And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.–1 John 5:11-12
When I was a teaching assistant at the University of Kansas, we had a simple rule for Composition I. If a student failed the final exam, that student failed the course. You could have made A++’s on every paper, all semester long, but if you failed the final, you failed the course. This was, I suppose, their way of ensuring quality after letting a yahoo like me teach a composition course all semester.
One of my students, David, had limped through the course with Cs and Ds on his papers. He also quite nobly failed the final, so he received the required F. Understandably he wasn’t happy, so he blessed me with a visit. After I explained things to him, he continued to protest
“But there were some points for journal entries that you didn’t give me,” he argued.
I was perplexed. “But that doesn’t really matter. You failed because of failing the final.”
“Yeah, but what about the points for those journals?”
“It’s the final that matters,” I explained. “The journal points don’t matter.”
“Okay, but you didn’t give me the points for the journals.”
With that I pulled out last semester’s gradebook. “Okay, there’s name. I’ll give you points. You want a million points for journals? You can have a million points. And what does that make your final grade? Still an F, because you still failed the exam.”
What David could not bring himself to accept was that the final made all the difference. That’s rather like what John is saying in today’s verses, using another of his favorite constructions, the two-part opposition. If you have the Son, you have life; if you don’t have the Son, no life.
In a world of various beliefs, we’re inclined to resist this sort of thinking. I know some Muslim’s who are really decent, really moral people. Won’t God take care of them? I know some wonderful atheists. Surely God will give them eternal life as well, right? Surely if we do all the nice things that Jesus talks about doing in the Sermon on the Mount, then we’ll go to heaven. Doesn’t that make sense?
It might make sense to our human intellect, but it is not correct according to John. If simply following all the ethical teachings of Jesus were enough, then there would truly be no need for Jesus. His death and resurrection would be merely interesting historical footnotes. But that’s not what the scripture teaches, as these verses clearly point out. At the risk of sounding like a bumper sticker, John says this: No Jesus; no eternal life. Know Jesus; know eternal life. The world might give you a million points for your good deeds, but the final exam will require having Christ.