“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:5–12).
I remember sitting in my grandpa’s study, going over our little catechism book, and studying the Apostle’s Creed. I was in middle school, and I spent many weekends in Grandpa’s basement study as he and I ate donuts and discussed the things of God.
There were a few Christian friends in my public school, and when we talked on occasion, they would often talk about the Spirit, and talk about all the things the Spirit did. Growing up in a small, casual, Lutheran church, I was beginning to wonder if there were things of God that were untapped. I wondered if there were things that God did for other people, that I could see him do. Most specifically, that third person of the Trinity that I knew so little about: the Spirit.
My grandpa talked about Jesus all the time: Jesus this and Jesus that. But what about the Spirit? I asked Grandpa all the questions about all the things I heard the Spirit could do. He listened, and answered my questions with the calm certainty of a pastor with decades of experience:
“One thing for certain, when you are trying to discern what the Spirit is doing,” he said, “The Spirit is always pointing us to Christ.”
It was a paradox that frustrated me. I asked you about the Spirit, and now we’re back to Jesus again.
This frustrating truth I was taught back then has been sinking into me for almost 30 years, and with each year, I understand the truth of it better. The Spirit is always pointing us to Christ. When we read Scripture “by the Spirit,” the Spirit will help us see Christ in that passage. When I struggle with my faith, the Spirit points me to Christ, because the strength of our faith isn’t in our effort, but in the object of our faith, who is Christ himself.
“This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:6-8).
The Spirit is the one who testifies because the Spirit is truth. But according to this passage, the Spirit isn’t the only one who can’t seem to stop pointing us to Christ. God gives us three witnesses that testify.
The Gospel of John, chapter 1, speaks of John the Baptist, who came to testify about Christ. He was sent ahead to do this. Then to his horror, Jesus asked John to baptize him. Apparently, his testimony wasn’t simply shouting to make way for the Messiah while living in the desert. He was also meant to baptize Jesus. This water would be a witness–like evidence with memory.
“And John bore witness: I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34).
Something as simple as water–a substance on earth that both gives and takes away life is the means by which God uses to save his people as they cross from death to life. In our baptism, we die to our sins and take on the perfection of Christ (Rom. 6:4-7).
In the moment of Jesus’ baptism, God is spoken of as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in an incredible picture of the Trinity. But Jesus’ baptism wasn’t done for the purpose of removing his sins – since Jesus had none – but instead sanctifies the waters of baptism for us.
It is here that Jesus reveals himself to be fully God, with the full saving power of God. His baptism was a testimony of his divinity.
Baptism testifies that on account of Christ, our sins are forgiven. It is a testimony or evidence of our salvation that God gives our anxious hearts. When our hearts put God on trial, asking him if he loves us, really died for us, and is really powerful enough to save us, baptism is one of the pieces of evidence he puts forth for us to hang onto.
As the water testifies that Jesus is God, the blood testifies to his humanity. Songwriter Andrew Peterson poetically writes of the resurrection:
“His heart beats
His blood begins to flow,
waking up what was dead a moment ago”
Jesus really lived a human life. He really died and he really shed blood. This wasn’t just a spiritual exercise. The crucifixion wasn’t hypothetical.
At the last supper, with Jesus and his disciples, Jesus “took the cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:27-28).
The blood of communion testifies that on account of Christ, our sins are forgiven.
The Spirit works through water and blood to point us to Christ and provide evidence of his work for us. But God also combines water and word with his effective Word, to not only testify to but also create faith in Christ. God’s words are never hollow. Just as in creation, when God says something, it is created. And so when God testifies, his word is also active. It takes action. He binds his word proclaiming our salvation with the mean of water and blood and therefore makes them active with the full force of his truth of salvation. He does not lie. His word is never hollow because what he says, is.
Through water, blood, and word, the Spirit never stops pointing us to Christ, and even more, never stops giving us Christ. Because it is in Christ that we might have eternal life.