Overcoming the World

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and obeying his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 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 the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies because the Spirit is the truth. (1 John 5:1-6, NIV)

Faith, love, and obedience are tightly woven together to such an extent that to pull one of them out is to unravel the whole bunch. These three characteristics of the true Christian are vital and necessary to living the Christian life. They all must be present for the church to overcome the world.

The main verbs throughout the verses are the word “is.” And the verb tense is key. The verb clearly describes a past action of God which we as people need to receive. In other words, the grammar dictates that God has given us new birth.  We do not give ourselves spiritual birth any more than we can tell our mothers that it was us who gave birth to ourselves.

God saves us from sin and grants us forgiveness. This action is from God. We are recipients of God’s good grace toward us. There are three participles connected to this main verb:

  1. Believe
  2. Love
  3. Obey

A participle is a word which is connected to the verb’s action. So then, our actions are a result of God’s action toward us. To put it simply, a person born from God will believe, love, and obey. Just as a newborn baby first breathes, then learns to eat, sleeps, grows-up, learns to walk, and over time develops into an adult just like their mother and father, so the Christian who is born again from God exhibits faith, learns to love, and grows up developing the skills of obeying Jesus and following him, learning to walk in his ways, becoming just like him.

In the same way a child must learn and grow to have the necessary skills for facing the world in all its bigness, trials, and temptations, so the Christian must develop the abilities necessary to overcome the world. Those skills are faith, love, and obedience. Without them, we will be unable to deal with the world. But with them, we experience victory over the world.

The word, “overcome,” is a cognate word (related to) of “victory.”  That is, to overcome is to have firsthand exposure to the victory the Lord Jesus has achieved on the cross. Through being spiritually born again by God, we are set on a course requiring faith, love, and obedience to overcome the world. As we learn to apply these three spiritual characteristics to our lives, we experience practical victory over the world.

The term “world” are the patterns, systems, and operations of the world in direct contrast to how God operates. For example:

  • The world engages in revenge and payback when wronged, whereas the Christian learns to believe God as the Judge, loves the person who has offended them through prayer for their enemy, and obeys God through good works that seeks the welfare of the other. 
  • The world uses other people as either objects of their pleasure or to get ahead in life, whereas the Christian believes God will take care of their needs, will seek to love the other person instead of use them, and would rather obey God than be selfish. 
  • The world thinks nothing of lying, cheating, and stealing, if they can get away with it, whereas the Christian believes Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, loves being a person of integrity, and obeys God even when it hurts.

This in no way means we avoid or belittle the world. In facing and overcoming the world, we need principled civility. Using faith, love, and obedience, we respect another’s viewpoint through growing in faith, expanding our hearts in love, and learning obedience through interaction with others for whom we disagree.

Where do we feel “the pull” in life from? Do we feel it from the world, or from God’s Word? We must learn how to deal with the worldly elements of our society in which we feel a pull and a tug to go along with it and want to give in to it. This requires a community of Christians engaging the world through faith, love, and obedience to overcome that pull.

Our call as Christians is not to just survive the world. If anyone could have had that kind of mentality, it was Helen Keller. Deaf, mute, and blind, she could have settled into just getting by and waiting for heaven. Yet, she accepted her situation, coped with it, and even transcended her limitations.  She did more than survive – she thrived. Helen Keller once said:

“The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome. The mountaintop would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”

Helen Keller

We need faith in God, not ourselves. The Scripture says:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, NRSV)

We need to love God and others, and not the world. The Scripture says:

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity. (1 John 2:15-17, MSG)

We need to obey the call of God, not the call of the world. Hear what Scripture says: 

The commandment that God has given us is: “Love God and love each other!” (1 John 4:21, CEV)

When faith, love, and obedience are working together as they were intended to, we will overcome the world and all its crud. We will keep ourselves from being polluted and stained by it.

Overcoming the world is a high calling from God. Faith means putting aside fear and taking the kind of risk God wants you to take. Love means putting aside hate and serving others, even when it hurts. Obedience means putting aside selfishness and choosing to do what is best for another person’s welfare. Being characterized by these three Christian virtues will have the effect of overcoming the world. It is not a burdensome or heavy way to live. It’s the way of Jesus.

