The Witness To Assurance
Tim Temple

Introduction

In California there is a great Bible Conference Ground by the name of Mt. Herman. Some of you may have heard of it. A number of years ago a well-known Bible teacher from the East Coast came to speak at Mt. Herman. He had never spoken there before, although a lot of speakers that they have do come back over and over again. As this Bible teacher stood up and began to introduce himself to the group, he said, “I want you to know right from the beginning of my ministry that I am not dogmatic about the virgin birth of Christ and I am not dogmatic about the bodily resurrection of Christ. I am not dogmatic about the substitutionary atonement of Christ.” Of course, that very conservative audience gasped as he said these things; but then, pausing for effect, he raised his voice just a note and said, “No, I am not dogmatic; I am bulldogmatic about those doctrines.”

That little story reminds me of the tone of I John as we come to the closing verses of this letter that John has written which we have been studying now for several months. It is almost as if John is saying, “I am bulldogmatic about certain fundamental issues.” He concludes this letter with some final notes of positive conviction that we ought to carry with us as we move on from this letter. These last few verses repeat again and again the little phrase, “we know.” It is a note of certainty about our faith in Jesus Christ, and really it is that note of positive assurance that is a mark of true Christianity. Christians ought to be very positive people because the Word of God tells us clearly and unequivocably what the truth is, and we can know the truth. Christians should be bulldogmatic about certain essential truths of the faith because we have come to know Him Who is the way, the truth and the life.

That is quite a contrast to the spirit of this age in which we live. Philosophically, and it spills over into the practical, the theme of our age is that nothing is certain; everything is tentative. We are told that we can't really know anything for sure, that it depends a lot on the situation and on the person. Truth is whatever the individual thinks it is for him. In many cases, our children are being taught this in elementary school and high schools. Certainly on the college level, it has been given out for many years.

In some cases, that spirit of our age has permeated the Church itself. There are men and women standing in pulpits, declaring that there is no final truth, that truth is what seems right to us, and the Word of God is whatever speaks to you from the Bible. That is the spirit of our age, and because of that, we Americans are rapidly becoming a nothing people. We are becoming a people who have nothing to believe in. One Christian writer has called us a generation of zeroes because, as a society, we don't believe anything. That is borne out in the tragedies that we see and hear all too often of people killing each other for no apparent reason and even children shooting each other in the schools and campuses. Yet in that kind of atmosphere, with those kinds of failures, strangely enough, some of the very same people who teach this kind of philosophy will often turn around and accuse Christians of exercising what they call a blind faith because we do believe in something. They criticize us because we have something that gives stability to life. They say that it is wrong to put faith in something as dogmatic as the Bible is about certain points.

The very strength of the Christian faith is that it rests on certain inalienable truths, certain definite facts. It is not blind faith; it is commitment to the truth that God has spoken. These facts that our faith rests on are the acts of God in history. Jesus Christ is not just something that preachers talk about; He is not just a theory; He is not just an idea; Jesus Christ was a man Who lived in time and space history, and there are historical records of the life and death of Jesus Christ. These truths of God are expressed in nature and in the fact that our world and our planet and our solar system operates in such an orderly way. The Scriptures say that the Heavens declare the glory of God, so our faith rests on truth and it rests on facts that can be easily identified. A careful look at these acts of God in history really requires that we believe. But when you come right down to it, it is not belief that is unreasonable; it is unbelief that is unreasonable. Any thinking person really has to struggle and exert some effort to convince himself that these facts of God are not true. Many people are willing to go to that effort and come up with elaborate explanations for what is going on around us in the world and history and in the human body. They convince themselves, but they are the ones who have to work at it. It is unbelief that is unreasonable.

John, as he now comes to the close of this letter, quickly surveys for us the evidences of our faith. This is not the only place in the Bible that we find these evidences, but John, as he wraps up his gospel in the first part of the New Testament, concluded it in the same way: “These are written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that believing you might have life through His name.” As he wraps up his letter some sixty or so years after he wrote that gospel, he talks again about assurance. We looked last week at the basis for our assurance in verses 1-5; and in this second section of the chapter, at which we want to look today, he gives us the basic facts of our assurance in verses 6-13.

The Recorded Witnesses

The first thing that we see about those basic facts is the recorded witnesses in verses 6-8. Look at verse 6:

I John 5:

6This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth.
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.

