthew 22:37-40):
37 And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ 38 “This is the great and foremost commandment. 39 “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ 40 “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”
You see, to love God is to keep His commandments. And, to keep God’s commandments is to love Him. Do you want to know how to obey God’s commandments, then love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. Do you want to know how to love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself, then obey His commandments.
Instead of thinking of the Ten Commandments as a set of Laws that we’re unable to keep, Christians ought to think of the Ten Commandments as ways to love God and love our neighbor. This is precisely John’s point in 1 John 5. Those who have experienced the new-birth and been born of God must learn to think of the Law of God and Love not as opposites, but as one and the same thing. For His commandments are not burdensome!
The Victory of Faith: Overcoming the World
4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.
5 Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
In these verses, as well, we see the priority of the new-birth. Those who overcome the world are victorious because of the gift of faith; and this gift of faith is a result of being born of God.
But, what does it mean that those who are born of God and believe that Jesus is the Son of God “overcome the world”? John uses that phrase twice, once each in verses 4 and 5, so it’s probably important. Well, thankfully, in this very same letter, the Apostle John gives us a definition of the world and what it means that our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ gives us the victory. Consider the definition of “the world” that we learned back in chapter two (1 John 2:16):
16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
Here we have three descriptors of “the world.” The first descriptor is “the lust of the flesh.” The lust of the flesh is the desire of our fallen and sinful nature. The lust of the flesh is the sinful nature that we have inherited from Adam. But, your faith in Jesus Christ is the victory over this “lust of the flesh.” For those who have experienced the new-birth and received faith, you were born of devil, but now you are born of God. “Though you were a slave to sin, you became obedient from the heart to believe that Jesus is the Christ. Having been freed from sin, you became a slave to righteousness” (Romans 6:17-18). By faith, you have victory over the lust of the flesh.
The second descriptor of “the world” is “the lust of the eyes.” The “lust of the eyes” are the temptations and assaults that come from without – through the eyes. Faith not only gives you the victory over your own lusts of the flesh from within, faith also gives you the victory over attacks from without. God’s promise to those who are born of Him and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ is this: “He is faithful, and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation, He will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
The last descriptor of “the world” is “the boastful pride (or arrogance) of life.” The boastful pride of life are those things in this world – what you have and what you do – in which you take pride. The one who is not born of God clings to all manner of worldly trappings: money, possessions, prestige, personal success, what-have-you. But faith is the victory to overcome the boastful pride of life. The overcoming man or woman of faith knows that he can let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also…because you have what no man or woman could ever earn or achieve: eternal life in God!
The principalities and powers of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life – will wage war against the Lamb of God and those who are His. But we have this promise: “whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith.”
The new-birth begets a faith that overcomes the world – a faith that enables you and me to love God and His people and obey His commandments