How can you know if you are saved – if you are really one of God’s children?
It’s hard to visit with the saints of the church, the faithful ones, as they get closer to the end of their lives – and so many of them start to question whether they are going to heaven. They’ll say things like, “I hope I make it.”
When I was a little kid in VBS, we used to sing a song called the “Assurance March” – a song to assure us that we did belong to God. Maybe you know it:
“Can we know that Jesus saves us; can we know?
Be assured each moment, everywhere we go?
Can we know our sins are all forgiven, washed away?
That our path is leading to God’s perfect day?”
The last verse changes the words to “Yes, we know …”
The song says it, but can we really know? And if so, how? John tells us in this passage that yes, we can know.
Forgive me for jumping to the end of the passage, but it’s necessary. John wraps it all up by writing in v.13:
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
So the first question is answered with a resounding yes. Those who believe in the name of the Son of God – Jesus – know that they have eternal life. But how do they get there? How do they get to that point of believing?
That’s what verses 6-12 are about – and we can sum it up as the three-way testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood.
John starts by writing that “There is the one who came by water and blood – Jesus Christ.”
And that has people confused from the get-go.
St. Augustine believed John was referring to the blood and water that flowed when Jesus’ side was pierced on the cross.
John Calvin and Martin Luther believed it refers to the sacraments of Baptism (with water) and Communion (the New Covenant in His blood).
And one of the early church fathers, Tertullian, taught that the water refers to Jesus’ baptism and the blood to His death on the cross.
Others look back to the Hebrew Bible – with the water of purification and the blood of the sacrifices.
Who’s right? All of them are – to some degree. They are all saying, in different ways, that the water and blood demonstrate the covenant promises of God to wash away our sin through the sacrificial death of Jesus. Remember those words – “covenant promises.” They will come up again.
John then writes, “And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.”
The Spirit testifies to the truth of God’s covenant promises – that we can believe them. We can count on them. We can entrust our eternity to them.
Remember that John wrote this letter to promote the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah,
the Son of God in the flesh. The Spirit has testified to Jesus as the eternal Son of God throughout Scripture.
We do not believe in that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, because human beings told us that.
Certainly, we heard about Jesus from human beings, but the Spirit, the water, and the blood confirm that truth in us – so that we can believe.
In v.9, John writes that “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater …”
The Law given to Moses made it clear that a person could be convicted of a crime only on the testimony of two witnesses. God goes beyond that requirement, with the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. All three agree in their testimony.
v.10 helps us to understand how this works: “Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart.”
If we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, it is because of God’s covenant promises (there’s those words again) and the working of the Spirit to give us faith to believe them. So our salvation is secure.
Uncertainty about our salvation is based on what we can and should do – it’s all based on our effort.
Because we can mess everything up – we are worried and anxious about our salvation.
Certainty is based on what God has and is doing in us. It’s all based on God’s effort. God never messes up – so we can be secure in our salvation.
And this is the testimony: (v.11) “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” The Spirit, water, and blood all testify that God has given us eternal life through Jesus, the Son of God.
It starts with the Spirit – enabling us to believe. Then God’s covenant promises are confirmed when we are baptized, every time we receive communion, and when the Spirit testifies to us through the Word of God. When we read or hear the Word, and it rings true in our hearts, the Spirit is testifying to our salvation. That’s really good news.
The bad news in all of this is that those who do not believe God’s testimony through the Spirit, water, and blood – those who deny that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God – are calling God a liar. And John makes it clear in v.12 that those who do not have the Son of God in them do not have eternal life.
But what does it mean to “have the Son of God”? It is to be united with Him. Like the branches are grafted into the grapevine that we talked about last Lord’s Day. We are united with Him and all that He has and has done is ours. So our eternity is secure.
If you have this testimony in you, then you have the Son of God in you – and your eternity is secure.
Glenn Barker writes in his commentary on the Letters of John that this “… is not an idea nor a system of belief nor even a fact that is the ultimate object of faith; it is a Person. That Person is Jesus Christ.
He is to live in us. His love is to abide and be made complete in us. We are to live in Him. And this is life eternal.”
Or as we talked about last week, this is not just faith – it is a relationship. A relationship with God the Father through His Son and His Spirit.
So merely believing in the existence of a “Higher Power” or in Jesus as an historical figure is not saving faith. It becomes saving faith when it becomes a relationship. Being united with Him. But what does that look like?
This sermon was finished when the phone rang during dinner. It was a colleague from my former life as a news reporter. This woman had told me years ago that she was a witch – “a good one,” she had said, but added that she was capable of doing evil.
Last evening, though, she was calling to ask me if I would re-baptize her. She had been baptized as a baby, had wandered into various forms of pagan religion as an adult, but had surrendered her life to Jesus about five months ago. Now, she wanted to declare publicly – on her birthday next month – that she would be in a relationship with Him for the rest of her life.
I’m not saying that you must walk down the aisle at a revival and pray the Sinner’s Prayer – although that is a perfectly good way to do it – but you must be in a relationship with Jesus Christ.
You could hear in her voice that she was there – in a relationship of trust, which included submitting to His Lordship over her, and entrusting her eternity to Him.
If you have any doubt that you are saved – tell Jesus that you want to be united with Him – that you want to be in a relationship with Him.
Then cultivate that relationship throughout this life – and for eternity.