Spirit, Water, Blood (1 John 5:6-12)


 
When a juror hears evidence in a trial, he asks two questions: (1) what is being said and (2) who is saying it. Yesterday, we looked at the content of the testimony presented in 1 John 5:6-12, which I summarized as God’s life through God’s Son. Today, let’s look at the character of the witnesses.
 
Verses 6b-10 provide the relevant information:
 
And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.
 
According to these verses, there are three (possibly four) witnesses to the fact that God’s life comes through God’s Son: Spirit, water, blood, and (possibly) God himself. (It is unclear whether God’s testimony is identical to that of Spirit, water, and blood, or distinct from it.) We know what these words mean, of course—who doesn’t know what the words blood, water, and Spirit mean?—but in the context of this passage, what do they refer to?
 
The Spirit obviously refers to the Holy Spirit. Both here and in John 15:26, a basic function of the Holy Spirit is to “testify” to Jesus. At the baptism of Jesus, the Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove, and a voice from heaven declared, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).
 
What does the water refer to? In his commentary on 1 John, Colin G. Kruse points out that in Greek, the phrase “by water” (verse 6) is the same as “with water” in John’s Gospel (John 1:26, 31, 33). In the Gospel, “with water” described the mode of John’s baptism. Since we know that Jesus also baptized converts (John 4:1-2), it does not require a huge stretch of imagination to assume that “by water” describes the mode of Jesus’ baptism. Perhaps, then, “by water” means that Jesus’ earthly ministry testifies to the fact that we have eternal life through him.
 
It is generally agreed that the blood refers to Jesus’ death. It is, of course, Jesus’ death that gives us eternal life by providing an “atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2, 4:10). Calvary, then, also testifies to the fact that we have eternal life in the Son.
 
Now we are in a position to better understand the meaning of 1 John 5:6-12. John is essentially saying that the publicly available facts of Jesus’ ministry—his experience of the Holy Spirit, his baptizing ministry, and his death on the cross—all testify to the truth that God’s life comes to us through God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
 

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God’s Life through God’s Son (1 John 5:6-12)


 
Sometimes, the Bible is hard to understand. Reading First John 5:6-12 is one of those times. So, over the next two days, I’ll try to make it a bit easier to understand.
 
Here’s what John writes:
 
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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.
 
In order to understand this passage, it’s important to remember the context in which John is writing. According to 1 John 2:19, several people had seceded from John’s churches. Furthermore, according to 2:22-23 and 4:2-3, these secessionists denied cardinal truths about Jesus. Finally, according to 2:26, they attempted to deceive the orthodox Christians who remained in John’s churches. John wrote 5:6-12 in order to provide evidence to the orthodox Christians that their beliefs were true and those of the secessionists false.
 
I have served on a jury three times in my life, one civil case and two criminal cases. A juror has two basic responsibilities: to hear evidence and to render a verdict based on the evidence. As a juror, I asked myself two basic questions whenever I heard a witness being examined: (1) What is the character of the witness? Is he credible? And (2) What is the content of his testimony? As I read 1 John 5:6-12, I found it helpful to keep these two questions in mind.
 
In my opinion, the easier of these two questions to answer is the second one regarding the content of the testimony. Why? Because John explicitly states the answer: “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” If I had to summarize the content of this testimony, I’d use these fives words: God’s life through God’s Son.
 
Now, if I read 1 John correctly, the secessionists denied the truth of this testimony. They believed in God, and it seems they believed in the possibility of our eternal life. What they denied was that Jesus Christ was the connection between the two. John offered testimony to refute them, but are his witnesses credible? We’ll find out tomorrow.
 
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The Church You’ve Always Wanted (Acts 2:42-47)


tcyaw_web_lg.JPGWhy is it that so many people are interested in Jesus Christ but ambivalent about the Christian church? Perhaps it is because the church too often fails to be the kind of community Jesus Christ designed it to be, a community which appeals to the deepest longings of the human heart. In my just completed sermon series, The Church You’ve Always Wanted, I outline eight characteristics of the Christ-designed community that are found in Acts 2:42-47:

Faith, Love, and Hope (1 John 5:1-5)


 
The Christian life is a life of faith, hope, and love.
 
First John 5:1-5 shows how these theological virtues play out in the everyday life of the Christian:
 
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
 
John begins with the virtue of faith, which is where the Christian life itself begins, for without faith a person cannot even become a Christian. Faith consists of three elements: belief that, belief in, and belief through. Faith is first of all belief that certain statements about God and the world are objectively true. We must, for example, believe that God exists and created the world. But faith is more than theological knowledge, it is personal knowledge. We believe in God, that is, we trust him implicitly because he is our Creator and Savior. Finally, faith is belief through. It is not a one-time thing. It is a stubborn trust in God that hangs on to him and his promises even through (and especially in!) troubled times.
 
