The Victorious Life
By Tim Lopez
Key Verse 5:5
“Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Before we get into unraveling this passage, there is an urgent decision that we all have to make, which is to rest in Christ. Because as we have heard the command over and over to love each other, to love our brother, to love non-believers, we cannot but conclude that we, as believers come up short every time. The command to love God and love people is something that we make many mistakes with every day. But though this happens on and on, our assurance is based in Christ we have already perfectly loved them. This passage shows us that even when we fail to love as we should, Christ’s perfection stands always before us. Our Heavenly Father sees us as a perfect lover of people because of the Advocate that we have in heaven. There is always someone between us and the Father. This is the only way to enjoy a beautiful relationship with God. Faith first, and our love for others second. Not the other way around. If we don’t operate in this order, we will have no power to love anyone. Our failures will overwhelm us with guilt. Once we are overwhelmed we can only go two different directions. We can either become hard working and legalistic— or we can become loose and think “what’s the use” and give in to immorality”. And neither paths, are in anyway helpful. Therefore, moment by moment, we must learn to stand in Christ’s righteousness, and remind ourselves that our Heavenly Father only sees us through Him.
If we were asked to describe a Christian in one word or phrase what would be your answer? We could say that they’re believers, or friends, or brothers & sisters, or sheep, or saints, or soldiers or even witnesses. But if we were to ask John, the Lord’s beloved disciple, he would surely say a Christian is an “overcomer!” He would look at the weakest most vulnerable believer, and ask, “why does this ‘overcomer’ look so defeated?” To John, there is no bigger oxymoron like seeing a Christian with a defeated spirit. The word “overcome” is used twenty-four times throughout the New Testament, and John the Apostle uses it twenty-one of those times. Thus John ends his point by saying, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Let’s read verse 1a, “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” This is a weighty statement. What does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Christ? When we say we believe that Jesus is the Christ we are saying that we believe in His works done on our behalf. We believe in all that the word of God says He did, especially his agonizing death on the cross which brought us healing from the ravages of sin and victory over the power of death. As the Apostle Paul says, we were already washed, sanctified and justified in the name of our Lord Jesus, and all that— only by the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 6:11) We believe Jesus Christ is the chosen Lamb whom John the Baptist exclaimed when he said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) John the Apostle promises that all who accept him and his works are born of God. They have crossed over from death to life and can never go back. As he says earlier in scripture, “…to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:12-13)
But what’s it like to be born again? It might be easy to think it’s an easy transition to a holy and struggle-free life. But think about it for a moment. When we think about the birth of a baby, it’s easy to think of it as being a nice, cute and tender event— especially for most of us who are not mothers, or who have no recollection of our early years. But actually, having a child is very traumatic, both for the mother and father, and for the baby. Think about the eventful reality that a newborn baby goes through when he or she comes into this brand new world. Their eyes see strange and foreign things. They can’t crawl, they can’t walk or talk. They get slapped on their tender behind right away. They are cold, dirty and hungry. It feels like nothing short of downright miserable. Some babies barely make it through to this life by the skin of their teeth, almost losing their lives, while some sadly don’t even make it. When we are newborns of God, it is not exactly smooth sailing either. The transitioning that we go through is also very traumatic, and some of us too barely make it through with our lives. It’s a rough ride as we are transferred from Adam’s family line, to Christ’s family line— a completely new family line. Your family is no longer that old worldly crowd, no longer that music, no longer those movies— and everything you were familiar with in the world.
But even more so, there is a kingdom citizenship change as well. We are transferred instantly from Satan’s kingdom and dominion to Christ’s kingdom and dominion. With a new kingdom comes new governing that rules our hearts and minds. This kingdom is nothing like the last kingdom. Truth be told that for us it is one of the most humbling experiences that we go through. We have to re-learn how to walk uprightly and blamelessly. We have to re-learn how to talk in ways that honor God and edify the church. We re-learn how to feed ourselves spiritual food. Sometimes a genuine child of God will want these things so fast that he or she gets easily frustrated and despises the humbling experiences of the growing pains. They earnestly wish that they can just instantly become mature much like a child who wants to quickly grow up to become an adult, not knowing that some day they will long for those precious simple years of being a babe in Christ. In our great desire to quickly mature we wish we could already do all things well, and make no mistakes. But we forget that if we saw a newborn baby walking, talking, running and jumping, that we’d think it a terribly wrong thing. So it is with the babe in Christ who looks as if all things fine, and not genuinely struggling to walk, talk and eat. We need to thank God for the grace he gives us in maturing in his own pace as we learn to appreciate his love better and to grow in our intimate fellowship with him more and more.
Verse 1b says, “…that everyone who loves the father, loves his child as well.” This is not a command or possibility, but it’s reality and truth that is the fruit those who are born of God. In other words, those who are born of God inherently love God. They also inherently love God’s children. One day I met a student at Triton college. He was wearing a T-shirt with a scripture from 1st Corinthians. I don’t remember the verse but I immediately knew that he was a believer. I went up to him and introduced myself, and there was great joy. We found a room and joyfully talked about the Lord and what he had done in our lives. There was a family bond that brought refreshing joy. He is now a missionary to Pakistan diligently going in and out of the heart of a severely persecuted land. Please pray for him, his name is Faisal John. Many know the joy of surprisingly meeting another genuine believer. It’s just like meeting a close brother or sister that we have never met before. But just as we love the children of God naturally, so we also love the Son of God. Those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, naturally embrace him wholeheartedly. Jesus says to a crowd of Jews, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me.” (John 8:42) Of course we love Jesus much differently than we love the family of God, but one of the reasons we naturally love him is because he is family, in fact he is the first born among many brothers and sisters.
