1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. 4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?1 John 5:1-5
Our study of 1 John is winding to a close; we are in the last chapter! I am thankful for the opportunity to look deeply at John’s heart for those he wrote to and God’s heart for us who read these words today. What good news it is that Jesus has provided for us to partake of His Life, Light, and Love and get to share it with others wherever He plants us!
As I mentioned last week, I am amazed at how God’s Word shows Itself to be eternal and prophetic by how what He wrote so long ago fitting perfectly with what we experience today. And, like the loving Father He is, God provides what we need in the midst of our experiences – before we need them, in the midst of our trials, and eternally as His children!
Today’s passage looks at some beliefs about God and how they are supposed to affect our lives. I would like to urge you to pause here and ask God that this be a time where you can look at your beliefs and make sure they line up with God’s Word. I pray the same thing for you as I do myself when reading the Word: if there be any beliefs out of sync with the Word God, He will grant repentance and correct them.
Jesus is the Messiah (v. 1)
One of the most beautiful things about John’s writings is how his love for Jesus – his amazement by Him through the years – shines brightly. That is why, as he begins to close his letter, he emphasizes Jesus so clearly. Here, he gives us a non-negotiable and necessary belief for followers of Jesus: “Jesus is the Christ” (v. 1). The word “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. It is the English form of the Greek word for Messiah – literally “anointed One”.
Part of Jesus being the Messiah is how God prophesied His coming from ancient times, fulfilling every one and bringing hope to those who trust in Him (Genesis 3:15, 2 Samuel 7:14, Isaiah 53, Hosea 3:5, Daniel 9:25). Even the Messiah’s mission was prophesied and laid out (Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-9; 50:4-11; 52:13-53:12). But Jesus being the Messiah is more than keeping up with a long list of facts.
Believing that He is who the Bible says He is means more than intellectual knowledge! To genuinely believe that Jesus is the Christ to fully put your faith, hope, and trust in Him – not in knowledge but actual and indwelling hope. It is one thing to believe that a bridge will hold your weight; it is another thing entirely to drive a car across it. In the same way, it is one thing to know facts about Jesus; it is another thing entirely to live one’s life according to His teachings with the hope of eternal life – like we know that this world is not all there is. The difference is of eternal significance, as John noted in ch 2:2: “Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist….” This means that there is no fence position in relation to believing (having faith/trust/hope) in Christ; you are either in Christ or antichrist.
God’s Children are Born of Him (vv. 1, 4)
The idea of being “born of Him” (v. 1) has been developed throughout 1 John. We see it first when John says, “If you know that He is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of Him” (2:29) and will see it wrap up later when we study ch 5:18. The whole idea is wrapped up in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3. It is talked about various ways: “born again” (John 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23) and “regeneration” (Titus 3:5), which mean the same thing. The term “born again” is used synonymously with being saved/being a Christian, but it actually means what it says: being born a second time.
To be “born again” begins with the fact that those who are in Christ were dead in our trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13). Belief in Him gives the gift of eternal life (John 3:16; Romans 6:23, 10:9) bring actual life to what was once dead (Ephesians 2:4-5, Colossians 2:13)! So, to say that we are “born of God” (v. 4) is more than simply a religious term – it is a statement of faith that originates in the Person and work of Jesus, God in flesh (John 1:14, 2 Corinthians 5:21), and culminates in our lives. I love the way that Danny Akin describes this:
“Jesus did not come to die on a bloody cross to make us kinder and nicer persons. He came to dramatically, personally, radically, and eternally transform us and make us new people. It is by the new birth that He accomplishes this glorious work. Therefore, you must be born again.”
As always when studying these passages, we find ourselves needing to examine our own lives. These first two beliefs leave no wiggle room for us – no room for religious talk or labeling, only for being adopted by Him (Galatians 4:4-5) or left in our sins. Here is a good time to ask: Do you believe? Are you born of Him?
God’s Family is Defined by Love for Him, Love for One Another, and Keeping His Commands (vv. 1-2)
We have talked about this at length over the past few weeks, so I will reference you back to our studies from May 6, 13, and 20 for what it means to be loved by God and love Him. The difference today comes from what John says at the end of v. 2: “when we love God and obey His commandments”. He clarifies that one’s love for Him means that the individual will keep (follow, obey, live life according to) His commandments.
There is a danger here that we see very often, and it is known as legalism. Legalism is when one looks at the things that God has commanded (His Law) and wrap all our efforts into living them out for the purpose of earning our salvation. That is why I am glad that God lays out His Word as He has; before He mentioned keeping commandments, He clarified that there is no earning salvation (how does one earn birth?) but that it has its beginnings and endings in Him.
So, how does one balance keeping and following His commandments but not falling into legalism? Unfortunately, I cannot offer you much in the realm of practical suggestions here. I struggle with past legalism and can probably offer more ways to mess this up than I can living it out appropriately. But I am learning that the key to this is found in the end of v. 3: “His commandments are not burdensome”, which beautifully shows the heart of Jesus:
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
Legalism requires labor, but following Christ (including keeping His commandments) is a service of love and appreciation. Legalism leaves people “heavy laden”, but in Christ “will give you rest”. Legalism is a yoke that will break your back and your spirit, but the yoke of Christ comes with His strength, especially when our own is lacking because He promises that His “grace is sufficient” and His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
I think that keeping the commands of Christ are like all that goes into bridal preparations for a wedding day. Normally, taking hours and hours to dress and primp and prepare would be a terrible burden. Hearing actors and models discuss all the time it takes to go through make up and costuming sounds like a laborious job, but brides willingly subject themselves to such things merely to get through a 30(ish) minute ceremony and reception. There is a whole industry devoted to helping people elope so that they do not have to go through the burden of such things! So, why would any bride do this? Simple: to please the groom – so that, when the doors open at the back of the church and she is presented to him, his knees will go weak and the moment will be seared into his memory forever.
For that bride, none of the burdens are burdensome. They are labors of love. It is the same for the Bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:27, 32). For those “born of God”, keeping His commandments – especially and specifically loving Him and people (Matthew 22:36-40) – begins out of the overwhelming love and appreciation we have for Him and flows into what naturally occurs over the years as we simply follow Him. Keeping commandments earns nothing but expresses affection from the Bride of Christ to her husband, Jesus Christ Himself.
(faith in) The Overcomer of the World (vv. 4-5)
Remember how we specifically defined the word “believe” above? The word for faith in v. 4 and believe in v. 5 are one and the same. So, when John says that “everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world” and that “our faith” is victory, he does not mean that we, in and of ourselves, have won anything. Rather, he is clarifying that we are believing – putting our faith – in the Overcomer Himself! Look at the confidence and strength in the way that Jesus talked about His victory (in past tense, no less) before He died on the cross: “take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!
Beloved, sojourner, I hope this devotion finds you well, but, more than that, I hope that it also has you to look at your beliefs and make sure they align with what God has for you rather than merely being religious.
As always, know you are loved and prayed for. If you have questions or prayer requests, feel free to reach out.