Sermon Message: Extravagant Devotion
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Sermon Message: God Is For Us!
Sermon Message: Fellowship in the Light
Sermon Message: O Worship the King
"The Witness of God"
1 John 5:6-13
(Delivered Sunday, August 18, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James Version.)
This morning, we continue our study of 1 John. And in this morning's passage, we have what is, I believe, John's statement of purpose for having written this tiny letter to the believers under his care.
Near the end of John's Gospel, he gives us his purpose for having written it. He says, "And truly, Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). His Gospel was written, then, from an evangelistic motive. He could have written more than he did; but he wrote what he wrote purposefully and selectively: in order to present the truth of Jesus to an unbelieving man or woman, so that they might believe on Jesus and have life in His name.
And near the end of his first letter, John expresses a similar but distinctively different purpose. Whereas his Gospel was written for the benefit of those who had not believed, his letter was written for the benefit of those who had already believed. And whereas his Gospel was written to result in the faith of those who had not believed, his letter was written to result in the confident assurance of faith of those who had believed. John writes, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life ..." (1 John 5:13).
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I was talking with a believer recently who had been struggling with confidence in the area of assurance. "How do I know that it's all true?" he asked. "How can I be sure that I'm not just fooling myself? How can I be sure that my faith in Jesus Christ truly saves me?" This believer wasn't asking this question from any kind of sinful motive, or from the standpoint of unbelief. They truly believed. They truly had their faith in the cross of Jesus Christ. But he wanted to be sure that this faith was objectively valid. He wanted to have the assurance that His faith is fixed upon something substantial - something real.
I suspect that there might be many sincere Christians who are in the same position as his. Perhaps you are one of them. It's not a question of crippling doubt; because you know you truly do believe. But you lack full assurance, because there remains that question, "How do I know, in an objective sense, that this is all true?"
The apostle John is a good pastor. He fully understands our need to have that objective assurance. He bears witness of the objective reality of it all at the very beginning of his letter. He writes,
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life - the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us - that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full (1 John 1:1-4).
We were not there two-thousand years ago to behold Jesus as He walked upon this earth. We do not have the advantage that the apostle John had, along with the other apostles - the advantage John speaks of when he wrote, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). And yet, John was there. He bears witness of what he saw in the things he has written to us, so that we who live two-thousand years after the Son of God came to earth can know that we have eternal life because of our faith in Him - He, whom Peter said, "having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet, believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith - the salvation of your souls" (1 Peter 1:8-9).
John's whole letter, then, was written, mainly, to give assurance to those of us who believe that we truly do walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ, and truly do have eternal life. Among men, I sincerely doubt that we could have a greater or more reliable witness of the certainty of these things than John, "the disciple whom Jesus loved". But in this morning's passage, John points to a greater witness than even his own. He points to God's own witness of His Son.
This is what John says in this morning's passage, as it's translated for us in the New King James Version,
This is He who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not only by water, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one. If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God (1 John 5:6-13).
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Now before we go any further, I need to tell you something important about this passage. If you followed along with me in my reading of this passage in any other translation than the King James Version or the New King James Version, you would have noticed that the passage in your Bible appeared very different from what I read. You would have noticed that some portions that I read did not appear in your Bible at all; and that verse 7 was much shorter than what you heard me read. I want to explain this to you so you'll have an accurate understanding of this passage.
The King James and the New King James translations have included words in verses 7 and 8 that do not appear in any of the oldest and most reliable editions of the Greek text. These words are a reference to the Trinity; that three bear witness "in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth ..." and then the text goes on from there. Those words - technically referred to by scholars as the Comma Johanneum ("The Interruption In John") - do not appear in any of the oldest and most reliable of Greek texts. They only appear in a few Greek texts that were written after the tenth century; and four of them contain these words in the margin, as if written later.
