Only Faith Overcomes the World
Being the father of lies, Satan is self-deceived. Each time he attempts to silence worship, harass and persecute God’s people, and create general havoc, Jesus Christ has prevailed. Satan lights fires in malice; our Lord sends them to awaken and purify his Bride. The bloody cross that redeemed us pierces him with a continual death. Satan is tied to a leash he cannot escape. Sometimes the Lord gives him a longer leash, but he remains leashed. His doom is certain. He was defeated at the cross (Heb. 2:14; 1 John 3:8). He will fail in our times to overcome the blood-washed saints, those who follow the Lamb wherever he leads.
Two truths guarantee the victory of the church in history and her triumph in Jesus’ everlasting kingdom. First, John says that “all who are born of God overcome the world” (1 John 5:4). Victory is secure because it does not belong to man or come from man. Fallen man is a loser. He cannot conquer or understand himself. He cannot free himself from sin’s chains or death’s haunting footsteps. He has lost all ability. The “great societies” he builds are a miserable tyranny, a colossal joke, a satanic sham, a pathetic imitation of Christ’s truly great society, his church, in which truth and justice are learned, peace through righteousness abound (Isa. 2:2-4).
Overcoming the world begins upon the high ground of regeneration by the Spirit of God, for many voices scream that man can overcome life’s troubles and society’s upheavals. Man does not need God and his word to be secure and prosperous. This is the most basic lie that dead man believes, and all the dead believe it, regardless in which side of the graveyard they are buried. Look to man, to man’s wisdom, to man’s weaponry, to man’s leaders, to man’s organizations. God has spoken. “There is no man” (Isa. 59:16).
God’s strong, merciful arm must raise us from the dead. The way God saves us is to bring new life from heaven. This is what it means to be “born of God.” He takes away man’s heart of stone, his deaf ears, and his blind eyes. It is the gospel Jesus preached: “You must be born again” (John 3:3-8). It is the gospel his apostles preached: “But God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). And, “If any man be in Christ, behold, a new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17).
The church often forgets this first truth, but it is the source of her life and victory – what God has done, not what we do or will do. This conviction must be recovered for the work of God’s kingdom to move forward. For man to be saved from sin and Satan, with all their devastating and destructive fruits in human society, the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit is necessary. Only God can give this new birth. He must work. We must believe and proclaim and defend this truth. It is our message to the world, the way we are the support of God’s truth (1 Tim. 3:15). It places our victory in the only place it can be found – in God’s hands. It must also enflame us to pray for him to perform this quickening work and to quicken us to speak his truth, for his word is the means he uses to quicken the dead.
To the regenerating work of God, John adds the second and corollary truth. “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith” (1 John 5:4). Always faith leads us away from ourselves and to God’s omnipotence and sovereign grace. In the very next verse, John explains of what this faith consists: “Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” Our victory is Christ’s victory. Faith is not a positive outlook on life or confidence in the improvability of man by natural means. Faith is casting ourselves upon God as our only strength and life, and upon his Son, who as Redeemer has the only name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).
By believing in him, we are not only reconciled to God, forgiven and adopted into his family, and heirs of our Savior’s eternal kingdom, but also we share in his victory. Already we are “raised and seated with him in the heavenly places of his dominion (Eph. 2:5-6). Already we reign as kings and priests (Rev. 5:10). But our reign is not yet fully realized. This is the reason faith is required. Faith in Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God sent from heaven to bring light and immortality to life (2 Tim. 1:10). Faith in Jesus Christ as the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Son of God at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:30-36). Much of our victory is to believe this gospel against the assaults of the unbelieving world, wolves that try to snatch away these truths, and men who arise in the church to make disciples for themselves.
Since only faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God overcomes the world, we must live by faith in Him. To live by faith in him is to walk in his fellowship. Faith in Jesus Christ is not faith in a dead man but in the living Savior. It is learning to walk humbly before him, in loving obedience, casting our cares upon him (Heb. 4:14-16), depending upon his strength (2 Cor. 12:9-10), and following him wherever he leads. Faith in Jesus Christ stabilizes the life, for faith hears him preaching to us as the great and final prophet through his word and especially the faithful, human ministry of the word (Luke 10:16; John 10:27; Heb. 2:12). Faith rests upon his intercession as our great high priest, and hears him praying for us that our faith fail not (Luke 22:32; Rom. 8:34; Heb. 7:25). Faith sees him ruling over us and all things, exposing the folly of unbelief, judging rebellious nations, and sifting us through fiery trials so that our faith is purified, more Christ-centered, more Christ-dependent.
The faith that overcomes the world faces honestly its fears and quenches them in the glory of Jesus Christ. What did he always say on earth? “Fear not.” Christian fearlessness is the trust of a child holding his father’s strong hand. Nothing will happen to me here. My Father holds my hand. And if something does happen, my Father is right here with me, so he will help me. This faith emboldens our witness in the world, strengthens peace in tumultuous times, and deepens hope about the future. God is my Father, and he is with me. Jesus Christ who has many crowns upon his head as absolute Lord of all is with us, has purchased us, and is directing traffic so that nothing can separate us from his love or interfere with his broad and personal purposes for his church and each of his sheep individually. He is so, so big; his plans so vast. He holds all in his hand. “It is I,” he says in this hour. “Do not be afraid. I am doing these things; do not be angry. Trust me. I overcome by faith and sit upon my Father’s throne, and you will do the same” (Rev. 3:21).
I focus finally upon “this is the victory.” It makes perfect sense to the redeemed mind that since our battle is against principalities and powers, against the evil one himself, that our victory is like our Savior’s: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” “You shall not tempt the Lord your God.” “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only.” His victory was to hold fast to his Father’s word in the face of Satan’s onslaughts and insinuations. It did not look like victory. He had to go through the cross. But victory is to be what God has created us to be – men and women who live by his every word when Satan attacks and the world mocks. Our victory lies hidden, even as our sonship – it does not yet appear what we shall be, how complete our victory will be, how full our peace and joy will be. But faith sees the way.
Hold fast to Jesus Christ and his word. Raise his sword when you are confronted with lies. Raise it in faith, without anger or vindictiveness. Raise it in love. Raise it as God’s wisdom, his power unto salvation, his authority over men and nations, as the word of the living Word, Jesus Christ, to whom every knee must bow. Believe it if the world laughs, if they light the fires of persecution again. Every martyr and imprisoned saint and ridiculed believer who holds fast to God’s word, worships when they forbid, obeys when friends sin, triumphs. Faith thus obtains the victory. It has already obtained it, for to believe that God is and that he is the rewarder of those who seek him is already to triumph. It is Jesus leading you in his triumphal processional.