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Even though Christians experience a victorious new birth, being born of God himself, in order to believe, love, and obey, we must still wrestle for the rest of our lives with why we believe, love, and obey. Does our faith rest on some kind of psychological deception, whether from a hyper-emotionalized experience, a desperately guilty conscience, or some kind of longing for an absent father figure? Deep down, are we loving other Christians merely in order to gain power, influence, and maybe even money from those we feign to love? Does our obedience spring from nothing more than a desire to lift ourselves up and put others down on the basis of “morality”?

If not, why are our versions of faith, love, and obedience better than these?

John addresses questions concerning the reality of the Jesus whom he preaches by pointing to the testimony of the “three that testify,” water, blood, and the Spirit. He writes:

[6] This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. [7] For there are three that testify: [8] the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. [9] If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. [10] Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.
(1 John 5:6-10 ESV)

The reason that our new birth is a victory, and not a mindwashing defeat, is that it frees us to grasp the reality of Jesus, especially as we consider the witnesses that he calls for testimony.

Now, the meaning of John’s witnesses are not self-evident. In fact, v. 6 is one of the more controversial verses in the Bible because John does not explicitly spell out what the water, the blood, and the Spirit signify. Adding fuel to the flame of confusion, the KJV unfortunately follows a bad textual source, so that v. 7-8 say this: “7For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. 8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.” While this is good theology, it isn’t what John wrote. The addition doesn’t “appear in a single Greek manuscript of the New Testament prior to about 1520” (Donald Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle [Chicago: Moody, 1985], 372.).

So, what is John’s purpose in citing the water, the blood, and the Spirit? Water, as John’s words suggest, is not the controversial part, for Jesus Christ came “not by the water only but by the water and the blood.” Indeed, no one had a problem with the water–that is, with Jesus’ baptism–in the time that John was writing. The problem was that many antichrists had been preaching that the divine Christ descended upon the human Jesus at the baptism, and then departed from Jesus before the cross.

John’s key witness, then, is the blood. It is the blood of Jesus God’s Son that cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:7). In fact, God’s love was demonstrated supremely for us when God sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins by shedding his blood on the cross (1 John 4:10). The blood of Jesus–representing his suffering, crucifixion, and death–is vital testimony for John’s case.

The problem in John’s day was that people were not so much challenging the divinity of Jesus, but his full humanity. How could God actually become a human? If this Jesus–the Christ, the Son of God–actually shed his blood for us, then the antichrists have no case. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father bore witness concerning the Son: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). At the crucifixion, it was the Roman centurion and those who were with him seeing Jesus die who were compelled to declare, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Matt. 27:54).

And in fact, John has pointed to this issue (that Jesus is God who came in the flesh) throughout this letter: see 1 John 2:18-27 and 1 John 4:1-6. “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess this Jesus is not from God.”

But one witness remains: the Spirit, about whom John has more to say than he does about the water and the blood combined. The Spirit is the one who testifies, for the Spirit is Truth Himself. Whatever testimony the antichrists of the world might bear concerning Jesus, the Spirit’s testimony is greater, for the Spirit is God bearing testimony concerning himself.

In fact the Spirit has a completely different means of testifying, John writes. “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” The testimony is not something external that we see or hear, and then reflect upon internally, but something that we experience internally from the start.

So what is the testimony of the Spirit? More on this tomorrow.

Post Series on 1 John 5:1-12:

  1. The Victory of Being Born of God (1 John 5:1-5)
  2. There are Three that Testify (1 John 5:6-10)
  3. Whoever has the Son has Life (1 John 5:11-12)

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