So; how did these words end up in the King James and New King James Bibles? One of the first scholars to create a standardized Greek text of the New Testament was the great sixteenth century Dutch scholar Desiderius Erasmus. He compared many of the different Greek texts that were available to him, and tried to construct what he believed to be the most accurate representation of the original Greek New Testament that was possible in his day. Under pressure, he included the portion I read to you - the Comma Johanneum - in some of his later editions of the Greek text; but with its inclusion, he added a note explaining that he doubted its authenticity.
It was later discovered that the Greek text that contained these words had apparently been written in 1520; and that the words in questioned had been inserted into the text from a Latin version written in the fourth century. The person who first included these words in the ancient Latin text apparently thought that it might help give a "trinitarian" interpretation to the passage. But as time went on, the insertion came to be included in the text as if it were authentic; and it was Erasmus' text that was the basis of the text used to translate the King James Version of the Bible.1
Another portion of this morning's text has an apparent addition. This addition is included in the King James and New King James translations; and it's found in the later half of verse 13. Some Greek texts have added to that verse that John wrote the things he wrote, not only that we who believe on Jesus may know that we have eternal life, but also, "and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God." These words do not appear in the oldest and most reliable Greek texts; and the opinion of most New Testament scholars is that these words were added centuries later to make John's summary statement of his letter sound more like his summary statement of his Gospel.
I hope you don't mind that I share these details with you; because I believe they're important to understanding this passage accurately. And I hope you are not disturbed by such details. The translation of the Bible you hold in your hand is very reliable; and the variations in the different Greek texts are relatively few, usually well-identified in the footnotes of most Bibles, and in no way harmful the fundamental doctrines of our faith or the practice of our Christian lives.
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Having said all this, let's now look closely at what John has written with respect to the witness God has borne to us of His Son, and of how His witness can give us assurance. First, we see ...
1. HOW THE WITNESS OF GOD HAS BEEN BORNE TO THE WORLD (vv. 6-8).
In his letter, John has just gotten through encouraging his readers with the assertion that "whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world - our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (vv. 4-5). And now, as if to declare God's own witness of Jesus, he says, "This is He who came by water and blood - Jesus Christ; not only by water, but also by water and blood" (v. 6).
There have been, over the years, many different and confusing interpretations of what John means by the "water" and the "blood". (And at this point, you're probably beginning to conclude that this is a very difficult portion of the Bible over all!) But I have confidence that whatever John meant by these words, it would be something very plain and clear to the people to whom he wrote. He wasn't trying to be mysterious or overly-symbolic in what he wrote to them.
What, then, would be the plainest way to understand them? I think that the most obvious way to understand the Son of God coming "by water" is as a reference to His baptism; and the most obvious way to understand His coming "by blood" is as a reference to His crucifixion. Taken together, they're stand as a reference to the totality of His earthly ministry - a ministry that served as God's own witness to us that Jesus' truly was His beloved Son.
Do you remember the story the Bible tells us of Jesus' baptism? The Bible tells us that Jesus came from Galilee to be baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. John's baptism was a baptism of repentance from sin, performed in anticipation of the coming of Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. And so, when Jesus Himself came to John to be baptized, John was shocked and tried to stop Him.
"I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" John asked? (Matthew 3:14). How could it be that Jesus - the righteous Son of God - would come into the waters of repentance from sin? But Jesus told him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness" (v. 15); and then John allowed it and baptized the holy Son of God in the waters of repentance from sin. And just stop and think of what a picture that is! The Son of God condescended to step into the waters that symbolized our repentance from sin with us, and thus dramatically identify Himself with our sin problem - visibly showing that He intended to take the full guilt of our sins upon Himself, and thus "fulfill all righteousness" on our behalf! How very much He must love us!!
And then an event happened that, we would have to say, was among the most remarkable in all recorded history. The Bible tells us that, "When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (vv. 16-17).
Do you believe this story? I certainly do. I have often thought about this story whenever someone tells me that they are a "seeker after the truth". People often say that, but they very often don't mean it; because if they were truly seekers after the truth, they'd surely be thrilled to hear this story. Here, we see that God has made it very clear - to anyone genuinely seeking the truth - where the truth is to be found. God went so far as to pull heaven open, identify Jesus clearly to all who saw Him, and announce with His own voice, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." Could God have borne a clearer testimony to us than He did at Jesus' baptism?
