Life in the Light (God is Light - Part 5)
Scripture: 1 John 5:6–5:21
Life in the Light (1 John 5:6-21)
There are several things that really stood out to me during my first summer in Abu Dhabi. First was the intense heat and humidity. I thought, “It’s hotter than a sauna out here!” Second, was the way anything class would immediately fog up when I stepped outside. That really caught me by surprise the first time! Third, was the blindingly bright intense sunlight. I tried to go out without sunglasses and could not even keep my eyes open!
If we take that experience of light that is so intense that there are no shadows and you can’t keep your eyes open, I think we get just a glimmer of John meant when he said God is light and in him is no darkness at all.
Today we have come to the last part of our series on the first letter of John. In the very first chapter, John began by bearing witness to what he and the other disciples had seen and heard and therefore known. Namely, that Jesus, God the Son, became flesh and revealed himself to them. According to John, the core of what they came to know through Jesus is that even though God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.
One way to understand the light with no darkness is to think in terms of purity and blinding intensity. God’s righteousness is so pure and intense that sin is burned up in his presence. God’s love and justice are so pure and intense that He sacrificed Himself to fulfill His law and give eternal life to his enemies. That is the light we are called to conduct our lives in.
The practical application of this core truth that John expounded in this letter is that it simply is not possible to live in the light and continue to walk in darkness. That is, if you know the pure, brilliant love of God, you cannot continue to hate your brothers, neighbors, or even your enemies. In fact, if you really know God’s self-sacrificial love, you will sacrificially love even your enemies. If you know the holy righteousness of God, you cannot continue in sin. If you live in fellowship with God, you cannot continue in fellowship with the world. You will become a foreigner to the whole world.
In the bible, this massive paradigm shift in our lives is called being born of God or born again. One of my favorite passages of scripture in John chapter 3 where Jesus meets Nicodemus and spells out for him the truth about entering the Kingdom of God. Jesus said that no one can even see, much less enter, the kingdom of God without being born again. John picks up this theme again and teaches us in the letter that we cannot walk in the light of God or even have fellowship with Him unless we are born of God.
Doing good, being religious, and mountains of sincerity are useless unless you are born again. Whenever I preach on this truth, the questions I am always asked afterward is this: How do I know for sure that I have been born again?
John gave us a very easy answer to this question in 1 John 5:1
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God..”
If you believe, that is place your trust, in the testimony Jesus is the Christ, that is God made flesh who died for your sin, rose to life again, and who will return to reign, you have been born of God. I always say that the greatest miracle you can witness is when someone believes the gospel and is born again. I say that, not because there isn’t good evidence, but because the gospel is offensive to those who won’t believe.
You see, our faith in the testimony about who Jesus is and what he has done is not blind faith, but faith that is based on historical events reported by reliable witnesses. For this reason, John did not end the letter with chapter 5 verse 1, but went on to assure us that the testimony of eternal life in Jesus is a strong testimony.
The testimony of eternal life Jesus is strong.
Let’s start by reading verses 6-12
6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. 9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I honestly found this to be a very perplexing bit of scripture. My first instinct was to search the bible for parallel references to water and blood in the context of testifying to something. I didn’t find anything that really matched or shed light on what John was talking about. On my wife’s advice, I took a much simpler approach beginning with what is clear from the passage and then working toward the rest.
What is clear here is that the testimony is made strong by witnesses who agree. We have the same way of thinking about evidence today. When something happens that requires the police to investigate, one of the first things they look for are people who saw it happen. The more witnesses who tell the same story, the more sure the police can be about the facts of the incident.
In verse 8, John makes clear that three powerful witnesses agree in their testimony about Jesus. The testimony of eternal life in Jesus is made strong by these witnesses. Now lets see if we can come to some sort of understanding about what John meant by the water, the blood, and the Spirit.
I thought it would be best to look for major historical events in the life of Jesus related to water and blood that bore witness about him. My best explanation then is that the water represents the baptism of Jesus, and the blood represents his death. The Spirit was a bit easier since the primary role of the Holy Spirit is to bear witness about Jesus.
