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. (1 John 5:3–4)
Notice: Loving God is not just keeping his commandments. It is having a kind of heart for God that means that commandment-keeping is not burdensome. That’s what John says. But then he puts that truth in terms of new birth and faith, rather than love. He says, without a break, “For” — that is, here’s why God’s commandments are not burdensome: “Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. So, the new birth is what overcomes the worldly obstacles to keeping God’s commandments without burdensomeness.
And finally he adds, “And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith.” So, the new birth overcomes the worldly obstacles to burden-free commandment-keeping, because the new birth gives rise to faith. So, the miracle of new birth creates faith, which embraces all that God is for us in Christ as supremely satisfying, which makes obedience to God more desirable than the temptations of the world. And that is what it means to love God.
The eighteenth-century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrestled with this text and concluded, “Saving faith implies . . . love. . . . Our love to God enables us to overcome the difficulties that attend keeping God’s commands — which shows that love is the main thing in saving faith, the life and power of it, by which it produces great effects.”
I think Edwards is right and that numerous texts in the Bible support what he says.
Another way to say it is that faith in Christ is not just assenting to what God is for us, but also embracing all that he is for us in Christ. “True faith embraces Christ in whatever ways the Scriptures hold him out to poor sinners” — that’s another quote from Edwards. This “embracing” is one kind of love to Christ — that kind that treasures him above all things.
Therefore, there is no contradiction between 1 John 5:3, on the one hand, which says that our love for God enables us to keep his commandments, and verse 4, on the other hand, which says that our faith overcomes the obstacles of the world that keep us from obeying God’s commandments. Love for God and Christ is implicit in faith.
John then defines the faith that obeys as “the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:5). This faith is “embracing” the present Jesus as the glorious divine person that he is: the Son of God. It is not simply assenting to the truth that Jesus is the Son of God, because the demons assent to that. “They cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29). Believing that Jesus is the Son of God means “embracing” the significance of that truth — the value of the reality. It means being satisfied with Christ as the Son of God and all God is for us in him.
“Son of God” means that Jesus is the greatest person in the universe alongside his Father. Therefore, all he taught is true, and all he promised will stand firm, and all his soul-satisfying greatness will never change.
Believing that he is the Son of God, therefore, includes banking on all this, and being satisfied with it.