Before we talk about the specific meaning of those verses, let me point out that verse 7 is not a part of the original text. Many of you may know this; if you don't, you need to. That is why I am taking the time to explain this because sooner or later some skeptic is going to bring this up to you. It is not found in New Testament manuscripts until the fifteenth century after Christ, so that verse somewhere along the line was added to the text. That shouldn't bother us because the King James translators didn't have access to the number of manuscripts that are available to us today, and so they didn't recognize this.

The interesting thing is that as time has gone by, more and more evidence of what the Word of God actually consists of has been found so that we can have even more confidence in our translations of our Bible today than those earlier Christians had. There is a concept going around that the newer the translation, the less trustworthy it is. I would suggest that the very opposite is true. As time has gone by, archeologists have found more and more fragments of earlier and earlier texts so that the translations that we have today are in some instances even more reliable than the King James text of 1611, which some people even think is the inspired text itself. This verse is not included in the earlier manuscripts. It doesn't change the meaning of the text in any way. It doesn't do any damage at all to leave out verse 7. The best manuscripts from the earliest manuscripts don't have verse 7 in them.

Somewhere along the line that verse was added, but the bottom line is that what these verses are saying and what this paragraph says is that there are three witnesses to Jesus Christ, three witnesses to our salvation—the Spirit, the Water and the Blood of Christ. It mentions all three of those in each of these verses that we have read. Two of these witnesses, the Water and the Blood, are external acts that Jesus Christ did. They are historical and there is historical evidence about them. The third one, the Spirit, is internal and personal. So we have external evidence of our faith and we have internal evidence of our faith, and these three are intricately woven together, forming a testimony that is extremely powerful.

Ecclesiastes, chapter 4, verse 12, says, “A threefold cord is not easily broken.” There are many illustrations of that in the Scripture, and here is one of them. These three powerful testimonies to the basic facts of which Christianity rests are woven together and not easily broken. God wants us to be carefully assured of our salvation.

Let's look at each of these separately for a moment. First, let's think about this term water . It occurs first in verse 6. The order of the mention of these is a little different in each verse, but let's think about water. Water, most Bible scholars agree, refers to the event of the Jordan River when Jesus went down to John the Baptist to be baptized. As a symbol, it may mean other things in other places, but in the context of the life of Christ and the proof of our salvation that John gives, the term that fits most clearly it seems is His baptism at the River Jordan by John the Baptist.

Matthew, chapter 3, verse 17, and Mark, chapter 1, verse 11, tell us that as Jesus came up out of the water of that baptism, the voice of God the Father came from Heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” so that baptism of Jesus offered hundreds, maybe even thousands, of eyewitnesses the opportunity to hear the voice of God saying, “This is My beloved Son,” and John and Peter both refer to the fact that they heard the voice of God. That was one of the many reasons that they believed that Jesus was the Son of God.

The interesting thing is that the purpose of John's baptism was to demonstrate repentance of sin. John the Baptist's message to people was, “The Messiah is about to come. The Messiah is going to be revealed soon, and you need to confess your sins and get your hearts ready for the Messiah to come.” The Messiah was the One that for thousands of years the Israelites had looked forward to, and John said, “He is here. He is ready to be revealed,” which of course was true, “and you need to confess your sins and get right with God, and as a visible testimony to your repentance, come and be baptized.” Hundreds and hundreds of people were coming to be baptized by John to demonstrate their repentance and their readiness for the Messiah.

Then Jesus came, and John knew who Jesus was and he said, “It shouldn't be me baptizing you. It should be the other way around. You should be baptizing me.” But Jesus made a very interesting statement in Matthew, chapter 3, verse 15. It tells us that Jesus said:

Matthew 3:

15And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness. Then he suffered him.

What He meant by that was, “John, you go ahead and baptize Me because I am taking the place of man. I am assuming in a few years in My body all the sin of mankind, and therefore I need to be identified with sinful mankind.” So the first identification of Jesus with man and with our sin was in that baptism by John the Baptist. Before that, the Jews had baptized for other reasons, but John's baptism was specifically for confession of sin, for admission by people, “I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “I am going to take on Myself all the sins of mankind and so I certainly need to be baptized as a visible proof of the sin that I am going to bear.” This water baptism was a sign of a perfect man being offered as a substitute for sinners. That is the first witness that we have, the fact that He was baptized the baptism of repentance, the baptism of the identification with the sin of mankind; and then the voice of God said, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.”

