How does the Christian overcome?

The Bible tells us that Christians have the victory, or that they overcome. What does that mean? What does that victory look like? How can we know that we are overcoming?

First John 5:2-5 tell us that we have the victory and have overcome the world. Here is the passage, which we will cover in more detail later:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.
For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?

To understand this victory over the world, we need to see what the world has done to us. It has shaped our values and how we think of ourselves, of society, our relationships with others and with ourselves and God. It has a strong hand in how it molds our characters because we respond to the world’s influences, laws, and environments.

The problem is that the world is Satan’s domain: “Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9). He has used his influence on sinful men to shape it in such a way as to warp the truths God gave us to live by: “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not” (2 Corinthians 4:4). First John 5:19 tells us, “And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness.”

Another observation of the world: nothing good is said about it. By world, I don’t mean the earth we stand on, but the systems humanity has devised and that we unquestionably follow for the most part:

“For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19).

“know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4).

“having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4).

“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).

“And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:17).

Living in such a closed environment, how can we possibly escape its influences? That’s where our faith in Jesus comes in. But it is not a faith where one merely believes that Jesus is real, part of a creed we agree to, or he’s merely a historical character who lived sometime in the past. The character of this faith has been shaped by one’s love for God.

Having seen the breadth and reach of the world, let’s see how it is through love that we overcome it:

By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1 John 5:2-3)

Our faith grows and conquers more of the world’s influence over us when we find God’s love moving us to obedience. The world teaches us to live for ourselves, to lust and covet its things and ideals to the rejection of others and their needs. Just look at any television ad! When we obey God and care for others around us, then we overcome the pull of the world to put ourselves first. God’s great love is the agency that pulls us out of the control of the world. When we learn of the mercy of God towards us, then we learn to show mercy to others, and mature in a godly way.

And “his commandments are not grievous” because we love God. We have seen the greatness of Christ’s sacrifice for us, and we want to live our lives for him in response. A young man may not like washing the car, but wait until love for a young lady captures his heart – then he would wash the car without being asked if he could keep it clean and drive her around in it. Love overcomes our baser impulses and prompts us to do good for others. Therefore it is very important that we continue in the word of God, and faithfully remember Christ in the Communion, reminding ourselves afresh and often of His sacrificial death for us (1 Corinthians 11:17-34).

But if we are resentful of doing God’s work or continually reject it for this world’s pleasures and comforts, then we do not know the love that leads to victory; we are still under the control of the world, and therefore of the wicked one. “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (1 John 2:15). Therefore we know victory when we put the things of God first instead of obeying our desires for the things of the world. In one sense, to overcome means to hold fast to faith in Christ in spite of the world’s deceits and temptations. Therefore, overcoming is done by the individual Christian and is not a guarantee for all Christians. We are told of one Christian succumbing to the world, “For Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world” (2 Timothy 4:10).

Furthermore, if we were to review the seven letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation chapters two and three, we’ll find Jesus making promises to those who overcome. The individual churches were experiencing grave problems, but to those individual Christians who resisted the evil influences, Christ promised immeasurable rewards. For instance, to the church in Laodicea he promises, “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne” (Revelation 3:21). So reigning with Christ is not a right given to all Christians, but to those who are overcoming the temptations the world offers through their faith in Christ and desire to please Him.

The final part of our passage reads:

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

The phrase “overcomes the world” is found three times here. We find that it’s our faith in God that overcomes the world. The world has told us that the things of this life are treasures. Christ has convinced the overcomers that the present things are passing away and can’t compare with the treasures to come. So we are no longer impulsive shoppers; our lives don’t depend on getting the latest and greatest gadget; we are no longer depressed when we don’t get what we want. We see our inner coveting and how Satan uses that part of our flesh to tie us to this present world and distract us from the kingdom of God. So we overcome when we resist our cravings for the things of this world and follow God.

The world has told us of several philosophies to live by in order to enjoy life. But Christ has convinced the overcomers that only a loving relationship with Christ matters. Christ himself gives life, not our mind games or intellectual superiority. Some Christians have elevated intellectual understanding above that of simple faith in God and have gone astray. They are seeking the hidden meanings behind passages rather than simply following the promises and direction clearly revealed in the Word. Abraham is not thought to be an intellectual giant, yet he was a friend of God and righteous before him because of his strong faith in God. And so it is with many of the heroes of faith in Hebrews chapter 11. “Faith is the victory.” If our faith in Christ does not grow with our knowledge, then we are not applying what we are learning. Christian literature is not a substitute for Bible study.

The world has given us many ways to learn of God; many religions that will enrich the lives of those who follow them. But the overcomer is convinced that the way to the Father is through Jesus only (John 14:6). There are not many paths to God. Our eyes have been opened to see that Satan has created many religious substitutes to feed on man’s desire for spiritual things. Some Christians have fallen from faith through their obedience to certain Old Testament rituals from which Christ has set us free. (For instance, see my article on the Sabbath day here: http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters/2011/01/18/will-we-be-more-prepared-for-judgment-if-we-kept-the-sabbath/)

The world has put Jesus among the moral and spiritual teachers of the day, among the great men of the world. But the overcomers have seen that Jesus is more – he is the Son of God who takes away the sin of the world. “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?”

Jesus came that he may destroy the works of the devil in our lives. But it isn’t automatic; we need to work out that salvation, partner with the Holy Spirit, and actively resist the pressures of the world and the flesh to overcome. All of life teaches us this; to be a world-class athlete requires much exertion and commitment to the cause. So it is with running a campaign for president of a class or a country, or studying to become a doctor. Where there is no endurance, there is no overcoming. Through the power of God, examples of faithful men and women, and the many promises in the Word, we find much encouragement to continue in faith to the end.

More articles on overcoming:
http://www.stevehusting.com/doubtbusters/?s=overcome

About Steve Husting

Steve Husting lives in Southern California with his wife and son. He enjoys encouraging others through writing, and likes reading, digital photography, the outdoors, calligraphy, making iPhone apps, and chocolate. He has written several books, iPhone apps, and hundreds of Christian devotionals. Steve is also having a great time illustrating God's Word with calligraphy.
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