5 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. 5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
6 This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
Let’s begin by bridging a couple of John’s themes together here. We saw last week that he ended chapter four with a pretty strongly worded command to love one another. He says that whoever claims to love God but does not love others is a liar. Now look at the connection he makes in these first few verses of chapter five. Anyone who believes in Jesus is born of God. In other words, we are all sons and daughters of God. So, John is saying, if we claim to love Jesus as the Son of God, yet at the same time do not show that same love to all others who are also adopted children into God’s family, then our love for Jesus cannot be real. If we truly love God, then we must also truly love his family.
Let’s remember also that John is writing to a church that is barely hanging on. They have divisions within that are tearing them apart. Into this, John says, hang on! If you all claim to have love for Jesus, but fail to show that some love to one another, then you don’t really have a love for Jesus to begin with. But his point here is not to push any of us away. Scripture is not telling us that if and when we fail to love others that we should just walk away. It is a call to return. John wants his church to know that in Jesus there is always grace from God to be restored. And now he unpacks this for us by centering our focus once again on what this grace is all about.
There is a key word—a key idea—in today’s passage that stands out. It is the idea of testimony. The truth of God’s grace for us is not some hidden mystery for us to discover. Others have testified to this truth. And where does this testimony begin? John begins with the testimony of God himself. It is God’s testimony that first-and-foremost calls us back to focus on grace.
This might look like a confusing part of the Bible. But look at it along with me and I think this will make sense. John says something really weird here about the testimony of water and blood. In verse six he says, not by water only, but water and blood. What does this even mean? Apparently, there were some others who—for whatever reason—only affirmed the testimony of the ‘water’ and dismissed the testimony of the ‘blood,’ whatever that all means. And John says, nope, you have to take both of these testimonies together. Are you thoroughly confused yet?
The symbols of water and blood show up throughout John’s gospel narrative. I won’t take time here to go point out all those connections; let’s just jump to the endgame and look at what those symbols mean. Water is a symbol for Jesus’ earthly ministry—his disciples, his teachings, his miracles, his healings. Water brings us back to the very beginning of his ministry, his baptism in the Jordan river. An event in which the Trinity was revealed with the Spirit coming as a dove and the voice of the Father coming from above as the Son came out of the water. Blood points us to what Jesus accomplished at the cross. It is the cross that stands as the pinnacle and high point of God’s redemptive plan of salvation for his creation. The blood and the cross are the symbols that—more than anything else—show the extent of God’s grace and love for his world.
The testimony of God in the Bible that John affirms for the church and for us today is the necessity of Jesus’ blood. The earthly ministry and teachings of Jesus does, in fact, point us to God’s love. And there were some in the early church who believed that this by itself was enough. But John reminds us today of the full testimony of God, that it is both the water and the blood. It is only in the cross that the full extent of God’s love and grace has come to us. Without the cross, without the blood of Jesus, we can never measure up to the standard of love that God requires of his people. If all that we have are just the teachings of Jesus and the example of Jesus in how he lived, then we still fall short. Because you and I on our own can never follow that example perfectly. We cannot keep the commands of God on our own all the time. More was needed. More had to be done. God had to come further. In fact, God had to come all the way. He came all the way to where we are, to broken people in need of rescuing. That’s the cross. That’s the blood. That’s the testimony of God.
But wait. We’re only half way through verse six. There’s more. AND the Spirit testifies as well. Because the Spirit is truth. But wait. There’s more. Verse nine: the testimony of the Father joins as well. John beautifully paints us a picture of the Trinity in perfect love and in perfect unison giving testimony to love and grace for the world he created.
And where does this perfect testimony of the Triune God point? It all lands squarely on the cross of Jesus. There is no other way around it. There is no other way to God on our own. There is nothing that any person who has ever lives has ever been able to do on their own to lift themselves up to God. No one has ever been good enough. No one has ever embraced perfect morality. No one has ever had flawless piety or godliness. No one. Which is why the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the church in Rome, no one is righteous; not even one. Without the cross we are left without any real testimony at all.