Second Witness Is Blood

John says the second witness about the work of Christ is blood, and that is a little more familiar to us. If we were just talking about the water, the liberals or the members of some of the cults would say about Jesus' baptism, “I am willing to accept that. I believe that He came as a perfect example for us to imitate; and if we simply follow the life of Jesus, which would include being baptized and following His examples, we too will live a life pleasing to God, and He will accept us into Heaven.” But John goes a step further using this word blood. “He came not by water only,” John says, “but by blood,” and he completely nullifies that kind of reasoning that said that if we just follow Jesus' example, everything will be okay. Jesus' example was wonderful. Jesus' teaching was wonderful, but that is not all there is to our salvation. He came also by blood.

A sinless life in itself really doesn't help us. In fact, there is a sense in which Jesus' sinless life convicts us because there is no way we could imitate that life. It makes it hopeless to realize that Jesus had that sinless life and that is what we have to imitate to get into Heaven. If you have been a Christian more than twenty-four hours, you know how impossible that is. We are still sinners even though we trust Christ for salvation and to say that we have to imitate this spotless, stainless life of the Son of God is the most condemning thing I can think of. I know for myself that I could never come close to living a perfect life, and frankly, I don't think you could either. I don't know of anyone who could. Salvation requires something else, something beyond that sinless life of Christ. It requires a sacrificial death. It requires blood, to use John's terminology. Christ died for us. He died in our place and His blood is the symbol of that that has stood throughout all the years.

A blood sacrifice to the people who would have been reading John's letter originally was the only thing that would be sufficient for the remission of sin. The writer to the Hebrews said, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sin.” He was quoting the Old Testament axiom, not stated in those words but the concept all down through the years of the Old Testament was we have to kill these innocent animals and shed their blood to cover our sins. They understood that concept perfectly that the death of an innocent, the blood that was the visible demonstration, that the blood of that innocent would cover the sins of the unrighteous. John comes now and applies that terminology of blood to Jesus Christ, and that is exactly what the Word of God says about the death of Jesus Christ throughout. He was put to death just like those perfect animals, not because of His own sin but because of our sins. Really the life and the death and the continuation of the information about Jesus Christ only can make sense when you think about it in that way.

Jesus is not still being talked about today by a huge portion of the world's population just because He was a great teacher; He is not being talked about and accepted as Lord by a huge number of the earth's population because He died as a martyr. He really died a martyr for a lost cause if that was all that He was, but Jesus' life and death are pivotal even to this day because He died for us. He died as a sacrifice. He died for our sins.

Isaiah predicted exactly that in Isaiah, chapter 53, verse 5. We won't take the time to turn back there but it is an example of the thinking of the Old Testament prophets. You will recognize this verse as we read:

Isaiah 53:

5But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

“That,” John says, “is a witness to the assurance of our salvation.” He came by water if baptism demonstrated who He was; but not only that, He came with blood, and His blood completes the picture of the sinless life of Christ sacrificed for sinful human beings like you and me. It is interesting to notice that in all four of the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the biggest amount of space in each of those gospels is given to the last week of His life and His death. In each case the biggest amount of space is given to describing His death and the things that led up to it. It was His words and His miracles and His life that caught the attention of the crowds, and they followed Him everywhere. Those words are still important to us today, and those actions are still important to us today, but the primary focus of those first four books of the New Testament is not on the teachings of Jesus, but on the death of Jesus. That is the significance of Jesus Christ. It is the essential ingredient of the gospels that we are supposed to share.

First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 3, says, “Christ died for our sins,” and that is the whole point of it. He died for our sins, and if we don't include that, the death of Christ is a pointless experience. John says, “The witness to our assurance is the sinless life of Christ declared at His baptism in water and the sacrificial death of Christ.”

Third Witness Is The Spirit

The water and the blood are two witnesses to our faith, but there is a third witness of our assurance in verses 6-8 and that is the Spirit. Look at verse 8 again:

I John 5:

8And there are three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

As we have been seeing, the water and the blood are historical, physical evidence of our salvation, but the witness of the Spirit is different. Even though it is equally important, the witness of the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, means this: Whenever the story of the sinless life of Christ and His death on the Cross is told, the Spirit of God works in the heart of the hearer to bring it to life and make it personal.

