Overcoming the World
For the [true] love of God is this: that we habitually keep His commandments and remain focused on His precepts. And His commandments and His precepts are not difficult [to obey]. For everyone born of God is victorious and overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has conquered and overcome the world—our [continuing, persistent] faith [in Jesus the Son of God].
1 John 5:3-4
In the New Testament, the word world is used in two different ways. Sometimes it describes the earth and all its people (Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29), and sometimes it refers to sinful, self-absorbed patterns of life. When John says that believers “overcome the world,” he has the second meaning in mind.
We live in a culture that promises far more than it can deliver. Each and every day, we are barraged by promises of beauty, riches, success, fame, and pleasure. They claim to be able to fill our hearts and give us ultimate happiness, and quite often, we believe their lies. If these promises come to us dressed up a demons in little red suits, we’d recognize them at once and refuse to trust them, but because their lies appear, like Satan himself, as sources of light, we are easily duped.
Why do we need to overcome the world? Because it can overwhelm us and distract us from our relationship with God. These lies steal our attention, erode our faith in God, corrupt our motives, and strain our relationships. Every part of our lives is affected if nor ruined, if we believe the false promises.
Overcoming the world doesn’t happen by magic because we say a certain thing or by osmosis because we attend church. Wars are won by carefully planning, marshaling resources, being courageous in action, and especially following the directions of the commander. In our fight with the world, we overcome when we stay close to Jesus, recognize and reject the lies we hear, and walk in obedience to Him.
Christianity has died many times and risen again; for it has a God who knew His way out of the grave.
Reading farther in the scriptures of 1 John we find the strategy to overcome the world and it is so simple that anyone can accomplish it.
“Who is the one who is victorious and overcomes the world? It is the one who believes and recognizes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. This is He who came through water and blood [His baptism and death], Jesus Christ—not by the water only, but by the water and the blood. It is the [Holy] Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. [He is the essence and origin of truth itself.] For there are three witnesses: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are in agreement [their testimony is perfectly consistent]. If we accept [as we do] the testimony of men [that is, if we are willing to take the sworn statements of fallible humans as evidence], the testimony of God is greater [far more authoritative]; for this is the testimony of God, that He has testified regarding His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God [who adheres to, trusts in, and relies confidently on Him as Savior] has the testimony within himself [because he can speak authoritatively about Christ from his own personal experience]. The one who does not believe God [in this way] has made Him [out to be] a liar, because he has not believed in the evidence that God has given regarding His Son. And the testimony is this: God has given us eternal life [we already possess it], and this life is in His Son [resulting in our spiritual completeness, and eternal companionship with Him]. He who has the Son [by accepting Him as Lord and Savior] has the life [that is eternal]; he who does not have the Son of God [by personal faith] does not have the life.”
1 John 5:5-12
It is not as though we somehow muster up courage or strength or wisdom to stand against the wiles of the devil or to be able to resist temptation or to know what is true and what is a lie. John says that it is our relationship with Christ; that Christ who is Truth lives in us; that the Light of God dwells in us and the Truth and Light reveals what can be hid in darkness and every false thing is revealed and defeated. John says that there are three things that bear witness that witness the fact that Jesus is the Son of God- the water, the blood and the Spirit. Through His baptism and death and the Holy Spirit who is the truth, we have the witness that Jesus is the Son of God and He alone is sufficient to overcome the world around us and in us. When we invite Him into our hearts, His power and holiness breaks the power of sin and liberates us to live as the children of God. As we daily seek Him more and more, we become more enlightened and the light shining upon our hearts becomes brighter and even the small sins hidden in dark corners is revealed and overcome. John simplifies the overcoming the world to us having a living relationship with Christ and believing what He says and trusting His promises.
David in the psalms recognized that God alone could give him a pure heart.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a right and steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”
It is through God that we have the power to overcome the things of the world. In each of us is a sin nature that willingly responds to the siren call of worldly desire. The devil never ceases to try to draw us away from God through his devices and deceptions. We know from the story of Eve in the Garden that the devil never gives us a complete, obvious lie but a subtle questioning of what is really truth. He never brings us to a crossroad but leads us to stray off the path a little at a time. This is why we need to stay close to Jesus for He can detect the slightest variation from truth long before it becomes obvious to us.
As I have worked over the years with construction tools and mechanical tools, I’ve learned that things like levels, rulers, and squares can detect variations the the human eye can’t see. I’ve learned that micrometers and calipers can detect measurements so small that they can’t be seen. As a Christian, I’ve learned over the years that the Holy Spirit can detect the drawing away by the devil even before we may become aware of it in our hearts. Through the years as I have hung and finished drywall I’ve learned that when you place a powerful light on seams, any flaw will become visible. They wouldn’t be seen in natural light but in the power of intense light flaws show up. I’ve learned that when we walk in the light of Christ, flaws invisible to the natural man become visible to one walking in the light of Christ.
Paul in Ephesians 6 gives us application of this principle.
“In conclusion, be strong in the Lord [draw your strength from Him and be empowered through your union with Him] and in the power of His [boundless] might. Put on the full armor of God [for His precepts are like the splendid armor of a heavily-armed soldier], so that you may be able to [successfully] stand up against all the schemes and the strategies and the deceits of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood [contending only with physical opponents], but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places. Therefore, put on the complete armor of God, so that you will be able to [successfully] resist and stand your ground in the evil day [of danger], and having done everything [that the crisis demands], to stand firm [in your place, fully prepared, immovable, victorious]. So stand firm and hold your ground, having tightened the wide band of truth (personal integrity, moral courage) around your waist and having put on the breastplate of righteousness (an upright heart), and having strapped on your feet the gospel of peace in preparation [to face the enemy with firm-footed stability and the readiness produced by the good news]. Above all, lift up the [protective] shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. With all prayer and petition pray [with specific requests] at all times [on every occasion and in every season] in the Spirit, and with this in view, stay alert with all perseverance and petition [interceding in prayer] for all God’s people.”
Let me sum up: Be strong in the Lord. Put on the full armor of God. Remember that your struggle is spiritual against the powers of darkness. Resist and stand firm fully clothed in the armor of God. With prayer and petition, pray on every occasion about everything. And you will be able to overcome the world.
Dr. John Thompson