“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. 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. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:9–15).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
In this world there are so many competing opinions and narratives, often directly at odds with one another. How do you know what is true? Who to believe?
In its “Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions,” the United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit includes the following instructions for jurors: “In deciding the facts in this case, you may have to decide which testimony to believe and which testimony not to believe…”
Among factors to take into account in considering the testimony of any witness, the manual suggests: the opportunity and ability of the witness to see or hear or know the things testified to; the witness’s memory, candor, fairness, and intelligence; the witness’s manner while testifying; the witness’s bias or prejudice, if any; whether other evidence contradicted the witness’s testimony; and the reasonableness of the witness’s testimony in light of all the evidence.
It goes on to say: “The weight of the evidence as to a fact does not necessarily depend on the number of witnesses who testify. What is important is how believable the witnesses were, and how much weight you think their testimony deserves.”[i]
People of all cultures are used to hearing human testimony in court and assigning great weight to it. How much more impact does the Christian message have since God is talking!
John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater.” Why? Because God is greater. Because God cannot lie. Because the Word is the Truth. So, if we willingly operate by the testimony of men in earthly affairs, then how much more should we readily embrace the testimony of God concerning the death, resurrection, ascension, and rule of His Son? The witness of the “Spirit and the water and the blood” truly is the most credible witness imaginable. For it is God witnessing to Himself.
It is a clever argument, be it never so obvious. We operate, even to this day in the court of law, by the principles of witness and testimony in matters of jurisprudence. Indeed, we allow life and death decisions to be made upon the testimony of human beings. Now, take the strength of the system built upon frail, impressionable, and limited people and intensify it to the perfections of God. Surely the testimony of God is rock solid, life changing.
This divine self-attestation has one subject. John writes: “This is the testimony of God that He has testified concerning His Son.” When God the Spirit speaks, He speaks all things in relation to the Son. When the waters of Holy Baptism “speak,” they testify to the death and resurrection of Christ and, by extension, those united to Christ. When the blood of God “speaks” it testifies to Christ’s self-giving which is in and through the Cross and now manifest in Holy Communion.
Thus, 1 John 5:10 naturally follows: “The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” The one who believes has the Spirit and the water and the blood literally within himself to bear witness that Jesus is the risen and ruling Savior of the world.
It is important to note how the self-attestation of God is not subjective but objective. This is to say that the believer does not look within himself to discern the divine witness, but externally to the means of grace—Baptism and Communion—but especially it is the Spirit who illumines the truth about Christ, the Truth who is Christ, through the Scriptures which themselves are the testimony of God of the great work of redemption accomplished by the blessed Trinity in real human history.
These objective works and words of God are the center. The second ring is the ring of faith, the subjective testimony within us. Word and Sacrament build and nurture faith. We hear the words of God and say, “I believe,” or in the words of verse 10, we have this testimony in our hearts.
To be sure, whenever we look inward, there is the danger of self-deception. Satan has warped this witness in many people today so that inner feelings and intuition has become their only touchstone of truth. Some people today evaluate truth and morality by how they feel about it. Objective and universal standards fade away and everything become relative: “what is true for me.” Some try to find truth about Jesus or messages from Jesus through meditation or prayer. They will say things such as “The Lord told me…” or “The Lord spoke to me last night…” or “I really feel His presence now…” And often what comes out of their mouths next departs from Scripture and thus becomes part of the lie.
But even though the concept of listening to an inner, subjective witness can be abused, it can be used rightly. A healthy faith is always grounded in the objective revelation of God’s Word and is guided by the Holy Spirit Himself. As Paul says in Romans 8:16, “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,” and in Galatians 4:6, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” The inner comfort we experience as believers comes not from us but from the Spirit, with His words and truths. It is good when we notice all the inward gifts of being God’s children, such as peace, joy, contentment, and hope—they are no accident. God gave them to us to bless us and to assure us that our faith is real.
Believers are never put in a position of “taking a leap of faith” into the unknown, any more than a human court of law expects a judge or jury to convict and sentence based on feelings, mood, or personal prejudices instead of evidence and testimony. John lays out the evidence in his Gospel and points to the testimony that corroborates the evidence. We are called to trust the “testimony of God” (1 John 5:9), and that trust means that the believer has the testimony of himself. This testimony is the objective Word of God that bears witness to the truth of His Son’s death and resurrection on our behalf. Therefore, “whoever does not believe God has made Him a liar.” We make God a liar if we fail to trust that Jesus is the Son of God, that He is the Christ, and that in Him our sins are truly forgiven.
Note the solemn significance of the last half of verse 12. It is a simple phrase, just 13 little words in English. But those little words describe the grave and awesome threat that hangs over many, many people. Read these words carefully: “Whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
John has written at some length describing how good it is to be in Christ. Consider now what happens if people reject God’s gift, reject the Gospel, and choose not to believe in the Son. John says simply, “They do not have life.” The Father did not sacrifice His Son “just for the fun of it.” He made that supreme sacrifice, one that tore His fatherly heart out, in order to spare people the torment that Satan is going to suffer.
Paul says that we are by nature children of God’s wrath. Unless people are reborn in Christ, they stay children of wrath forever. This is why John writes so earnestly. This is why we need to listen to him. This is why the ministries of our congregation are so important. This is why your family’s spiritual well-being is worth your greatest energy. This is a life-or-death issue for everyone on the planet.
His warning concluded, John goes back to one of his main themes—knowing—and gives us three wonderful statements of encouragement: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life. And this is the confidence that we have toward Him, that if we ask anything according to His will He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of Him” (1 John 5:13-15).
Christian teachers and pastors want to make sure that God’s law is proclaimed forcefully. But sometimes they overdo it, and even though they speak the Gospel too, they maybe don’t do quite as vivid a job of communication with it as they did with their thundering condemnations of sin. People can be left wondering if they are really saved. Some Christians are so afraid of smugness that they overdo the humility and contrition, and they fall back into uncertainty. Some teachers and pastors are afraid that people will lose their motivation if they get too comfortable, and so they sort of don’t mind if people live in a state of unresolved guilt. For whatever reasons, if you ask people, even Christian people, what will happen to them when they die, too many answers range from “I hope I go to heaven” to “I don’t know.” You can know.” Listen.
Here are three wonderful, faith-building promises from a true apostle of the Lord: First, you can know that you have eternal life.
You may lack the things that give status to people according to the world’s value system—university degrees, stock options, four-car garage, hot tub, or your own publicist—but that’s okay. As a Christian, you have what matters—you believe in the name of the Son of God! That changes everything. You can be sure—sure that God loves you, approves you, has your name written in his book of life, has sent angels to keep watch over you, likes you, and has your name engraved on the palms of His hands. Jesus loves me, this I think?… this I hope?… this I wish? Wrong! “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Second, you know the Lord hears you when we pray.
Another fear that haunts Christians comes upon us in the silence that follows our prayers. Is God listening? Does He care? Did that prayer just fall to the ground, or did it make it to the throne of grace and power? It is one of the features of life on this earth that we don’t get immediate feedback from our prayer communications. You might think of prayer as calling up God and leaving a message on His answering machine.
Did He hear? Does He want to listen? Of course! He is your Father, and He has invited you to pray, commanded you to pray, promised rewards when you pray, instructed you how to pray, even scolded you when you forgot to pray. He always listens to His children.
Third, you know that you have what you asked of Him.
And God responds. He always answers every request that comes from His children. That answer may be yes, it may be no, or it may be later. Every answer is weighed according to His gracious plans to bless our lives and manage His world. He will always give you what is the best. He gives you His Word on it. And the testimony of God is always true.
Go in the peace of Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.