In this short passage John looks at the nature of faith and how it evidences itself in the Christian life. We might title this passage, Faith's Victory - "this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith." John starts out looking at faith in Christ and its fruit of love. He then considers how love applies to our relationship with God - we seek to do his will. He then returns to the apostolic nature of faith as the instrument by which the rule of God inserts itself into our age.
v1. John again repeats a point he has made a number of times. The person who "is born of God", the person who is a child of God, who is saved, is someone who "believes that Jesus is the Christ". Christianity is constantly invaded by secular god-like images and so the god we often worship is not the God of the Bible. Salvation is dependent on a faith which rests on a right understanding of the person and work of Christ. That is, it is a creedal faith, an apostolic faith. John then goes on to link believing with "love". He has already done this several times. A genuine faith in Christ issues in a life of love - love is the fruit of faith.
v2. John now develops the principle that a person who loves the parent loves the child. John has made the point a number of times that a believer who loves God will love their brothers and sisters in the Lord. Such confirms their relationship with God. A person who loves God is a person who does what God commands. His command is that we believe in Jesus Christ, and bear the fruit of this faith, namely, the fruit of love, brotherly love.
v3. In the clearest of terms, John defines how God's love, evident in our life, is expressed. Love is expressed in the keeping of God's commandments. John adds that the keeping of God's commands is not "burdensome"; God's commands are not there to spoil our fun. It is only natural to imagine that John has in mind something like the ten commandments, but he has already defined the substance of God's commands, "that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another", 3:23.
v4. John probably has in mind the command to "love one another" when he says that the command is not "burdensome". It is not burdensome because a believer conquers the world through "the faith." This is actually the first time that John has used the noun "faith". The victory is not won through our capacity to have a strong inner conviction; the victory is won because we rely on a particular truth. The victory comes through what we believe, not how we believe. So, it is "the faith", the truth upon which we rely, namely, the faithfulness of Christ. Christ has overcome the power of this world, he has overcome the power of sin and death, and in so doing he has released us from its grip.
v5. And to whom does this victory come? It comes to those who believe on Jesus as he is revealed in the scriptures; it comes to those who rely on Christ, the Son of God.
In this letter John pens the words, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." He writes that we may be sure of our standing in Christ. In our passage for study John gives us a test for genuine faith. He tells us the nature of a true faith and the effects of such a faith.
A person who loves God, that is, a person who obeys God, is a person who believes in Jesus. John explains that what matters is not so much belief itself, but what we believe in. The person who is "born of God" "believes that Jesus is the Christ." John identifies a range of truths about Christ: his deity, 1:1-3; his power to cleanse from sin, 1:7; his power to save from the wrath of God, 2:2; his demonstration of God's love in his sacrificial death, 4:9-10; his gift of eternal life, by grace through faith, 5:11-12. Saving faith entails a reliance on the truth of Jesus' person and work.
Genuine faith demonstrates itself in the life of a believer in two particular ways.
i] Love. An orientation toward charity, that is, an orientation toward mercy, compassion, forgiveness.... This love for one another is a love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.
ii] Victory. Everyone who is born of God overcomes the world.
So there we have it, we can rest confidently in our salvation because, as Howard Marshal put it, our faith "rests foursquare on the fact that Jesus Christ has defeated death, and anybody who can defeat death can defeat anything."
1. How does our faith serve as an evidence that we are a child of God?
2. What does John mean by the idea that our faith achieves the victory that overcomes the world?