6 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.
7 And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is the truth.
8 For there are three that bear witness, the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.
9 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.
10 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.
11 And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.
12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.
(1 John 5:6-13, NASB).
The Water and the Blood
Let’s just put this on the table up front. When he mentions the water and the blood, I have no idea what he is talking about. I don’t think anyone else has much idea what he’s talking about either. Scholars seem to agree – no one really has come forward with a compelling explanation of what he means by the water and the blood. That’s all I have to say about this.
Testimony and Witness
I confess that I’ve never liked this song:
You ask me how I know He lives:
He lives within my heart.
What could possibly be less convincing than if someone asks you why you have a certainty about Christ’s resurrection, you break into schmaltzy song and tell them that He lives within your heart? It sets my teeth on edge! I think even believers might begin to doubt if that is all we have. Although I continue to dislike that song, the idea behind it seems to be the very idea that John is espousing in this passage. Ouch! We have the witness “in ourselves”. While we in our modern science-influenced mindset want to champion empirical evidence and objective reasoning as our basis for the faith, John puts our subjective experience of these great truths on the pedestal as our paramount assurance that they are indeed true. I dearly love empirical evidence and objective reasoning, and John also makes a big deal of the fact that he himself was a first-hand witness of the reality of Jesus Christ, but I also cherish the fact that I have an inner witness that these things are living and active truths. We need both – objective and reasonable facts and a subjective experience concerning those facts. I believe that it is important that what we believe has the “ring of truth.” The Holy Spirit speaks into this place within us.
In Christian circles we confuse the idea of “witness” with the notion of evangelism or proselytizing. However, he is not talking about the idea of witness or testimony in this way, but a more normal way – it means that someone who has seen or apprehended something is telling the story to a judge or jury. An assertion is made, and the evidence of witnesses is brought forward to either reinforce or undermine that assertion. The really interesting thing is that the way this reads, it is not “the world” or non-believers who are questioning things, it is us – the believers. This resonates with me! I find Christians constantly need to be reinforced in believing the astonishing truth of the gospel. In many churches this problem is generally solved by trying to make it less astonishing – some piece of conditionality is added into the equation so that the power of Jesus’ blood is undermined. We are constantly driven to disbelieve, to go back to a performance driven mindset. We are constantly driven back to thinking that love is in us, and not in God’s love towards us. I think it just seems too good to be true, or too easy.
The assertion which is under dispute is this: believers in Jesus Christ have eternal life (1 John 5:11). The jury is our own mind, and the witnesses are the Spirit, the water, the blood, and men. The idea of eternal life carries with it the notion that there is no longer any threat of ending (1 John 4:18), that we have entered by Christ’s propitiatory blood into a perfect enduring eternal love which will never be closed off. When he says “eternal life”, this is another way of saying that we will never be rejected, we have been definitively accepted and loved. We are secure. All judgement as concerns us has been executed and all of our sin has been declared avenged at the cross, so all that is left forever is love. It is eternal love and definitive forgiveness which we are putting on trial.
So, we have the idea of witness and testimony being given, and the idea of receiving the witness. Obviously, in a trial, a witness can testify, but the jury may not assess that testimony as true. They could either accept it or reject it. Here is the amazing observation: according to this passage, we humans are the judge and God is the accused! He even says, the one who does not receive the witness makes God a liar. So, in our decision to either receive or reject the gospel of eternal life in Jesus Christ through His propitiation, we judge the work of Christ as either sufficient or insufficient. God says the blood of Jesus is sufficient, and if we disbelieve, we make Him a liar; we set ourselves as the standard and judge God against that standard. The really amazing thing is this – if we judge the work of Christ as insufficient, God honors that standard; that judgment becomes the standard for us. What we deem to be sufficient becomes the universe we dwell in.
24 And He was saying to them, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you; and more shall be given you besides.
(Mark 4:24, NASB).
