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Life In His Son

Series: 1 John

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 21, 2004

1 John 5:6-12

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to 1 John chapter 5. We’re continuing in our study of 1 John today, and we're coming close to the end of the book. Now much of the book of 1 John has been about tests, three tests in particular that the Lord gives us whereby we may measure the genuineness of our profession. These three tests are doctrinal, moral, and relational or social. They’re doctrinal in the sense that one test of the genuineness of our profession is what we believe about Jesus Christ. They are moral in the sense that another test of the genuineness of our profession is whether we obey God's word and love and delight in obedience to the word of God. Yet another test is relational or social: that is, How do we love one another in the bonds of Christian friendship in the local Christian church? Each of these three tests are repeated on numerous occasions in this little book of 1 John to provide a gauge of the genuineness of our discipleship, the genuineness of our claim to be a Christian, the genuineness of our profession of faith in Christ.

But the passage we're about to study is a little bit different. Rather than focusing on the test of our faith, this passage gives testimony to the object of our faith. In fact, this passage is about a three-part testimony to the genuineness the person of Christ. This passage can be best understood in light of two phrases in the section that we studied last week. If you’d allow your eyes to turn back to 1 John 5:1, you’ll see this phrase, “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” So in that passage we see something asserted about those who are Christians: They believe that Jesus is the Christ, or they believe that Jesus is the Messiah. And then if you look at verse 5 you’ll see another phrase, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And so there we see an assertion that those who are believers in Christ believe something else about Jesus. He's not only the Messiah; He is the Son of God.

And so what John is doing in 1 John 5:1 and 5 is he is making clear that the Christian…And notice how he describes the Christian: the Christian is born of God; the Christian overcomes the world. John is saying that the Christian is one who makes a specific doctrinal confession about Jesus. He makes a specific confession about the real Jesus. He believes in the Jesus not of his own personal opinions, not of our imaginations, but in the Jesus of Scripture, the Jesus who is presented in the gospel. John is telling us that being a Christian means truly believing certain things about Jesus. One of the important things about this is we note that in John's idea of what it means to believe in Christ…It means not only trusting in Christ but believing certain things about His person. So faith in Christ for John is not only trust in a person but belief in biblical teaching about that person. For John doctrine and faith go hand-in-hand and cannot ultimately be separated. Now this sets the stage for 1 John 5:6-12 and John's discussion of the testimony that God has given to the person of Jesus Christ. Before we hear God's word read and proclaimed, let's look to God in prayer and ask His help. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, You have given Your word to us as truth. In Your word You have revealed Yourself and You have shown us the way of salvation. We pray that as we study this great passage which speaks of Jesus Christ and the divine testimony that You give to Him, that we would understand and that we would confess Jesus Christ as Lord, Son of God, and Savior of sinners. We ask this, O God, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear God's word. 1 John 5:6-12:

6This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7For there are three that testify: 8the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

How do we come to have faith in what the Bible says about the person of Christ? How do we come to have an assured confidence in our confession that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of Sinners? How do we come to have an assured confidence in the person of Christ, in who He is? Well, John tells us that God does not require of us blind faith, but in His kindness He has given testimony as to who Jesus is. And in this passage John wants to point to a three-part testimony to the person of Christ which God has given to all believers that we might have a confident assurance in the person who is the object of our faith. So much of this book has been asking us to gauge the reality of our faith. This passage points us though to the person who is the object of our faith and gives us testimony to bolster our faith in that person, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

There are two parts to the passage before us. You’ll see it very clearly. In verses 6-9, we see this three-part testimony to the person of Christ described and explained by John. Then in verses 10-12 John speaks to us about what our response needs to be to Jesus and to this testimony about Jesus. Let's look then at this passage in those two parts.

