1 John 5:1-5 Love, Obedience, the World, and Doctrine (Rev. Erik Veerman)

Mar 5, 2023    Erik Veerman

1 John 5:1-5

Rev. Erik Veerman


Love, Obedience, the World, and Doctrine

We are on the home stretch in our study of 1 John - the last chapter. We should wrap up before Easter. And, by the way, after Easter we’ll spend a little time in 2nd and 3rd John. They are both single chapter books and some of the themes continue, so it seems like a good time to continue.

Before we read, let me summarize the book so far. That will actually be helpful for this morning’s text.

John has been writing to his church. They are his beloved children in the faith. He is their spiritual father in this world. At this point in time, at the end of the first century, John is the last living disciple of Jesus. He’s in his 90s.

John has an urgency in his writing. That’s because false beliefs and false teachers and worldly living had infiltrated the church. And it was a big problem. The false teaching was striking at the heart of the Christian faith – the person of Jesus. And furthermore, unrighteous living had crept in. All of this was causing division, confusion, and for the true believers, discouragement.

So, what was John’s response?

Well in chapter 1, he first established his credibility as an apostle of Jesus, and he established the credibility of Jesus – the Word of life.

Also in chapter 1, John presented his thesis for the whole book. God is light and we need to be walking in the light - walking in truth and grace. So that was chapter 1.

In chapter 2, we were presented with four themes that John has come back to over and over. Obedience, love, the world, and true beliefs about Jesus. Those were the 4 life tests. And the point of the tests was to give assurance to true believers and to unsettle unbelievers. So that the believer would be encouraged in the faith and the unbeliever would come to faith.

As we got to chapter 3, John introduced what it means to be born of God. If you are a true believer, as the life tests affirmed, then you are a child of God. That comes with great blessings, immediate and eternal.

In the rest of chapter 3 and into chapter 4, John took those main themes and applied them in his readers’ lives. And he helped them evaluate teaching based on them. Again, the themes or categories are obedience, love, the world, and the content of belief. Up to this point, John had been switching back and forth between each theme.

But here in chapter 5, John brings these themes together.

As I read, I want you to listen for how he does that. How John merges all that he has taught them.

Please turn to 1 John 5:1-5. In the pew Bibles, you can find that on page 1213.


Reading of 1 John 5:1-5


Our study of 1 John has been very provocative. Recently, I heard someone say that they came to faith in Christ when they read the book of 1 John. As we’ve seen it’s very penetrating. You can’t escape the apostle John’s clear delineation of what’s true and good, versus what is false and evil.

And I’ll have to say, I’ve been convicted on multiple occasions as we’ve journeyed through the apostle John’s letter.

Let me ask you, what has convicted your heart? What has challenged you as we’ve delved into this first century situation and sought to apply it today?

Has it been the call to love one another? There are days when that is challenging.

What about God’s call to obedience? Are you overwhelmed with what God has commanded in his Word? I mean, it’s pretty extensive. The Scriptures address not just our words and actions but our heart motivations. 

Or is it the influence and temptation the world? Are you in love with the world, as John asks? Or the things in the world? Or have you found that the world’s skewed priorities and secular philosophies have crept into your life? I can say, I’ve felt that weight. In one sense, we’re all affected by the world around us in unknown ways. And when those get revealed, it’s a painful realization of how easily we are shaped by the culture.

Or have your foundational beliefs about God, or Jesus, or the Gospel been challenged (in a good way)? Have you had to rethink or recommit yourself to what the Scriptures teach about truth and God as light?

Which of those categories has been most convicting? …the call to love, to obey? Is it to reject the world’s priorities and teaching, or the call to belief and truth?

One thing’s for sure, John has been perfectly clear and precise. But he’s also been very loving. He has assured us over and over that despite our sin, God is forgiving. He’s been clear that the life test are about whether the pattern in your life reflects the truth and God’s love. And John has been really clear about the Gospel. If we believe in Christ as Lord and Savior, we are his. Even though sin is still present in us, we are forgiven. We are his children – born of God. He abides in us and we in him. What a beautiful revelation of how we are blessed as sons and daughters together in Christ, as he abides in us.

And this morning, what the apostle does is to bring all of these themes together. Everything that he has been teaching, he weaves together into one cord. What he shows is how each reality of true faith is dependent on and works together with the other realities of true faith. Our obedience, our love, our holding the world at bay, and our beliefs.

