1 John 5:1-5 – Faith
I think sometimes Christians tend to lose sight of the truths we so readily confess. This week in Sunday School we talked about Psalm 139 which is David’s attempt to express God’s omnipotence (all-powerful nature) and omnipresence (always present nature). Two unthinkable aspects of God’s nature that we very easily affirm, but very rarely allow to affect our lives. I just recently watched a documentary about the way fundamentalist Christians address the issue of homosexuality in American culture, and I found the same thing. People saying they believed in the Bible but refused to surrender to what it taught them. People holding on to a singular sin as if it were the only one that mattered, while the Bible teaches that any sin separates us from God. We so often will make claims about what we believe or are taught in church without fully understanding the depth of what those things mean.
As John begins to conclude his letter, he will first unpack for us the doctrine that he has been affirming for the first 4 chapters. What we find when we unpack the doctrine of love, light, and adoption is that they are all held together by this thing we call faith. Sadly, even faith needs to be unpacked. Faith is something that I try and emphasis with our students at Bono. Faith is something that I think the vast majority of people who call themselves Christians don’t fully understand. Part of that is bad teaching, part of that is pride, and part of that is the culture in which we live. Here’s how I would imagine that faith would be defined by the majority of American Christians:
Faith – knowing something to be true without empirical evidence
Scripture has two very big problems with this definition. First, faith in the Bible never goes contrary to evidence. It may contradict human reason, but it does not contradict evidence. God tells his people over and over again to remember His mighty works and to tell them to their children so that they will put faith in Him and not in their own ability to provide, protect, or prosper. John at the beginning of his letter tells his readers that he has seen, touched, and heard what he is teaching from Christ Himself and is now translating to them.
The other important disagreement that Scripture would have with this definition is the word “knowing.” Nowhere in Scripture is there a singular focus on faith being a cognitive understanding of God or His work. Faith is always coupled with action in Scripture. There is never one who is commended for their faith solely on the merit that they professed it. There was always a hard and fast connection with their faith and their deeds. Abraham is commended over and over again that his faith was counted to him as righteousness because he believed the promise of God to the point of being willing to sacrifice his only son. Faith is the outward manifestation of the new birth that has occurred in the heart. So to say that faith is the mere understanding or knowledge of the things of God is misstating what faith really is.
Now, why is this so important to what John is teaching and what we need to glean from John’s teaching? Because another thing that we learn about faith as we study the Bible is that it is not something that we come up with – it is not something that we muster – it is not something that we can accomplish on our own. It is a gift given to us by God. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing , and hearing through the word of Christ.” Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” In Hebrews 12:2 Jesus is called the “founder and perfecter of our faith.” This truth, that faith is not of our own doing, is essential to understanding the rest of John’s teaching. This is why John makes it such a point at the beginning of his letter and gospel that what he is teaching is not from him but from Christ. He is simply testifying to it.
So, if a transforming faith is the foundation of love, walking in light, and adoption as sons and daughters of God, then we are given these things as we seek to abide in Him. This is what John is trying to get through to us. This is where we so often miss what the Bible is really saying and simply say things that sound good without really knowing what we’re talking about. So when John tells us to love like Jesus loved, he’s not expecting us to magically like people more or be nicer to people that we really don’t want to be nice to – he is saying that as we humbly allow faith to do it’s work in our hearts, we will be given a love for people that is a reflection of the love Christ has given to us. And when John tells us to walk in the light as He is in the light, he’s not just expecting us to find an illuminated road on Google maps and follow that until we can’t walk anymore – he’s saying that as we humbly seek to abide in Him, we will be given light that will allow us to walk in fellowship with God and people.
The bottom line for us is that we must begin to allow what we believe to be brought to life in what we do. If we say that we have faith in Christ but live in contradiction to all that he stands for, is that faith real? If we say that God is all-knowing and is always near us, then why do we continue to do those things we do in private or why do we continue to allow those thoughts to be entertained in our minds? If salvation is a gift, why do we keep trying to earn it by sacrificing things that God never asked us to sacrifice? May our faith be made real in our lives because it changes us, and may we stop trying to muster it out of our own understanding. I love y’all more than you know. Grace and peace,