1 John 5:3b-12

This Bible Study was taught by Larry Reynolds in the Spring of 2008.

Denton, TX

The Faith that Conquers (1 John 5:3b-12)


            In the NT the words “faith” and “believe” are virtually identical.  Faith is the noun form of the word (pistis) and believe is the verb form of the same word (pistueo).  The verb believe is used about 100 times in the NT, and more than one-half of those uses occur in the writings of John.  However, the noun form of the word, faith, is used only one time by John, and that in the passage at which we are going to look in this session.  Also in this passage, the verb believe is used four times.  The theme of this passage is obviously faith.  In this passage John discusses the idea of faith from three perspectives:

·         Faith’s power (5:3b-5)

·         Faith’s object (5:6)

·         Faith’s witnesses (5:7-12)


Faith’s power (5:3b-5)

Verse 3b – “And His commandments are not burdensome.” – You may remember that we stopped last week in the middle part of v.3.  That’s because the last part of v.3 seems to more naturally go with what follows than what precedes it.  John begins this section by stating a fact. 

·         This statement does not mean that God’s commands are not demanding.  Our experience teaches us that they are very demanding.  God calls us to a way of living that cuts across the grain of our natural instincts – putting others first, going the second mile, turning the other cheek, etc.  It’s a way of living that is impossible without the presence of God in our lives.

·         This statement does mean that God’s commands are not oppressive or irksome.  They do not take away from the quality of our lives; they add to that quality.  We are not worse off by obeying God’s commands; we are better off.


Verse 4 explains the statement of fact in v.3b – “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”   In other words, it is God’s work in us that keeps the divine commands from becoming an oppressive burden.

“For whatever is born of God…” – This phrase seems a little awkward to us.  From our perspective it would seem more logical for John to have said, “For whoever…”  The neuter pronoun is more general and collective, and it emphasizes not so much the persons who conquers but the divine life of being born of God by which they overcome.  This construction places the emphasis more on God than on the person who is overcoming.  (cf. 1 John 4:4 where the Christian’s victory is attributed to God’s presence in us.)

“overcomes” – This verb is present tense meaning “is overcoming.”  This suggests two things:  That our conflict with the world is still in process and that continuous victory is possible in this on-going conflict.

“the world” - The word “world” is used by John more than all the other New Testament writers combined.  It occurs seventy-nine (79) times in the Gospel of John and twenty-three (23) times in 1 John.  John uses the word in three distinct ways:

·         The world of nature (cf. John 1:10; 1 John 4:17)

·         The human race (cf. John 3:16; 1 John 2:2)

·         Unbelieving, pagan society that is hostile to God (cf. 1 John 5:19; John 15:18-19)

      The third meaning is the one that best fits this passage.  The word “…stands for all of the forces and powers of evil pitted against God and His people.” (Vaughn)

“victory” – The Greek word is “nike.”  In Greek mythology Nike was the goddess of victory.

“has overcome” – Interestingly, John changes verb tenses.  This is the aorist tense meaning completed action in past time.  While the conflict is still on-going, the outcome is assured.  The victory was won at some point in the past.  May be referring to the victory over sin won at the point of conversion.

“our faith” – This is the means by which the victory over the world is won.  It is by faith that we lay hold of the power of God which allows us to withstand the attacks of the world.  (cf. Ephesians 6:16 – “…in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one.”)

Verse 5 – “And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”  This verse does two things:

·         It restates the role of faith in the Christian’s ability to overcome the world.

·         It defines the faith that overcomes.  Overcoming faith believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

“Jesus … the Son of God” – The name Jesus calls to mind His real humanity.  The title “Son of God” points to His deity.  Taken together, this description of Jesus emphasizes the union of humanity and deity.


Faith’s Object (5:6) – “This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with water only, but with the water and with the blood.”  This verse gives us a more detailed description of Jesus, the object of our faith.  The key phrase is “…came by water and blood.”  The tense of the verb “came” is aorist, pointing to events which occurred in the life of Jesus at some point in the past.  John’s readers would have been familiar with this terminology and needed no explanation concerning its meaning.  However, since John did not explain what he meant by water and blood, we are at a disadvantage in trying to understand this phrase.  Various ideas of been put forth concerning its meaning:

·         Some see this as a reference to the presence of Christ in the ordinances of the church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  However, the past tense of the verb “came” seems to rule this out.

·         Some have suggested this refers to the physical birth of Jesus saying that the natural birth process involves water and blood.

·         Some say this is an allusion to the water and blood that flowed from the side of Jesus at the crucifixion.  The preposition “by” seems to rule this out.  At the crucifixion water and blood came “out of” Jesus; He did not come “by” those things.