I. Jesus’ baptism, Jesus’ death and the Holy Spirit all testify to the unity of Jesus’ divine human person (verses 6-9). [The Triple Testimony]
First, beginning in verses 6 through 9 where we see the Triple Testimony. Now John's words in verse 6 are very challenging, and even some of the best Christian commentators on Scripture have struggled to understand the precise significance of his argument, although the general sense of his argument is very clear. Look at that verse then and let's hear it, “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”

Now I want to suggest to you that in that very complex sentence, John is saying something basically simple. He is saying that the Holy Spirit testifies that Jesus Christ, or Jesus the Messiah, was and is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Spirit testifies that He is Jesus the Messiah by pointing us to Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ death as testimonies to His person. In other words, John is saying that if you will consider what was revealed about Jesus Christ in both His baptism and His death objectively, you will realize that the Holy Spirit is testifying to you personally about who Jesus is in the historical events about what was revealed about Jesus Christ at His baptism and at His death.

Now as I said this passage is very difficult and commentators have disagreed as to what the water and the blood refer to in verse 6. Some commentators, like Luther and Calvin, see in the reference to water and blood a mention of Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper, and we could certainly see how Christian baptism and the Lord's Supper might testify to the person of Jesus Christ. But John seems to be speaking of something that is directly in Jesus’ own experience and time and history which points to His person. Other theologians like the great Augustine in 4th Century North Africa suggested that the water and the blood here refer to that passage in John 19, when the spear was thrust into Jesus’ side, and “From His side flowed forth water mingled with blood.” And so since John is writing this letter it is suggested by Augustine that John is pointing back to the mingled water and blood as a testimony to the person of Christ in His death. But most commentators (and I believe that this is the correct interpretation) have understood, and this has been explained by Christian theologians since the 2nd Century in the times of Tertullian, see the water and the blood as a reference to Jesus’ own baptism and to Jesus’ death. The water–Jesus’ baptism; the blood–His shedding of blood in His own death.

Now why would John be saying this? Why would John say that Jesus’ baptism and Jesus’ shedding of blood in His death testify to His person? Well, there's a very simple reason. In this Christian church to whom John is writing there were false teachers who were either teaching that Jesus was only the Christ in between His baptism and His death, or that though He had been the Christ prior to His baptism, He ceased to be the Son of God before His death. You see, there were Gnostic teachers, among them a man named Cerinthius, who taught that Jesus became the Christ, the Son of God at His baptism and ceased to be Christ, the Son of God, before His death. So that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, became Jesus the Christ by His baptism but He ceased to be Jesus the Christ before He died. So that only Jesus the man, Jesus of Nazareth, died on the cross, but Jesus in the wholeness of His person, Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God did not die. In other words, Christ descended on Jesus at the time of His baptism, and departed from Him before the crucifixion. And this kind of teaching was apparently confusing this congregation.

And so John in verse 6 is saying this: ‘Understand this: that Jesus who is the Messiah, Jesus who is the Son of God did not become the Son of God at His baptism, but through the baptism it was revealed who He was. It was declared who He was. And at His death He did not cease to be the Messiah, the Son of God, but His being the Messiah and the Son of God was absolutely necessary for His death to have benefit for us all. And therefore this false teaching is to be refuted.’ In other words, John is saying that this water refers to Jesus’ baptism at which He was declared to be the Son of God, and the blood refers to Jesus’ sacrificial death. The efficacy of His death depends on His being the Son of God.

In all of this, whatever interpretation you take of this fairly challenging phrase “the water and the blood,” it is clear that John is pressing home one important truth: If Jesus, Messiah, the Son of God did not take on Himself our nature in His birth and bear our sins in His death in the fullness of His person, then He cannot reconcile us to God. John is simply saying that the false teachers in teaching what they are teaching about Jesus are robbing Christians of salvation, because the person of Jesus Christ is essential to our salvation, and confessing what the Bible teaches about the person of Christ is essential to an authentic Christian confession of faith. The objective testimony of Jesus’ baptism and death concurs and coheres, John says in this passage, with the testimony of the Holy Spirit.

That is the three-fold testimony which is referred to in verses 7 and 8. Look at those verses, “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” Notice here John testifying or saying that Jesus’ person is testified to by these three things: the water, the blood, and the Spirit. The water and the blood referring to two historical events which characterized Jesus’ public ministry, and the Spirit referring to the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit to us as to the significance of these events in Jesus’ life.