I am a bad golfer. And golf is bad for me. It kind of reverses my sanctification. In fact, I can’t even remember the last time I played. The thing that is hard about golf is putting all the mechanics of your golf swing together. How you hold the club, your stance, keeping your left arm straight, your right elbow in, your head in a steady position, making sure your wrists turn just the right amount, keeping your eyes on the ball, having a steady backswing, accelerating the club head at the right rate for the right distance, rotating your torso, and being sure to follow through! Plus all of the mental stuff that goes along with golf.

What I’ve heard is that the more you work on your golf game, the more natural it gets. Your swing becomes second nature. All of the mechanics start to work together. 

You see, as we mature in Christ, each aspect of our faith begins to merge together into a beautiful picture of grace and a reflection of Christ.

The love with which we love God and others merges with our pursuit of righteousness in heart and mind, which merges with a deeper and more faithful understanding of what the Scriptures teach about God and salvation, which merges with our sensitivity to the temptations of the world around us as we reject false hopes and beliefs. 

To say it in another way, this is what discipleship does. We long to know God more, we desire to know his Word, we grow in holiness, our love for the Gospel and others expands. Our knowledge of truth and grace deepens. Our hope and assurance is strengthened. All of those things, all working together as we conform more and more to the image of Christ.

I want you to notice something here. Look at verses 1 and 5. Both of them speak of believing in Jesus. Verse 1, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God.” And verse 5, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” They bracket this text. It’s a literary way of emphasizing the point. In other words, what we believe about Jesus is foundational to our obedience and love and our knowledge and discernment of the world.

To quickly summarize: Chapter 5 verses 1-5 brings together all that John has been writing about so far and it centers on Jesus.

Ok, let’s now get into some of the specifics. How do love and obedience overlap? How does one who pursues God’s commands overcome the world? How does what we believe relate to love and obedience? And How does love of God and one another relate to the world?

Let’s begin with the relationship between love and obedience. That’s the big emphasis in verses 2 and 3. Verse 2 focuses on loving the children of God. How do we know that we love others? We know that, as it says, “when we love God and obey his commandments.” Verse 3 is very similar. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.” What does it mean to love God and love one another? It means keeping his commandments. There’s a very close relationship between love and God’s commandments.

When Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment, he responded by saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength… and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus was quoting Deuteronomy. It’s a summary of God’s commandments. Love God and love your neighbor. In other words, love and God’s commandments cannot be separated. We display our love by pursuing God’s commandments.

Now, to be sure, it’s possible to try to pursue God’s commandments in a loveless way. That’s exactly what the Pharisees did. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day. They had all these rules, and rules upon rules. They added to God’s commands. And even when they sought to obey God’s commands, it was a hollow going-through-the-motions kind of obedience. They didn’t have any love. In fact, they were full of hate. They rejected Jesus, thereby rejecting God, and they hated everyone else. Their rules were just a way to control. They had an upside-down view of God’s law. They thought they could get into God’s good graces by obeying God’s law and coming up with new rules to obey. But they were utterly wrong! Their loveless attempts were not obeying God’s commands. No instead, it’s the opposite: obeying God’s commands comes from the heart. It comes from a love of God and a love for your neighbor. Love and obedience to God’s commands are inseparable. When you have love without God’s commands, you have a misguided understanding of love. When you try to follow God’s commandment without love, you get hollow pharisaical religion.

I want you to notice that phrase at the end of verse 3, “And his commandments are not burdensome.” That is a surprising statement! It’s saying that obeying God’s commandments should not be a burden to you. They should not wear you down. Isn’t that counter-intuitive? Our natural inclination is to think that God’s laws are restrictive.

In fact, a common critique of Christianity is that the Christian God is merely an angry taskmaster. The argument is that the God of the Bible imposes harsh restrictions that stifle happiness. Friedrich Nietzsche, 19th century philosopher, described Christianity’s emphasis on obedience and as oppressive. From the outside, many believe the Christian faith is just a rules-based religion devoid of joy and love.

Yet that is the opposite of what we’ve been learning in 1 John. 

But let’s first acknowledge that a pharisaical view of obedience is devoid of those things.

Let’s go back to the pharisees for a moment. Their version of obedience and added rules was burdensome! Jesus said so himself. In Matthew 23, he said, “The scribes and the Pharisees... tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger." Commandments without love for God and neighbors and without faith in Christ, do the opposite! They add burdens that are hard to bear. 

This idea of a burden is based on farm animals that carry loads. Think of a horse or an ox that carries a lot of weight or plows the field. A pharisaical type of religion adds burdens to people, it does not relieve burdens from people. But we’re told here that the opposite should be true.

And there are 2 reasons why. The first we already talked about – Love for God and one another is necessary part of obedience. When we love God we desire to pursue his commandments. That’s the first reason.

