Where did you come from? Where will you go?
1 JOHN 5:1-5
There are distinguishing marks of a Loginow baby. While all five of our kids are different, there are certain elements that have been true with all of their births. How can you tell if it’s a Loginow baby? First, a Loginow baby will weigh 7 or 8 pounds. Sophia was our lightest baby at 7 lbs 9 oz; Jack was our heaviest baby at 8 lbs 13 oz. Second, a Loginow baby will have blue eyes. Like Bethany and myself, all five of our children have blue eyes. And finally, none of our children were born early. Jack was born on his due date, and the other four were late. You can tell that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree because Bethany carried each of them and not one of them showed up early. These are three sure-fire ways to identify a Loginow baby.
What the Apostle John has been doing throughout this letter is giving us three sure-fire ways to identify whether of not we are children of God: (1) do you confess Jesus? (2) Do you love the brothers? And (3) do you obey God’s commands? These are three distinguishing marks of God’s children. Now he starts to bring the letter to a close and he’s going to remind us where we’ve come from and where we’re going. The big idea from the text this morning is that when you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you will overcome the world.
Where We’ve Come From
Chapter 5 verse 1 says everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God. This again is the first mark of a child of God. The negation is obvious as well; everyone who does not believe that Jesus is the Christ has not been born of God. Notice the perceived tension that exists between God’s sovereignty and our responsibility. Everyone who believes emphasizes the truth that all men are responsible to repent of their sin and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And yet, when they do so, it proves that they have been born of God. The verb born of God is passive, meaning that when we’re born again, it’s not our doing, but God’s doing. Just like those Loginow babies had nothing to do with their conception and birth, so it is true for the new birth. God gives us new life and then we believe that Jesus is the Christ.
And that’s the important phrase right there. Linking the responsibility of humanity and the sovereignty of God is the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2.5). It is proof that we are born of God when we believe that Jesus is the Christ.
It is confessing that the man Jesus of Nazareth is, in fact, the promised Messiah. That he is the serpent-crushing seed of the woman (Gen 3.15). It is to declare that Jesus is the anointed one of God; that he is the true prophet, priest, and king that God’s people have been waiting for. To confess that Jesus is the Christ is to acknowledge that his sinless life and substitutionary death appeased the wrath of God on your behalf. It is to recognize that his resurrection is God’s stamp of approval on his sacrifice and that it is the inauguration of a new creation that is coming when he returns. To be a child of God is to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and to believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead (Rom 10.9).
But John has repeatedly said that doctrine alone isn’t enough, we must also have love. This is the second birthmark of a child of God. Everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. There’s an emphasis in the Greek text with the word γεννάω that’s hard to translate into English. A wooden translation of verse 1 would read all who believe that Jesus is the Christ have been born of God and all who love the one who gives birth also love the one who has been born of him. He’s emphasizing the logical connection between love of God and our brothers and sisters. We have been born of God, so we cannot help but love the one who gave us life and the others to whom he’s given life.
Lest we forget that this stool has 3 legs, John continues, by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. Doctrine and love are inseparable from obedience, and this is the third birthmark of a child of God. God commands us to love the Lord and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The Law and the Prophets hang on these 2 commands. Notice also that John’s emphasis is counterintuitive here. We might expect him to write “by this we know that we love God and obey his commandments, when we love the children of God.” That is certainly true, but it’s not what he wrote. It says the reverse, by this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. You can know that you love your brothers and sisters by loving and obeying God. Love for and obedience to God aren’t merely individual responsibilities with individual consequences. There are corporate spiritual realities that exist in the church.
When you get a stomachache, it affects your whole body. You can’t compartmentalize the discomfort in your stomach. When you get a stomach bug it throws off the groove of the whole body. The same is true for our sin. When there’s sin in the church, it hurts the entire church. When there’s false doctrine or disobedience, it doesn’t just affect the single person or family, it makes the whole body sick. When people walk away from the family of God, there’s pain. This isn’t just a corporation where we get a new employee to replace you. Obedience to God is loving your neighbor.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. It’s almost as if John answers the antinomians before they ask the question. “Well, John, what if someone confesses Jesus, but they don’t obey? Aren’t they still a child of God? What if they make Jesus savior, but not Lord? I mean we don’t want to be judgmental. We don’t want to be legalistic.” John says loving God is keeping his commandments. There’s no false dichotomy there.
But God’s commands aren’t burdensome; they’re not heavy. In fact, they’re liberating. They’re freeing because we were made to obey them. Tim Keller has used the analogy of the fish in water. From an outsider’s perspective the fish may seem like he’s trapped in the water. But the water isn’t constraining to the fish; the fish was made for the water. He’s only free in the water. Outside the water, he’s dead. So it is with God’s commands. They’re not burdensome; they’re his love.
Where We’re Going
John’s rehearsing these 3 Christian birthmarks because he’s now going to tell us where we’re going. Verse 4: for everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Again, there’s an emphasis in the original text that isn’t as easy to translate. The words “overcome” and “victory” are the verb and noun forms of the word νικάω, which is where the company Nike derives its name. So if you were going to transliterate verse 4 it would read something like, because everything that has been born of God Nikes the world and this is the Nike that Nikes the world – our faith. His emphasis is on our victory. Our new birth means final victory!
John uses these word a lot in his writings. Remember in the Gospel of John, Jesus is instructing the disciples about their mission after he ascends to heaven. He tells them that life will be hard, but then he encourages them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Then in the book of Revelation Jesus says to the seven churches, behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.
What is this victory that John is consumed with? It’s our faith. We already have victory over the world through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus defeated Satan, sin, and death on the cross. That means that we don’t have to be enslaved to the world. We don’t have to buy into the world’s sales pitch. And the world can’t do anything to hurt us. What if the world takes all of your money? They can’t put Jesus back on that cross. What if they imprison you and steal your time from you? They can’t undo those 3 days Jesus spent in the tomb. What if, as some Christians have experienced throughout the last 2,000 years, the world takes your life from you? They can’t put Jesus back in that tomb. To live is Christ and to die is gain.
Even though our victory has been inaugurated, it’s not yet realized. Because when Jesus returns he will usher in the final victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil. The system of this world that stands in opposition to the Kingdom of God will be eternally abolished. Our fallen flesh will be laid to rest, and sin will stay in the grave when we’re resurrected. The devil’s head will be eschatologically crushed. Jesus will raise the dead, judge the world, and make all things new. And on that day “Victory in Jesus, my savior forever” won’t just be an old Christian hymn, but it will be universal reality.
But John reminds us that we only have this victory if we have Jesus. Verse 5 closes the loop on the pericope: Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? John catechizes them in the form of a question. It’s almost as if he’s asking, will you overcome the world? Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? That’s what the Holy Spirit is asking each of us right now in this moment. Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Have you repented of your sin? Do you have the hope of Jesus’ victory? If not, you can. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead and you will be saved!
I know where my babies came from. I know their distinguishing marks, but I wish I knew where they were going. I know what I hope for them. I pray that they will believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I pray that they will obey God’s commands and love the local church. I pray that they will marry a spouse who loves Jesus and that they’ll raise their babies to do the same. Beyond that, I really don’t care. While I can’t know for sure what’s going to happen with them, I know this, when you believe that Jesus is the Son of God, you will overcome the world. That’s true for my 5 kids and it’s true for you this morning.