Overcoming the World
Today we are going to be looking at the subject of overcoming the world. It is an undisputed truth that as believers we are in a battle from the time we awake till we finally nod off to sleep. Satan parades his worldly wares before us, tempting us, exploiting our weaknesses, doing all he can to cause us to stumble and fall. The roaring lion would like nothing more than to be the cause of our besmirching the Name of God.
Consider the scene in the book, Pilgrim’s Progress where Christian and Faithful enter Vanity Fair. The men of the city came and displayed their filthy merchandise before these two men and said, “Buy, buy: buy!” The world does the same with us each and every day. And it is with supreme effort that we resist the devil and his wiles.
Now the question is: how do we do this? There are various philosophies regarding the subject of how one conducts spiritual warfare. The Pentecostal version of overcoming is to create your own world and just deny the existence of sin, or to flex your spiritual muscles (the Pentecostals believe that they themselves actually have power over the devil, that they are stronger than him and can beat him up whenever and wherever they want). The other option is to become an altar athlete who runs down the aisle every Sunday and gets saved again. Between Sunday’s you just have to hope you don’t die in your sins!
Then there is the Southern Baptist version, the one I’m familiar with. The S.B. idea is that you’re saved for all eternity (once saved, always saved) and so it doesn’t matter how you live. God has to take you to heaven because He made a deal and He has to stick to it BY GUM! As you have your fire insurance you can indulge yourself.
In my opinion this variation of overcoming the world is really just a watered down version of Gnosticism (your flesh is evil and you’re going to sin anyway so just deal with it!). In other words you don’t have to do anything. This philosophy was and is used to cover a multitude of sins. And I heard it preached and spoken of by “believers” every day while I attended Grand Canyon College. I have heard it in the various S.B. churches in the area and around the state for that matter. And yes: I have heard this same doctrine taught here in our town as well.
The Catholic version of how to overcome the world is to perform works of righteousness. This includes partaking of all seven of the sacraments, performing as much penance as you can and paying into the indulgence fund. This payment, as well as those made by your relatives after you’re dead, will shorten your time in purgatory. Then you basically prepare yourself to do just that, to suffer for your sins in Purgatory to finish the job. This suffering process will make you fit for heaven.
But what does the Bible say? Is overcoming the world just a self help thing where you either deny sins existence or get saved again and again or ignore it because it doesn’t really matter anyway (you’re going to sin so why fight it) or because you’ve got to suffer anyway? We have already acknowledged the existence of the world and its system of evil and the evil one who is behind it all. We have already acknowledged that, without a doubt, the world pulls at us, calls to us and places lures in our paths seeking to draw us away from our Lord, from our faith, from the truth. And we have acknowledged the fact that Satan wants us to fall, to sin openly so as to become disgraced before the eyes of men.
When this occurs the world points and says, “Christians! Hah! They ain’t any better ‘en me! What they don’t realize is they’re right. We aren’t any better than them. But for the grace of God we would still be in bondage to the world, yielding our members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.
I myself had 20 years to hone my craft of sinning and 20 years of ingraining is hard to overcome. Left to myself I would be the most heinous sinner known to man.
Isaiah said: (Isaiah 53:6) “All of us like sheep have gone astray; we are all sinners with the capacity to perform the vilest perversions. And the truth is that each of us has turned to his own way: many times a day we give in and turn aside from God to entertain sinful thoughts, habits and desires. We are guilty before a Holy God who is of purer eyes than to behold evil.
We are worthy of death and eternity in hell for our crimes against our Creator and His creation. But thanks be to God for the LORD has not left us to ourselves. He has forgiven us our sins and given us a new life in Him Consider the evil Saul of Tarsus. He was on his way to imprison Christians but God arrested him on the way. And He has done the same for us. We were like the characters, simple, sloth and presumption. We saw no danger, felt that every tub must sit on its own bottom and desired a little more sleep.
But while we were strolling down the yellow brick road, the broad road that leads to destruction God stopped us in our tracks and took us for His own. Though we were guilty of great sins against the Lord God He has not imputed our sins to us but instead has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Jesus) The truth that Paul told the Colossians Christians applies to us for he tells us in (Colossians 2:13-15) that “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, when you were still practicing sin as a lifestyle, when you still hated God and all that He stood for, when you were breathing out blasphemies with every breath and every sinful action. God had mercy.