Let me show you why I make these connections. First, the water represents Jesus’ baptism. Let’s look at the amazing scene of Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:16-17:
16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
In this singular event when Jesus was baptized, God the Father, Son, and Spirit were present at once to bear witness to him. The Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Jesus, bearing witness to their perfect fellowship. Then God the Father spoke, bearing witness to Jesus’ Sonship and perfection. In this way, the baptism of Jesus, which John called the water, is a strong witness to the identity of Jesus and the reliability of his claims.
Secondly, the blood represents Jesus’ death which also bore witness to him. If you were here on Friday a few weeks back, you will remember the point pastor Joe made about the extraordinary circumstances of Jesus’ death. The bible tells us that when Jesus gave up his spirit, the curtain to the holy of holies in the temple was torn in two, the earth shook, rocks were split, and many dead prophets came walking out of their tombs to preach the gospel in Jerusalem. The Roman soldier whose job was killing people was in such awe of the way Jesus died that he said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”
I would add that the most powerful aspect of the testimony about Jesus we find in his death is that, though he surely died, he did not stay dead. He came back to life and continued teaching and spending time with his disciples. In this way, the blood is a very strong witness to eternal life in Jesus
Finally, the Spirit always testifies about the truth of Jesus. One of the many examples of the Spirit’s testimony of Jesus is in found on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit came on the disciples and empowered them to proclaim the testimony about Jesus in a lot of languages at once. Beyond that though, is the witness He bears in the hearts of everyone who trusts in Jesus. His testimony to us, in agreement with the water and blood, give us great assurance of the truth about Jesus.
So we have strong witnesses whose testimonies agree. So what is it that they testify to?
Look at verses 11-12:
11 And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Three powerful witnesses of Jesus’ baptism, his death, and the Holy Spirit testify that God has given eternal life to through Jesus. We can be sure that there is no other way, no other savior, and no other place to find life but in Jesus. You can either choose to believe this or to reject it. To believe in Jesus is to have life, to not believe is to call God a liar.
Once we are assured that we can put our faith in the strong testimony about Jesus, John tells us that there are five things we know as a result.
1. You know you have eternal life. (5:13)
13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
The word ‘know’ in these verses is worth paying attention to. It is a different word that what we find in v.1. More importantly, it is used in the perfect tense which emphasizes the continuing result of something that happened already, or a completed action. “The grass has grown tall” is an example of that tense. The grass already grew and the present result is that there is now tall grass.
Therefore, the word ‘know,’ in the context of this scripture, emphasizes that the continuing result of being born of God is that there are certain things you know. Specifically in verse 13, the continuing result of being born of God is that you know you have eternal life.
How does this work? If you believe that Jesus is who he said he is and that he did things the bible tells us he did, then you must also believe all that he taught. Jesus said in John 3:36 that whoever believes in him has eternal life. If you believe Jesus, you know you have eternal life.
2. You know God hears and answers when you pray (5:14-15)
14 And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.
There are some people who take this to mean that God wants will certainly bless them with financial prosperity when they ask Him for it. Worldly wealth cannot be what John had in mind here. Remember what he said in 2:15-16
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.
Wealth is something that the world desires therefore desire for wealth does not come from God. The key phrase in verse 14 is “anything according to his will.” John is speaking in the context of being born of God, having all your desires reshaped and refocused to correspond to God’s desires. If that is what has happened, you can know that God will give you what you ask him for because it will align with what God has planned to do anyway.
John even gave an example in verses 16-17
16 If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.
I have to admit that this is another perplexing bit of scripture. Once again, let’s focus on the part that is easier to understand first. That is, asking God to restore a brother in Christ whom you see is committing sin. The important factor here is that the person you pray for in this case is really a brother or sister in Christ who been misled or simply does not recognize their sinful behavior. Your prayer for that person to be restored and sanctified will be granted because God also desires that person’s sanctification.
