"For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4,5)
I want to take up the subject of faith, to speak on this great theme of the faith of God's elect, and in doing so I shall make some reference in passing to that duty faith which is associated with those who speak of the so called free offer. First of all we must define what faith is. We need to recognize that in the Bible we have mention of different sorts of faith. There is the faith of demons; devils believe. In James 2:19 the apostle says, "Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble." And you will recall how in the earthly ministry of the Lord Jesus in Mark 1:24, as he performs a miracle by casting out demons, the devil has to confess him, "I know thee who thou art, the Holy One of God." There is a faith then that is the possession even of demons.
Furthermore, in Scripture we read of a faith of miracles. There was a charismatic gift that is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8,9. "For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another the gift of healing by the same Spirit." This was a faith that had special visible results, it enabled one to perform certain miracles. It has nothing to do with today's so called faith healers. The "healings" of these people doesn't depend upon their faith, for, when there are no results, they are always very quick to point out that the all important thing is the faith of those who seek healing at their hands. The enquirers lack of faith is blamed for the failure. All of this is very different to what the apostle is speaking of in 1 Corinthians 12; that was a charismatic gift, but as a miraculous gift it has now ceased to exist. And even when we think of those New Testament times when such gifts were so evident in the churches, and especially in the church at Corinth, it was not a faith that was given to all in that church. Rather was it given to some and not to others; observe the expression, "to another faith." That means that although some did possess it, there were those who did not possess it.
Then further in the Bible we read of what can only be described as a temporary faith, such as that possessed by those apostates who are spoken of in Hebrews 6:4-6 and again in Hebrews 10:26-29. What heights these people came to! They partook of the Holy Spirit, had some taste of the Word of God, and even some taste of the world to come, yet their faith was not saving, it was but a temporary faith, because ultimately they fell away and there was no restoring for them.
There is then a faith of demons, a faith of miracles, a temporary faith, and there is also historic faith, or natural faith. By this I mean a general belief in God. All are to be theists. All are to believe that Christ is what the Scriptures declare him to be, that he did that work that the Father had sent him to do in the great covenant of grace. Not to believe that-this record that God has given us of his Son-is sinful, and men are responsible for such unbelief: "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin. He that hateth me hateth my Father also" (John 15:22). The Lord Jesus Christ is to be acknowledged, he is to be believed in as that One who was sent by God, the One who came to do all things necessary for the saving of his people. All are to believe in that sense, but that is not saving faith. This natural belief which is the duty of all men, must be distinguished from saving faith, which is beyond the power of any man, and is God's gift only to his elect. In fact none of those faiths which I've just briefly outlined must be confused with the faith of God's elect. And I believe that this is the faith that the apostle is speaking of here in 1 John 4:4,5.
I want to divide what I am going to say into two main parts, to deal with two headings, in our consideration of this faith of God's elect. First of all to say something about the overcoming of faith, spoken of in the 4th verse. And in the second place to look more especially at the object of faith, who is set before us in the 5th verse:1. THE OVERCOMING OF FAITH
First of all we turn to the overcoming of faith. And that is very much the emphasis that's laid before us in this 4th verse, but also mentioned again in the 5th verse. You will see how the word 'overcometh' is in fact used three times in these verses and it is interesting to look at the tenses. The second 'overcometh' at the end of verse 4, "this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith," is in what is called the Aorist tense. There is no real equivalent to that Greek tense in our English language, but it can be said to indicate an action that has been completed. We could therefore more literally render it like this, "this is the victory that has overcome," or "this is the victory having overcome the world." The action is completed the overcoming is final.
Calvin makes this observation, "The past tense (the Aorist) is stronger than the present or the future. It says 'that hath overcome' that we might feel certain, as if the enemy had already been put to flight." Why is it that faith overcomes and is always victorious? This saving faith triumphs because it is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, it unites with him who is the Son of God, the great Overcomer, that One who has triumphed over sin and Satan, over death and the grave, who has accomplished all the work that thou gavest me to do," he prays in John 17,"I have glorified thy name upon earth: Now O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self, with the same glory which I had with thee before the world was." He has overcome, he is that One who is mighty to save. In John 16:33 he says, "These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." Again in Revelation 3:21 he declares, "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am sat down with my Father in his throne." Faith I say, saving faith, has to do with this One, it centers in Christ. And what is it that faith in Christ overcomes? The world. Three times here in verses 4 and 5 that fact is declared, "overcometh the world."