According to John, faith in God produces love. By faith, he says, we are “born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” The connection between faith and love, between belief and behavior, is one of John’s overarching themes in this letter. The Christian life is not an either-or proposition: either faith or love. It is a both-and proposition: both faith and love. It includes the head (belief that), the heart (belief in), and the hands (how we behave). Fundamentalist Christians sometimes make the mistake of overemphasizing belief to the exclusion of good works. Liberal Christians sometimes make the opposite error of overemphasizing good works at the expense of truth. Evangelical Christians—people who are formed by the gospel (in Latin, evangel)—hew closely to the biblical formula of “faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
 
Finally, John addresses the issue of hope. We do not live in a world that has been shaped by the gospel. Our world does not believe the truth about God, nor is it characterized by love of God, neighbor, self, and enemy (Matthew 22:37-40, 5:43-48). Indeed, the world stands in determined opposition to the gospel. Rather than being dismayed by this reality, John is filled with hope of a day when we experience “the victory that has overcome the world.” And what is that victory? Faith itself. But remember, faith never stands alone. Love is always the outward manifestation of faith, the evidence of its authenticity. Christians who are formed by the gospel in faith and love are also hopeful, optimistic people, because we know that ultimately, God himself will overcome the world and cover the distance between what is and what should be.
 
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Microscopic Philanthropy (1 John 4:19-21)


 
Love begins at home, or it never begins at all.
 
In the fourth chapter of Bleak House, Charles Dickens narrates the arrival of Esther Summerson at the home of Mrs. Jellyby. Although her house is ramshackle and her children clothed in tattered garments, Mrs. Jellyby’s best time and efforts are spent organizing help for “the natives of Borrioboola-Gha, on the left bank of the Niger.” Mrs. Jellyby is a fine example of what Dickens calls “Telescopic Philanthropy,” charity for strangers far away combined with neglect of people near and dear.
 
First John 4:19-21 offers a different model of charity, what I would call “microscopic philanthropy,” the love of nearest and dearest first.
 
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
 
When John used the word brother, he was not referring primarily to one’s biological sibling. Rather, he was referring to one’s spiritual kin. Brother and sister were the terms early Christians used to refer to one another. This usage reinforced the unity and equality of Christians with one another. They were all siblings in the same divine family. They never called anyone “father” because God alone was their “Father in heaven.”
 
By describing the church as a family, the early Christians expanded the scope of love beyond kith and kin. Anyone could become a brother or sister, regardless of their sex, race, ethnicity, or class. Grace excluded no one from God’s family. Faith included (potentially) everyone.
 
In that sense, the early church universalized the concept of love. Love was not merely owed to one’s family, clan, tribe, and nation, it was owed to everyone. But the early church avoided Mrs. Jellyby’s “telescopic philanthropy” by insisting that we love everyone within our direct line of sight. “Anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
 
Love begins at home, or it never begins at all.
 
Unfortunately, our world is filled with people like Mrs. Jellyby. Paul Johnson’s description of intellectuals could describe them. “Almost all intellectuals profess to love humanity and to be working for its improvement and happiness. But it is the idea of humanity they love, rather than the actual individuals who compose it. They love humanity in general rather than men and women in particular.”
 
To love truly and christianly means paying attention to that annoying, old, hymn-singing curmudgeon who sits in the pew in front of you on Sunday mornings. It means accepting the immodestly dressed, gum-chewing, iPod-listening teenage girl who attends your youth group. It means providing for the drug-addicted, chronically homeless young family whose lives are lived uncertainly from meal to meal. We love humanity in general by loving particular humans.
 
And as we love those near and dear, God expands our vision so that we can love those far away as well.
 
 
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Grounds for Assurance, Part 2 (1 John 4:16b-18)


 
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According to 1 John 4:13-18, the subjective experience of the Holy Spirit, the objective truth about the Savior, and our effective action in the world are three grounds for assurance of salvation.
 
In a previous Daily Word, I discussed subjective experience and objective truth. Today, I want to take a close look at 1 John 4:16b-18 and discuss effective action in the world.
 
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
 
The first statement John makes in this passage is also the most important one: “God is love.” From what I wrote previously, you might have formed the impression that subjective experience, objective truth, and effective action are equally fundamental. They aren’t. In reality, the objective truth about God is the foundation of the foundations, the ground of the grounds. The only reason we have a subjective experience of the Holy Spirit or take effective action in the world is because of the objective truth that God is love and expresses love to us through his Son Jesus Christ.
 
In other words, the logical order of the grounds for assurance is truth, experience, and action. God expresses his love for us through Jesus Christ (1 John 4:9). When we believe in Jesus Christ, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). And love—the characteristic form of effective Christian action—is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22). Loving action, in other words, is the logical result of God’s initiative-taking love for sinners. It cannot be separated from faith in Jesus Christ or the experience of the Holy Spirit.
 