What does this mean for us? What is my testimony then? In this letter to the church, John is not just preaching the gospel message, he is calling them out on something as well. John is serving subpoenas. He is giving notice to the church—he is giving notice to you and to me—we are being subpoenaed to testify. We are hereby called to be witnesses in the court of all creation. The testimony of the cross of Jesus is given to us as our testimony as well. And any testimony that fall short of the cross is a testimony that falls short of the truth. It falls short of grace. Let’s break this apart so you can see what I mean.
There are a lot of people around us that profess to be Christians. A number of years ago I did some affiliate faculty work at Colorado Christian University. One of the classes I regularly taught was a freshman level introduction to the Bible. The first assignment I gave was a one page paper in which I asked students to summarize for me what they knew about the Bible and what they thought to be the main theme of the Bible. Consistently, more than half of the students would always describe the theme of the Bible as God’s instructions for how to be a good person. The Bible is where God tells us how he wants us to live so that we can all be good people. No mention of the cross. None. No mention of grace. None.
Often as I meet new people and engage in conversation it comes out that I am a pastor. And then some people, if they belong to a church, begin talking about their church. They talk about what they like about their church. They talk about what a blessing the church is for them. They talk about friendly people. They talk about uplifting music. They talk about inspiring messages. They talk about programs and activities for their kids. They talk about opportunities to volunteer for their community. They talk about all these way that faith takes shape in their lives and has expression in their live. They talk about all these ways that they learn about God and about the Bible. But rarely does anyone mention the cross.
The conversation about faith and about God seems very transactional. We talk about the perceived personal value. This is what’s in it for me. This is what I get out of it. We are a society of consumers. And churches quickly play the part of providing spiritual commodities for our consumption. And our testimonies about our church, about our faith, about God can quickly mingle into the exact same language as our testimonies about a good restaurant, or a new car, or a great vacation cruise. We testify about friendly people. We testify about uplifting music. We testify about inspiring messages. We testify about challenging teaching. We testify about the water. But do we testify about the blood? Do we testify about the cross?
A testimony of the cross is a testimony of both words and action. It is a testimony that affirms our calling to live the truth of the gospel, to live the truth of God’s grace. If you and I truly accept and believe the truth of the cross in our lives, then we truly accept and believe that we are broken people who depend on God’s love and grace alone for our rescue—for our salvation. And if you and I truly accept and believe this grace from God, then we live lives that testify to what that grace and forgiveness looks like in our lives. You and I testify in the way that we live that we are not only people who receive the grace of God, but we are people who have been joined with Jesus as sons and daughters of the Father, and that now we, too, live out that grace and love and forgiveness of God to others.
I testify to the cross when I show the same level of unconditional, unmerited, unearned love and favor and forgiveness towards others as God has shown towards me. Look at verse nine again. “We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.” So, whenever anyone says they appreciate me bringing over a meal, or helping to run an errand, what is my testimony? “Yup, God wants us to be good people, so I’m just trying to be a good person.” NO. That’s not a testimony of the cross. How about starting that conversation this way instead: “God has been so good to me, even though I haven’t done anything to deserve it. The love God has for me is the same love God has for you as well. That’s why I do these things.” Now that’s a testimony that opens the door to share about the cross.
This passage from 1 John has a lot to say about testifying. It is the key word in these verses. John originally wrote this letter in Greek. The Greek word that your English Bible translates as testify or testimony is marturon. It’s where we get our English word martyr. We might think of a martyr as someone who dies for a noble cause. In the early church, many people were martyred for their faith in the face of persecution.
But in the true sense of the word, a martyr is someone who gives a testimony. A martyr is someone who gives a testimony through actions that are so sincere, that they would sacrifice everything for what they believe. A martyr will stop at nothing, and will leave nothing behind because they are so insistent about what they know to be the truth. A martyr testifies not only with words, but with sacrificial action.
This is the testimony of Jesus. It is a sacrificial testimony that shows up not only in words, but it shows up in actions. It is a testimony that God gives which demonstrates just how far his grace has reached down to find us and to redeem us. Jesus gave his testimony—his marturon—at the cross; the place where God gave everything because of his love for the world.
This is the testimony that belongs to us as well. Our lives, our words, our actions should stop at nothing and should leave nothing behind to embrace and live within the grace of God. Our testimonies are empowered by Holy Spirit to extend the testimony of that grace to one another as well. You’ve been given a subpoena. What will your testimony be?