In the previous post, we noticed John’s principle for victory of walking in the Spirit’s power. I mentioned that we would learn five practical steps to see this in action. Let’s take a look!
Step One: Focus Your Attention
One fact quickly observed from Peter’s ordeal is that whether he lived as an overcomer or not was dependent upon where his focus was. When his eyes were settled upon Jesus, he accomplished what no other human has ever accomplished. Conversely, when his eyes were on his circumstances, he got “under them.” Do you notice how sometimes people respond to “How you doing?” with the answer: “OK, under the circumstances…” Years ago, a preacher made it his mission to respond to that with: “Well, what are you doing under there?!”
Positionally, the Holy Spirit lives within every believer. He is the earnest of our inheritance, the seal and mark of God’s ownership upon us. Practically, this truth doesn’t guarantee that every believer lives like a victorious conqueror. How do we bridge the gap from our position to our practice?
This question is the defining question for believers who long to walk victoriously in a hostile world. For there to be an alignment between the two, we must focus our attention on the One who indwells us.
Let me illustrate it another way. If we think about it long enough, we understand that there is a difference between a “married couple” and a “happily married couple.” Just by virtue of being married to the same person 50 years doesn’t mean they have a happy marriage. People stay together for the kids, for the tax break, for the ability to live with two incomes, etc. Positionally, they’re married; practically, it doesn’t look like they are overcoming! What’s the difference?
Two people can live under the same roof and positionally be in a relationship. Yet, they can also neglect each other and practically have no fellowship. A strong marriage takes focused dedication to live out God’s intent.
This is a true description of our position in Christ as well. Our relationship is settled; our fellowship may have ups and downs. Our position is settled; our practice may at times be misaligned. The first step to bringing this relationship into alignment is by focusing our attention on the One who indwells us. Talk with Him, acknowledge Him, listen and obey Him – you’ll find yourself being characterized by a victorious walk!
Step Two: Feed the Inner Man
Just as our outer man, the body, needs daily nourishment, in like manner our inner man, the spirit, needs its daily food as well. How, from a practical point, can we meet this need? Here are a few ideas to implement:
- Spend time in the Word of God daily.
- Meditate upon the character and attributes of God.
- Love what God loves; hate what He hates.
- Remind yourself of your position in Christ.
- Remind yourself you are an overcomer!
These steps are not secretive; Christians have followed this pattern for millennia. But this section isn’t about all the believers everywhere – it’s about you! Is your inner spirit surviving or thriving? Are you feeding the soul or starving it? Your answer – my answer – to this question has great bearing on our practice as overcomers.
When you read the Bible – and for argument’s sake, I’m assuming you do – is it to check off a box? Is it to move you closer to your goal of completing the Bible in a year? Or, is it to know God? It is God’s Word – thus, we should endeavor to know the Author as we read His book.
Does the idea of meditation frighten you? Does it conjure up pictures of Tibetan Monks or some New Age transcendental practice with nature? It doesn’t have to; meditation is a biblical practice.
Years ago, when I was writing Rightly Divided: a beginner’s guide to bible study, I challenged readers to develop the practice of biblical meditation. In addressing the church at Philippi, Paul admonished them to “think on these things,” which was a reference to meditation.
Meditation begins with Scriptural intake; we cannot meditate on that which we’ve not read. The goal is to get the passage “stuck in your head” so that you can’t help but think about it. Have you ever had that with a song? It can happen with Scripture as well.
You want to read the passage several times to lock it into your thinking. After reading (and re-reading), you want to reflect on the meaning. Once you begin to understand the passage, you then respond in obedience and faith to that text.
If you take this first practical idea and apply it, you will begin to notice that you will know God better, you will love what He loves and hate what He hates. Continual time in His Word reminds you about who you are in Christ and your position as an overcomer. But, without the first step, these other ingredients will not be productive for you.
Step Three: Fear only God
God hasn’t given us the spirit of fear, so we can boldly say we will not fear man. Further, we know that the fear of man brings a snare; it hinders our Christian productivity and many times disables us from making the courageous decision that needs to be made to insure victory.
While we do not fear man, we also know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is this wisdom that begins to allow believers to align their position with their practices. It is wisdom – the ability to make the right choices – that enables us to move forward as victors.
