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1 John 5:4-5
Followers of Jesus have been given different names over the centuries. At first, they were called “Christians,” which means “Christ ones” (Acts 11:26). The commonest word for these committed to Jesus is disciple, which means a learner. In his epistle, Paul addressed the Christians as saints, those set apart for God. They are also called believers, beloved, or children of God. Each of these names describes a distinctive characteristic of the lives of those who follow Christ. In our text, John suggests another name for Christians: overcomers. A Christian is one who overcomes.
This description of a Christian as an overcomer is confirmed in other places in the New Testament. Revelation says this about the saints of God: “They overcame him because of the Blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11). Paul said to the Romans: “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Paul urged the Corinthians to give thanksgiving to God “who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57). God’s children are to be overcomers. We are to experience victory in our Christian lives.
What does it take to be an overcomer? What does it take to experience that victory? Notice how John answers that question in our text.
I. An Overcomer Acknowledges The Problem
First of all, an overcomer is one who acknowledges the problem. The word overcomer implies that something stands in our way, that we are confronted by an obstacle, that we have problems which we have to overcome. An overcomer is not someone who breezes through life without any opposition or obstacles in his way. An overcomer is one who realizes each day will present another problem, another barrier, another obstacle that stands in his way, another opponent who criticizes him. He acknowledges the problems and then sets out to deal with them.
Whether or not you are an overcomer has nothing to do with the circumstances around you. It has everything to do with the commitment inside you. Everyone has circumstances. The key is what you do with those circumstances. Problems will constantly confront you as you live out your Christian life. Every Christian has a problem to overcome if he is to win victory in his Christian life.
What is the problem that Christians have to overcome? Three times in the text John said that the Christian overcomes the world. That’s our problem – the world.
What is the world? The world is Satan and his plans. The world is sin and its pressure. The world is suffering and its pain. The world is sensuality and its pleasure. The world is that which stands in opposition to God.
What does the world do? It tries to destroy our Christian witness. It tries to distort our desires. It tries to confuse our value system. It tries to dilute our interest in God’s Word. It tries to squeeze us into its mold. It tries to draw us away from God. The problem is the world which tempts us to forget who we are and whose we are and to live beneath our privileges.
A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, “Eighteen to nothing – we’re behind.” “Boy,” said the spectator, “I’ll bet you’re discouraged.” “Why should I be discouraged?” replied the little boy. “We haven’t even gotten up to bat yet!”
That’s the spirit of our text. The Christian is surrounded by problems but he is not discouraged for he sees those problems as challenges he has to overcome. An overcomer acknowledges the problem.
II. An Overcomer Affirms The Promise
John said — and he repeated it for emphasis — that the Christian can overcome the world. That is the promise of God’s word. You do not have to be defeated by the devil. You do not have to be disgraced by sin. You do not have to be destroyed by suffering. You do not have to be distracted by sensuality. You can win the victory. You can overcome. That is the promise of God’s word.
Some here today need to refocus on that promise for you are walking through a dark and deep valley right now. You are walking wounded in God’s army. But I want you to remember this: God has never been totally defeated by the events of the past, nor will He be by the events of the future.
Joseph was in the dungeon, but God released him. The Hebrews were in slavery, but God delivered them. David was overwhelmed by the guilt of his sin, but God forgave him. Daniel was in the lion’s den, but God preserved him. Jonah was in the belly of the fish, but God retrieved him. Jesus was in the tomb, but God raised Him. No problem has been so great that God in His power has not overcome it. And that is the promise that comes to each of us this morning. What He has done in the past, He will do again today. Through God’s power, we can overcome.
A young man in a wheelchair, crippled by an accident asked his friend, “Do I have a future?” The friend responded, “As a pole vaulter; no. As a man, yes!” An overcomer accepts the promise of God’s word that no matter how great the problem, he can overcome. He has a future.
III. An Overcomer Applies the Principle
What is the principle that will enable us to realize the promise and be overcomers? John answers that question in our text. He says, “This is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith.” What is faith?
All of life is lived on faith, and every person has faith in something. We open a can of food and eat it because we have faith that it is not harmful to us. We get on a plane and sit back with assurance because we have faith that the person who is flying the plane knows what he is doing. We go to a doctor whose name we cannot pronounce. He gives us a prescription we cannot read. We take it to a pharmacist we do not know. He gives us medicine that we do not understand. Yet we take it, all on faith. In general, faith means to trust someone else and that faith is at the heart of life.
John is not talking about this general kind of faith, however. He is talking about a particular kind of faith, and he describes it in verse 5. He who overcomes the world is “he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Christian faith means to put our faith in Christ. A faith in Jesus which causes us to believe in Him, talk to Him, walk with Him and abide in Him — that faith is the key to overcoming the world.
What does faith do?
First, faith makes available to us the presence of God.
When David Livingstone, the great missionary to Africa, was called back to London to receive an honor, he was presented the award before a great gathering of well-wishers. Someone asked him how he had been able to make it through when natives rose up against him and when the power of darkness seemed about ready to overwhelm him. He opened his well-worn New Testament and said, “let me share with you the verse that helped me make it through: ‘Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age.'”
Because of our faith, we know that God is with us every step of the way, and the promise of His presence provides victory.
Second, our faith opens to us the power of God.
Many years ago A. J. Gordon went to the World’s Fair. From a distance, he saw a man in a brilliant suit, pumping water with one of these old hand pumps. The water was pouring out and he said as he looked from a distance, “That man is really pumping water.” But when he got closer, he discovered that it was a wooden man connected to a pump powered by electricity. The man was not pumping the water — the water was pumping him!
So it is with us. From a distance, some might look at us and say, “That guy really has power. Look at the way he lives. He is really living for God.” But when they get closer they discover that it is actually God who is living in us.
The power of God is ample, and it is available. Through faith, we plug into that power and it begins to move through us. This power provides victory, because “greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Third, faith reminds us of the plan of God. In Revelation, John describes a time in the future when “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ, and He will reign forever and ever” (Revelation 11:15). God has initiated a plan in this world that is permanent and eternal. The things of the world will someday fade away, and every knee shall bow before Christ. Faith reminds us of that great truth, that the final victory belongs to God, and therefore faith encourages us to keep fighting.
Do you believe that God is with you everywhere you go? Do you believe that God is able to provide for all of your needs? Do you believe that the things of God are permanent and eternal and that God will ultimately win the victory? Do you really have faith? If so, then you too can be an Overcomer.