As we come to the end of our series on 1 John, we have seen that John expects certain things to go along with the faith. We are to take sin seriously. We are to love as God loves. We are to understand Jesus for who he really is. As children of God, we are to be like our Father in heaven.
All of this relies on the last thing we are going to look at. Is Christianity true? It does not matter if we resemble the Father if the Father does not exist. Truth matters.
One of the things I frequently hear is that all religions are true. But are they really? Here is a simple test. Judaism rejects that Jesus was the Messiah and the Son of God. Islam accepts that Jesus was the Messiah but rejects that Jesus is the Son of God. Christianity affirms that Jesus is both Messiah and Son of God. They can’t all be correct. Here is another test. The next time you hear someone claim that all religions are true, tell them that Islam denies Jesus was crucified and Christianity affirms that Jesus was crucified. Ask them if both religions are correct about that event.
What people really mean is that all religions work for at least some people. Some people find that Buddhism works for them and others find that Mormonism works for them. As long as a religion is fulfilling, that is all that matters.
I do believe that Christianity works and that it is fulfilling. But Christianity is also true and truth matters. If you were married and your spouse was cheating on you, but they kept it secret and they were a loving and considerate spouse around you, would the truth matter? Our feelings are too unreliable. We need to seek the truth.
John offers three witnesses that proclaim that our faith is true. Three is important as in the Hebrew tradition, truth required two or three witnesses. Let us look at these witnesses.
John tells us that Spirit witnesses the truth of our faith. Now as a rationalistic person, this is not the first place I go to. I want logic and evidence and proofs. But to be honest, much of the time I do rely on the experience of the Holy Spirit.
Even talking about the Holy Spirit can be a loaded topic. Francis Chan, in his book, The Forgotten God, describes his changing attitude toward the Holy Spirit. In the church that Chan grew up in, people were discouraged to talk about the Holy Spirit, even though they were thoroughly Trinitarian. Why? Once you start talking about the Holy Spirit, the next thing you know people will start speaking in tongues and have other disruptive behaviors.
But as Chan studied his Bible, he discovered the prominent role of the Holy Spirit. The critical moment was when Jesus was talking to his disciples in the Gospel of John and he said that it was better for Jesus to leave so that the disciples could receive the Holy Spirit. As great as Jesus was, he needed to be replaced in his direct role with the Holy Spirit.
How can that be? Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. That is true but after his incarnation as a human, he could only interact with so many people at a time. Jesus had a large number of disciples, but he put more time into the Twelve and even more time into Peter, James and John. There was only so much he could do. The Holy Spirit, however, was given to every believer. We talk about having Jesus in our heart, but it is more accurate to say that we have the Spirit of Jesus in us from conversion.
What does the Holy Spirit do? The Holy Spirit is the one who helps us to pray and opens our eyes to see when those prayers are answered. The Holy Spirit transforms our lives cultivates the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. I have seen life after life transformed by the Spirit as people follow Christ. I have never seen such a transformation in one who converts to atheism, and I speak as a former atheist. All of those experiences with God that we have, that is through the Holy Spirit.
Having said that, there is a weakness to experiences. People of every religion have some kind of experience. If you ask a Mormon why they believe Mormonism is true, they will tell you about their testimony. A Mormon testimony is what happens after they read the Book of Mormon and pray to see if it is true. If they feel a burning in their bosom, it is proof that Mormonism is true.
And that is why the Spirit, although extremely important, is only one of the witnesses.
Another one of the witnesses that John mentions is the water. But what water? It does not seem obvious at first glance. Some people think it is the water of baptism. It is baptism, but not ours, at least not directly. What is being talked about here is the baptism of Jesus.
Why is the baptism of Jesus so important? The baptism is the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The baptism was a moment in history when Jesus stood along side other real people and undertook the baptism of repentance. The baptism was done by John the Baptist, a historical figure known outside the New Testament.
What am I saying here? Our faith is witnessed to by the earthly ministry of Jesus, not in the mythical past, but in real history.
It is worth taking a look back to the beginning of John’s letter. What did he say?
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:1–3 ESV)
John is telling us that the Christian faith is not some sort of abstract mysticism. The Christian faith is true because it took place in history. People like John physically saw, heard and touched Jesus.
People have been trying to place Jesus in the same category as mythical god-men and heroes. Aside from all the other problems with this theory, there is a big difference. All of those other figures lived in the mythic past, that is a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Jesus is the only one who is intimately entwined in history, with his story written by people alive during his life-time.
The baptism of Jesus started all of this. It was a sign that Jesus was starting his ministry in real life. It might be natural at our baptism to think of heaven, but we should be like Jesus and anticipate what God is going to do in reality here on earth.
What else is the witness of the truth? John speaks of the blood, in this case it is the blood of Jesus. What happened at the cross is not something that we can take for granted. There is a reason why Christians take the cross as our symbol.
I remember as young person sitting in church and hearing about the death of Jesus that I just did not understand. Here was this good man who was only trying to help people and his enemies arrested him and put him to a cruel death. In those moments when my mind would wander during the sermon, I would imagine taking an assault team armed with automatic weapons through a time machine and rescuing Jesus. It seemed like a good idea to me.
The blood of Jesus. The first time I was ever accused of being a heretic was because someone thought I was downplaying the blood of Jesus. What she didn’t know was that I was preaching about the blood in a church that did not want to talk about the blood because it might scare visitors. The blood of Jesus is so important.
The role of blood is found throughout the Bible, from the imperfect blood of animals to the perfect blood of the Son of God. In the Bible, blood is not so much the symbol of death as it is the symbol of life. Blood is life.
My father had a disease that prevented him from manufacturing his own blood. For two and a half years, my dad lived on the blood of others as he received bi-weekly transfusions. Blood was life.
In a much greater way, Jesus’ blood gives life to us. It was on the cross that Jesus paid the price for our sins. It was on the cross that Jesus showed us the depths of God’s love for us. It was on the cross that Jesus gave us eternal life.
This witness has elements of the other two. In one way it is historical, taking place on a specific day in a specific place. In another way it is experiential. We believe in the actual events of the cross but we experience the life-giving blood of Jesus.
Is Christianity true? Does what we say and do here have anything to do with reality? Or is all this make believe? Is it just a myth like those of the Greeks and Romans?
Christianity is true and it is important that it is true. Christianity is not just a faith that works, it is a faith that is true.
We have three witnesses to the truth. The Spirit witnesses to the truth by leading us, empowering us and developing us. The water witnesses to the truth by reminding us of Jesus’ baptism and his willingness to begin a ministry rooted in history. The blood witnesses to the truth by infusing us with life that comes from the death of Jesus. These witnesses testify together that reason for our hope is sure and that we have a solid foundation.