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© Rosemary Bardsley 2022

In John’s fifth chapter he has a number of things to say that are connected in some way to the Christian belief that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.


Previously John has told us:

That ‘everyone who does what is right has been born of him’ – 2:29.

That ‘no one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has been born of God’ – 3:9.

That ‘Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God’ – 4:7.

Now he adds:

‘Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God’ – 5:1.

‘everyone born of God overcomes the world’ – 5:4.

(Plus ‘anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the one who was born of God keeps him safe, and the evil one cannot harm him’ – 5:18).

Again, as we were in chapter 4, we are presented here with things that happen at the beginning and things that happen as a result of a certain occurrence. When John refers to our being ‘born of God’ there are initial and after associations:

We are born of God when we believe that Jesus is the Christ – 5:1.

If we are ‘born of God’ then this will be seen in the on-going evidence that follows – doing what is right (2:29), not continuing in sinning (3:9; 6:18), loving (4:7; 5:1).

John adds three further truths:

A.1 ‘Everyone who loves the father loves his child as well’ – 5:1
In these words John is importing a secular truth and using it to demonstrate the simple logic of the Christian perspective that we should love one another. Everyone who is ‘born of God’ is a ‘child’ of God’. All who are born of God are ‘children of God’. If we claim to love God, the Father of all who are ‘born of him’, then we will also love his ‘children’, that is those who are ‘born of God’, that is ‘everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ’.

The logic is simple and clear: if we really love God we will also love his children, that is, those who are ‘born of him’.

A.2 ‘This is how we know that we love the children of God ...’ 5:2, 3
But what does it mean to love? How do we know if we actually are loving God’s children, our fellow-believers, our brothers and sisters in Christ? If God requires that we love his children, how do we know what God means by ‘love’? What is God’s perception of ‘love’?

John gives us the answer: ‘by loving God and carrying out his commands.’ Then he explains: ‘This is love for God: to obey his commands ...’ (5:3). For John it is very simple:

If we love God we will love his children.
If we love God we will keep his commands.
Therefore, if we keep God’s commands we will be loving God’s children.

The gospel writers report discussions about ‘the greatest commandment’. Jesus and the Jewish leaders both confirmed that the two great commandments, which encompassed all other commandments, were: ‘Love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37 – 40; see also Mark 12:29 – 31; Luke 10:27). Here we see both love for God and love for others. This is also true of what we call ‘the Ten Commandments’, where the first four commandments express love for God and the next six express love for others (Exodus 20:1 – 17).

These six other-centred commands all require us to respect the other person – that we will honour the other person, that we will not kill the other person, that we will not violate the other person’s marriage, that we will not steal the other person’s possessions, that we will not tell lies about the other person, that we will not desire to have what belongs to the other person.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus affirmed the permanence of these standards (Matthew 5:17 – 20), then pushed these standards even further. He pointed behind the letter of the Law to the lack of love and respect for others that was involved in breaking the commandments. On the basis of what Jesus taught in Matthew 5:21 – 48 we learn that loving one another involves:

A respect for one another that excludes not only murder, but also anger towards others and expressions of contempt for others (5:21, 22).

A respect for one another that prioritizes maintaining positive relationships (5:23, 24).

A respect for one another that deliberately pursues sexual purity (5:27 – 30).

A respect for one another that outlaws unjustifiable divorce (5:31, 32).

A respect for one another that prioritizes personal integrity and trustworthiness (5:33 – 37).

A love for one another that goes beyond normal cultural and legal expectations (5:38 – 42).

A love for others, that like the love of our Father, reaches out even to those who are our enemies (5:43 – 48).


A.3 ‘his commands are not burdensome’ – 5:3
Again John seeks to reassure us. He has told us that loving God and loving others means keeping God’s commands. And our hearts, so prone to relate to God on the basis of law or good works, almost automatically start thinking in terms of a legalistic necessity to obey God’s commands. Our hearts, which John has previously referred to as condemning us, once again tend to gear up with legalistic thoughts, and God’s commands become in our minds a weight too heavy for us to carry. That is what ‘burdensome’ means.

But John says ‘his commands are not burdensome’. And we remind ourselves that Jesus said ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).

Whatever John intends when he tells us that loving God and loving God’s children means obeying God’s commands, he does not intend by this to teach that we gain and maintain our salvation by obeying God’s commands. That is a heavy burden from which Christ has relieved us, and John has no intention of undoing the work of Christ by re-imposing the burdens.

A.5 ‘for everyone born of God overcomes the world ...’ – 5:4, 5
In 2:13 & 14 John taught that believers have ‘overcome the evil one’; in 4:4, he said that believers have ‘overcome’ those who deny Jesus Christ; now, in explaining why God’s commands are not burdensome (5:4, 5), he says:

‘for everyone born of God overcomes the world’ – 4.
‘This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith’ – 4.
‘Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God’ – 5.

