Read 1 John 5:5-12
Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 1 John 5:5
Have you ever considered the idea that you should overcome the world? In just a few verses, John plants the seed that we can move beyond worldly vices and issues. Perhaps that’s an understatement. John conveys the imagery that those who are born of God, those who have been adopted into His family, have overcome the world — past tense. This isn’t up for debate. But what does it mean? I’m glad you asked!
The world in this context is an artifact of our brokenness, our lustful desire for things of this world: money, power, fame, sex, drugs, food, possessions, and all the trappings that go along with these things. When we were reborn in Christ, we gained the power to move beyond all of these worldly desires. As we read in the verses just before the one above, our loyalty has shifted from chasing personal pleasure to a deep joy for loving God. The only barrier we have to leap over is one of belief in Jesus.
Water and Blood
John’s explanation of who Jesus is includes the phrase “water and blood” three times in the next three verses:
6 This 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. 1 John 5:6-8
The strength of John’s apologetic argument here is that three witnesses testify in complete agreement — Jesus is the One who fulfilled the prophecies in water and blood, but what does that mean? And why use this phrase three times?
There are at least two essential facets to discuss. I’ll take the easiest first, then dive into the second.
In Judaism, there is a requirement for two or three witnesses for any trial (see Deuteronomy 19:15). The mere fact that the reference for witnesses is way back in Deuteronomy is important to consider. This wasn’t just a law; this was part of their life for literally hundreds of years. Unlike our self-contained world of internet browsers and secured homes, the people of John’s day lived in community. Each person’s actions were visible, or at least they had a much greater opportunity to be seen by others. John makes the point that there are three who come forward as witnesses. Case closed, in his mind.
The water represents Jesus’ baptism, and the blood points to His crucifixion. These two bookends are vitally important. Historians tell us that John is writing to his congregation to dispel heretics of his day, namely the Gnostics. This group denied the incarnation of Jesus. Incarnation is significant, even if it’s hard to understand! Jesus was both God and human at the same time. The Gnostics maintained that the Spirit descended on Jesus at His baptism, but left Him at Golgatha. From their point of view, Jesus was a man before baptism and upon crucifixion.
The NIV Study Bible notes help explain the importance:
Throughout this letter John has been insisting that Jesus Christ is God as well as man (1:1-4; 4:2, 5:5). He now asserts that is was this God-man Jesus Christ who came into our world, was baptized and dies. Jesus was the Son of God not only at his baptism, but also at his death (v. 6b). This truth is extremely important, because, if Jesus dies only as a man, his sacrificial atonement (2:2, 4:10) would not have been sufficient to take away the guilt of human sin.
I can’t begin to understand the motivation behind the Gnostics point of view except to consider they simply could not believe Jesus was who He claimed. They created a doctrine to support their flawed belief, and many were being drawn to this perspective. As humans, we tend to listen to those we can see and hear before we latch onto faith in that which is unseen. John puts it this way:
We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 1 John 5:9
Before we cross our arms and say, “the Bible said so,” we need to remember that John was an eyewitness to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Those that speak against the incarnation of Jesus and the sufficiency of His sacrifice did not know Jesus the way John knew Him. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, John knew there was something incredibly special about Jesus, but once he had breakfast on the beach (John 21:12, Luke 24:40-43, Acts 10:41), he was radically changed.
John’s Gospel account is very different from Matthew, Mark, and Luke, in many ways he zeroes in on a much shorter timeframe of Jesus’ ministry to help us focus on the significance and the reality of who Jesus really was. When John talks about God’s testimony here, he has no doubt that Jesus was fully God and fully man, the Son of God. This makes me jump back to Job 40 where God finally speaks. Job gets it. How about us?
John summarizes his point rather bluntly:
Whoever 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. 1 John 5:10
There are only two groups of people in the world: those who believe and those who do not. There is no in-between.
The conclusion is amazing:
Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:12
Which side of the line do you stand? How about the person sitting next to you?
Eternal life is not ours to offer or give to anyone — the choice belongs to God, and it is between God and every individual on earth. Those of us who have made the choice to accept Christ have the honor to be His witnesses. We get to lean on the shoulders of John, Paul, Luke, and others. We don’t quote the Bible at a non-believer; rather, we learn from those who have gone before us so we can love people better.