Years ago, the abbreviation WWJD was plastered everywhere. It stood as a reminder to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Theologically, we are reminded that the Spirit, who speaks for Christ, lives within us. Thus, we should live with a constant awareness that every decision we make is being personally witnessed by God. Living with the reality of His presence, a godly fear and reverential awe, is a great step forward in living the victorious Christian life.
Step Four: Forget the Past
No one moves forward by looking backwards! Decades ago, as a student in high school, I joined our cross-country team. Running was supposedly a non-contact sport, so I enlisted.
Many life lessons were learned on those three-mile courses. Years later, it’s easy to understand why Paul used so many athletic metaphors. One principle that is basic to both running and living victoriously is this: Always look where you’re going! Watch highlights of any race; the winner isn’t focused on where he’s been or who’s behind him. Instead, he’s focused on where he’s going. We see this in Paul’s writings as well:
Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. – Phil 3.13-14
Using the metaphor of running a race, Paul specifically instructs them to forget what is behind and rather reach forth to that which is ahead. When a runner is focused on what’s behind, he always trips, falls on his face, and sits in a broken heap of disgrace and frustration!
Let’s be honest – we all have parts of our past we wish we could redo, reset, or replay. In the past exists pieces of our lives that we would be content to allow them to stay hidden from public view. The struggle is real! And our adversary, the devil, would love to have us linger there in false guilt and shame, handicapped from running our race. However, there is One standing in Heaven who shouts out for all to hear, “Forgiven!” Let’s leave the past in the past where it belongs and let’s run our race victoriously today!
Step Five: Fellowship with Overcomers
Greater is He that resides within the hearts of believers than the wicked one who desires to rule the world. We’ve seen four practical steps to live out this truth: 1) We have focused our attention on Christ; 2) We have fed our inner man; 3) We have directed our fear to God and not man; and 4) We have forgotten the past defeats and chosen to live victoriously today instead. The final step brings this process full-circle: We fellowship with other overcomers.
There is something powerful about having an iron-sharpening-iron type of fellowship. This final step reminds us of the importance of community – the body of Christ. In our western world, we have at times lost sight of this, substituting in its place our brand of American individualism.
Consequently, we have developed too many Lone Rangers in our ranks. This concept would have been unheard of in John’s day. In his world, the idea of being part of a community, a team, a body would have dominated the theological presuppositions.
Remember the root word for victory comes from our familiar word, Nike. The very word conjures up pictures of heroic athleticism and the multi-million-dollar sports world. Think about sports for a moment, and remember how New Testament writers used the concept as a metaphor for the Christian life.
In the Olympic Games, we learn that there was no concept of “team” sports. In other words, you couldn’t hide as a weak link with other stronger players carrying you.
Ironically, New Testament writers also used the metaphor of the Christian army. In this picture, each soldier is covering his compatriot.
Is this not a contradiction? Is the Christian life a “solo sport” or a “team sport?” The answer is, both! We cannot forget that we are all placed in the body of Christ specifically – and that we neither live nor die to ourselves. To quote the English poet – “No man is an island.” Yet, there is still a real sense where we personally give account of our effort, without the possibility of hiding behind other believers.
A simple way to understand this may be to state it as, “We always work in tandem with our fellow believers, but always remembering that we – and we alone – are responsible to perform our duties.”
In this passage, John is providing encouragement: You have already overcome them. We may feel like struggling overcomers at times, but John reminds us that the victory is already won.
Next, John moves from encouraging us to reminding us of the true source of our victory. Why have we overcome? Simply put, “because greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.”
I’m not totally sure why believers, myself included, fall into the limiting belief that victory is dependent upon our efforts. We work harder, sleep less. We try to become more disciplined. We make all types of promises to God to be a “better” Christian – and yet we struggle.
What John reminds us of, and we still need his reminder 2,000 years later, is that our victory is not preconditioned upon anything we can do. This victory belongs to us because Jesus already won it. This ability to overcome belongs to us because the omniscient and omnipotent Spirit of God lives within. We really have only two options as overcomers:
- Live as though victory depends on us and we have to go and win it (and, consequently, live like a struggling overcomer). Or,
- Live as though victory has already been won, and we are claiming it through the power of God’s Spirit who indwells us.
Which option best describes your approach?