Now some of you may have a King James Bible in front of you or a New King James Version or perhaps another modern translation which has a different version of 1 John 5:7 and the first part of verse 8, and you may be scratching your head at the difference between the two versions. Let me just say that the King James Bible is based upon a Greek text which had been in part edited by a man named Erasmus, and Erasmus included a version of 1 John 5:7 which doesn't exist in any Greek manuscripts earlier than about the 12th Century, but is found in some Latin manuscripts that go back to about the 4th Century. And most modern Scriptures don't follow that particular text because they want to get the oldest, most reliable, most accurate versions of the Greek manuscripts in order to reflect the original.

John's point is not that there is a testimony from God the Father, God the Word, and God the Spirit to God the Son. That might lend credibility to the Gnostic dichotomy that there is a distinction between the second person of the Trinity and Jesus the Christ. No, John's consistent testimony is that the Father bears witness to the Son through the Spirit. And that's what is being spoken about in 1 John 5:7 and 8. Two kinds of corroborative testimony: historical and experiential, objective and subjective–the baptism of Christ, the death of Christ, the Holy Spirit's witness to us about the meaning of the baptism and death of Christ.

John's point in verse 9 is simply this: The testimony that the Holy Spirit gives to us that Jesus is the divine Messiah, the Son of God, is God's testimony about Jesus. When the Spirit testifies to the person of Christ as Jesus the divine Messiah, the Son of God, that is God's testimony. And if we are convinced by human testimony in a court of law, John says in verse 9, how much more should we be convinced by the divine testimony?

And what is the purpose of this testimony? To evoke faith in Jesus as the divine Messiah, the Son of the living God. What do we confess when we become members of this congregation or of any Presbyterian church in America congregation? What do we confess about Jesus Christ? Well, the second question of membership we ask and then answer is this: “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners?” John is pressing home that truth in this passage and evoking faith in Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, the divine Messiah, the Savior of sinners; because Jesus, the divine Messiah, came in the flesh…the second person of the Trinity come in the flesh for our salvation. And that is absolutely essential for our redemption. And so John is pressing home that truth because it's being denied.

Now of course that same truth is being denied in our own day and age. There are many people who call themselves “Christians” who deny that particular truth, and John has one particular word to say to those who deny that truth and claim the name Christian–you’re a hypocrite. You cannot say “yes” to Jesus and reject the Bible's claims about who Jesus is. Jesus defines Himself for us in the Scriptures. The Scriptures give us God's testimony as to who Jesus is. Jesus is not ours to invent as we go along. We may either believe in the Jesus who is offered in the gospel, the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Jesus of biblical and apostolic testimony, or we may reject Him. But we cannot say, “I accept You, Jesus, and I’ll define You like I want.” John is making it clear that the Jesus who is the object of faith, the only Jesus who saves, is the Jesus Christ presented to us by revelation of God in Scripture, testified to in His life and by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts. So John is making it clear to us that to be a Christian we must believe in the Christ of the Bible.

II. Faith is a necessary instrument in our receiving the life of the Son (verses 10-12) [Our Response to the Testimony]
And he presses that point home in the second half of this passage. Look at verses 10 through 12. Here he's talking about our response to this testimony. John's point is to make it clear that faith is a necessary instrument in our receiving the life of the Son. “The one who believes in the Son of God,” he says in verse 10, “has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.” John very boldly here says that to reject this testimony about who Jesus is, the testimony that we receive from the Spirit, the testimony that is corroborated by Jesus’ baptism and death–to reject that testimony is to call God a liar.

We live in a very polite and tolerant world, and when someone wants to disagree with you about your Christianity and what you believe about Jesus Christ, they normally don't say, “Well, you’re wrong and I'm right.” What they say is, “Well, that's fine for you to believe that about Jesus. I just believe something different.” They think thereby that they are being neutral about Christianity. Notice what John is saying, however. John is saying that if you say, “Oh, that's fine that you think that about Jesus. I just think something different.” John says if you do that you’re calling God a liar because God has already said what He thinks about Jesus Christ. And you can't be neutral about that. You either accept it or you reject it. And trying to be neutral about it is not actually being neutral; it's rejecting God's own testimony, which, John said, is calling God a liar. Not something you want to do if you’re going to stand before God on the last day. And so John is pressing home again this very important fact that we cannot be neutral about the gospel. We can't be neutral about the claims of Christ. We must either embrace Him and bow the knee and worship Him and believe in Him as He is offered in the gospel for salvation, or we must reject Him and forego Him and be judged by Him in the last day.

