Commentary on 1 John 5:1-6
For analysis of the structure of 1 John, see the commentary on 1 John 3.
First John 5:1-6 is the heart of the final summons of this epistle’s closing appeal that calls its recipients to understand God as the foundation of love that manifests in faith which, despite any and all evidence to the contrary, conquers the world. God is love, but the author further insists that this love results in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, Christ and Son of God who reconciles humankind to one another and to creation.
The author’s closing appeal focuses on the divine attribute that embodies all others—that God is Love. This characteristic is revealed in the love of the believing community for one another that manifests fully when God is present in their relationships (1 John 4:7-21). Indeed, God is the foundation of all love which, in turn, actualizes a faith that conquers the world (1 John 5:1-12). The author therefore begins his final appeal with the imperative for his “beloved” (a strong reflection back to the Beloved Disciple in John’s Gospel as their model of faith and love); then repeats the “new commandment” of the gospel, “let us love one another,” with a new focus on origins, “because love is from God” (1 John 5:1-3; see John 13:34-35). Thereafter, he can confirm the initial gospel commandment: “believing that Jesus is the Christ” and Son of God (1 John 5:1; see John 1:11-13, 17-18; 14:1).
The familial language for this relationship first introduced in John’s Gospel continues here in parent-child imagery. Filial love is what sustains and forms a relationship that abides through life’s ups and downs, trials and successes. This baseline can further open us to the unexpected gifts received when we take risks and encounter others where they are regardless of stereotypes or any other preconceived biases or notions.
The potential surprise is that obedience to these commandments offers true freedom in relationship (verse 3). The result of this love is the victory of faith, and this faith conquers the world (verses 4-5). The author has already affirmed the atoning sacrifice of Christ; now he upholds that the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God has life, and this life in faith conquers all the dangers of this world (verses 6-12).
Who is it that can take on the world?
Who can live as Christ lived in faith and freedom?
Who can persist through challenge and trial?
Who can change things for the better for those they encounter from all walks of life?
Who can dwell in love, mercy, and grace?
The one who believes. And this can be each and every one of us, despite our insecurities, perceived faults, or any other mode of self-doubt. The atoning sacrifice of the one who comes by water and blood, incarnation and expiation, and indeed transforms the world around us. But it also imbues us with life, inspiration, and a vocation to which we are called to respond.