WALKING IN THE LIGHT

NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY

By Dr. Robert R. Seyda

FIRST EPISTLE OF JOHN

CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXXII) 11/28/22

5:5 But who could fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is actually God’s Son?

Familiar with John’s writing style, William B. Pope (1822-1903) points out that “whosoever is born of God” in verse four (KJV) is a new form of words when compared to “we” in verses two and three and with “that which is born of the Spirit” in John 3:6 – “overcometh the world.” Now in verse five, we read, “he that overcometh.” It is generally anyone victorious over the kingdom of evil, particularly that sphere of the natural man and self in the atmosphere where the commandment of brotherly love asserts itself. However, this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Not love, but faith is the leading thought: faith IS the victory, its strength for that habitual overcoming of every obstacle to obedience which was in it as an original germ and of the final attainment of which it is the pledge.

The past, present, and future are here, but the stress is on the present. It conquers, not in an ideal, but a present and perfect victory, followed by a sentence that takes a negative form but includes a positive reason. And “who are they that overcome the world?” They can be no other than those that believe Jesus is God’s Son and are in union with Him. The world always opposes this Name and its King and resents His victory declaration: “I have overcome the world.[1] Theology, both dogmatic and practical, look at these words and finds in them their richest material. The Apostle John’s warning against love for the world, and his encouragement of opposition to the errors in the world, lead to an abiding victory over it.[2]

As a sermon outline specialist, Edwin William Attwood (1823-1888), a contributor to Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, recalls that during Lent, it is needful that we should prepare our minds for the essential duties delegated to us, and there is no subject more useful for meditation than Christian warfare. Therefore, in her wisdom, the Church appointed the Lenten season as a time for fasting and prayer to lead the faithful to a higher spiritual life. During this time, let us look at the following issues to determine our status with God and the World:

I. Our Conflict is with the World – Our Lord told us who the prince of this world is, and we understand that we stand opposed by all the powers and forces of evil, marshaled and put in an array by Satan himself. When we regard the mighty forces brought against us, the vast multitude of the host, and the discipline of the display, we are led seriously to consider our position—whether we are able, with our small and disunited band, to wage war with such an enemy as this. Naturally, we find ourselves perfectly unable; the conflict is too grievous; we are overmatched and outnumbered; what can we do? The consideration of this teaches us our entire dependence upon God. We turn to His Holy Word for help, and we read that help can be gained sufficient to our need, and if we earnestly seek it, strength will be imparted to fight and overcome.

II. Who are they that ‘Overcome the World’? – The answer in our text: “Those that believe Jesus is God’s Son,” who have enlisted in the Anointed One’s army and remain faithful Christian soldiers. By overcoming the world, we must understand the world’s temptations “worldliness, the flesh, and the devil.” We know how serious these temptations are; how frequently we are overpowered. But we may be sure of this: if we are thoroughly equipped for the fight, our eventual triumph will be confident and complete. We need to put on the “whole armor of God,[3] not merely a portion. This is where the mistake often occurs. A Christian is negligent in prayer, weak in faith, or not regularly in attendance or pays attention to God’s Holy family. Furthermore, they do not guard their words or actions; they are not ready to forgive and forget an injury; they yield to pride, malice, or conceit; in fact, they are unprepared for spiritual warfare. If there are any defects in their display, the enemy takes advantage of those unprotected parts, and they fall. Still, when they are clad in the whole armor, well riveted and linked together, they are victorious and overcome the world. We must be thorough Christians if we hope to overcome.

III. What is the Nature of this Faith? – It is threefold: (a) A faith that leads a sinner to prostrate themselves, in true repentance, at the foot of their Savior’s cross, not daring even to look up, but to cry aloud for pardon in those words of the publican, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.”[4] (b) A faith that lays hold of their cross, a Christian on bended knees, clinging to it, is determined, by the help of God, never to depart from it again. (c) A faith that enables them to bear that cross during life, humbly and devotedly, “counting all things but loss,”[5] for the sake of Him who died thereon. This is how the Christian overcomes the world: believing in God’s Son. Trusting in the Anointed One, we gain sufficient help for every need and strength to encounter every foe.[6] [7] [8]

With spiritual discernment, William Alexander (1824-1911), Bishop of Derry, Ireland, says verses three to five connect the Christian rebirth with victory. The Apostle John tells us that the destined and (so to speak) natural end is conquest by the supernatural life. There is a contrast between the laws of nature and grace. No doubt the first is marvelous. We may even term it a “victory,” for it is proof of a successful contest with the hidden hardships of the natural environment. It is the conquest of something which has conquered something below it. The first faint cry of the baby is a wail, no doubt, but in its very utterance, there is a triumphant undertone. At least in those who are physically and intellectually gifted, childhood, youth, and adulthood generally possess some share of “the thrill of the strife” with nature and their contemporaries. Youthfulness has triumphal mornings, its days leap from the darkness in victory.

But sooner or later that which conforms to the pessimist’s style “the martyrdom of life” sets in. However brightly the drama opens, the last scene is always tragic. Our natural birth inevitably ends in death. Birth and death embody each life brought into our present human existence. The thought of death is sighed over every cradle, and every grave attests to its reality. But if birth and defeat is the motto of the natural life, birth and victory is the maxim of everyone born into the family of God. It is the conquest of the collective Church, of the entire mass of regenerate humanity, so far as it has been faithful to the principle of its birth – the conquest of the Faith which is “Our Faith,” who are knit together in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of the Son of God, the Anointed One our Lord.