While you were still His enemies He chose you and called you and in His calling He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
Our great God has done all this on our behalf. He has lifted up the broken hearted and has strengthened the helpless, opened the eyes of the blind and though we once sat in a dunghill, He has washed us thoroughly of our sins, clothed us in the robe of His righteousness and has made us to sit with Him in heavenly places. He has foreknown, predestined, justified and glorified us, all because He chose to do so. There was not anything in us that would make us appealing to Him. Our past was littered with sinful behavior and sinful acts all of which declared us guilty before this Holy God before whom we stand naked and open.
There are those who would stop me and try to defend themselves saying, “I have been taught the bible from my earliest youth.” Well so was I. From my earliest memories as a child I remember going to Sunday school and church and hearing bible stories. We even had a bible storybook which we read everyday. And so I could say that at least on a mental level that I believed in God and Jesus. I had, however, very skewed ideas about heavenly things. For, though I ‘believed’ I didn’t know the truth about God, about sin and righteousness and judgment. My belief was the belief of man who is shrouded in darkness, has never seen the light and could not describe the light in any accurate fashion. I, as all sinners are, was a walking, living, breathing example of the story of the blind men and the elephant. I had never known the Light and so I couldn’t understand the things of the Spirit of God.
My belief therefore was worthless, less than nothing and vanity. The demons have the sense to tremble at the thought of God but not me. I had no idea who God was and therefore practiced sin without fear of the Creator who will judge all the ungodly for all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly manner. But one day I was sitting in my house when the pastor of a local church asked to speak to me. I said sure (inwardly arming myself with all the philosophical ideologies that Bruce Lee had espoused. He was my hero)
When this pastor spoke of Jesus Christ and the need to bow before Him as Lord I would reply with Lee’s philosophical gobblygook. When I left I felt like I was the winner! But God had chosen that man to reveal to me the mystery of Godliness, the message of salvation. Over the course of the next few days conviction of sin came. This was an experience I had never had. Slowly but steadily the burden of the weight and magnitude of my sin increased as the righteous standard of God, the terrors of hell, all these began to bear down upon my finite, trembling soul. I was being crushed beneath the weight of conviction of sin till I cried out what must I do to be saved.
God in mercy did not leave me there. He did not reveal my sinfulness and then say, “Rotsa Ruck dude! He had sent this kind man to teach me the way of salvation and then at the appointed time He caused our paths to cross again and the man helped me to see that I must call upon God through Jesus, repent of my sins and trust Him as my Savior and Lord. (Ps 34:4) “I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”
That day I came to believe in Jesus as the Savior of my soul and began following my Lord in newness of life. And since the day of my salvation everything has been a piece of cake. Life has been perfect with peace and safety and the skies are not cloudy all day. In fact I’ve arrived! Obviously I’m lying. I have struggled, as all believers in Jesus Christ do, to fight against sin and many times have come out the loser in the battle. In those times I am grateful that God has opened the door to the throne of grace where I might repent before His throne. And wonder of wonders, my Lord Jesus Christ is always there to forgive me and there I find grace to help in my time of need. With Paul I can say that I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto Him against that day!
But when we say “I believe in Jesus” what exactly do we mean? What does it mean to say “I have placed my faith in Jesus Christ? John says in our text (1 John 5:1-12) 1Whoever believes… We understand that this is more than just mentally agreeing with some historical facts about a guy named Jesus. It is more than just saying, “I believe in God and that Jesus Christ is His Son. Anyone can say these words. This goes much deeper than mere words but comes from the heart, the very core of our being. The word we translate as faith is from the Greek word Pistis and carries with it the idea of having a firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing the word of God. And it is more than just hearing with the ear but it is a hearing of the spirit for God awakens the dead spirit of man and speaks into his heart the words of life and the dead sinner becomes a living believer.
