“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves whoever has been born of him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:1–5)
We often talk about “believing in Jesus” but what does that mean? After all, most people are ready to believe that Jesus was a historical figure since there is plenty of evidence. Many will say that he is a great teacher, even if they find themselves disagreeing with much of what Jesus actually said. He is, for them, a source of sayings and an example of kindness.
Neither of these will do for John.
In this passage, John sets out what the content of belief in Jesus should be. It is “Jesus the Christ” and “Jesus is the Son of God”. Two things, then; “Christ” and “Son of God”.
Christ is simply the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah, which means anointed. In the Old Testament it had kingly overtones (think of the anointing of Queen Elizabeth at her coronation). Over time the word became associated with the Old Testament prophecies that one from the line of King David would reign once again. To believe Jesus is the Christ is to believe that he is appointed by God, and that he was foretold within the Old Testament. His story is interwoven throughout the entire Old Testament.
What of “the Son of God”? In the Bible, the phrase ‘son of’ means that the person shares some of the qualities. “Sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) have a thunderous temperament, and Judas the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) means he is damned. The peacemakers are “sons of God” (Matthew 5:9) because they share in the peaceful attribute of God. However, the phrase “the Son of God” is uniquely used of Jesus. He alone is the Son of God, sharing in the entirety of God’s character and being. To believe that Jesus is “the son of God” is to believe he is divine.
Believing in Jesus is to see him as the fulfilment of the Old Testament, anointed by God and of divine origin. That is the heart of the faith. That is belief.