This word "world" has a wide and an extensive meaning. It indicates all the depravity of our fallen nature, all the lusts of our flesh, all that we are as fallen; spiritually dead and in bondage to sin. It includes all Satan's stratagems, all the devises of that adversary of the soul. All these things are part of the world and yet faith overcomes them all, "For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world"(chap.2:6), and faith triumphs over all. That doesn't mean to say that the child of God knows nothing of conflict. The Christian very much feels his conflict with this world. He knows what it is to be engaged in warfare with sin and with Satan. How the apostle opens his own heart and speaks out of the fulness of his own experience in his various epistles? In Galatians 5:17 he can say, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would," and he knew it in his own soul. "O wretched man that I am!" he says in Romans 7:24,25, speaking as a child of God, "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." Now, was that conflict and yet at the same time there was triumph. Why? Because Paul was a true believer. Isn't this the description of the people of God in Scripture? They are Christians because they believe in Christ, they look to him, the great overcomer.
Let us consider just what this overcoming and triumphant faith is. I want to observe three things with regards to it. Firstly it is an affection. Secondly I want to say something about its activities. And then thirdly to speak of its author.
Firstly, saving faith is bound up with a warm love to God, verse 1 "Whosoever believeth that Jesus is the Christ is born of God: and everyone that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." The believer loves God because he has been begotten by him, "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13). And as God's offspring he cannot help loving God, just as a child cannot help having some love towards his natural father. There is affection in the heart of the child towards him who is his father, and so too with the Christian, he loves God because he is begotten of God. Besides loving God the Father the believer also loves God the Son, "everyone that loveth him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of him." Who is the One who is begotten of God? Who is God's only begotten Son? The Lord Jesus Christ. So those who are God's children by regeneration, being born again of the Spirit, must love him who is God's Son by eternal generation, and who, in the outworking of the covenant of grace, became the Son of Man; "Jesus said unto them, if God were you Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me" (John 8:42). "In the fulness of the time God sent forth his Son made of a woman made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law that we might receive the adoption of sons" (Gal. 4:4,5). There is then in this faith a real, warm love toward God, and a deep affection for him who is the only begotten Son of God.
Saving faith is such an affection. It very much incolves the feelings, it is heart experience. Do we not need to emphasise this in these days? Beware of a merely notional faith. Today the so-called faith of many is nothing more that that, it is intellectual assent. People have presented to them the body of truth that we find here in the Word of God, and they are told that if they will but assent to these things, if they will accep these truths, they're saved. That is all the faith of many amounts to. But this is not saving faith.
"True faith's the life of God,
Deep in the heart it lies;
It lives and labours under load;
Though damped it never dies."
We need to remind ouselves of that, to be always having that great truth concerning the reality of saving faith before us. It is an affection. We are to contend for a feeling religion, to desire that we might know more and more of that felt presence of our God; that we might be those who know what it is to be holding the Lord Jesus in the very arms of faith, and grasping him and clasping him even to our bosom. This is the faith of God's elect.
2. Secondly, besides being an affection true faith is also an activity. Real Christian experience will always lead to godly practice. When we come to the great doctrines of the Word of God we need to recognise that first and foremost God does address us through our minds. We must know that spirit of a sound mind. There has to be a doctrinal understanding with the mind. But as I have indicated, it must go further than that, we must also have an experience of the truth in our hearts
True religion's more than notion;
Something must be known and felf.
When we have such an experience it will be worked out in our lives, and walked out in our practise. It is faith which worketh by love, says the apostle (Gal. 5:6). And there we have the three together, we have the faith, we have the love, and we have the working, "Faith which worketh by love." The right order is: doctrine, experience, practice. Here in verse 3 we read, "This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous." This is not legalism, it is far removed from legalism. The true believer is that person who delights in the very precepts of the gospel. He doesn't just embrace the doctrines of the Word of God but he also has a love for God's statutes and commandments. He wants to live his life in accordance with what God is saying to him in his Word.
At the end of verse 4 do we not read of the acts of faith? "This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Faith is a living and active thing. Here in the Bible we read of the life of faith, the work of faith, the service and sacrifice of faith, and the good fight of faith (Gal. 2:20 and 5:6, Phil. 2:17, 1 Tim. 6:12). Hebrews 11 contains a catalogue of the great acts of faith. We read of what men such as Noah, Abraham and Moses did by faith, and the apostle goes into some detail in explaining the very lives of those men. Later in Hebrews 11:32-34 he indicates that he cannot do this with all the great heroes of faith, "What shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens." The acts of faith!
We also have to recognise that faith is something that is not just exercised once, when the sinner first believes in Christ, and trusts in the Lord for salvation, and that is the end of the matter. No! faith is an ongoing and an increasing grace of the Holy Spirit. The Christian life in its totality is the life of faith. "The just shall live by his faith," we read in Habakkuk 2:4, and three times in the New Testament that text is quoted (Romans 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). This is significant because there can be no superfluous repetition in the Word of God; every Scripture is God breathed. If we really believe in verbal inspiration, we accept that every word in Scripture carries weight and authority, we therefore do well to take heed whenever God repeats himself, and when a truth is declared four times we ought to take great note of it, "The just shall live by his faith." True faith perseveres through doubts and trials, it is as lively and as vigorous at the end of the believer's life as at the beginning. We might say with William Cowper:
Where is the blessed I knew When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view Of Jesus and his word?