The most quoted passage dealing with faith is (Heb 11:1) where we read 1Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Exactly what does this mean? The assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen? It means that we are assured by the Holy Spirit that God is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. It is an assurance that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is the assurance that in believing, we have life in His Name. So when we say we believe Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of sinners we are saying that we know that Jesus Christ is OUR Savior. We are enabled by the Holy Spirit to cry out saying “ABBA, Father, precisely because He has visited us with salvation and we have received from Him a new heart and a new spirit. He has revealed Himself to us in an unmistakable way so that we in a very real sense have seen Him who is invisible. To believe carries with it the idea of trusting in, relying upon, resting in, and being dependant upon Jesus Christ for everything that pertains to life and godliness. And so the believer in Jesus Christ, the child of God can say unequivocally that Jesus is the Christ… He speaks of this as a living faith, a trust in the revelation of God through His word and by His Spirit. This living faith is proof that he is born of God,
And because of the new nature that has been bestowed upon us by our heavenly Father not only do we now have the gracious ability to know God and to acknowledge His existence both in the world and in our lives but we actually love God. Now sometimes this love is manifested in waves of emotional outbursts but often it is more like a quiet river of trust in He who rules the winds and the waves and our lives.
There is an outward manifestation of the new heart towards those who are our fellow pilgrims on this journey of grace, and that is love. John states this unequivocally when he says that whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. It is interesting that one who was naturally cold and aloof as I was can love others. But God has done a work in my life and in yours so that we are able to love one another. And we demonstrate that love for each other as we lift up one another in prayer and supplications before the throne of grace. When one rejoices all rejoice with him and when one mourns or hurts we all feel the pain in a very real way. We share a common bond as we share a common Father in Heaven and a common Savior.
The scriptures say that “By one Spirit are we all baptized into one body whether we be Jew or Gentile, bond or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” By the power of God we are His sons and daughters. By His power we love Him and by His power we are able to live for Him. The very next verse speaks of this as John says “2By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments.” (The chief one for John being “Love One Another”.)
3For this is the love of God, (that is, we demonstrate our love for God, we prove that we have been drawn to the Father by the Son in this way…that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. Jesus said “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” We are not called upon to sacrifice animals or take special vows or perform deeds of penance. We are called to love one another. When asked by the multitude “what must we do that we may do the works of God” which question came from the heart of one who was used to doing deeds: who had indeed been commanded by the religious leaders to perform deeds in order to gain the favor of God, Jesus replied: “this is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom God has sent.
Then too Paul told Timothy to flee youthful lusts. Do not be bound by the love of money. James calls upon us to submit ourselves to God and resist the devil. The scriptures tell us that though we are in this world we are not to be of it, that we are strangers and aliens here and that we are looking for the New Jerusalem, a place not made with hands. Now by ourselves we cannot resist sin for even a moment. But we are not alone. Jesus said “I will never leave you nor forsake you. He sent us the Holy Spirit, the Holy Councilor who brings to our remembrance all that Jesus said so that we are at all times armed with the truth. We have been born again by the power of God and we are kept by the power of God and John says… 4For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Consider Joseph. He was indeed blessed of the Lord. God revealed the future to him while he was yet in the land of Canaan. His brothers hated him because of his dreams and because he was his father’s favorite, and because he squealed on them whenever they did anything wrong. In a fit of rage they sold him into slavery.
Little did they know that they were but tools in the hand of God who had purposed to protect and preserve the nation of Israel. Joseph would be His instrument and His witness of the power of God to protect His own even in the bonds of slavery. From the time Joseph entered Egypt (a symbol of the world) God’s hand was evident in his life so that his master placed all into his care. When the mistress of the house falsely accused him of wrongdoing he was sent to prison. But even there God was with him and he was soon placed in charge of the prison.
When Pharaoh had a dream God directed him to Joseph who interpreted the dream and was placed in charge of the entire country. Though he went through many trials, Joseph never lost sight of God, never swayed from his devotion to his true Master. He is definitely one of the greatest scriptural examples of one who has overcome the world by faith. John now asks this rhetorical question of us: 5Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation” and Paul said that all who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But our Lord also said “Be of good cheer for I have overcome the world. What does it mean to overcome the world? I believe it means to be kept by the power of God as we submit ourselves to God and resist the devil. It includes obedience to God even when that obedience costs you! It means to walk with God in this wicked and perverse generation, trusting that God will preserve and protect you as He did Joseph. Maybe not in the same way!
But the God who saved us will not forsake us. Listen to the words of (Isa 46:3-4) God says 3 “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb; 4 even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you.
I close with the words of (1 Pet 1:3-9) 3Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 5who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, 7so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 8and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, 9obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.