John has encouraged his reader to renounce sin, be obedient, reject worldliness, love one another, and now he encourages them to hold firm to their faith in Jesus. A faith that is focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ is a faith that overcomes the world. Such a faith focuses on the testimony of the Father, a testimony objectively revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ and subjectively confirmed by the indwelling Spirit. "All who accept the testimony of the [Father] concerning his Son have eternal life, while those who do not accept it do not have eternal life", Colin Kruse.
v4a-5. Moving on from the subject of love, John now tackles the subject of faith. Saving faith entails a firm reliance on the truth that Jesus is the messiah, the divine man sent to save the world from sin and death. John tells us that such a faith, such a firm belief, overcomes the world. The world of sin and death is conquered by faith in Jesus Christ.
v6-8. The focus of faith is Jesus Christ, "the one who come by water and blood." This is a rather strange image, one obviously known to John's readers, but a bit of a mystery for us. It seems likely that the image refers to the person and work of Jesus, his life and teachings. Jesus' ministry begins at his baptism when he is endowed with the Spirit, and ends, here on earth, with his death and resurrection - water and blood. Along with this testimony, or witness, of Jesus' life, we have the testimony of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit confirms to our spirit the truth of Jesus' person and work. So, the truth is revealed to us subjectively and objectively. We have the witness of the Spirit in our own hearts, and the signs of Jesus' baptism and atoning sacrifice - they all witness to the same truth.
v9. The source of this testimony, this witness, this revelation, is God the Father; it is he who witness to the Son in "the water and the blood" through "the Spirit." We give weight to the words of predominant Bible teachers, and so if we willingly view their words as significant, then surely the testimony of God should be viewed as even more significant.
v10-12. Broken humanity has had but one hope, to find life in all its fullness - eternal life. Believers, that is those who believe in Jesus Christ, have found this life. They are the ones who have accepted God's testimony about Jesus, they have appropriated it in themselves, believed it, and as a consequence, have found life eternal. Those, on the other hand, who have rejected God's testimony concerning Jesus, make God out to be a liar and inevitably lose out on life. This then is the nub of the matter, the person who has a genuine relationship with the Son has life; the person who does not have a genuine relationship with the Son does not have life.
I'm sure you noticed from our passage for study that the subject before us is faith. I mean by the word faith, a trust, or reliance on something, a dependence on something. We put our trust in things, people, organizations and the like, every moment of the day. Sometimes our trust is misplaced; other times we are joyfully rewarded.
Many years ago I purchased a kit home to use as a holiday cottage. That was an experience of misplaced trust in itself in that they told me that it was all cut to size and all I had to do was put it together. Some pieces were indeed cut out, although they were usually wrong. Anyway, when I came to putting in the bathroom floor, they had supplied compressed cement sheeting, of course, not cut out. I didn't have a clue how to cut it out and so I drove an hour to the nearest hardware store and they supplied me with a special hand saw for the job. It took me an hour to cut an inch, by which time the saw was blunt - a well remembered example of misplaced trust!
Eternal life is somewhat more significant than fitting a bathroom floor, but realizing the promise of eternal life, the fullness of divine life, is just as fraught. As the promise of my special compressed cement sheeting saw rested on misplaced trust, so the promise of eternal life can founder just as easily on misplaced trust. Take for example Islam, the most populous religion in the world, it promises heavenly life to the faithful, but as Jesus reminds us: "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me."
When I retired from full-time ministry I became a paid funeral celebrant for a number of years. The way people said farewell to their loved ones had changed; they wanted to celebrate life rather than mourn loss. Yet, even with little religious background, most people wanted a touch of the spiritual - the Lord's Prayer and the twenty third Psalm. People would regularly say how the deceased person would now be in heaven with the rest of the family, enjoying their fishing, or whatever. It was not my job to tell them otherwise, and in any case, the status of a person's relationship with God is God's business, not ours. Still, this idea that a vague belief in God saves is less than helpful; It can be rightly classified as misplaced trust.
In his letter, John reminds his readers that faith in God, by itself, is not saving faith. Saving faith, a faith that generates eternal life, is a faith in the Son of God, the anointed messiah whose mission in life was to save broken humanity. Faith in his saving mission, from the time of his baptism by John the Baptism all the way through to his death and resurrection, is what saves. By putting our trust in Christ's saving work for us, we are saved and so share in the fullness of eternal life.
So there it is! A vague belief in God through to a totally committed belief in the prophet Mohammed is a faith misplaced when it comes to the hope of eternal life. Life is found in Christ alone.
1. What does the word "faith" mean?
2. In the quest for life eternal, discuss the many dead-end pathways. What do you say to the Hindu belief that all rivers lead to the sea?
3. Explain saving faith.