Often times we look back longingly to our beginnings, but we need to remember that faith is to be an ongoing thing. We should desire that it might be even more vigorous at the end of our lives, that we might grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. "He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Mark 13:13). And repeatedly in Revelation 3, in the letters to the seven churches of Asia Minor, we see that the promise is to overcoming faith, "He that overcometh" (Rev. 3:5,12 and 21). We must therefore recognise the activities of faith. Besides being an affection it is also an activity.
Because faith is so active some imagine that it can be produced by human effort and endeavor, that we ourselves can work up faith. So with some faith is even spoken of as a sort of work. In much modern evangelism the gospel is presented in these terms; God has done his part, it might even be suggested he can do no more, he has done what he can do, now you must do your part, you must seal this work, you must make your commitment to Christ. This is how much modern evangelism runs. Faith is presented to the people as something that they themselves can produce. And even those who claim to be Reformed, and believe in the free offer, ultimately present faith as that which is within the will of man. That is the weakness of that whole system. They might profess to be Reformed in doctrine, yet when it comes to their presentation of the gospel they make an appeal to men, as if man has it within his own power to respond. The problem here is a tendency to make faith a work. And that is a fallacy. It is wrong because it leads to a confounding of law and gospel. It is the law that speaks of works. It tells man what he ought to do, what he is obliged to do, what his duties are before the law. And when discovers that he cannot do those things that the law commands of him he is brought under terrible conviction of sin. It is important to mark this distinction with the law, it tells man what he must do, not what he can do. So the law is a ministration of death (2 Cor. 3:7). It is to confound things to then present the gospel to siners in such a way that it becomes a new kind of law. Salvation by grace through faith is the very opposite of works. "If by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work" (Rom. 11:6). Grace and works are mutually exclusive.
Therefore whilst we recognise something of the activity of faith in terms of that awful inward conflict that I have spoken of, we must not make faith a work. Have you ever thought why it is that God has appointed faith as the instrument of salvation and not other Christian graces? Why is it that God has not said that you must love the Lord Jesus in order to be saved? Or you must have joy with Christ, or patience in him? Why has God appointed faith as that Christian grace, that is the instrument whereby we come to experience the blessings of salvation? It is because faith involves the complete denying of self. Faith is a despairing of self, a turning away from self. Joseph Hart rightly calls faith, "a weakening, emptying grace." Personally I very much like that expression. We cannot produce faith of ourselves, it is the negating of self. God must work it within our hearts, and God only can work it in our hearts.
3. So thirdly let me say something about the author of faith. Faith is an affection, it is an activity, but who is the author of faith? We read of the author in this 4th verse, "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith." Observe precisely what the text is saying, the neuter gender is used. It doesn't say "Whosoever is born of God", but "Whatsoever is born of God." I believe that the reference here is to the faith. Saving faith is born of God. Saving faith is the gift of God. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8,9), and in Hebrews 12:2 we read of "Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.
Moreover in 2 Peter 1:1 faith is seen to be God's provision, we read of "them that have obtained like precious faith." It is not natural faith that Peter is speaking of, it certainly isn't temporary faith, nor is it that faith of miracles. This "like precious faith" is saving faith, for in his letters Peter is writing to the elect (1 Peter 1:1,2) and as such they have obtained "like precious faith." The verb "to obtain" literally means "to obtain by lot." It is closely associated with, and derived from, the casting of lots." This "precious faith" then is not produced by human effort, in no way is it made of men. But it comes from God, and he gives it freely. He bestows it sovereignty. What does the proverb say? "The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the LORD" (Prov. 16:33). And so this faith is given in accordance with the all wise purpose of God. It is obtained just as God orders and directs, "obtained (by lot, that is sovereignty) like precious faith."
What is involved in the bestowal of such faith? If God is author of it, what so those experience who are the recipients of the gift? In giving this saving faith God first makes his elect feel their unbelief. They have to learn in experience that in their flesh dwelleth no good thing, that they cannot produce faith. Paul speaks of the spirit of bondage in Romans 8:15 "Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba Father." Observe just what he saying, they have not received the spirit of bondage again, they have been delivered, but obviously they once knew that spirit of bondage, for that was how God began with them. They had to feel a spirit of bondage before they could know the Spirit of adoption. They had to know what it was to be bound before they could be delivered. They had to know what it was to be lost before they could be saved. Isn't the Psalmist describing the same experience in Psalm 88:8 "...Iam shut up, and I cannot come forth"? That is the spirit of bondage.