There are many reasons we are preparing to go to the Summer Bible Conference. But the foremost reason is to express our genuine love as Christians for one another, to encourage one another, to share God’s grace with our brothers and sisters, to pray with them and for them, to share their struggles and to serve them in any way we can. I am appointed to serve as a Bible teacher at this conference. But I want to make it a point to go one step further, to get to know many of my brothers and sisters there, to find out how I can practically love them and serve them and pray for them. As John says: “That everyone who loves the father, loves his child as well.”
Let’s read verse 2, “This is how we know that we love the children of God; by loving God and carrying out his commands.” Throughout this whole epistle we have been repeatedly called to love our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Now it is in the final chapter that John defines what this love is. Why does John identity love for the children of God? John doesn’t mention that to love the children of God is to clothe them, feed them, and house them. I think that when John says this, he wants to dispel all the sentimental notions of love that leave God and his commandments out of the picture. If what John is saying is true, which it is, then there are many acts of love out there that in reality have no love in them. There are many genuine whole hearted efforts and sacrifices that don’t profit anyone. The reality of that is scary! It’s scary to think about all the sacrificial labor out there that is actually not love at all. The truth is that if we don’t love God and honor him in our relationships, then in the end we don’t really do anyone any real good. We can clothe them, and feed them, and house them, and entertain them and continue to make the perishing of their souls all the more comfortable. But shouldn’t we consider that to be worse for us as “overcomers” if someone perishes in our clothes and home, while we did nothing to bring them to the Lord? Furthermore, to bring someone to the Lord is more than inviting them to Bible study and more than inviting them to follow Christ. It is also more than teaching them Bible and preaching to them nice sounding sermons.
If we are teaching something and then doing something else, if we are preaching one way and then living another, we are living a double life. We in turn being an even worse influence than those who are outwardly doing the wrong thing. And something such as this has nothing but the stench of death all over it. We need to live in obedience to God’s commands before their very eyes, and more importantly behind their backs. If the lives that they see us living don’t invite them or steer them to know God and to worship him, then our actions and labor are not even considered to be attempts of love. Truly the best way to love God’s people is to carry out his commands in a way that leads those who see us, to know God, to love him and worship him.
Let’s read verses 3 & 4a. “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” To understand this we first have to understand what commands he is speaking of. Right off the bat, it may seem like all commands are not burdensome. But we know that’s not true, for truly there are some commands that— as our Lord tells us— we must die to ourselves, that seem burdensome. He tells us that obedience to them will even feel like gouging out our own dear eyes. But even so, when we drink from Him and not from the world he promises those who are weary and burdened that they will find rest and peace in his gentle yoke and in his much lighter burden. (Matt 11:28-30)
With this being said, it is most likely that Jesus is talking about the commands that pertain to truly loving people. Love your neighbor, love your enemy as yourself, love the children of God. According to John, for those who are born of God, the commands that consist of loving people towards God are not burdensome. Why is this so? John says that, “for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” This means that there is something about the world that would make it a burden to love people. What might that be? There is something about the world that gets in the way of me loving people in freedom and in joy. 1st John 2:15-17 says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world— the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does— comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” There are many worldly forces out there, but John describes three of them that have to be conquered in order to be lovers of people. This is another sermon in itself. But essentially, our birth in Christ Jesus causes us to overcome our sinful cravings, our envious lustful eyes and our prideful boasting. But if we love and hold on to these things, the love of the Father will not be in us. We must continually acknowledge that in Christ we have already disowned these things. If we forget this and go back to loving the world then we will never be able to love his people in freedom and joy. It will always be a burden to us as it is to the world. We cannot love both. We cannot love God and his people, and love the world. It’s always one or the other. But how did the children born of God overcome this world? How do these new traumatized babies overcome the world?
Let’s read verse 4b, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” Faith is the sole ground in which stand on as victors over the world. Faith is very powerful. It’s not just a tag ending that we say when we challenge ourselves to do something. Neither does it strengthen us to wrestle against the world until one day we might just win against all of the world’s allurements. Faith completely cuts us off from the world and its desires, like a baby’s umbilical cord being cut off of its mother. We no longer need the world’s nourishment, or its sustenance because we are in a whole new world. We no longer need crave or have it, nor boast in pride of anything in it. This happens when we are born of God, and we see this world very differently. Through the eyes of faith we see it and its desires as something just passing away. When we receive the gospel, we cling to Christ whom we see now as most beautiful and most precious. When we realize that Christ has cut off our umbilical cord from the world, then we want to embrace him. We want to please him wholeheartedly. The will of God is not burdensome to us like it is the world. Not only that, but through faith we see that we do please him, and have pleased him and will always please him. Sometimes our conscience may distract us from this love because of our sin. Thank God our conscience bothers us about sin. It give us the privilege to repent and be renewed in his grace. And John affirms our standing by saying, “We set our hearts at rest, whenever our conscience condemns us, because God is greater than our hearts.” 1st John 3:21 & 22. Really our struggle most of the time is to believe that which has already been done for us. (Add hope and love and faith, and even how the weakest overcome).
Let’s read verse 5, “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Who can overcome the world? Actually nobody can. Not even Alexander the great who conquered the world can overcome the world. But there is only one kind of person who can overcome the world. John says, only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. The world is that powerful that no one else can overcome it. When we think about how the world is, it’s just impossible to overcome. But Jesus did. And in Jesus, all those who believe in Jesus, one by one have overcome the world, one by one. There is no other way to overcome the world. We are truly blessed and fortunate that God has chosen us in Christ Jesus to be overcomers. No one can overcome. Many can conquer it, but they can’t overcome it. Thank God that the key to overcoming the world, is just believing in Jesus and the gospel of his grace. Amen.