For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 1 John 5:4-5 (ESV)
The word translated “overcomes” in the above verse is nikaó (from nike = victory) and means to conquer, be victorious, to prevail, overcome, subdue. According to Kenneth S. Wuest, “The verb implies a battle.” i
Yes, to overcome in this world is a continual battle, but one primarily with my “self.” There is an enemy of my soul who wants to destroy me, but the battle to overcome is for holiness, for sanctification, for putting down the flesh and fighting off “human reasoning and to destroy false arguments” and “every proud obstacle that keeps [me] from knowing God” and to capture my “rebellious thoughts” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NLT).
We must overcome the world in us. The way the world has influenced us to think and respond, the world branded on our broken hearts, the world mangling our souls and deforming our hearts. For, before we can truly help anybody else, before we can begin to overcome the evil in the world outwardly, we must first do battle within our own hearts. The Apostle John talks a lot about this battle.
“No New Testament writer makes such frequent use of the metaphors of combat and victory as this gentle Apostle John. None of them seem to have conceived so habitually of the Christian life as being a conflict, and in none of their writings does the clear note of victory in the use of that word ‘overcometh‘ ring out so constantly as it does in those of the very Apostle of Love. Equally characteristic of John’s writings is the prominence which he gives to the still contemplation of, and abiding in, Christ. These two conceptions of the Christian life appear to be discordant, but are really harmonious.” MacLaren’s Expositions
Can the contemplation of our Lord, the fixing of our eyes on Jesus, the abiding in Jesus, be the key to victory in this battle, to overcoming the world? And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
“Remember, that this is much more important than I can express: fix your eyes on your crucified Lord, and everything will seem easy to you.” — Saint Teresa of Avila ii
Well, I don’t know about being easy – at least not yet, not for me – yet. But Teresa echoes God’s word and the promise throughout the Bible:
Be still and know that I am God. The battle is not yours, but God’s. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. iii
I have overcome the world.
“Where did John learn the expression? Who was it that first used it? It comes from that never-to-be-forgotten night in that upper room; where, with His life’s purpose apparently crushed into nothing, and the world just ready to exercise its last power over Him by killing Him, Jesus Christ breaks out into such a strange strain of triumph, and in the midst of apparent defeat lifts up that clarion note of victory:- ‘I have overcome the world.’ He had not made much of it, according to usual standards, had He? His life had been the life of a poor man. Neither fame nor influence, nor what people call success, had He won, judged from the ordinary points of view, and at three-and-thirty is about to be murdered; and yet He says, ’I have beaten it all, and here I stand a conqueror!’ That threw a flood of light for John, and for all that had listened to Christ, on the whole conditions of human life, and on what victory and defeat, success and failure in this world mean.” — MacLaren’s Expositions
Jesus showed us what overcoming means, what success and failure in this world mean. Not the outer accumulations and renown, but the inner triumph, the doing of God’s will, the being faithful to the end. Jesus has overcome, and – Praise God! – he accomplishes the overcoming in us. It’s only when you think of things this way, that all of a sudden, scriptures like this one in James make sense.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. James 1:2-3
This sort of success, this overcoming, is an invisible victory as far as the world is concerned. What J.D. Walt calls this “learning the way of ‘yetting,’ the mystery of joy, and the practice of ‘rejoicing in the Lord,’ and yes all of this before anything changes.” It happens deep down.
“As we learn to rejoice in the Lord at the bottom, we find a strange shifting of the center of our gravity. We go from all manner of striving after any form of strength we can find (including endlessly asking God to help us) to realizing ‘The Sovereign Lord is my strength.’” — J.D. Walt iv
“Discipleship does not mean to use God when we can no longer function ourselves. On the contrary, it means to recognize that we can do nothing at all, but that God can do everything through us.” — Henri J.M. Nouwen
Each self-thing as God puts his finger on it, every lingering Eden-sin, he will give me the grace to overcome, to subdue. God will work his overcoming in me. But I have to cooperate with this working, I have to renounce the sin, hate the sin, be brutal with the sin. I have to cut off the hand and gouge out the offending eye (Matthew 5:29-30). As Charles Spurgeon said, “grace saves no man to make him like a log of wood.” We have something to do; we need to “work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).
There is so much more to overcoming I am finding. So, I would like to continue this wonderful discovery of hidden treasure next time.
“He conquered once for all, and His victory will pass, with electric power, into my life if I trust Him.” — Alexander MacLaren
i Kenneth S. Wuest, Word Studies in the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans.
ii Saint Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, or, The Mansions https://archive.org/details/St.TeresaOfAvilaTheInteriorCastleOrTheMansionsIncludingSomeOfHerMoreInterestingLetters
iii Psalm 46:10; 2 Chronicles 20:15; Matthew 11:30
iv J.D. Walt, Why the Glass Is Not Half Empty, Nor Half Full—There Is No Glass https://www.seedbed.com/why-the-glass-is-not-half-empty-or-half-full-there-is-no-glass/
Image of lightning by Duane Schoon https://flic.kr/p/8nTDnP