Live Like an Overcomer (Because You Are!)


1 John 5:1-21

The theme of Christ’s sonship is seen throughout John’s first letter; he returns to it time and again and here, in the last chapter, Christ’s sonship is what guarantees our relationship to God:

If you believe that Jesus is the Christ—that he is God’s Son and your Savior—then you are a child of God. (1 John 5:1a TLB)

The readers of John’s letter, including you, needed to remember that they were children of God through their faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Part of being a child of God and being related to the Son of God by faith, is the reality of victorious living. That’s another recurring theme in John’s letter: if we base our lives on the Word of God, then we will live an “overcoming life.” In a world that is, generally speaking, against Christians, Christians may live triumphantly, on top of their circumstances and not under them.

We must be born again, 1 John 5:1-5

Our position in the Kingdom is based on the fact that we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ. In effect, we become God’s children by our recognition of the fact Jesus is the Son of God. Our position, in other words, has nothing to do with our good behavior or our sunny disposition. It’s on account of who Jesus is that we have become part of His family. Amzi Dixon, popular Baptist preacher and expositor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, commented:

When we have accepted Jesus Christ, we have become akin to the Father; having become real children of God, we then have the spirit of sonship by which we can come into His presence and make known our wants in a familiar way.

God’s commandments and love, verses 2, 3

But how can we know for sure that we really are a child of God? Faith is one thing, but sometimes our experience and our feelings tell us something else. When we sin, for example, or go through hard times or entertain false teachings, we may be led to think that we aren’t a child of God. Or we may think that of others. Is there a way to know for sure? John thinks so:

…when we love God, and keep his commandments. (1John 5:2a KJV)

So to believe that Jesus is the Son of God is to become a child of God and that enables us to love God and to love others. In terms of love, love for God and love for others cannot be separated; one love cannot exist without the other. Not only that, faith and love are just as inseparable; faith in God and love for Him and for other believers are completely intertwined. John Calvin wrote:

Since God regenerates us by faith, he must necessarily be loved by as a Father; and this love embraces all his children.

What does “love for God” look like? It’s not a feeling, although feelings may be involved. Do you love God? John gives us one way to tell:

Loving God means doing what he tells us to do, and really, that isn’t hard at all… (1 John 5:3 TLB)

Our love for God may be seen in (1) how we love others, and (2) if we do what He tells us to do. If a person lives his life in obedience to God’s commandments as given in His Word, we may be pretty sure he is a true believer. Obeying God’s Word is what loving God looks like.

God’s children are overcomers, verses 4, 5

…for every child of God can obey him, defeating sin and evil pleasure by trusting Christ to help him. But who could possibly fight and win this battle except by believing that Jesus is truly the Son of God? (1 John 5:4, 5 TLB)

In the King James Version, these verses look more familiar:

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth kthat Jesus is the Son of God. (1 John 5:4, 5 KJV)

Anyone who has experienced the new birth has “overcome the world.” They are able to say along with Jesus:

“I have told you all this so that you will have peace of heart and mind. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows; but cheer up, for I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 TLB)

Verse 5 begins with a question: Who is this person who overcomes the world? The obvious answer is: the believer. But the real point of the question is found in the word “overcomes.” John is not referring to a one-time thing, but rather a continuous activity. The Christian will always be the victor over the world. The person who believes in the divinity of Jesus is the person who lives in a state of victory. If only Christians could maintain this state of mind! Anglican theologian Richard Sibbes wrote:

Let us never give up, but, in our thoughts knit in the beginning, progress and end together, and then we shall see ourselves in heaven out of the reach of all enemies.

Trust the testimonies of God, 1 John 5:6-13

False teachers seeded doubts in the minds of Christians during John’s day; doubts about the divinity of Jesus. Was He really the Son of God? Believing in the divinity of Jesus is key to living as an overcomer. One of the more prominent ideas in John’s writings is that of “witnesses” to what Jesus said and did. Beginning in verse 6, John gives us three witnesses we can trust.

And we know he is, because God said so with a voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized, and again as he was facing death—yes, not only at his baptism but also as he faced death. And the Holy Spirit, forever truthful, says it too. So we have these three witnesses: the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, the voice from heaven at Christ’s baptism, and the voice before he died. And they all say the same thing: that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (1 John 5:6-8 TLB)

The primary witness we can trust is the Holy Spirit. Since He came to dwell in the Church, individually and corporately, He has been the one Constant. Over the centuries, the pendulum has swung away from the inner witness of the Spirit to an unhealthy dependance on credal statements about Jesus and back to an equally unhealthy dependance on inner revelations. John teaches that the Holy Spirit is the primary witness, backed up by the historical record of Jesus’ baptism where God spoke from Heaven and by His death; the shedding of His blood.

