1 John 5:4-10
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 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. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 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. 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.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is a lot of confusion in the world concerning religion. There is a great deal of unbelief, of course, but that is not what we want to focus on this morning. Those who worship false gods, like the Hindu's and the Moslems, and such, are confused, to say the least. Actually they are what we once would have called pagans. Then there are those who claim to worship the same God we do - Jews, and the Baha'ai and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses and the like. They also worship false gods, by denying who God is and what He is like and what He wants from us and for us. Theirs is confusion of a sort too. We call that paganism as well. There are those who do not acknowledge the existence of a god - atheists and Buddhists and so forth.
Our direction this morning really has nothing to do with that sort of confusion and unbelief. We want to look at the confusion that exists among those who call themselves "Christians." There is still a great deal of confusion among this group about what the Gospel is and how we access all that it promises and conveys. What it promises, of course, is the victory of Christ over sin and death and hell. Our text calls it "the victory that has overcome the world". That is our focus, this morning, and our theme is "This Is the Victory!"
"The victory that has overcome the world" is our faith. Our faith receives all that Christ has won for us. Our faith receives the forgiveness of sins. Our faith receives blessings and strengthening. Our faith receives eternal life. In this life and in this world we see none of it. Our flesh experiences none of it. The world would have us sin and die like the rest of humanity. Our victory over this desire to destroy is our faith, which shares in the victory of Christ over sin and death and hell.
It is not our will, as so many like to think, that brings us the victory. We don't make the choice to believe. It is not our decision. Scripture tells us we do not have the ability to make that choice, and if we did, our sinful human nature would cause us to decide not to choose God and choose life every time.
Our salvation does not depend on our good behavior or good works or the depth and sincerity of our repentance or on our doing some sort of penance or anything like that. Most religions teach that it does, but it is simply not what the Bible tells us. The simple truth is that Jesus Christ has won us the victory, and it is ours by grace trough faith. There is nothing else required and there is nothing else expected, and there is nothing else possible.
Faith is the victory. By faith we see the things of God and we live in the light of His promises. By faith people turn from pursuing works and riches and fame and all sorts of things to follow Jesus. By faith we expect things we have never seen and we struggle to be better people than we really feel that we are.
Not everyone agrees or believes. Some people who want to claim a place in the Christian Church deny the Word of God altogether. It is a fiction, or a re-telling of history with a decidedly "Jesus-Movement" spin on it. Some call the Bible Man's Word about God, or Man's encounter with God. C.S. Lewis once wrote that if Christianity was a myth, then it was a true myth, by which he meant that it was so true to spiritual realities and truth that we could overlook the lack of historical truth in it.
Most who call themselves Christians do not consider the Bible to be false or misleading. They believe it is God's Word and honest and true in every word it says. Their most common problem is that they do not know what it says, or understand what it means, and what they do believe is often in direct contradiction of the Bible. Most common among the mistakes and confusions of a great many people is the idea of having to earn, deserve, work, merit, live up to, and be somehow worthy of salvation. Frequently that notion is coupled quite inconsistently with the idea that everyone they care about in going to heaven, and while a great many people they do not know personally are undeserving and lost, whatever it is that is required for salvation is miraculously accomplished by them, since they are certain they are going to heaven with all their loved ones.
For such people, the victory of the Christian faith is managing to stop doing something they really like to do - or something really awful that they can't seem to control their desire to do. The less ambitious set their sights on making a decision, and praying a prayer. Still another group considers the victory to be remembering the day that they had a particular feeling within the, so that they may be certain that they have what it takes - or had it once upon a time.
Our victory, however, is faith - and that is faith in what God has revealed. Those who try to find the victory elsewhere are calling God a liar, because His Word speaks clearly and teaches the Gospel clearly. John writes that those who do not believe what God has taught about Christ are guilty of "making God a liar" because they do not believe "the witness that God has borne concerning His Son." Remember those words the next time someone tries to tell you that sound doctrine is not important, or that feeling good about one another is more important than agreeing on what the Word of God teaches.
John also mentions the three witnesses - the water, and the blood and the Spirit. This is where John refutes the Gnostic heretics of his day. The Gnostics said that Jesus was fully human, and that at His baptism, the "Eon Christ" descended and took possession of Jesus, making Jesus a great and wise teacher. They also taught that the Christ left Jesus just before the passion, so that all Jesus suffered was merely one man suffering, and that His death was merely the death of man, not the death of the Son of God for us. This idea would destroy the Gospel, of course. The Gnostics didn't mind, because they believed it was knowing and understanding the true nature of the universe, and of God - who they understood as different from the creator of the world - that saved one. They also denied resurrection because the material things were evil and undesirable to the Gnostic theology.
John was saying here that Jesus came as the Son of God, the Christ, not just by means of a baptism, but also to suffer and die. The water is not the only witness, nor the cause, but the blood shed on the cross is the very blood of the only-begotten of the Father - the Son of God. He was Christ at His baptism and He was Christ at His death - and the witness of the Spirit is added - the Holy Spirit of God. It is the Spirit who bears witness to Christ, and His witness is truth because the Spirit is truth Himself. He answers the Gnostics, and He answers all of those who would cast doubt on the divinity of Jesus.
John also makes a Trinitarian statement here - calling the Spirit "the Truth" . Jesus proclaims God is true and His word is the truth. Jesus also proclaims that He Himself is the Truth. Now John connects the Holy Spirit here, saying that "the Spirit is the Truth."
He takes this talk of the Spirit one step farther, saying that "The one who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself." When you believe in the Son of God - which includes all that God reveals to us about Him, then you have the Witness, which is the Truth, which is The Holy Spirit, which is God Himself within you! This is something we teach, but I don't think people consider what it means very often. It means that God is always with you. It means that God is always aware of your situation, and wrapped up in your life. God reveals this to us for our comfort.
John also uses this wonderful truth to contrast those who believe and those who do not. He says, "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." What a contrast! The one who believes has God dwelling within him and blessing Him, and the one who does not believe is guilty of calling God a liar, publicly. He doesn't need to say anything - unbelief asserts that God is dishonest and lying simply by not believing what God takes the time to reveal. He is guilty because he has not believed the witness that God has borne concerning His Son. The witness of God is what He has revealed in Scripture - so false doctrine is more than just a silly error, in the face of God's clear revelation of the truth in Holy Writ, false doctrine is blasphemy - it is calling God a liar.
It is what the world does - proclaims that God is not truthful, and that we cannot trust what He says. That is the original lie of Satan in the Garden of Eden. "Has God said . . . ? You shall surely not die!" By repeating that lie to us time and time again, the world around us show us its slavery tot he father of lies. And our victory over the world - and over the Father of Lies - is to believe what God reveals, particularly in connection with His Son, and is death for us, and God's love and rescue worked through that passion and crucifixion and death. And so, our faith is the victory, just as John teaches us. We believe, and we have God in us, and we have forgiveness and life and salvation, by grace, and received through faith. This faith, your faith, this is the victory!
So don't look anywhere else. Don't try to achieve it. Don't try to feel it. Don't follow the fads of religion - the "promise keepers", or the "Left Behind"s, or the "name it and claim it", or any other fad which may come into fashion. Your victory is not "out there". "And who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?"
"For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith."
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due.
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.
Send Pastor Robin Fish an email.