But it is something more than that; the general victory is also a victory in detail. Every faithful individual believer shares in it. The fight is a battle of warriors. The abstract ideal of success is realized and made concrete in each life of struggle, a life of enduring faith. The triumph is not merely one of many informal contests. So, the question, “Who is the ever-conqueror of the world? Only the ever-believer that Jesus is the Son of God.” It rings with a triumphant challenge among the ranks. Thus, John hands us two of his extraordinary master conceptions, which came to him from hearing the Lord who is the Life. We should read both in connection with the fourth Gospel – the Christian’s Birth and Victory.[9]

After sufficient examination of the Apostle John’s statement, Brooke F. Westcott (1825-1901) says that the Apostle John’s question becomes personal. It appeals to the experience of those he addresses. The single believer takes the place of the abstract element (born of God) and of the absolute force (faith). The victory of the divine principle is, as he triumphantly claims, realized in the Christian’s spiritual success. The personal triumph is regarded as representative of a victory in its completion by “the Son of God” including it antithesis, “Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist.”[10] [11]

For instance, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) comments that verse five defines overcoming faith more expressly and declares victory impossible without it. The belief must (1) center in the person of the Anointed One, (2) accept Him for who He is, Son of God and Son of man in one abiding trustworthy person. Then He unites with the soul and becomes its life and victory. So then, the new nature does not overcome by inaction but by acting through definite faith. In action, the Spirit is received, and the power given. But our verse also declares that the world can be overcome in no other way.

Then the Apostle John challenges his readers to produce a single instance of such victory except by this faith in the Anointed One. “Who is the person,” he says, “where are they that conquers the world but by this Gospel faith?” That person does not exist. There is no other principle or means of victory. One might as well think of rising from earth against gravitation as to think of putting the world under their feet, except by faith in the Anointed One. Without it, that person is a part of the very world they would overcome. But with confidence, they are united to another sphere and are lifted above their old self, where they can meet the world with an advantage.

Two profound lessons in reform present themselves here: (1) One may break off an evil habit or association, and yet, without Gospel faith, have the world reign supreme in them. (2) Mere resolutions, self-respect, human religion, asceticism, or monastic seclusion will not subdue the world. It takes the Witness Without and Within that Jesus is the Son of God and the Container of Life. The overcoming faith of the former section leads the apostle to confirm to his readers the object of this faith in His true historical personality as being the source of the eternal life that faith receives.[12] [13]

In his classical style, Sir John Robert Seeley (1834-1895), an English essayist and historian, says that he who has faith, we know well, is twice himself.[14] The world, the conventional order of things, goes down before the weapons of faith, before the energy of those who have a glimpse, or only think they have a peek, of the eternal or customary order of things.[15]

Noting doctrinal implications in the Apostle John’s statement, John James Lias (1834-1923) says I. Let us consider what is involved in this Faith. (a) It asserts a unique character in Jesus the Anointed One. He is not a son of God in the sense that all created beings are. Instead, He is the Son of God in a sense peculiar to Himself. (b) What does the term “sonship” imply? Likeness to the Father. Thus, the Son of God comes from God and displays the nature of Him from whom He comes. (c) We find in Jesus the Anointed One all the attributes of His Father: power, wisdom, intelligence, righteousness, glory, and love.[16] II. This faith overcomes the world (a) by uniting us to the Anointed One; (b) because His power, to which it unites us, is Divine. Apart from the Anointed One, we are nothing.[17] In Him, we are partakers of His fulness and sharers of His victory.[18] [19]


[1] John 16:33

[2] Pope, William B., The International Illustrated Commentary on the N.T., Vol. IV, op. cit., p. 37

[3] Ephesians 6:11

[4] Luke 18:13

[5] Philippians 3:8

[6] 1 John 5:5

[7] This outline was compiled from notes and commentary by Edwin W. Attwood, Sermons for Clergy and Laity, p. 10; Expositor (7th Series), vol. v. p. 129, J. Keble, Sermons for Lent to Passion-tide, p. 172; ibid. Sermons for Easter to Ascension Day, p. 160, Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 1187

[8] The Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts, Vol. II., Hodder and Stoughton, New York, 1910, p. 968

[9] Alexander, William, Expositor’s Bible: The Epistles of St. John, Discourse XI, p. 223

[10] Cf. 1 John 2:22

[11] Westcott, Brooke F., The Epistles of St. John: Greek Text with Notes, op. cit., p. 180

[12] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., p. 56

[13] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 361-362

[14]Twice himself” means there are always two people when you look in the mirror. Though they may be identical, sometimes they are two different people. It takes one to find out who the other is. In the real world, each human is twice himself. Not only because there are two images when you stand in front of a mirror, but because a person duplicates their body and inserts a different soul inside.

[15] Seeley, John Robert: Natural Religion, Ch. II, The Abuse of the Word “Atheism,” Published by Macmillan and Co. London, 1882, p. 35

[16] John 1:14; Colossians 1:19; 2:9; Hebrews 1:3 etc.

[17] John 15:5

[18] Ibid. 1:16; 16:33

[19] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 361-362

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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