A Gnostic heresy John was combating here taught that Jesus was only a man upon whom God’s Spirit, Christ, descended at his baptism and from whom the “Christ Spirit” departed while he hung on the cross. John’s refutation is simple and to the point. Christ’s public ministry began at His baptism and concluded at His crucifixion. In fact, the crucifixion was really the climax and consummation of the Incarnation. J.B. Phillips in his translation over verse 8 is worth a look:

The witness therefore is a triple one – the Spirit in our own hearts, the signs of the water of baptism and the blood of atonement – and they all say the same thing.

Belief in the Son of God, verses 9-11

We believe men who witness in our courts, and so surely we can believe whatever God declares. And God declares that Jesus is his Son. (1 John 5:9 TLB)

John’s logic is flawless. If we can believe expert witnesses in court, then surely we can believe the witness of God! We can trust the word of a man, but not of God? We trust all kinds of people every day. We trust our retirement funds with financial advisors most of us have never even met. We trust the mechanic that worked on our brakes. We trust the carpet cleaners who work in our homes when we aren’t there. Most of us never think twice about who prepares our food when we eat out. We hope they washed their hands! We assume our doctor knows what he’s talking about. If we can trust all these people, why do we find it so hard to trust in The Lord? This is John’s point.

How important is it to believe God? Consider this:

If anyone doesn’t believe this, he is actually calling God a liar because he doesn’t believe what God has said about his Son. (1 John 5:10 TLB)

God is the one who has taken the initiative to tell man about Himself, therefore man has an obligation to do something with that knowledge. Man, with all his wonderful freedom, does not have the freedom to simply ignore God. When a man rejects God’s testimony, he is, in effect, making God out to be a liar. And this is a very serious offense, indeed.

Lee Strobel, one-time lawyer and Christian apologist, was one who accepted God’s claims after carefully considering them.

I became a Christian because the evidence was so compelling that Jesus is the one-and-only Son of God who proved His divinity by rising from the dead. That meant following Him was the most rational and logical stop I could possibly take.

Indeed it is. Mr Strobel did the right thing. A lot of people don’t.

Eternal life in God’s Son, verses 12, 13

So whoever has God’s Son has life; whoever does not have his Son, does not have life. (1 John 5:12 TLB)

Like the old song says, “Jesus is answer for the world today.” But on the human side, it takes belief in Him. And belief in Jesus is what brings eternal life. That’s why John wrote what he wrote; he wanted his readers to be assured of eternal life. That’s why we have God’s Word; it leads us to Jesus, who leads us to eternal life.

Live with confidence in God, 1 John 5:14-17

Ask according to His will, verses 14, 15

And we are sure of this, that he will listen to us whenever we ask him for anything in line with his will. And if we really know he is listening when we talk to him and make our requests, then we can be sure that he will answer us. (1 John 5:14, 15 TLB)

“Confidence” is a word and idea John liked; he mentioned it twice before in this letter: once in regard to prayer and twice in connection to the judgment. The Greek word John chose to use is also translated “assurance” elsewhere. The word has a connection to the idea of “freedom.” Because we have received the gift of eternal life, we have the confidence – the freedom – to approach God in prayer, anytime, anywhere. This is a position of high privilege. We don’t come to God as beggars, but as His children. On this point, David Jeremiah’s comments are spot on:

Do we approach God from a beggar’s perspective or as His cherished child? If we have any difficulty seeing Him as our loving Father, we need to ask Him to help us develop a healthy Father/child relationship.

Here is all you need to know about prayer: we are free to ask God for anything in line with His will. Even Jesus submitted to His Father in prayer.

Pray for a faltering brother, verses 16, 17

If you see a Christian sinning in a way that does not end in death, you should ask God to forgive him, and God will give him life unless he has sinned that one fatal sin. But there is that one sin which ends in death, and if he has done that, there is no use praying for him. (1 John 5:16 TLB)

Following up on his theology of prayer, John gave his readers an example. Christians should pray for other Christians who may be struggling in their faith. This is intercessory prayer of the highest order! A soul’s future hangs in the balance. When we pray for a faltering brother, it goes without saying we need to pray for the Lord’s will to be done in his life. But, sometimes God’s will may be difficult to discern. In that eventuality, we need to pray in the Spirit, as Paul taught in Romans 8:26.

So, our prayers are limited to God’s will, but they may also be limited by the person we are praying for. Depending on what kind of sin he is involved in, our prayers will be of no effect. In regards to this, John is not teaching that there is a sin or habit that God will not forgive. There are two ways in which a brother struggles with sin. First, he may be struggling to stop it; to get out of it. For this person, intercessory prayer will give him strength and determination to trust God to help him get the victory. But the second way is the way John had in mind: a person may be struggling to get into sin and stay there. For one like that, there is no point in prayer. Ananias and Sapphira are good examples of believers going out of their way to get into sin.

When we live like an overcomer, we have learned to trust in God. We have confidence in God. We are able to approach Him in prayer with a freedom and a confidence like the way a child relates to his parents. And we are able to pray for others who may be struggling to become overcomers.


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