”For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” 1 John 5:4-5
And what is it that has overcome the world? Not the wisdom of proto-Gnostics or the moral excellence that some might claim but “our faith”. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not God’s faith in Jesus Christ—that’s another all- encompassing truth, but it’s not the truth John mentions here. And what is it that has overcome the world? Not Jesus’ faith in his Holy Father—that’s another massive truth hammered home in other texts, but it’s not the truth John mentions here.
And what is it that has overcome the world? “Our” faith, said John. The faith of the Christian community that is seen expressed in each Christian. “Our” faith—our personal subjective experience, something that happens within us, something we are glad to say is part of us, an expression of us, the inner reality that has restructured our inner world; that is the center of all our convictions and hopes and commitments. It’s “ours”—because we are organically part of the body of Christ and cannot otherwise exist as Christians; it’s “ours”. It isn’t God’s faith in us or Christ’s faith in us—it’s our faith in them!
Yes, but what is this faith. This faith is many things that we can look at from many angles. For those confronted by the gospel it is a condition to be met if we wish to avoid dying in our sins (John 8:24 and Mark 16:16b, for example). For those confronted by the gospel it is a gift of God through the gospel to those God has called not only to salvation but to be part of his elect community (2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 10:17; Philippians 1:29, for example). It is what assures us that salvation and life is not confined to any ethnic or social category (Romans 4:13 and Galatians 3:26-28. for example). It is the proof that God has entered our lives via the gospel and taken us back to his heart (John 6:44-45 and 1 Peter 1:5, for example). It’s many things, but here I’d like to stress that it is an inner moral transformation, a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father.
I don’t mean it leads to moral transformation though that is true. I don’t mean it leads to a moral realignment of the heart with the Holy Father though that is true. I mean it IS these things already. Faith, in the name of Jesus Christ, is the definitive rejection of the world. The person who loves the world does not and cannot at the same time love the Holy Father or have faith in Jesus Christ (compare 1 John 2:15-16). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ have judged, denounced and renounced the world (compare John 12:31). Faith in Jesus Christ is a moral reality experienced by a moral being that no longer belongs to or submits to the world!
When the Spirit of God has generated in a man or woman faith in Jesus Christ by the gospel (see Romans 10:13-15 and 1 Corinthians 1:21; Acts 16:13-14) Jesus Christ is in such people. Jesus has become an indwelling presence at the center of them by faith—Ephesians 3:16-17. “I pray that…you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” (NRSV)
Faith that conquers “the world” is the believer’s personal experience but it isn’t faith in the believer—it is faith in someone other than the believer, faith in Jesus Christ! Faith in Jesus Christ is the glad acceptance of who and what Jesus is and what His purpose is. No extra Gnostic wisdom is needed. Nothing beyond Him is needed (1 John 2:20-21). Having come to Him in a commitment of faith, John says the believer has conquered the world; conquered that mass of anti-God, anti-life, anti-holiness feelings, agendas, convictions and practices that has been organized into “a world” without God.
It isn’t just immorality or foul language or war-mongering or sharp business practices or family abuse or arrogance or gossip that the believer has stood up against; it’s more than specific sins! By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer has said No! to the entire sinful restructuring of reality that the NT calls “the world” (see 1 John 2:15-16; John 12:31). By saying, “I believe in Him!” the believer says, “I do not and cannot and will not trust in me nor will I accept the evil that still clings to me and shows itself in various ways. I condemn that as I condemned some evils that by God’s empowering I’ve outgrown!”
Such a one is born again (see John 3:3-5; Titus 3:4-5 and 1 Peter 1:3).
This is more than a commitment to certain truths about Jesus though it is not and cannot be less! It is a commitment to an actual Person and the commitment is a personal relationship that is experienced along with all those who have committed to Jesus by faith (Galatians 3:26-29).
The relationship is more than feeling and it is not to be defined by the degree of moral excellence we attain (though the pursuit of holiness in the image of Jesus is an intrinsic pursuit)!
NT faith is not about my level of moral achievement!
It is a heartfelt surrendering of oneself to Jesus as the One who stands over against the world for the Holy Father in the Holy Spirit and for us. That is what the NT calls “faith” in Jesus and that conquerors the world, now and in the future!
It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in the Lord Jesus can live as they wish; it is a sin-hating, sin-destroying, sin-forgiving Lord Jesus they have been baptized into (Romans 6:1-11). It is wrong, absolutely wrong to say that one who is in Christ will not continue to wrestle with sin (1 John 1:5—2:2). The presence of sin in the lives of those who have turned to the Lord Jesus in faith does not mean the believer has been overcome by the world! John is writing to sinners who are world-conquerors in the Lord Jesus. He uses all the grammatical forms (perfect tenses, aorists in the indicative, present tenses and present participles) to proclaim the truth that his sinning brothers and sisters who confess they are sinners have overcome the Evil One and “the world” over which we made him prince (John 12:31; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Galatians 1:4).
Tell that to believers! Tell them that when they go down in baptism they are proclaiming that they believe in God who, to rescue us, became incarnate as Jesus of Nazareth, that He lived against Sin, that He died to destroy it and when they come up out of the water they proclaim that He rose again Conqueror of Death by which Sin reigned (Romans 5:12, 21) and so showed Himself as the conqueror of Sin (Hebrews 2:14-15 Romans 4:25; 1 Peter 3:21—saved by the resurrection). Tell them that by faith they have become one with the Conqueror of the World (John 16:33 and so share in His triumph).
Urge them to tell “the world,” that seething, breeding mass of evil that like a massive crawling parasite feeds on and poisons a vulnerable human family—”We know you’re still there, we experience your presence and we see you everywhere we look. But we know you’ve been conquered and we know the One who has done it for us. We’ve denounced you and renounce you. We’ve been freed from you, brought out of you into a new creation, a different world (2 Corinthians 5:17). And we’re glad! We’re not going back to you. We’re never going back to you! We hate it that we still have ulcers on us that are the marks of our having lived so long in you but we’re free, the ulcers are healing, some of them need sustained treatment but we have a Great Physician and He has assured us that there’s a day coming when all signs that you ever existed will be gone. Sometimes we can hardly wait, but we will wait, certain that you and all that goes with you will be obliterated and that we’ll happily look in a mirror one day and see someone beautiful looking back at us. And if it is the case that when we look and see some scars they will remind us of a wondrous salvation and a wonderful Savior!
We have conquered you. We have! You can sneer all you want when you hear us say such a thing but the Lord Jesus had and has your number. In Him we’re free and glad of it. We’re not going back to you—You hear? We’re never going back to you; it’s too lovely out here!
(Holy One, thank you for coming and for liberating us from such a death camp.)