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God bears witness that His Son came "by water". But He also bears witness that He came "by blood"; and this speaks of His crucifixion. Jesus was clearly identified as the Son of God come into the world through His death on the cross.
Do you recall the scene around the cross, as the Bible describes it to us? The Bible tells us that, as He hung upon the cross, bearing the guilt of our sins, He cried out with His very last breath, "It is finished" (John 19:30), bowing His head and giving up His spirit. And then, the Bible tells us that a series of - again - among the most remarkable events in all of human history happened.
First, suddenly - as if by an invisible hand - the veil in the temple in Jerusalem was ripped in half from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51). This veil was the most important veil on earth; for it separated sinful mankind from the "holy place" - that is, the place in which God identified His presence to the people of Israel. I can't stress enough that no man would ever have been permitted to tamper with that veil or even be near it, let alone tear it. I can only imagine that shrieks of terror came from the priests at the very sight of such a thing! But it was God Himself who ripped it in half. He did so to show that, by the death of Jesus, the way is now opened for sinners to have fellowship with a holy God.
Second, at the exact moment that Jesus died, an earthquake occurred that split the rocks of the ground in pieces. This earthquake opened up the graves of many saintly Jews; and - wonder of wonders! - they came out of their tombs after He was raised from the dead and walked bodily into Jerusalem to appear to many eye-witnesses (Matthew 27:51-53). The death of Jesus very visibly gained the victory over the grave!
Standing by, watching all of these things happen in an official manner was a sober, serious centurion; along with other soldiers standing by under his command. It was his task to guard the cross on which Jesus hung. He was not sympathetic to the Jewish faith, nor was he given to outburst of religious emotion. But the Bible tells us that when he and those standing guard with him "saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (v. 54).
Again I ask: do you believe these things happened? I affirm that I do. And it's through them that God has born witness to us that the Son of God has come! They are the two defining events at either end of Jesus' earthly ministry; but they stand as a symbol for us of the whole of Jesus' earthly ministry. And it's the whole of His ministry that serves as God's witness to us that Jesus truly is the Son of God.
God, then, has given ample evidence to anyone who truly seeks the truth that Jesus is God's Son sent to bring eternal life to us. But Jesus once spoke these words to those who, in spite of the evidence, still wouldn't believe Him:
If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witness of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness of the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light. But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish - the very works that I do - bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me. And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe (John 5:31-38).
To those who sincerely seek the truth, there is more than enough evidence in God's witness that Jesus is His Son. But for those who refuse to believe, no amount of evidence will ever be sufficient.
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In our passage this morning, John points to another witness. Without the inserted words, here's how we would read what John wrote: "And it is the Spirit who bears witness, because the Spirit is truth. For there are three that bear witness ... the Spirit, the water, and the blood: and these three agree as one" (vv. 6b-8).
When I think of what John says here, I naturally think again of the scene at Jesus' baptism. John the Baptist once pointed at Jesus and announced to all who would hear him,
"Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, 'After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.' I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water." And John bore witness, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptized with water said to me, 'Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.' And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God'" (John 1:29-34).
The Spirit of God plainly bore witness to Jesus at His baptism. His ministry was clearly involved in all of Jesus' earthly life. But the Spirit of God bears an ongoing, continual witness of Jesus even today. Just before going to the cross for us, Jesus told His disciples that He would return to the Father and send the Holy Spirit. And He said, "He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:17). He said, "But when the helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me" (15:26). He said, "... When He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you" (16:13-15).
John tells us that the Spirit who bears witness of Jesus is "the Spirit of truth". The people to whom John wrote were, at the time of his writing, dealing with a false teaching in their midst. Some were spreading a particular brand of Gnosticism (a false teaching) among the believers. They were saying that Jesus was just a man; and that "the Christ" was something distinct - something that came upon Him at His baptism, but left Him before He died on the cross. Here, John is saying that the testimony of the Holy Spirit - the Spirit of truth - is that the Son of God came "not only by water, but by water and blood". He who came by water is the same One who came by blood - not two different entities. "For there are three that bear witness ... the Spirit, the water, and the blood: and these three agree as one."