The second reason is found in verses 4 and 5. It starts with the word “for.” So, it’s answering the question “why?” Why should God’s commandments not be burdensome? Here it is “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Verse 5 continues the reason, “Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

This is yet another intersection of themes from the first 4 chapters. The world and our beliefs. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that John is using the word “world,” to mean the temptations, the idols, the evil, and the false hopes which are in the world. In regard to believing, John is referring to our doctrinal beliefs. He specifically highlights the belief that “Jesus is the Son of God.” Those are the last words of verse 5. 

If you remember, believing that Jesus was God in the flesh was a big problem in John’s day. Some were teaching that Jesus was not the Christ, not the Son of God. So, John is absolutely clear: a true believer believes that Jesus is God’s Son! In fact, in order for Jesus to have overcome the world for us, he had to be God’s Son. Fully and truly God, fully and truly one of us, so that he could deal with sin our the world. Someone with a true belief in Jesus is born of God, and therefore given the victory over the world. 

Just to be sure, John is not saying the world will not influence us. He’s not saying that sin is no longer present in us. But rather, he’s saying that a believer has overcome the world. It is a state of being. It’s like the end of Romans 8, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

John’s point is this: we are victorious over a world that seeks to reject God’s commandments. In that victory, through Christ, God’s commandments are not burdensome. 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” The word yoke is similarly referring to oxen or horses. It’s the wooden harness placed on their shoulders. And Jesus says, “my burden is light.” It’s feather weight. When we believe in Jesus, he takes our burdens. And that includes any burden related to obedience.

To be sure, that does not mean obedience is always easy or natural. No, the scriptures call us to strive and fight for what is good and right and to put to death our earthly nature.

What I’m saying is that as you mature in Christ, as you realize the victory you have in him, and his love for you, then God’s commands become lighter.

•God will give you a desire and heart to pursue them.

•You will realize that his commands are for your blessing and benefit.

•You will also realize that pursuing God’s commandments blesses others.

•You’ll come to know that when you keep God’s commandments, you are reflecting Christ in you.

•And through them you are loving God and loving others.

Listen to these words from Psalm 19 – “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;”

You see, God’s law and his commandments not only become light, but as the Psalmist has said, a wisdom and joy which will revive your soul and enlighten your eyes. You see, God’s commandments are not oppressive without joy and love, rather they are freeing full of joy and love.

Let me put it all together: 

•As you grow in your love for God and one another, you will grow in your desire to pursue God’s commandments. 

•Then, as you mature in knowing and keeping God’s commandments in his Word, you will mature in your knowledge of God and salvation in Jesus.

•Next, as this understanding of God and salvation is deepened, so is your understanding and discernment of the world.

•And finally, as you further grasp the world with all its false hopes and beliefs, you will further grasp how to pursue God’s commandments and how to love him and others, more and more. 

So, you see, it’s all woven together. And each strand – your love, your obedience, your beliefs, and your discernment of the world – each of those strands supporting and strengthening the others. There’s a reason that ropes are often braided. They’re more durable, they can withstand stresses. They are less likely to break under load. Such will be your life as you mature in these areas.

As we come to a close, there’s an important word that I’ve mostly skipped over. In fact, it’s the only time in the whole letter that this word is used. Which I think you’ll find surprising. And it’s a word that ties all of these themes together into one.

Look at that two-word phrase at the end of verse 4: “our faith.” Faith is the Greek word Pistis. Faith is more than just believing. Over and over John has used the word for belief, even a couple of times in these verses. But faith is assenting to what you believe. Embracing it. Faith goes hand and hand with God’s grace. Faith is a gift of God where you see your sinful situation apart from him and you turn your life to Christ.

I’m not saying that John has been avoiding the idea of faith in his letter. No, the concepts of faith have been presented all throughout, especially being born of God. But it’s significant that as John summarizes his letter, he uses such an important word - faith.

So, these five verses are a picture of true faith. Faith is where it begins. When you come to faith in Christ, you are then “born” of God. And if you are born of God, spiritually born, you are his by faith. 

It’s by faith that you turn from your unbelief, to him. It’s through your faith that you experience God’s love in Christ and respond to his love with love. It’s by faith that you pursue the things of God, his commandments. And it’s by faith that you trust in what he has revealed in his Word about the world and about Jesus.

So, may we not think of each of these themes individually, but rather may we embrace them together by faith. May we mature in our faith as they become woven together in our lives. And when we do, God will lift the burden of his commandments from us and we’ll experience the victory that he has given us over the world.