God’s commands are ‘not burdensome’ because everyone born of God actually ‘overcomes the world’.

What does John say about ‘the world’?









What do these other scriptures say about ‘the world’?
John 1:10

John 12:31, 14:30

John 14:17

John 15:18

John 17:25

Colossians 2:8

James 4:4

2John 7


Answer these questions about ‘overcoming’:
Who is the enemy that we overcome?
In 2:13, 14:

In 4:1 – 4:

In 5:4, 5:

How does John describe those who ‘overcome’ these enemies?
In 4:4:

In 5:4:

In 5:5:

What accomplished or enabled this overcoming?
In 4:4:

In 5:4:

The ultimate enemy is ‘the evil one’. But he does not normally personally confront us in a visible way. Predominantly he attacks at the level of what we believe. This is what John spoke of in 2:18 – 27, and again in 4:1 – 6. John, and the other New Testament writers, teach us that the evil one’s agenda is actively promoted by false teaching aimed at luring believers away from faith in the real Jesus, away from the salvation freely given to us in Christ, and away from the commands given to us by Jesus Christ. Similarly, the evil one’s agenda impacts us via ‘the world’, which is under his control. The world, either knowingly or ignorantly, does the evil one’s work for him by (1) in its secularity, making godlessness normal, and (2) in its ‘religion’, promoting a minimalised, non-exclusive Jesus, and invariably teaching ‘salvation’ by our own goodness.

Overcoming ‘the world’, overcoming the false teachers, overcoming the evil one – they are all the same.

A.5.1 Important truths about overcoming
But John teaches us:

[1] that those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and only those (5:5), have overcome, and do overcome. In other words, every true Christian, everyone who is ‘born of God’ (4:4; 5:4) has already overcome, and continues to overcome.

[2] That our ‘faith’ ‘is ‘the victory that overcomes the world’ (5:4). John is not talking about the size or quality of our faith, or even faith that we will overcome. He is talking about the content of our faith, the truth that we believe – the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. It is this truth which we believe (5:5) that is the victory, that constitutes our overcoming. We now know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God – and that is the victory. To affirm that Jesus is the Son of God means that we have already, in that confession of faith, in that turning from unbelief to belief in Jesus Christ, overcome the deceptions and accusations of the evil one.

By this faith we have already conquered, and continue to conquer, the evil one and his deceptive denials of God and of Christ. By this faith we have already conquered, and continue to conquer, the evil one in his accusations, because we have embraced Christ the Righteous One, the atoning sacrifice, our Advocate, by whose death we are acquitted – cleansed ‘from all unrighteousness’. By this faith we have already conquered, and continue to conquer, the evil one in his destructive and deceptive suggestions that disobedience is okay, for in this faith we have acknowledged that Jesus Christ is Lord, our Lord, to whom we owe all obedience.

[3] That this overcoming is not something done in our own strength or by our own efforts, but by God himself who by his Spirit lives in those who acknowledge Jesus, his Son (4:4). He who thus lives in us is ‘greater than the one who is in the world’, the evil one.

This truth that we have overcome, and continue to overcome ‘the world’, is, John says, the reason that God’s commands are ‘not burdensome’.

A.5.2 What is it about overcoming the world that makes God’s commands ‘not burdensome’?
Why would John say that ‘God’s commands are not burdensome, for (that is, because) we have overcome the world’?


The world, including the religious world, deceived by the evil one, has an extremely twisted concept of ‘god’. It does not know that God is love. It does not know that God loves it. And so it rebels against his commands. It finds them burdensome. But those who are born of God know that God is love and God loves them; we know that his commands are consistent with his love for us.

The world, including the religious world, deceived by the veil one, also has a twisted concept of how to be ‘right’ with God. It believes that it has to keep God’s commands, and its own twisted interpretation of and additions to his commands, in order to achieve the ultimate eternal destiny. But those who are born of God know that God has provided a way of salvation that is totally apart from law, through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. We know that his commands are not something we have to do to gain God’s acceptance.

The world, deceived by the evil one, does not understand that Jesus Christ is Lord: the one in the highest position of power and authority. It does not realize that he actually has the right, the authority, to command obedience, to determine what is right and what is wrong. It sees his commands as an unjustified intrusion into its freedom. But those who are born of God know that Jesus is the Lord of glory, not only our Redeemer, but also our Creator, our Sustainer, on whom our lives, both physical and spiritual, depend. We who are born of God know that Jesus is for us, not against us, and that therefore everyone of his commands is given for our good.

