By John Phillips
Friday, September 01, 2006
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world — our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
First, victory is expected: "For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world"(5:4a). The unsaved person feels at home in the world. Unbelievers were born into it, and it's all that they know. It appeals to their fallen natures, offering them the kinds of things they like. The world can mask its satanic nature behind a smiling face, offering pleasure, prosperity, and power. Too, it is a total system, offering culture, religion, philosophy, art, science, organization, variety. And it can threaten, punish, persecute, oppress, and kill. It can be noble, inspiring, and attractive; or it can be base, disgusting, and cruel. But it is the world, and it is all the unsaved person has.
Those "born of God" belong to another world, for their citizenship is in heaven. They are children of God, in this world but not of this world, here as ambassadors for Christ. This world is not their home. Like the patriarch Abraham, they have caught the vision of "a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God" (Heb. 11:10) and have become "pilgrims and strangers" on the earth (1 Peter 2:11). God will not allow us the luxury of dual citizenship. This world murdered His Son, and God calls upon us to overcome the world regard‑less of whether it turns toward us a smiling face or a scowling face. We are to recognize the world for what it is an enemy, a system energized by Satan and gratifying to the flesh.
Victory over the world is not only expected of us, it is explained to us: "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" (5:46‑5). Faith. That is the key, faith focused on none other than the Son of God, who so gloriously overcame the world.
Hebrews 11 is the great New Testament chapter on faith that overcomes. It begins with Abel, who overcame the pride of this world. His altar stands in sharp contrast with Cain's, on which was lavished all that hard work and love of beautycould devise. Abel's altar, by contrast, reeked with the blood of the slain Iamb. Abel poured contempt on all his pride and looked away to Calvary.
Enoch overcame the progress of this world. Stricken Cain, far from daunted by the brand on his brow, founded a glamorous civilization with a strong emphasis on science, art, and commerce. Enoch, by contrast, walked with God, resolutely turning his back on the advancements of a glittering society and a dynamic civilization. Thus, Enoch's daily quiet times with the Son of God made him one who overcomes and a candidate for rapture.
Noah, by faith, overcame the pollution of this world. He lived in a pornographic society in which "every imagination of men's hearts was only evil continually."Noah, by contrast, was counted righteous by God — something that happens only when the righteousness of the Son of God is imputed to one. More‑over, he built an ark "to the saving of his house."
By faith Abraham overcame the prospects of this world. And brilliant they were. Abraham was a wealthy citizen of an up‑and‑coming city. He caught the vision of another world, however, and set out to find a heavenly city. Not surprisingly, he met Melchizedek, sat at the Lord's table with the bread and wine before him, symbols of the broken body and poured‑out blood of the Son of God, and was able to turn down with utter contempt the clumsy offer of the king of Sodom to make him rich. Moreover, he was obedient to the heavenly vision to the point of taking his only begotten son to the place called Mount Moriah. He was willing there to offer him up as a burnt offering, even though all the promises of God for the coming into the world of His Son were centered in Isaac. He even caught a glimpse, not only of Calvary but also of the resurrection of Christ.
By faith Sarah overcame the paralysis of this world. Although ninety years of age and although her womb was dead, she received strength to conceive. Thus, she brought Isaac into the world, one who would, himself, be a direct ancestor of the Son of God.
Isaac, too, became one who overcomes. He overcame the passions of this world. He almost missed it, however, in his lust for Esau's savory meat. For a dish of venison he was almost persuaded to give the patriarchal blessing to favored Esau, a man wholly unspiritual and unfit for any such blessing. Circumstances intervened, however, and he unwittingly gave the blessing to Jacob, to whom it right‑fully belonged. And with that blessing went the right to be a human progenitor of the Son of God. Isaac, in a sudden upsurge of spiritual perception and power, trod his passions beneath his feet and, now very much alive to the fact that God had overruled, spoke out with the voice of faith, "Yea, and he [Jacob] shall be blessed." Nor could Esau's exceeding great and bitter cry make Isaac change his mind.
Jacob overcame the perspective of this world. It took a long time to bring the perspective of the world to nothing in Jacob's life and to replace it with the prospect of glory. Right from the start, however, we see a man hungry for the believer's birthright and for the blessing of God. The focus became sharper at Bethel when he saw the ladder that reached to heaven — a symbolic vision of the Son of God (John 1:47‑51). Things came further still into focus when he wrestled at the Jabbok with One who was none other than the Son of God. The focus was perfected on his deathbed when he blessed his boys, bringing the Son of God before them in one utterance after another.
The parents of Moses overcame the prince of this world by faith. How boldly they defied the murderous order of Pharaoh that would have given Moses to the river and the crocodiles. They were "not afraid," the Holy Spirit declares.
Moses, too, was one who believed and overcame, overcoming the power of this world by refusing to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter. The implication is that he was actually offered Egypt's throne and a seat in Egypt's pantheon as the son of the sun. He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, es‑teeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt. His vision of the Son of God gave him the grace and power to overcome the world.
Last, Rahab overcame the punishment of this world. Before long the trumpet would sound and Jericho's walls would come tumbling down. She believed what she had heard about God's redeeming His people from Egypt, and now they were on their way to Canaan, and not all of Jericho's walls and warriors could stop the approaching doom. By faith she hung that scarlet line in her window, thus signifying her trust in the Son of God — a human ancestress of whom, indeed, she actually became.
"Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?" (5:5). Once that great truth is enthroned in our hearts, our attitude toward this world changes. We see the world as He saw it and the world sees us as it saw Him, and a great gulf is fixed.
Adapted from Exploring the Epistles of John: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607.
John Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling Green, KY.