Now to the more perplexing part: What sin does not lead to death? There are two clues in this passage. First, sin that does not lead to death is mentioned only in conjunction with a real Christian. Second, the word ‘sin’ in the phrase ‘There is sin that leads to death’ is a singular noun in Greek. My argument then is that there is only one sin that leads to death: Failure to believe in Jesus. Therefore, a real Christian, though he may sin, does not commit sin which leads to death.
In the third thing that we know as a result of being born of God, John clarifies the sin issue further. Let’s read verse 18:
18 We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
3. You know Jesus protects you from the grip of evil (5:18)
There are a couple of reasons I’ve phrased the point this way. First of all, the word evil in this verse is an adjective and a bit ambiguous. I think it can refer both to the evil one, as in Satan, or simply to that which is evil. Secondly, I think ‘touch’ is not a great translation. The original word means to latch on to something. In other words, Jesus protects those who have been born of God from being latched onto by Satan or any evil thing. The result being that if you have been born of God, you surely will not continue in sin because neither sin nor Satan can maintain a grip on you!
This informs our previous problem of sin that does not lead to death for a real Christian. When we are born of God, we do not immediately transform into perfect people, holy in all our ways. Sanctification is a process. Therefore, it is possible that a brother or sister in Christ has been misled about a certain sin by bad teaching, or may not recognize sin because of a lack of knowledge. The sin in this case is real, but it does not lead to death. When that person is confronted with the sin, he is not held captive by it, but is able to overcome it because Jesus protects him from the grip of Satan.
I used to practice Judo which is a martial art with a lot of grappling and holding your opponent down. In a Judo match where I have been pinned down, I move and struggle to find a way of releasing myself from the hold. When you are born of God, Jesus protects you and releases you from sins grip. When you are confronted with sin in your life, perhaps through the prayer and intervention of your brothers and sisters in Christ, get up out of it. Satan does not have the power to hold you down because Jesus has broken his grip.
The fourth thing you know as a result of being born of God is that you are from him and not the world.
4. You know you are from God and not of the world. (5:19)
19 We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
This is one of the points that John keeps coming back to in his letter. The world’s system and values are in direct opposition to God’s reign and God’s values. Therefore, when you are born of God, it will become increasingly obvious that you no longer share the values of the world.
I have a good friend here in Abu Dhabi who was an atheist school teacher, but miraculously put his trust in Jesus. One day we were having a conversation that displayed the conflict that his new, God centered perspective was creating between him, his job, and his colleagues. He told me that since becoming a Christian, he could no longer teach parts of his school’s curriculum because he knew it was wrong. He also told me that people who were previously his friends at work had started avoiding him.
John makes a direct connection between the world system and the power of Satan. If Satan is behind the values and structures of the world, then it only makes sense that being born of God, and becoming aligned with him will cause enmity between us and the world. It becomes obvious that we are not part of that system anymore. Instead we are from God.
Finally, when you are born of God, you know God through Jesus.
5. You know God through Jesus. (5:20-21)
20 And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Little children, keep yourselves from idols.
Things brings us full circle. The testimony that Jesus is the Christ is ultimately God’s testimony of Himself. He entered into His own creation to bear witness to Himself so that we would know Him. All who believe this testimony know the truth because they know the author of truth. Just as John has been saying all along, to know God is to have fellowship with God and to have fellowship with God is to live in the light.
The very last verse of the letter is interesting since it seems to leave us hanging with a tenuously related little command. “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” The more I think about it though, the more relevant I realize it is for the whole letter. The ultimate expression of falsely claiming to be born of God would be to continue clinging to idols. That is, worshipping what is not God. If you know God, it should be impossible for you to value, love, desire, or worship anything in place of God.
God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. You either live in the light or you walk in darkness. The determining factor of where you stand is whether or not you believe the strong testimony that Jesus is the Son of God made flesh. He died for your sin so that you could have eternal life. Whoever does not believe God calls God a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
When you living in the light, you know that you have eternal life, you know that God answers you according to his will, you know that Jesus is protecting you from the grip of sin, you know that you are from God and distinct from the world, and you know God.
When you live in the light, the big questions of life are already answered. You do not live in fear. Sin no longer leads to death, but because you love God you obey and do not live in sin. You do not walk in darkness because God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.