Let me digress here for a minute and say that that is a wonderfully reassuring truth. I don't believe I have the gift of evangelism. Some of you do, and for people who have the gift of evangelism, even though there is difficulty involved, you look for opportunities and you rejoice in opportunities to give the gospel, and God blesses the giving of the gospel from a person who has the gift of evangelism. Part of the way God has designed His Body is that there are many Christians who love to give the gospel and who are especially gifted and equipped to do that; but God tells all of us to give the gospel, and so for those of us who don't have the gift of evangelism, it is difficult. I confess to you, today, that it is difficult for me, aside from when I am in the pulpit, to really witness to someone about my faith in Christ. I have had an opportunity to do it and, by God's grace, I have taken that opportunity a number of times. I am thankful for the fact that I have the opportunity to stand up in front of groups and give the gospel and that is not difficult for me. You are probably much like me. It is difficult isn't it, to come right down to brass tacks and say, “Listen. Do you know that Christ died for you, and have you trusted Him for your Savior?” the testimony of this passage and many other places in the New Testament is that as the gospel is given out, as we talk about the blood and the water, to use John's terminology, a third factor comes into play and that is the Spirit of God Who takes those words that we say, maybe haltingly, maybe not as clearly as we would like to, and brings it alive in the heart of the hearer as God draws people to Himself.

There is that factor of God's opening the heart and God's drawing them to Himself. Then the person has to respond to what God is enabling them to understand. Difficult as it is to witness, keep that in mind. It is not how eloquent you are. It is not how cleverly you may steer the conversation around to that subject. It is the work of the Spirit of God as you and I give the gospel, hopefully as clearly as we can; but no matter how failingly we may give it, the Spirit of God takes that truth and opens people's hearts and minds to it. That is the witness of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit takes this truth and personalizes it and opens the hearer's eyes to the fact that Christ didn't die just for the world; Christ died for me, and they accept Christ as Savior because of the work of the Holy Spirit, the witness of the Holy Spirit.

You may know that many of our most familiar hymns are written by a man by the name of John Newton. For many years of his life, John Newton was a reckless, wild-living reprobate, living the worst kind of life you can imagine. He was a slave-trader and he drank and gambled so much that at one point in his life he actually sold himself as a slave to some other slaves. He had hit rock bottom, and his health was ruined. He had made what he thought would be his last trip to Africa to buy slaves, and it was there that he got into this terrible condition. He was finally able to book passage back to England and pay off the slaves that he had sold himself to to buy his freedom from them. As he was going back to England, at the depth of despair, totally a failure and a wreck, God spoke to his heart about Christ from the words that his grandmother had said to him as a child. Without going into all the details of that, he put his faith in the Christ Whom his grandmother had told him about and became a new person in Jesus Christ. He became one of the outstanding preachers of the gospel of his day.

He put his testimony into the hymns that he wrote. I think the clearest statement of his testimony is in these simple words that you may recognize as a hymn. This is the testimony of John Newton: “In evil long I took delight, unawed by shame or fear until a new object met my sight and stopped my wild career. I saw one hanging on a tree in agony and blood; He fixed His lanquid eyes on me as near His Cross I stood; sure never to my latest breath will I forget that look. It seemed to charge me with His death though not a word He spoke; my conscience owned and felt my guilt and plunged me in despair, I saw my sins His blood had spilt and served to nail Him there, but a second look He gave which said, ‘I freely all forgive. My blood was for thy ransom paid. I died that thou mayest live.'”

You see, that is the testimony of the water and the blood spoken by the Spirit in the heart of one who was as bad as you can be. The witness of the Spirit, that personalizing of the word of the Cross that makes it come out to the individual alive and powerful when that witness is believed, the Spirit also gives a wonderful assurance of forgiveness, a lifting of the burden of guilt, the sense of the washing away of the sins and the peace of God is poured out on their guilty heart. Do you remember how that felt the day you trusted Christ? It is an internal, personal, powerful realization of the great truth that is witnessed by the water and the blood by means of the Holy Spirit.

Then John says in verse 8, “These three agree in one.” What do they agree to? II Corinthians, chapter 5, verse 21, is one of the clearest statements of the gospel that we have anywhere in the Word of God. It says:

II Corinthians 5:

21For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

That is the testimony of the Holy Spirit. There is the gospel resting on undeniable, historical fact. It is not just on tradition, not just on something our nation was founded upon or any of those kinds of general things we could say about salvation, but resting upon the work of God in time and space history, testified in our own hearts by the Holy Spirit.

Response To The Witness

Moving on in our text, in verses 9-10, we find the response to the witness. We have been talking about the recorded witnesses and now the response to the witness. Look at verse 9:

I John 5:

9If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater: for this is the witness of God which he hath testified of his Son.
10He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself: he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.