So, we might say, “sure, Jesus died for my past sins, but if I maintain some habitual sin or if I have an affair or murder someone, my salvation is removed.” If we say, our lack of “sanctification” disproves our justification, then in that case Christ’s blood is no longer deemed sufficient and we have judged God’s witness concerning the sufficiency of Christ as a lie. We become our own god and judge God as inferior and a liar. Notice that saying that Jesus’ blood alone is sufficient to save us from wrath and judgment, we are not saying that adultery and murder are good or that it is not important that we should pursue holiness. It is saying that repenting of our evil is not sufficient for our redemption. Christ’s blood alone is sufficient, and it is sufficient indeed.
Yes, you might say, but what about a verse like Hebrews 10:26?
26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,
27 but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES.
(Hebrews 10:26, 27, NASB).
Interestingly, in context the author of Hebrews is talking about losing your adherence to faith in the propitiation, and subsequently breaking off fellowship. This harmonizes perfectly with what we have seen from 1 John 3:23, that the two go together – maintaining a mindset of faith in Christ for each other is in fact love for each other. You’re not going to find a place in the New Testament where it doesn’t work out that faith in Christ isn’t the central key to our community and that our strong forgiveness is the basis for an enduring and growing holiness.
The Spirit is the Truth
The Spirit is equated with truth. This is one of the great equality statements in the writings of John:
“God is light…” 1 John 1:5
“God is love…” 1 John 4:8
“the Spirit is the truth …” 1 John 5:7
“He Himself is the propitiation …” 1 John 2:2
We tend to think of the operation of the Holy Spirit in terms of weird emotional manifestations, but in John’s world the Spirit is all about truth. If we come to a place where the action and work of the Holy Spirit is interpreted in a supernatural or emotional contrast to doctrine or truth or the power of Christian thinking and teaching, it is most certainly in error. John the apostle sees the Holy Spirit as inseparably linked to Christian doctrine. The Holy Spirit’s main action is to speak truth to our minds, and He is set in contrast to the spirit of error who also speaks to the mind. Look at these verses:
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
21 I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
(1 John 2:20, 21, NASB).
6 We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
(1 John 4:6, NASB).
16 “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever;
17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you.
(John 14:16, 17, NASB).
26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
(John 14:26, NASB).
26 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me,
(John 15:26, NASB).
13 “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.
(John 16:13, NASB).
The Spirit of Truth is speaking to us. This is not some weird pentecostal snake-handling thing; it is part of the normal human experience. He is the Spirit of Truth and He is regularly seen as speaking to us in an understandable way. It is a foundational part of Biblical Christianity, and it is the main point that John is making in this passage. He is the Spirit of Truth, which implies that He is speaking to our faculty of judgment. The part of us which weighs out what is true and what is false is the part of us that the Holy Spirit is making His appeal to. But what He is saying is that we have eternal love through the initiative of God as demonstrated in Christ’s blood. He is making the case for the power and sufficiency of the the propitiation to our very inner conscience.
Assuring our Assurance
At its root, John’s letter is meant to convince Christians that they really are Christians. He uses some form of the phrase “By this you know …” around 30 times in 5 short chapters. He is addressing the fact that we tend to waffle on our assurance of the authenticity of our faith. As he says, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life.” This compassionate drive to assure believers of the enduring authenticity of their faith is the root of the message of this book. So, if there is any practical application of the things in the book of 1 John, it is this: if you believe in the love which God has for you, if you believe in Jesus, if you believe He has died for your sins, you can be absolutely assured of your eternal life. His perfect love will endure beyond your imperfection. You will live forever, and it does not depend on the perfection of your behavior but upon the perfection of His love for you. We are the community of those who believe that very thing about ourselves and about each other. When we doubt our own assurance or the assurance of others, that we are secure in an enduring and perfect love, we place the gospel on trial and place ourselves as God’s judge. John writes this to encourage us to let God’s judgement stand: we can be assured that we are eternally safe, forever loved with a perfect affection that will never end.