John goes on to say in verse 11 that the testimony is this; this is God's testimony: “That God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.” John is telling us that the life, the eternal life, the life of the age to come, the life of the new heavens and the new earth is in Jesus Christ. It is in faith-union with Him. It comes only when a person has been united to Christ by the Holy Spirit because that life is in the Son. That's why you cannot reject the claims of Christ and have life, because in Him is life. And if we are going to participate, if we are going to share in that life, we must be in Him. We must be trusting in Him, believing on Him, believing what the Scriptures say about Him. And so, consequently, John says in verse 12, ‘To believe in and on the Son, to believe in and on Jesus the Messiah, the Son of the living God, is to possess eternal life. But without that belief there is no life.’

You notice we learn three things here about eternal life. First of all, we learn in this passage that eternal life is not something we earn or deserve. Eternal life is a gift given not a prize earned. Notice the words, “God has given us eternal life.” It's not that God looks out at the world and He says, “Well, I think she's worthy of eternal life and he's worthy of eternal life. She's done a lot of good things. She’ll be worthy of eternal–” No! God doesn't give us something that we have earned; He gives us something out of His grace and mercy. Eternal life: it is a gift received, not a prize earned.

Notice also that eternal life is found in Christ, and so in order to give it God sends His Son. It's emphasized that “God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.” Because eternal life is found in Christ, God gives His Son that we might experience eternal life. John speaks about this elsewhere. Do you remember what he says in John 3:16? “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Because eternal life is in the Son, God gives His Son that we might have eternal life.

And then, thirdly, notice in this passage that this eternal life is not just something reserved for the future, but eternal life is something experienced now in the present by believers. “He who has the Son,” John says in verse 12, “has the life.” Eternal life is the present possession of believers. What is this eternal life? To fellowship with the Triune God and with all those who are in fellowship with the Triune God. And so the Church is the outpost of heaven, the suburbs of glory, the foretaste of the fullness of that eternal life. We are even now receiving a taste of what that eternal life is like in the worship of God with the company of His people. We will have more of it and we will have it without end in the new heavens and in the new earth, but we are already now experiencing that eternal life.

But John's point in this passage is that trusting and believing in the Christ of Scripture is absolutely essential to salvation. You cannot be a Christian and reject Jesus’ person. You cannot be a Christian and reject what the Bible teaches about His person.

We live in a day and age where people like to have an experience of Christianity while rejecting the teaching of Christianity, and John is saying you cannot experience eternal life apart from belief in the truth about Jesus Christ. You must believe in Jesus Christ, and you must trust Him, but you must also believe in the Jesus Christ who is set forth in the Scriptures. And so you must believe Him and you must believe what He said about Himself and what is revealed about Him in the word of God. In this passage John is telling us again that all those who receive the Christ of Scripture, the Christ who is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Savior of sinners–they have life because life is in Him. But all those who reject that Christ or who are neutral about that Christ or who want to redefine that Christ, they are not trusting in the Christ in whom life resides and therefore there is no life in them.

My friends, do not trust in a Jesus of your own making. Do not trust in a Jesus of your own imagination. Trust in the Jesus of your Bible. My friends, do not be neutral about Jesus. You can't be. You cannot have life and be neutral about Jesus. Believe on Jesus Christ. He's the Messiah, the Anointed of God. He's the Son of God. He's very God, begotten not created, and He is the only Savior of the world. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we've sung about the fairest Lord Jesus who is Son of God and Son of man. Help that to be a true song of confession. We’re about to sing that “We come, O Christ, to You, true Son of God and man.” Help us to believe that as we sing, and as we believe, O God, to experience eternal life even now. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Now may the grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you and abide with you both now and forevermore. Amen.

