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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