Blessed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the God whom we serve: Sometimes our hearts and minds are flooded with fears. Sometimes we are paralyzed and overwhelmed and feel unable to go on. Yet today we hold onto the victory you have accomplished through the blood of Jesus Christ. You have told us not to fear, for you have overcome the world. So, we cling to you, believing your Word and your promises. In moments of crippling fear, we choose to hold your hand and believe; to love as we have been loved; and, to obey even in the most fearful places because we know that you have risen again.

Loving Lord Jesus, we surrender to you all that we are and hope to be. Holy Spirit, we invite you and all your ministry within us. Holy God of all, we offer you our heart, mind, body, soul, spirit, hopes, plans and dreams. We surrender to you our past, present and future problems, habits, character defects, attitudes, livelihood, resources, finances, medical coverage, occupation and all relationships. We give you our health, physical appearance, disabilities, family, marriage, children, grandchildren, and friendships.

We ask for your Lordship over every aspect of our lives. We surrender to you all our hurt, pain, worry, doubt, fear and anxiety, and ask you to wash us clean. We release everything into your compassionate care. Speak to us clearly, Lord. Open our ears to hear your voice. Open our hearts to commune with you more deeply. Open the doors that need to be opened and close the doors that need to be closed. Set our feet upon the straight and narrow road that leads to everlasting life. Amen.

Revelation 7:13-17 – Your Tears Will Not Last Forever

One of the elders asked me, “Do you know who these people are that are dressed in white robes? Do you know where they come from?”

“Sir,” I answered, “you must know.”

Then he told me:

“These are the ones
who have gone through
    the great suffering.
They have washed their robes
in the blood of the Lamb
    and have made them white.
And so they stand
    before the throne of God
and worship him in his temple
    day and night.
The one who sits on the throne
will spread his tent
    over them.
They will never hunger
    or thirst again,
and they won’t be troubled
by the sun
    or any scorching heat.

The Lamb in the center
of the throne
    will be their shepherd.
He will lead them to streams
    of life-giving water,
and God will wipe all tears
    from their eyes.” (Contemporary English Version)

Suffering Before Glory

There is a day coming when followers of Jesus will come before the throne of God, serving the Lord day and night. And he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. It will be a glorious time of unending peace, harmony, and rest.

But first, before this permanent Sabbath rest, there will be trouble, hardship, trial, and even martyrdom.  There will be suffering before glory.  Sometimes the difficult circumstances of life seem to have no end.  Yet, they will eventually pass, and we must continually keep this in mind.  There is a day coming when God’s pastoral presence will forever guard and keep our lives if we endure to the end.

Running Before Finishing

Perseverance, endurance, and pushing through hard situations are necessary to realizing the finish line.  We cannot just sit here on earth in some sort of holding pattern waiting for the end.  Just as an athlete must go into strict training to run the race well, finish strong, and cross the line, so we as Christians are to be in training. Believers possess at their disposal an array of spiritual practices that will fortify their souls to keep going and finish the race. 

The book of Revelation was a vision of the Apostle John given to suffering Christians in grinding hardship. Those ancient followers of Jesus had a great need of patience and perseverance. God graciously gave the believers a glimpse of the glorious ending to come. It was one way of helping them endure their present adversity and live for Jesus Christ.

Indeed, it is future hope which gives shape to the Christian’s life in the immediate here and now. Hope is what sustains us and helps us move through the difficulties of our current existence. Knowing there is a time coming when our tears will be personally wiped away by a loving God enables us to endure our griefs and sorrows.

Partial Before Total

God is with us. What we must continually keep in mind is that our salvation is assured – yet will not come in its fullness until the end of the age. So, we read Scripture portions like Psalm 91 with the understanding that ultimate safety and security is not found in this life but in the life to come…

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
    nor the arrow that flies in the day.
Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
    nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
Though a thousand fall at your side,
    though ten thousand are dying around you,
    these evils will not touch you.
Just open your eyes,
    and see how the wicked are punished.

If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.
You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!

The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.” (New Living Translation)

May God’s peace and hope fill you with inexpressible joy at the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Patient God, you tediously work until your plans and purposes are accomplished.  As you are slowly bringing your kingdom to the world, strengthen me so that I do not give up.  Help me to persevere, living and loving like Jesus, to his glory.  Amen.