The world, including the religious world, deceived by the evil one, does not love the true God, who claims to alone be God, and who is revealed by his Son, Jesus Christ. Because it does not love him it wants nothing to do with his commands. But those who are born of God love God. And because we actually love him, we have, in loving him, overcome the evil one, his commands are not burdensome. They are, rather a gift by which we can express our love to him. They define what it means to love him; they define what it means to love his children, our fellow-believers.

Personal task: Read Psalm 119. Make a list of the writer’s expressions of love for the law of God.












[Note: Some translations, including the KJV, have words in verses 7 and 8 that are not found in any Greek manuscripts dated prior to the fourteenth century. These are omitted from most translations today. The omitted words refer to ‘three witnesses in heaven ...’ and ‘... on earth ...’. These phrases are not addressed in this study.]

Right through his letter John has been stressing the true identity of Jesus Christ – truly God and truly man. And he has also stressed that it is only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God who are saved. He has just done this in 5:5. Now John speaks of ‘three that testify’ about the person of Jesus Christ: the water, the blood and the Spirit.

B.1 The witness of ‘water’ and ‘blood’ – 5:6

There is disagreement about John’s meaning in verse 6, where he refers to Jesus coming by ‘water and blood’. The three main opinions are:

[1] ‘Water’ refers to the sacrament of baptism; ‘blood’ refers to the sacrament of Holy Communion. [That is, Jesus ‘comes’ when we participate in these sacraments.]

[2] The ‘water and blood’ is a reference to the gush of water and blood that occurred then the Roman soldier thrust his spear into Jesus’ side to ascertain whether or not he was already dead (John 19:33 – 35).

[3] ‘Water’ is a reference to Jesus’ baptism, and ‘blood’ is a reference to his death.

The false teachers, whose presence and teaching was the reason for John’s letter, taught that Jesus was the natural son of both Joseph and Mary, upon whom the ‘Christ’ came when he was baptised. He was just an ordinary human prior to that. Then, they taught, the ‘Christ’ left him prior to his crucifixion, so that he was just an ordinary human when he died. If John had this error in mind, then his purpose in these verses would seem to be to contradict the false teaching and affirm the real deity of Jesus Christ: that Jesus is the Son of God, not just for a limited period beginning with his baptism and ending prior to his death, but for the whole of his life, including his death.

John says that both ‘the water and the blood’, not only ‘the water’, testify to the identity of Jesus Christ (verse 6). So there is something about ‘the water’ and ‘the blood’ that affirms the real deity of the man Jesus.

B.2 The witness of the Spirit – 5:6
John also identifies ‘the Spirit’ as a witness to the identity of Jesus Christ: ‘it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth’ – verse 6. And in verse 8 John states that these three, the Spirit, the water and the blood’ all testify, and are all in agreement.

It is perhaps in looking at these witnesses as a group that we can best understand John’s reference to ‘water’ and ‘blood’ as witnesses.

B.3 The threefold witness to the real deity of Jesus: the Spirit, the water, the blood – 5:6 – 8.

B.3.1 The witness of the Spirit in the Old Testament
Through the words of the Old Testament prophets the Holy Spirit bore witness to the deity of the Christ:

What do these verses reveal about the divine identity of the promised Messiah (Christ)?
Psalm 2:1 - 12

Isaiah 7:14 (note ‘Immanuel’ means ‘God with us’)

Isaiah 9:6

Jeremiah 23:5 – 6

B.3.2 The witness of the Spirit in the birth narratives
Similarly, through the angelic messengers, the Holy Spirit testified to the deity of the baby conceived in Mary and born in Bethlehem.

What do these verses say about the deity of Jesus at the time of his conception and birth?
Matthew 1:20 – 23

Matthew 2:14, 15

Luke 1:32, 35

Luke 2:11

All of these testify to the deity of Jesus, from the time of his conception onwards.

B.3.3 The witness of the Spirit and Jesus’ baptism
Here the witness of the Spirit is associated with the ‘water’ involved in Jesus’ baptism. It is not that the Jordan River at this point changed from what it was when others were baptised. It is simply that this ‘water’ is the place and the time at which the Holy Spirit bore witness to the identity of Jesus Christ.

Study these verses. What do you learn about the witness of the Spirit?
Matthew 3:16 – 17

Mark 1:9 – 11

Luke 3:21 – 22

John 1:29 – 34


At his baptism the Holy Spirit testified to the deity of Christ. John the Baptist clearly stated that God had told him that the man upon whom the Spirit descended was the promised Messiah. So John the Baptist said ‘I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God’ (John 1:34) on the basis of the silent but visible witness of the Spirit.

But that is not all that we learn from John the Baptist. We also learn:

That John the Baptist said of Jesus ‘he was before me’ (John 1:15, 30), a clear reference to Jesus’ deity.