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A Guide to the Morning Service

The Worship of God
Our Westminster Confession of Faith (the written expression of what we believe the Bible to teach regarding basic Christian doctrine) says: “The reading of the Scriptures with godly fear, the sound preaching and conscionable hearing of the Word, in obedience unto God, with understanding, faith, and reverence, singing of psalms with grace in the heart; as also, the due administration and worthy receiving of the sacraments instituted by Christ, are all parts of the ordinary religious worship of God: beside religious oaths, vows, solemn fastings, and thanksgivings upon special occasions, which are, in their several times and seasons, to be used in an holy and religious manner.” These, in addition to prayer and offerings constitute the ordinary elements of public worship at First Presbyterian Church.

A Meditation before Corporate Worship
“Our Father, we worship and love Thee; and it is one point of our worship that Thou art holy. Time was when we loved Thee for thy mercy; we knew no more; but now Thou hast changed our hearts and made us in love with goodness, purity, justice, true holiness; and we understand now why ‘the cherubim and seraphim continually do cry, Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts’….

May we love God; may we love Thee, O Saviour; may we love the people of God as being members of one body in connection with Thee. May we love the guilty world with that love which desires its salvation and conversion; and may we help the helpless, comfort the mourner, sympathize with the widow and fatherless, and may we be always ready to put up with wrong, to be long suffering, to be very patient, full of forgiveness, counting it a small thing that we should forgive our fellow men since we have been forgiven of God. Lord, tune our hearts to love, and then give us an inward peace, a restfulness about everything.

May we have no burden to carry, because, though we have a burden, we have rolled it upon the Lord. May we take up our cross become a comfort to us. May we count it all joy when we fall into divers trials, knowing that in all this God will be glorified, His image will be stamped upon us, and the eternal purpose will be fulfilled, wherein He has predestined us to be conformed unto the image of His Son.

Lord, look upon Thy people. We might pray about our troubles. We will not; we will only pray against our sins. We might come to thee about our weariness, about our sickness, about our disappointment, about our poverty; but we will leave all that, we will only come about our sin. Lord, make us holy, and then do what Thou wilt with us.” (C. H. Spurgeon)

The Sermon
Today, we come to the penultimate message in our study of 1 John. Tapes of all sermons are available for checkout or purchase in the Church Library or Bookstore. See also <www.fpcjackson.org>. Here's something to think about relating to 1 John 5:11-12, two important verses in today's text. “Having now set, forth the benefit, he invites us to believe. It is, indeed, a reverence due to God, immediately to receive, as beyond controversy, whatever He declares to us. But since He freely offers life to us, our ingratitude will be intolerable, except with prompt faith we receive a doctrine so sweet and so lovely. And, doubtless, the words of the Apostle are intended to show that we ought not only reverently to obey the gospel, lest we should affront God; but, that we ought to love it, because it brings to us eternal life.

We hence also learn what is especially to be sought in the gospel, even the free gift of salvation; for that God there exhorts us to repentance and fear, ought not to be separated from the grace of Christ. But the Apostle, that he might keep us together in Christ, again repeats that life is found in Him; as though he had said, that no other way of obtaining life has been appointed for us by God the Father.

And the Apostle, indeed, briefly includes here three things: that we are all given up to death until God in His gratuitous favor restores us to life; for he plainly declares that life is a gift from God: and hence also it follows that we are destitute of it, and theft it. cannot be acquired by merits; secondly, he teaches us that this life is conferred on us by the gospel, because there the goodness and the paternal love of God is made known to us; lastly, he says that we cannot otherwise become partakers of this life than by believing in Christ. Verse 12 is a confirmation of the last sentence. It ought, indeed, to have been sufficient, that God made life to be in none but in Christ, that it might be sought in Him; but lest any one should turn away to another, he excludes all from the hope of life who seek it not in Christ. We know what it is to have Christ, for he is possessed by faith. He then shews that all who are separated from the body of Christ are without life.” (Calvin)

This guide to worship is written by the minister and provided to the congregation and our visitors in order (1) to assist them in their worship by explaining why we do what we do in worship and (2) to provide them background on the various elements of the service.

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