Let's think about this for a minute. Here is the witness of God to the truth of our salvation. John says it comes from God Himself, and it boils down to the fact of whether or not we are going to believe the witness. Whether we realize it or not, most of us act on the advice of other people every day, sometimes complete strangers. Sometimes people we have never even met can give us directions to some place in his town where we have never been before. We have no reason to know whether he is telling us the truth or not, but we believe it and we feel better and usually his directions come out right. We don't question the fact that we don't know this man; we just take his word for it. We give our credit card number over the telephone to someone when we are ordering something to somebody we have never seen and even as we give them the number we can't see them, and we fully expect that they will send that merchandise in return for that information we are giving them. There are other situations like that all the time. Now John says, “Isn't God more dependable than some man we don't even know? Can't we trust the God of the universe when we are plenty willing to trust the word of men?” That is John's argument here. If you will take the word of a stranger and act upon it, can you not believe the Word of God, especially when He has caused the testimony to be written down and to be given by eyewitnesses to the event? In addition to that, as has just been seen, He sends the Holy Spirit to take that historical evidence and to open our hearts to it and make it believable to us. “Can you not exercise faith on that basis?” John asks.

John says, “If you refuse to accept the witness of Jesus Christ and salvation through Jesus Christ, then you are treating God as though He was a liar.” You insult God if you don't believe the record that He has given of faith in His Son. Suppose you tell somebody something that is completely true and you know that you are telling them the truth and they think about it for a minute and they say, “Well, I would like to believe you. I would like to think that was true. I am trying to believe you.” How would you react to that? You would probably take it as an insult, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you feel that they were questioning your integrity and your character and your knowledge if they responded that way to something that you knew was true? Yet, you know, people respond that way to the truth of the gospel over and over again. “Oh, I wish I could believe that. You seem to have such faith in it, and I wish that I could believe that were true.” Did you know that you are calling God a liar when you react that way? How much more should God be offended when He has given us such a clear record of the truth if we respond to Him in that way? Yet many times men and women have the audacity to respond to God in that way. “I wish that I could convince myself that that was true,” they will say.

That is the false response, that is the wrong response. The true response is to open your heart to the Spirit of God as He confirms the historical witness to the truth of Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior. John moves finally to the heart of the whole matter. In verses 11-13, we have the wrap-up of the witness. Look at verse 11:

I John 5:

11And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.
13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

“Here is the testimony,” John says. The whole point is that God has given to man the thing that man lacks, which is eternal life. God has given to man the thing that man cannot attain for himself, eternal life, and that is not just eternal life in terms of quantity. It is eternal in terms of quality and that is really more important than the quantity. Jesus referred to this same concept that John is referring to as eternal life. Jesus referred to it as abundant life—life more abundant, life that is lived to the full even before we get to Heaven. That is what God has given to man. “He who has the Son has life,” John says in verse 12. It is as simple as that, and that is really the whole point in John's letter. All of this time that we have been looking at this letter and reading these verses and studying them in detail, the point is that God has given us something, and it is wrapped up in the person of the Son of God. John says, “If you have received the Son of God, you have that eternal life. If you haven't received the Son of God, you don't have it.” It is as simple as that.

Of course, the presence of that life is demonstrated by the things that John has been talking about between chapter 1 and chapter 5: righteousness and truth and love. He has gone into a lot of detail about each of those three things, but if you have not received the Son of God, no matter how sincere you are, no matter how devoted you are, trying to do everything you can think of to please God, if you do not have the Son of God, you do not have life. That is the whole issue. Either you have Him or you don't have Him. Either you know Jesus Christ as your Savior or you don't know Him as your Savior. There is no middle ground. It is not one or the other.

Conclusion

So John concludes in verse 13:

I John 5:

13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Confidence in what we have received as true. John gives this evidence not just for unbelievers, but particularly for believers, that we may have confidence in that which we have already believed. The purpose of this letter is to move us from doubt to certainty. What about you? Do you know that you have eternal life? Are you certain about that? John has told us in great detail that we have these three great eternal witnesses to the fact of our salvation: the water is baptism, which represents His sinless life, the blood of His Cross, which is a reminder of His sacrificial death in our place and the Spirit of God to make it personal. Have you received Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you received the Son of God? That is the question. If you have accepted Him, God says, “You have life that is eternal in quality as well as in quantity.” We can take great confidence in that and we can move through life with whatever problems it may hold out ahead of us in the days ahead with confidence that we are children of God, with all that that implies because we have the Son. We have accepted Him as Savior.

If you have not ever accepted Jesus Christ as Savior you do not have that eternal life. “He who has the Son has life. He who has not the Son of God has not life.”


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