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Some people who struggle with doubts believe that assurance of faith can come strictly by examining the facts. I believe that our faith, indeed, stands on facts; and I believe that we should get to know the facts of the Christian faith as well as we possibly can. But I also believe that a diligent study of the facts alone cannot lead to full assurance in our faith. The facts of the faith are never meant to be embraced by us apart from the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit. Assurance, in the end, is a grace of God given through the indwelling Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us that "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God ..." (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit, the water and the blood are all in agreement. It's a packaged deal; and they all work in unison.
Would you like to have a growing sense of assurance in your faith? Then let me suggest a four-part strategy to you. First, make sure - absolutely sure - that you have placed your faith in the cross of Jesus to save you from your sins. Second, make yourself available to the ministry of the Holy Spirit by a commitment to repent of all known sin. (The Spirit of truth is, after all, also called "the Holy Spirit"; and He will not work assurance into someone who knowingly harbors sin within his or her heart.) Third, make yourself available to the facts God's witness by regular, diligent study of the Scriptures - particular the Gospel accounts of the life and ministry of Jesus. And fourth, as you study, pray and ask God to give you the assurance of the truth through His own witness of Jesus by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, make your pursuit for assurance a "spiritual pursuit" of the truth, through God's own word of truth, in dependency upon the Spirit of truth.
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Now frankly, there are people who do not believe because they refuse to receive the witness God has already given. They defy God to convince them apart from the witness of the Scriptures. "I don't care what the Bible says," they say; "If God is there, I want Him to prove Himself to me here and now!" And yet, God has already given all the testimony they need. They willfully resist the witness of the Holy Spirit in rejecting the testimony God has already borne of His Son in the "water" and in the "blood"; because all three - the water, the blood, and the Holy Spirit - work together.
A sufficient witness is already given and available; but it must be received. This leads us next, then, to consider ...
2. HOW THE WITNESS OF GOD IS TO BE RECEIVED BY PEOPLE (vv. 9-10).
First, John writes, "If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son".
In one sense, I believe John is speaking about a normal, natural fact of life. We ordinarily believe the testimony of men concerning things we readily accept. We accept the testimony of people in a court of law. We accept the testimony of eyewitnesses to important events. We accept the testimony men have written about milestones of history. We even accept what one person tells us about another. John is simply saying that, if on a normal, everyday, human level, we readily accept the witness of fallible, imperfect people, then shouldn't we be even more ready to accept the witness of the almighty God?
But at another level, I believe John is making reference to a scriptural principle. The principle is taken from the book of Deuteronomy, and it states that a judgment should not be made on the basis of one witness alone; but that "by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established" (Deut. 19:15; also 17:6). Jesus once pointed to this principle when speaking to those who wouldn't believe in Him. He told them, "It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness of Me" (John 8:17-18).
John is, in effect, telling his readers, "Listen. I have come to you bearing witness of what I saw. I saw Jesus testified as the Son of God in the water of baptism. I saw Him testified as the Son of God at the cross. I, along with the others, walked with Him and talked with Him and lived with Him. We have borne testimony to you that He is, indeed, the Son of God. But if this isn't enough, then know that God the Father Himself has testified that He is the Son of God. The Spirit of truth bears witness of Him; and 'this is the witness of God which He has testified of His Son'. On the principle that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established' - the greatest of those witnesses being that of God Himself - then you must consider the evidence sufficient and the matter established! Jesus Christ is, indeed, the Son of God and the Savior of all who will trust in Him."
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So, you might say that the witness of God is established from an objective, legal standpoint. But John then goes on to say, "He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in Himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because He has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son". We might say from this, then, that the witness of God is established from an internal, subjective standpoint as well.