So, when John writes, “Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him,” he is not referring to a Christ-less, Spirit-less love. Love, in and of itself, is not a ground for assurance of salvation. It is only a ground for assurance if belief in the objective truth about the Savior and the subjective experience of the Spirit are also present. As Christians, we do not believe that nonbelievers have grounds for assurance of salvation, no matter how good or loving they may be. We do not believe that a person can be saved by works, after all (Romans 3:20). Instead, we urge everyone to believe in Jesus Christ and receive the gift of the Spirit (Acts 2:38).
 
When we love in a Christ-centered, Spirit-filled way, “[God’s] love is made complete among us.” Such love assures us that on the Day of Judgment we will have nothing to fear, for “fear has to do with punishment.” But if God’s love for us results in God’s love through us to others, we can have assurance that we will be welcomed into eternal life in his presence.

Grounds for Assurance, Part 1 (1 John 4:13-16a)


 
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How do we know that we are truly Christian?
 
One of the most haunting passages I have ever read in the Bible is Matthew 7:21-23:
 
[Jesus said:] “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
 
The reason this passage haunts me is because I sometimes wonder if I’m the guy saying, “Lord, Lord.” I’ve been in church a long time, delivered a lot of sermons, prayed a lot of prayers, and led a lot of small groups. But if even prophets and miracle workers don’t necessarily make the final cut on judgment day, how can I know that I will?
 
First John 4:13-18 offers believers three grounds for assurance of salvation: the experience of the Spirit, the truth about the Savior, and loving action in the world. In this Daily Word, we’ll look briefly at the Spirit and the Savior; in the next one, we’ll look at loving action. For now, let’s focus on verses 13-16a:
 
We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
 
In these verses, the experience of the Spirit is the first ground of assurance for the believer. John writes, “[God] has given us of his Spirit.” What does this refer to? It refers, first of all, to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. According to Galatians 4:6, it is the Spirit who helps us call out to God “Abba, Father”—and more importantly, to mean it. Second, it refers to the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Galatians 5:22-23 outline nine virtues that only the Spirit can produce in our hearts, virtues that lead to positive actions. Finally, it refers to the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 12:7-11 lists the gifts in all their variety. When the believer experiences the Spirit in these ways, he or she can begin to have assurance of salvation.
 
The second ground of assurance is the truth about the Savior. For John, the truth is that “the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.” When a person believes this truth, he or she can be assured that “God lives in him and he in God.” The objectivity of belief is an important counterpart to the subjectivity of experience. Our feelings as Christians are (and must be) grounded in the truth of what God has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ.
 
In the next Daily Word, we will talk about how subjective experience combines with objective truth to produce effective action in the world, for such action is also grounds for assurance of salvation.

Love, Life, and Death (1 John 4:9-10)


 
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How do we know that God loves us?
 
First John 4:9-10 answers that question by teaching us that God’s love is public, personal, proactive, and propitiatory.
 
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
 
First, God’s love is public. It is something he “showed” us. It is not merely a theological idea or spiritual feeling, it is an historical event—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the ancient world, few people believed that God (or the gods) loved them. At best, ancient people believed that God (or the gods) might take care of them if they offered appropriate sacrifices. But in the New Testament, God publicly proves his love for us by offering a sacrifice for us. Indeed, in a real sense, he offers himself as the sacrifice for us.
 
That brings us to the second point: God’s love is personal. John writes that “[God] sent his one and only Son into the world” to be “an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” Now, at one level, this sounds like a pretty lousy thing for God to do, like he’s an old man sending his young son off to war to fight his battles for him. But in Christian theology, while the Father and Son are distinct persons, they are one in essence. This is the heart of the mystery of the Trinity: One God exists eternally as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. This is not the time to swim in the very deep waters of Trinitarian theology. Rather, the point I want to make is that the Father and Son are so unified in Christian theology, that for the Father to send the Son was a personal sacrifice. That personal sacrifice demonstrates the depths of God’s love for us.
 
Third, God’s love is proactive. “This is love,” John writes: “not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” Indeed, according to Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God didn’t wait for us to turn to him so that he could love us; he loved us so that we could turn to him.
 
Finally, God’s love is propitiatory. Theologians distinguish between expiation and propitiation. Roughly speaking, the distinction is this: Expiation changes us, propitiation changes God. Expiation cancels out the guilt of our sin; propitiation cancels out the anger of God at our sin. Let me suggest a simplistic analogy for understanding this distinction. If you drive recklessly, slam your car into your neighbor’s parked car and total it, your neighbor is going to be justifiably angry with you. A check to your neighbor from your insurance company is expiation; it pays what you owe. Becoming friendly with your neighbor again—getting him to stop looking at you like an idiot—is propitiation. John teaches us that Jesus’ death on the cross is an “atoning sacrifice.” It both cancels our guilt and guarantees God’s love for us.
 
Ultimately, then, we know God loves us because his Son made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

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