Acts 4:1-4 – The Message of Resurrection

La Resurrezione by Italian sculptor Pericle Fazzini (1913-1987)

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people.They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so, the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. (NIV)

There’s nothing quite like upsetting the status quo. And that’s exactly what the apostles Peter and John were doing. Creating trouble, causing a stink, disturbing the peace, and making waves. At least, that’s how the ruling authorities saw the upstart Christians’ activity.

At the heart of the disturbance was the authorities’ deep concern of potential social disorder. After all, the Roman Empire with all its great strength was firmly ensconced in Judea. It was already hard enough trying to maintain Jewish customs and religious practices. Now, these rabblerousers come along with their unorthodox teaching and threaten the very social fabric of Jewish life. No! Get them out of here!

So, off to jail Peter and John went. That’s how the politics of fear typically works. Being afraid of change leads to removing the object of fear. Stuff the apostles in the gulag. Shut and lock the door. Maybe if they are out of sight they will be out of mind to the people.

The rulers were too late. So many people heard the message of Christ’s resurrection that the number of believers in Jesus swelled into the thousands. Well, now, everyone’s really in a pickle! Except the church. Each time the Christians get squelched and silenced, more of them show up. Oh, my, goodness. They’re multiplying like roaches!

It doesn’t help the ruling authorities that these religious bugs continue to interpret their own whippings and jailtime as a positive thing – enjoying the solidarity of suffering with their Lord. Ugh. What’s a decent Sadducee to do?

Turns out nothing can stop resurrection. It cannot be chained, bound, or imprisoned. Once life gets into the hearts of people, there’s no getting it out. The message just takes over and consumes the whole person. Then it spreads to another, like some infectious disease.

Before you know it, the entire social order is off kilter. What a bunch of weirdos. Following a dead guy who they say isn’t dead. Walked right out of the grave, they say. Sheesh. Pull yourselves together. So many unhinged delusional people believing in resurrection!

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”

Rob Siltanen

It’s easy for some Christians to be hard on non-Christians, just as it was easy for the ancient Jewish rulers to be hard on others leaving their fold. Sometimes we followers of Jesus forget whence we have come. We can get so upset and worked up in fear. Could be our underwear is too tight. More likely, we take the prideful stance of believing our status quo is best for everyone. So, there’s no listening, paying attention, or teachable spirits.

Peter, John, and the other apostles just went about proclaiming good news with joy. And the gospel spread. Jesus became known first to thousands, then tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, and millions. Today, according to the Pew Research Center, there are 2.5 billion Christians in the world. That’s a lot of people. Christianity has had two thousand years to create their own status quo, some of it good, some of it not so much.

Yet, at the heart of it all, is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from death. It’s a message that still speaks to billions. And it’s a message Christians need to come back to whenever they are fearful of others challenging their hegemony.

All the hopes and expectations of Christians everywhere are realized not in maintaining some Constantinian sort of Christendom but in the resurrection of Jesus Christ the dead. The former does a lot of handwringing over social and cultural issues. The latter has a lot of joy, celebration, and renewal which works itself out in both personal and systemic redemption.

Because the good news of Easter can hardly be contained in a single day’s celebration, it’s message of new life in Christ is like a bright sun of inexhaustible grace to people everywhere – still warming the earth all these centuries later.

The Apostle Peter went on to pen a letter to struggling Christians facing hard circumstances in a world not yet dominated by Christianity, reminding them of the heart of Christian faith:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

1 Peter 1:3-9, NIV

May we come back repeatedly to Christianity’s message so that our faith is strengthened, the church is edified, and the world is blessed. Amen.

1 John 3:1-7 – Children of God, Loved by God

Welcome, friends! The Christian’s true status and identity cannot be changed any more than a tiger can change his stripes. An abundant life of love flows freely and organically from the person secure in their identity in Christ. Click the videos below and let us bask in the reality of our position in Jesus Christ….

1 John 3:1-7, Pastor Tim Ehrhardt
Who You Say I Am Lyric Video – Hillsong Worship, 2018. Written by Reuben Morgan and Ben Fielding.

May the love of the Lord Jesus draw you to himself.
May the power of the Lord Jesus strengthen you in his service.
May the joy of the Lord Jesus fill your hearts.
And may the blessing of God almighty – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – be among you and remain with you always. Amen.