NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
By Dr. Robert R. Seyda
FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN
CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXXII) 11/25/22
5:5 But who could fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is actually God’s Son?
So, loving obedience, if it is to be the compliance of persons accepting and transmitting the love of God, must be done without complaining and reluctance. It must be willing submission that does not count any of God’s commandments as too hard; it recognizes God’s absolute right to command and confess nothing He mandates can be wrong. But the world comes in, and it must be somehow disposed of. It must be blocked and denied any influence on our position and duty as now brought out. In this view, says Candlish, I ask you to consider – (I) What the world is and how we can overcome it? (II) How do we overcome the world through new birth and faith?
With an inquiring mind, Daniel D. Whedon (1808-1885) says the interrogatory pronoun “who” used twice here caught Whedon’s eye. So, find the true world conqueror, and tell us who and what they are. Reveal the secret of their all-conquering strength; what is it? Faith. Faith in whom? In Jesus as the Son of God, all believers conquer the world and win eternal life.
In line with the Apostle John’s conclusions, Henry Alford (1810-1871) encourages us to ask, “How does our faith overcome the world? This verse furnishes the answer; because it brings us into union with Jesus the Anointed One, the Son of God, making us as He is and partakers of His victory. Through this belief, we are born again as sons of God; we have Him in us, One greater than he who is in the world. And this conclusion is put in the form of a triumphant question: What other person can do it? Who conquers the world, except those who believe that Jesus is God’s Son? Alford points out that Dutch theologian Simon Episcopius (1583-1643) provides this good explanation: “Look through the whole world and show me even one thing of which it can be truly affirmed that a Christian can conquer the world and is not endowed with faith.”
As a faithful and zealous scholar, William Graham (1810-1883) asks, “What faith is the Apostle John speaking of here in verse four?” This question was undoubtedly in the apostle’s mind as being put to him, and the fifth verse is the answer he gives, limiting and determining the general statement of the fourth verse more precisely. Then, to make the assertion more solid and emphatic, he puts it in the form of a question, thus, “Who are those that overcome the world, but those that believe that Jesus is God’s Son?”
Using his examiner’s zeal William E. Jelf (1811-1875) notes that the faith spoken of is here more clearly defined. It is not merely a vague general faith in God, which must exist even in religion, but the definite persuasion and trust that Jesus is the Son of God.
Because of the Apostle John’s attention to triumphant believers, John Stock (1817-1884) states that victory over the world is connected with the blessed discovery that the commandments of God are not that hard to keep. Worldly enticements are the snares of the disobedient. Our blessed Lord would have had followers among Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had it not been for the world. Many of the chief rulers believed in Him, except for the Pharisees. They did not confess Him to keep from being put out of the synagogue, for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. As King Solomon said, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety.”
Furthermore, men’s smiles bring seductions; both collapse the heart and imprison it, whereas faith, God’s gift, does not enlarge it and enable it, our senses see but a short distance, looking at temporal things. Robert Leighton (1611-1684), archbishop of Glasgow, Scotland, once said, “A small object before the eye eclipses a larger afar off, so this little world, where there is no faith, eclipses God and heaven.”
The world is then the soul’s idol and tyrant; it dreads any loss and rejoices in any increase in its benefits. The soul then is restless, for the world is incapable, be the efforts what they may, to satisfy it: only God can do that, whose loving-kindness is better than life itself. The world hates the Anointed One because He testifies that its deeds are evil and forbids them. They also consider His mandates insupportable and will not let them rule their lives. The world doesn’t realize who its master is, a murderer from the beginning who dominates the children of disobedience and who, by deceits, keeps up the hostility against God and silences by playing on the passions, disbelief, and ignorance of the world and keeps it in a false peace and worthless submission.
John speaks here of a victory over the world, which delights and enriches the liberated that the born of God enjoy and possess. God implants faith in the human heart through His mercy and power, which brings a new sense, gives a remarkable capability of vision, sees Him that is invisible, and sets Him always before the soul. Thus, Moses became fearless and clever, preferring God to all the pleasures of sin and all the pomp and wealth of Egypt. Faith presents a world, unseen by sense; and given substantially to things hoped for yet unseen. God is seen to be mighty to save, tender in mercies, gentle in loving kindnesses, near to save, and rich in mercy to all that call upon Him, whose favor is everything and whose just displeasure is unbearable. The soul’s worth is now somewhat recognized, and Jesus is altogether precious, whose cross exhibits His unquestionable love, our wages, and sin’s exceeding sinfulness. His voice is heard by the dead, and they live. Faith conquers the world when His passion and salvation are sought and found. Only the overcomers of the world, to whom to live is the Anointed One and to die is gain will be found in heaven. 
