“God’s Testimony: Eternal Life in His Son” (1 John 5:9-15)
This week the Epistle reading once again is from First John. This has been the Epistle featured throughout this Easter season, and for good reason. The author, St. John, was an eyewitness of the risen Lord Jesus, and in this letter John bears witness concerning the life God has given us through the death and resurrection of his Son. John opened this letter by saying: “The life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.” Now as we come to the end of this letter, John makes it clear that the eternal life he is bearing witness to is not just a matter of his or any man’s testimony. Indeed, it is God’s own testimony.
John writes: “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.” And so our theme this morning: “God’s Testimony: Eternal Life in His Son.”
“Testimony” is really a key word here, isn’t it? It jumps out at you, John uses the word so many times in just a short span of verses. “Testimony” has to do with a solemn telling of the truth in a very important matter. That’s how we use the word even in civil affairs. A person is called upon to give testimony in a court of law, when an important matter is at stake. The person is sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And when that person’s testimony is then borne out by two or three other witnesses, all saying the same thing, we accept that testimony as true.
How much more, then, when it comes to the testimony of God! That’s how John runs his argument in our text: “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.” You see, this is not just the testimony of this or that man. It’s the testimony of God himself. And the testimony concerns not some trivial matter or even a matter of relative importance for the affairs of this life. Rather, it is God’s testimony concerning his Son. That makes this testimony of the utmost importance to everyone who hears it, including you who hear God speaking to you today.
God’s testimony concerning his Son. And God has borne this testimony in multiple forms. Last week we heard John tell us, in the verses before our text, of a threefold testimony: “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.” The Spirit, the water, and the blood, three witnesses, all confirming the same thing: that the man Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. He came down from heaven, in the flesh. He was attested to as the Christ, the Spirit-anointed Messiah, and as God’s beloved Son, at his baptism in the water of the Jordan. And he accomplished his messianic mission by his sacrificial death on the cross, shedding his holy blood as the price that sets us free, free from sin and death. The Spirit then bears witness to this saving truth through the preaching of the gospel. That, in sum, is God’s testimony, confirmed by the three witnesses of the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
Now you who believe in Christ, who trust in him as your Savior–you have had this testimony internalized in you. As John says, “Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself.” You have heard God’s testimony concerning his Son, and you have received it. This is the work of the Holy Spirit, who creates and nurtures faith in your heart. You can say, in the words of the Catechism: “The Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” You have God’s testimony within you, telling you that this word is the truth.
But not all have believed this word: “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.” This describes our world. We are surrounded by unbelief on every side. God gives his testimony, the message concerning his Son, and men reject it. In so doing, they are calling God a liar. It’s not just the word of a preacher they’re rejecting, it is the word of God. When men have God’s testimony come into their ears, telling them to repent and to believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins, telling them they need God’s Son more than anything else–when people are given this testimony and they reject it, when they say, “No thanks, God, I don’t need what you’re giving me,” however nice they may say it, however nice those people seem–in reality, they are shaking their fist at God and calling him a liar. They think they know better than God!
This unbelief can come in many forms. A blatant example would be the atheist, who proudly defies God and denies his word. Also blatant are the heretics who claim to be Christian but deny the deity of Christ, groups like the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Here the words of our text apply: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” If a group does not confess Christ Jesus as the divine, eternal Son of God in the flesh, they do not have life. They are a dead, false, heretical religion.
But there are more subtle forms of distancing oneself from God’s testimony. For example, there are lots of people who pay lip-service to God but keep him and his word at arm’s length. They do not want to hear the message that God wants to tell them. That includes people in our day who talk about “spirituality,” saying that they’re “spiritual but not religious.” But that is a spirituality without the Holy Spirit, who always bears witness to Jesus. These folks say they don’t need the church and what she has to offer. But that is impossible. God has committed the testimony concerning his Son to the church. So without the church, you don’t get God’s testimony. For the gospel testimony is delivered through preaching and the sacraments. This is God’s plan, and there is no Plan B.
Another subtle form of getting away from God’s testimony is when churches change their practice to fit popular desires. They mute the message that God wants to have ringing clear as a bell. Christ crucified is simply assumed and taken for granted. The message of the cross becomes a side note instead of the centerpiece. This is pop Christianity, Christianity Lite, with peppy performances and plenty of programs, but not much of the real Jesus. They think that the historic practice of the church, in preaching, liturgy, and hymnody–they think all that stuff is outmoded and boring, and what you’ve got to have instead is cutting-edge coolness. But that sort of thinking only leads people away from the truth of God’s testimony.
So we always come back to the truth, the true testimony that God wants us to receive and to build our lives on. John writes: “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.” This is why it is so important that we receive God’s testimony concerning his Son: because there is eternal life in him and in no other. Nothing else will save you from your sins. No one else can rescue you from the grave. Will your goodness do it? Will your spirituality? No, the law of God requires you to love God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself. And none of us do that well enough. God’s law therefore convicts you and condemns you to death. You need help, from outside yourself.
You need the one, all-encompassing help that God himself has provided. And that is the eternal life God has given us in his Son. God loved you so much that, in spite of your sins and trying to be your own God–in spite of that, God, out of the abundance of his mercy, sent his own Son to win for you eternal life. Christ Jesus took all your sins into his body and died on the cross as your substitute, paying the price you could never pay. What a gift! Christ’s righteousness, in exchange for your sin! His death gives you life, even when you were dead in your trespasses and sins. His life is given to you as a gift. It is Christ’s resurrection life, life that conquers the grave, Easter life, everlasting, eternal life. This life is in God’s Son, and so where Christ is, you will be. And risen from the dead, Christ now has ascended into heaven, to live and reign forevermore. So therefore you will join him. For your life has been joined to Jesus, all you who have been baptized into Christ and believe in him. The eternal life he gives you will be life freed from sorrow and filled with joy forever.
Eternal life in his Son–this is the gift God has provided for us and for the whole world. This is the testimony that God gives to all men in the one saving gospel. It is the one and only truth that can give life to mortal sinners. You know, in reality, there are only two religions in the world, one true and one false. There is true Christianity, the gospel of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. And then there is everything else, all the other religions and so-called spiritualities. They are all variations on the same theme. It is the Big Lie that we can be our own god and save ourselves. You see, contrary to popular belief, there are not many roads that lead to God. There is only one. It is the path Christ blazed when he went the way of the cross, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” says the Lord Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” It’s really this simple: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Dear friends, you have life, you have eternal life, because you have God’s Son! Or rather, he has you! Christ Jesus your Savior has you in the palm of his hand, and he will never let you go. By God’s grace you believe in Christ, you trust in him for your eternal salvation. This sure and certain Easter hope will sustain you all your days, even though all the world around you believes the lie. You know the truth. God’s word is the truth, and the truth will set you free. This is what St. John has been telling us in his letter. This is what he wants you to know: “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.” This is God’s testimony. He wants you to know–to know with confidence and joy and a spring in your step–that you have eternal life in his Son!