Because it is God Himself who testifies of His own Son, anyone who refuses to believe what He has testified isn't simply making a religious choice. They are actually blaspheming God. If it's true, after all, that God opened up the heavens, identified Jesus to the world, and declared, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased"; then anyone who says, "I don't believe it" is calling God a liar. Whatever else someone might claim about their relationship with God, if they reject His Son, then they've called God a liar and they do not walk in fellowship with Him.
But we also notice that, if we believe in the Son of God - that is, willingly submit to the testimony God has borne to us of His own Son, and place our faith and trust in Him as our Savior and Lord - then we will have God's own witness within ourselves. This, I believe, again points us to the wonderful ministry of the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers and assures our hearts of the truth. "And by this we know that He abides in us," John says, "by the Spirit whom He has given us" (1 John 3:24).
Here again, then, is another dimension to this whole matter of assurance. Many people think that assurance comes from first being intellectually convinced of the facts. They want to be 'reasoned' into assurance. But as paradoxical as it may sound, assurance comes from first believing. Assurance, remember, is primarily a gift of God's grace through the Holy Spirit. If we would have full assurance, then the place to begin is with a heart-felt submission to the testimony of God concerning His Son. Receive God's testimony concerning His Son and live accordingly in obedience to His commands; and God will give you the assurance along the way. As Jesus said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wills to do His will he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God for whether I speak on My own authority" (John 7:16-17). Place your trust in Jesus and say, as it were, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). As John says, "He who believes in the Son of God has the witness within himself." The Holy Spirit already indwells you if you genuinely believe; and you can trust that, in time, God will affirm that witness to your spirit through Him.
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This leads us, finally, to consider ...
3. HOW THE WITNESS OF GOD BLESSES THOSE WHO RECEIVE IT (vv. 11-13).
John writes, "And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (vv. 11-12).
I will always love these two verses, because they were among the first Bible verses I ever memorized. There's great assurance to be had from them. Notice a first affirmation in this testimony: God has given us eternal life. "Eternal life" is a kind a life - a quality of life that involves full salvation in the favor of God and that endures forever. It isn't a kind of life that can be created by us or earned by us. Only God can give it as an act of His grace. And here, we see that He has already given it. He has already made it available.
And notice a second affirmation: This "eternal life" is in His Son Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Jesus once watched as everyone but His twelve disciples left Him. His teaching was too hard a thing for them to take. And when He turned to His disciples and asked if they also wanted to go away, Peter said, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ the Son of the living God" (John 6:68-69).
And notice thirdly the implication of these two affirmations: Whoever has the Son has life, and whoever doesn't have the Son doesn't have life. As John writes elsewhere about Jesus; "He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true. For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:33-36).
And please notice that the promise is that whoever has the Son "has" (present tense) eternal life. The life that is eternal in quality is the present possession of every man and woman who "has the Son". They who have Christ are living "eternal life" even now; and when their bodies die, they will go on living that eternal life in heaven. They will never, ever cease to live that life they now have in Him! This is one of the benefits of receiving with the whole heart the witness of God concerning His Son: eternal life!
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And another benefit is the assurance of that eternal life. As John says, "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life ..." The whole thrust of John's letter is to declare the witness of God that he and the other disciples have beheld; and the whole purpose of his sharing this witness with us is so that we who have believed that witness and now walk in fellowship with Jesus Christ can be assured of eternal life.
This is an assurance for those who have believed. Do you have that assurance? Would you like it today? Then be sure that you believe the testimony of God concerning His Son Jesus Christ - that is, believe what God says about Him with a with a whole heart, and with a sincere commitment to turn away from all known sin and to walk in obedient fellowship with Him. If you have your faith in Him, then reaffirm it even now. Everyone who believes the witness of God concerning His Son has the witness "in himself".
1For more information on the history of the Comma Johanneum, see Bruce M. Metzger, The Text of The New Testament, 3rd. enlarged edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 101; see also n.291. Also see Metzger, et. al, A Textual Commentary on The New Testament, 3rd. edition (London and New York: United Bible Societies, 1975), pp. 715-17.
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