As an ecumenical leader, Philip Schaff (1819-1905) Swiss-born American theologian whose works, especially the Creeds of Christendom (1877), helped set standards in the United States for scholarship in church history, shares an unusual story about Michael Servetus (1511-1553), a Spanish anatomist, astrologer, physician, and theologian who was too vain and obstinate to take advice about confessing the Son of God to be coequal and coeternal with the Father. At the beginning of 1531, he secured a publisher for his book on the “Errors of the Trinity,” He explains away the proof texts for the doctrine of the Trinity, 1 John 5:7 (which he accepts as genuine, though Erasmus omitted it from his first Latin edition). Servetus also ignores the chief passages, the baptismal formula, and the apostolic benediction that coordinates the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. Servetus does not accept the Trinity as three persons but as three dispositions of God. We find a similar position among the Unitarians today.
Anti-evolutionary Robert Lewis Dabney (1820-1898), American Christian theologian, Southern Presbyterian pastor, Confederate States Army chaplain, architect, chief of staff, and biographer to Stonewall Jackson, tells us that belief is the preliminary condition of acting throughout all the acts of the soul. Everything a person does is because they believe something. Faith is the mainspring of a person’s activity in its broadest sense. Every decision arises from a belief, and none can occur without it. Hence, selecting faith instead of some other gracious exercise, which may be the fruit of regeneration, is the organic instrument of justification. Another reason may be found in the fact that faith works by love, purifies the soul, and is the victory that overcomes worldliness. Since faith is the principle of sanctification, in a sinner’s heart, it was eminently worthy of a God of holiness to select it as a term of justification.
After inspecting the Apostle John’s train of thought, William Kelly (1822-1888) offers that here in verses four and five, we have the assurance that it is not the solitary mystic nor the highly spiritual individual, but “All that is born of God overcomes the world.” Does not this stimulate as well as encourage the simplest child of God? Have not all such been born of God? The principle is plain for all to see: No single honest Christian is exempted from the privilege more than the responsibility to overcome. Since every believer is now an object of God’s love and in His family’s relationship, they are to overcome the world. And this is the victory that overcomes the world (not service, sacrifice, or love,) but our faith.
Do you believe this? asks Kelly. Do not be faithless but faithful. It is by faith in our Lord Jesus that we are brought to and kept by God, so we discern and repel the enemy to obediently rest in His love who deigned to call us His friends. Faith is the victory that overcame the world, but how? This John next adds. It is “he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” It is now not as “the Anointed One” simply. It is the same Jesus, but the apostle further expresses His dignity. And it is always so with the real soul.
One might well begin with believing that He is Jesus the Anointed One. One might also have presented to faith yet more than this – though it was Good News to hear on divine authority that God anointed Jesus, having sent Him into the world for the everlasting good of those who believe, and this is the Anointed One. But here, we are told of His glory above the world as the eternal Son of God. Is not this far beyond His being the Anointed One on the earth? He was the Son of God before the world, and however, the world or His earthly Jewish people reject His glory as the Son of God will survive heaven and earth. He that came down was God humbling Himself in love, and He that went up was Man after redemption exalted above all the universe, Jesus the Son of God. He, who is God and man in one person, fills the Christian’s heart and will supply all things. We no longer look at Him only as the Anointed with the Holy Spirit and with power who went about doing good and healing all those domineered by the devil. We see Him in heavenly glory; we are enabled to appreciate Him in His eternal relationship with God, no less than to ourselves and to all else.
 Ibid. The First Epistle of John Expounded in a Series of Lectures, op. cit., Lecture XXXVII, pp. 445-456
 Whedon, Daniel D., Commentary on the New Testament, op. cit., p. 277
 John 16:33
 1 John 4:4
 Alford, Henry: The Greek Testament, op. cit., Vol. IV, p. 498
 Graham, William: The Spirit of Love, op. cit., pp. 315-319
 Jelf, William E., Commentary on the First Epistle of St. John, op. cit., p. 70
 John 12:42-43
 Proverbs 29:25
 Psalm 63:3
 Luke 19:14
 Ibid. 11:21
 Hebrews 11:29
 Ibid. 11:1
 Psalm 86:5
 Cf. John 1:14
 Philippians 1:21
 Cf. Revelation 3:21
 Stock, John: An Exposition of the First Epistle General of St. John, op. cit., pp. 411-415
 1 John 5:7
 See John 10:30; 14:11; Romans 11:36
 Matthew 28:19
 2 Corinthians 13:14
 Schaff, Philip: History of the Christian Church, op. cit., Vol. 8, pp. 605-610
 Unitarianism is a Christian religious denomination. Unitarians believe that God is only one person. Unitarians reject the Trinity and do not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Followers of Unitarianism also do not accept the concepts of original sin and of eternal punishment for sins committed on earth.
 Dabney, Robert L., Systematic Theology. Unknown. Kindle Edition
 Kelly, William: An Exposition of the Epistles of John the Apostle, op. cit., pp. 356-357