I do thank God that I can now look back and remember, in my early experience, being in that place. I did believe in God. I accepted the Bible, and believed what this book says concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. But I knew that this was just natural belief. It was not saving faith that I possessed, and above all things I wanted true faith in Christ. I can still recall being in that situation, and I see now that I was then shut up in unbelief. I believed naturally, yet I did not belive savingly. To say to someone in that condition you must simply take the promises, you have to come to Christ, you must receive him, is nothing less than mockery. When the Lord has shut a man up in his own unbelief, all talk of duty faith is falsehood. It is little use to one who feels himself lost and helpless, it has been rightly called, "striking the dying dead."
As I have said natural belief is very different to saving faith. All are responsible before God. All are to be theists, "Th fool hath said in his heart, there is no God" (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1). Man is to believe, but saving faith is beyond the power of any man. It is a sovereign gift of God, and he bestows it only upon his elect. And in bestowing it what does God do? He makes them dwell in bondage long enough to learn that all doctrines contrary to the sovereignty of grace are reall contrary to the gospel, and of no use to the soul. That is why God shuts a man up in his unbelief. The elect sinner is brought to despair totally of himself and his faith is born of that utter self despair. There are many lessons that he has to learn in that prison, "I am shut up, and I cannot come forth" (Psam 88:8). God will have his people dwell in bondage long enough to know that without Christ they can do nothing. The intention is that Christ might be all in all to them. To those thus sought out, and brought in guilty before God, Christ is most attractive when held forth in the gospel. And it is life from the dead when they are enabled by the Spirit so to believe in Christ as to find courage to come to him in true prayer and humble confession of all sin, even unbelief.2. THE OBJECT OF FAITH
In the second place let us consider something of the object of faith. The object is set before us in the 5th verse. "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Christ is the One in whom saving faith centers. And the important thing with faith is always the object believed in. In the Scriptures it is not so much that we have definitions of faith but they constantly hold before us him who is the object of faith. "Search the scritures; for in them ye think that ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). The important thing is that objet. Do all, even the non elect have a duty spiritually and savingly to believe in Christ? They are certainly obliged to honor him as the Son of God. They are to believe what the Scriptures declare of him. But is that belief which God requires of all equivalent to saving faith? I say it is not, there is a difference between natural belief and saving faith. When we remember the importance of hte object it is really absurd to say that all, even the non-elect, have a duty spiritually to believe. Listen to James Wells: "So then, it is the duty of those that were nevere loved to believe they are loved. It is the duty of those that were never chosen to believe they are chosen. It is the duty of those for whom Christ did not die to believe that he did die for them. It is the duty of those to whom the promises do not belong to believe that they do belong to them. Is not this absurd?"
And I say, yes it is! Saving faith is not the duty of all, it is God's gift, and he gives it only to his elect.
This faith in and of itself does not save them. Remember what faith is; "a weakening, emptying grace." The all important thing then is the object of faith, the one in whom it centers, and that proper object is the Lord Jesus Christ, verse 5 "Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" Dr. Gill says, "This shows that the victory over the world is not owing to fiath itself, but to its object Christ, who has overcome it, and makes true believers in him more than conquerors over it."
How many today are looking to their fiath because they've had presented to them this Arminian concept of faith; a kind of work? They trust in their faith. They want great faith - oh that we all did have great faith - but friends it is not faith that saves, it is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me" Phil. 4:13), and again "We are more than conquerors through him that loved us" (Rom. 8:37).
However observe just what is believed concerning Christ, "He that believeth that Jesus is the Son God" (verse 5). There is to be belief in his Deity. He is the Son of God, he is equal with the Father. He is very God of very God. That is what the Jews refused to believe. They said they believed in God, but they refused to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They rejected him because he said he was the Son of God. "Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the Sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:18, cf. 10:33). That was the charge that they laid against him, blasphemy. They answered Pilate, "We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God" (John 19:7). Yet it is his Godhood that gives virtue to all his works. It is because he is God that what he has done is able to save his people. Why does his blood cleanse from sin? Because it is the blood of God, God manifest in the flesh (Acts 20:23). What virtue is in him as the God-man; God has laid help upon one that is mighty (Psalm 89:19). He is God, and he is God become man, and in all his works he is ever the God-man, those two natures in that one Person, we cannot separate and divide the Person.
False teachers, antichrists, deny that he is God, "who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son." "Everyone that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world. Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world" (chaps. 2:22 and 4:3,4). True believers confess Christ to be their God and Savior. As saving faith comes from God so it returns to him in humble trust.
"That Christ is God I can avouch,
And for his people cares.
Since I have prayed to him as such,
And he has heard my prayers." -J. Hart