John the Baptist also knew that the one whose way he was preparing was ‘the Lord’ (John 1:23) whose sandals he was unworthy to untie (John 1:27).

That John the Baptist called Jesus ‘the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ (John 1:29, 36) a clear reference to Jesus’ sacrificial sin-bearing death – that is, a clear reference to ‘the blood’ to which John refers to in his letter in 5:6 & 8.

John the Baptist’s clear understanding was that he was preparing for the coming of God, but he also knew that it would be a ‘man’ who came. How would he know? How would he be able to identity this man out of the countless other men that he saw every day? What would single out this man who was also God? God, who had sent him, had told him: the Holy Spirit would identify ‘the man’. And that is what happened. But John the Baptist also knew this other thing: that this man, this Lord, this Son of God, whom he has just baptized in water, whom the Holy Spirit has just affirmed, is also ‘the Lamb of God’ who, by his blood, takes away the sin of the world.

Here at the baptism of Jesus we have the water, we have the Spirit, and we have reference to the blood.

B.3.4 The witness of the Spirit and Jesus’ death
If Jesus had been only a man, or if, as the false teachers said, he was only an ordinary man at the time of his death, there would have been no resurrection. According to the New Testament, the resurrection of Jesus Christ is evidence that he was indeed God, as he claimed to be. The New Testament teaches that the resurrection proves that this man who died, this man whose blood was shed for our salvation, is the Son of God, and that this confirmation of his deity is the work of the Spirit.

Consider these verses:

Romans 1:4 teaches that Jesus, ‘through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord.’

1Corinthians 6:11 teaches that it is the Spirit of our God who applies to us the salvation obtained through the blood of Christ.

1Timothy 3:16 teaches that Jesus was ‘vindicated by the Spirit’.

Hebrews 9:14 teaches that Jesus ‘through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God’ (the context refers to ‘the blood of Christ’).

Hebrews 10:29 speaks of those who have ‘trampled the Son of God under foot’, ... ‘treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified’ them and ‘insulted the Spirit of grace’, making a clear association between the Holy Spirit and the salvation obtained through the blood of Christ.

1Peter 1:2 similarly connects the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit.

1Peter 3:18 teaches that Christ, having died for our salvation was ‘made alive by the Spirit’.

These verses teach us that the Holy Spirit was involved in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in the confirmation of the deity of Jesus, and in the application of that death (blood) to those who believe in Jesus Christ.

B.4 The testimony of God about his Son – 5:9 – 10
The testimony of the Holy Spirit is the testimony of God. In verses 9 & 10 John specifically talks about ‘the testimony of God, which he gave about his Son’.

In the first few verses of this letter John spoke of the apostles’ testimony: that what they had heard, what they had seen with their eyes, what they had looked at, what their hands had touched – that is the Word of life, Jesus Christ – that is what they had testified to and proclaimed.

Now he says ‘we accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he gives about his Son’.

The gospels report two occasions on which God gave audible, verbal testimony about Jesus:

At his baptism: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ – Matthew 3:17.

At his transfiguration: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’ – Matthew 17:5.

It is God’s testimony about Jesus, given audibly to the apostles, it is God’s testimony about Jesus given to John the Baptist, it is God’s testimony about Jesus confirmed by the resurrection, it is God’s testimony affirmed by God’s Spirit – that Jesus is God’s Son.

John adds an important perspective about God’s testimony about his Son:

‘Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart’ – verse 10.

The true believer has embraced God’s testimony about his Son. It is embedded deep and unshakeable in the believer’s heart. The true believer has accepted God’s testimony that Jesus is his Son.

John then refers to those who do not believe the testimony God has given about his Son:

They do not believe God. [Note, John does not say that do not believe in God, but they do not ‘believe God’.

They, by not believing God, have made God out to be a liar.

There are many who claim to ‘believe in God’, but John’s indictment here is that they do not believe God.


C. THE TESTIMONY – 5:11, 12

John now states an additional aspect of God’s testimony about his Son: ‘And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.’

In giving us his Son, in sending his Son into the world, God has given us eternal life. As John has said in 4:9, God sent his only Son into the world that we might live through him. If we received his Son we have, at the same time, received eternal life, because he is eternal life. This links right back to John’s description of Jesus in his first chapter: that Jesus is the Word of life, the life, and the eternal life.

In verse 12 John states the truth very simply and very clearly: ‘He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.’ This is similar to John’s statement in his gospel: ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him’ (John 3:36).

There is no blurry ground here. There is no such thing as ‘sitting on the fence’ here. We have either received the Son of God, or we have not. We either have eternal life, or we do not.

And it all depends on whether or not we have received God’s witness, God’s testimony, about his Son.