·         The view I favor says these two words refer to the two great events of Jesus’ life—His baptism and crucifixion.  The heretical teachers John was combating claimed the Son of God came “by water” (the baptism) but not “by blood” (the crucifixion).  John asserted that Jesus was the incarnate God throughout His entire earthly life.  The phrase “not with water only” seem to lend support to this view.


Faith’s Witnesses (5:7-12) – One of the distinctive features of the writings of John is an emphasis on “witness.”  In John’s gospel the word witness, either as a noun or a verb, is used 47 times and in 1 John it is used 6 times.  Four of those six uses occur in these verses.  The purpose of these verses is to demonstrate that our faith in Jesus Christ is well grounded.

·         The witness of the spirit – Verse 7 – “And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.”   This verse teaches that it is the special function of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to the fact of verse 6.  Verse 6 tells us that Jesus is the One who came to fulfill God’s divine plan of redemption for humanity.  The Holy Spirit reveals the significance of Christ’s coming.  When did this happen?  Some say:

o   At the baptism of Jesus when the Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove.

o   On the day of Pentecost when the Spirit descended upon the church.

o   This is an on-going process referring to the total witness of the Spirit.  The present tense “bears witness” supports this idea.

·         The witness of the water and the blood – Verse 8 – “For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”  The great events of Jesus’ life—His baptism and His sacrificial death—bear witness that He is worthy of our faith.  This verse tells us that the Spirit, the water, and the blood are a:

o   Threefold witness – This is an obvious allusion to Mosaic Law which required the corroborating testimony of two or three witnesses. (cf. Deut. 17:6)  The effect is to underscore the trustworthiness of the witness to Christ.

o   Continuing witness“Bear witness…” is in the present tense denoting continuing activity.  The key events in Jesus’ life continue to remind us that He is worthy of our faith.  That’s why it is important for us to continue telling and hearing the story of Jesus.

o   Convergent witness“…and the three are in agreement” carries the idea that the three witnesses—the Spirit, the water, and the blood—converge to point to one truth:  Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

·         The witness of the Father – Verse 9 – “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for the witness of God is this, that He has borne witness concerning His Son.”  This verse reminds us that it is actually God Himself who speaks to us in the Spirit (v.7) and in the historical events of Jesus’ life (v.8).  “If we accept the testimony of men when it satisfies the conditions of evidence required by law, much more are we bound to accept the witness which we possess in this case, for it is witness borne by God Himself.” (Brooke, quoted by Vaughn)

·         The witness of personal experience – Verse 10 – “The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the witness that God has borne concerning His Son.”

o   “believes in the Son of God” – The grammatical construction of this phrase carries the idea of reliance upon or trust in or commitment to Jesus as the Son of God.

o   “has the witness in himself” – This refers to the inward witness of the Spirit.  When a person comes to faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit immediately takes up residence in that person’s life.  It is the Spirit working in us that confirms the rightness of our decision to place our faith in Christ.  “Spurgeon affirms that this inward witness involves the wondrous sense of change which come over the believer, the wonderful power which goes with the word of God, and the deep feelings of peace which comes to us through believing in Jesus.”

o   The last part of verse 10 contrasts the believer with the unbeliever.  Not believing in the Son is the same as not believing God.  It is calling God a liar because ultimately it is God who bears witness to the Son.

·         The content of the witness – Verses 11-12 – “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”  The content of the witness is twofold:

o   God has given us eternal life.

o   Eternal life comes only through Jesus

      The Bible does not give us a precise definition of or description of eternal life.  Barclay says it is “…nothing less that the life of God Himself.”  “Eternal” speaks of something with no beginning and no ending.  This helps us see that eternal life is more than life which lasts forever, even though it does.  It is a quality of life, a special kind of life possessed by those who have been united to God through faith in Christ. 


      The concept of eternal life dominates the thought of 1 John.  The letter begins (1 John 1:2) and ends (1 John 5:20) with references to eternal life.  And John tells us the reason he wrote the letter was to give us assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13).  If you look carefully at these verses, you will see that three great affirmations are made about this life:

o   It is a divine gift“…God has given us eternal life…” – It is not a reward for good behavior.  It is not achieved through merit.  It is a gift.  The tense of the verb “has given” indicates that a point in time something was given to us once and for all, never to be taken away.  It is unclear if John is referring to the incarnation of Jesus by which eternal life was communicated to humanity or the believer’s conversion by which a person comes to possess eternal life.

o   It is a present possession“…He who has the Son has the life…”  Eternal life is not something we get when we die.  It becomes ours at conversion.  When you became a believer you entered into eternal life.

o   It is in God’s Son“…and this life is in His Son…” Whatever else a person without Christ may have, he/she does not have eternal life.  “He may, by human standards, be a good man, a good neighbor, a good parent, a good citizen; but, by the standard of the Gospel, if he has no saving union with Christ, he does not have eternal life…” (Vaughn)