Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is begotten of God: and whosoever loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him. Hereby we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and do his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. For whatsoever is begotten of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith. And who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5).
The Apostle John is writing to the Christians of his time in an attempt to strengthen them in their faith– comforting them regarding their relationships with God while warning them about the dangers of false teaching and disobedience throughout the first four chapters of the letter of 1 John. The fourth chapter concluded with a long treatise regarding love, God, and the need to love one another (1 John 4:7-21).
John continues these same themes as he begins what we deem the beginning of chapter five. In reality, the message of the beginning of chapter five is consistent with the message of chapter four. Love is prominently featured in 1 John 5:1-5, as is the strong importance of faith for the victory that can be obtained only through Jesus Christ.
John begins this section with the declaration that those who believe in Jesus Christ are born of God, and those who are born of God love all who have been born of God (1 John 5:1). This is an important statement in its own right, but, in context, it also reinforces what came before: if one truly loves God, one will love his brother (1 John 4:20-21). Therefore, it stands to reason that if someone is not loving one who is born of God, such a one really does not love the Father!
Jesus has told us in John 3:1-8 about the second birth and how one is “born of the Spirit”– baptism, with the belief, confession, and repentance it implies. As with many other statements by John, we should not make 1 John 5:1 into something it was not meant to be. John is not declaring that anyone who professes Jesus is born of God– far from it (Matthew 7:21-23). Instead, those who are “born again” and converted can be considered “born of God.”
Nevertheless, John’s statement and its implications are going to give the reader pause. John anticipates the reader’s question and goes on to answer it in 1 John 5:2-3. How can a believer know whether he really does love the children of God, and thus, are born of God? By loving God and obeying His commandments, for the love of God is to do His commandments that are not burdensome.
How strongly the message of John contradicts much of what passes for theology these days! Many for years have spoken of cheap salvation in which the believer just needs to “only believe” and they will be saved. And yet John’s consistent testimony is that believers must obey the commandments of God (cf. 1 John 2:3-6). Paul has a similar message in Romans 6:16-23. We demonstrate that we have come to know God, love the people of God, and love God when we obey His commandments. If we do not strive to be obedient, we ought to have no confidence that we are His!
Those who are born of God will love God and keep His commandments, and they will overcome the world. By overcoming the world, they obtain victory, and John identifies that it is by their faith that they obtain this victory (1 John 5:4). He then asks a rhetorical question designed for us to understand who is able to overcome the world– those who believe that Jesus is the son of God (1 John 5:5).
While this does return us nicely to the same theme that began the chapter, the message is more profound than that. The theme of victory and conquering looms large in John’s writing (cf. John 16:33, Revelation 2-3, 12:11, 17:14). Paul speaks of the believer’s victory in Jesus through the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:55-58).
Believers are not called to conform to the world, attempt to sidestep the world, or to be defeated by the world. Instead, believers are called to be victorious. Their victory is not by guns or swords or even words but by faith. They trust that Jesus is the Son of God, and that no matter how dismal it may look, He remains in control. We may not be able to vanquish all of our foes, but we can overcome them through our faith. Let us do so!