John’s writings gives us four simple principles to live by as overcomers. In the previous post, we observed the first principle. Today, we learn that not only is the indwelling Word of God important for our victory, we must also recognize the power of indwelling Spirit of God. We’ll spend two days on this thought. We can summarize the second principle as:
While in college, my summer job was to work as an electrician, primarily involved in residential construction. Being totally “green” to the industry meant that you were on the receiving end of many pranks.
On one particular occasion, I had to crawl under a house while my boss dropped a wire through a hole in the floor. My job was to install a light underneath the house so that the new homeowners could use it for storage.
Ready to start, I asked my boss if this wire was “hot” or not. He assured me that it was not. So, I began to strip the sheaths that covered the wires in order to wire up a light. You’ve probably already guessed – the wire was connected…sparks flying underneath and a decent shock for me! My boss apologized, told me it was now “good” and to try again…to the same results! He was having a great time “teaching” me about the power of electricity.
On another occasion, while doing some work around church, I was able to be “above ground” with my assistant underneath. He was fishing a wire from underneath and I was bringing it through a metal box. We were installing power for a copier / printer machine.
This wire, which we both thought was not connected, was cross-wired and was actually carrying a current. When the exposed wires hit the metal box, it literally knocked me off my feet (and scared me half to death – actually, it may have been more than half!) The power of electricity is no laughing matter when it runs through your body.
Yet, there is a greater source of power within the believer – it’s the indwelling Christ / Spirit and John connects this Source with our victory. Paul does something similar in a verse that has sort of become the default verse for electricians: Galatians 2:20 – It’s Christ that lives in me…
As John writes the fourth chapter, he challenges his hearers to try the spirits to know whether they are pro-Christ or anti-Christ. The readers are informed that the anti-Christ spirits are already working in the world.
Yet, on the heels of that sobering statement, he writes our famous verse 4:
Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.
We have already overcome, conquered these false spirits and the reason provided is crystal clear: The One in us is greater than the one in the world. This victory isn’t dependent upon human strength – it never has been, and never will. The Source for our strength is the indwelling Spirit who lives in all believers.
In the context, John draws a sharp distinction between his audience (who are “of God”) and the enemies of God (those who have the spirit of anti-Christ). In this contrast of two diametrically opposed systems, John directs his readers to a past victory (presumably, this is rooted in the finished cross-work of Jesus) that has continuing results in the present.
This present possession of victory is not dependent upon their skills, their actions, their intelligence or any other attribute. The victory they presently enjoy has already been won previously – they are already overcomers. This emphasis should be abundantly clear by now. Our claim as an overcomer is not rooted in present actions; it’s grounded in a past event that can never be changed or undone.
The outcome for the spiritual battle has already been decided – even if the battle hasn’t yet ended. We know Satan is the “god of this world” and we know that even Michael the mighty archangel doesn’t rebuke him personally. The devil is a powerful being.
Yet, in spite of that standing, John has no intention of suggesting two equally powerful cosmic forces battling to the end of time! Not at all! Rather, what the believer hears are these encouraging words: “You have already overcome. Here’s why: The One who lives within you is greater than the one who is in the world.” No contest, not even a close second. Almighty God dwells in us, His temple, and gives us the victory. I don’t know about you, but when I read 1 John 4.4, it shouts to me, “Good news!”
An interesting grammatical observation is how John uses the word world in verses 4-5 (he uses it three different times). In this context, John is writing about a world of people who are hostile to the God who made them. These false prophets and antichrists are educated as to their worldview, their goals, their thought patterns by living in a Christ-hating world that Satan rules as a prince (John 12.31). However, his reign is coming to an end.
Nearly 2,000 years ago, an aged apostle wrote to a group of believers to remind them of their position as conquerors. He anchored this position, not in their present conduct, but rather in a completed past event. Their position as conquerors could never be changed.
That’s a wonderful truth. But, what do those of us who live in the twenty-first century do with this? How do we apply the principle of the indwelling Spirit today so that our practice matches our position? We intuitively know that when these is incongruency between these two, we are not as productive as a believer and we live like a hypocrite. What’s the solution? Is there a way that a believer’s creed and his conduct can have alignment? Is there a way to not only say, “I’m more than a conqueror,” but also have the lifestyle to back up those words? The short answer: Yes!
Before we unpack this application, let me remind you of an illustration from Peter’s life. This apostle was impetuous, impulsive, and, at times, cowardly. In the Gospels, his “highs” are legendary as well as his “lows.”
Do you recall an event when the disciples were out on the Sea of Galilee and they saw Jesus walking on the water? What a story! Out of the men in the boat, only one man got out – Peter. Out of the entirety of human history, the only individual other than Jesus Christ who walked on water is the Apostle Peter.
Yet, we don’t remember Peter as a water-walker. Instead, we remember him as the one who began to sink, and needed immediate rescuing from the Lord. In that narrative rests an understanding of the principle being discussed in this chapter: When Peter’s eyes were on Jesus, he conquered the waves; when his eyes were on the waves, he sank beneath them.
So, how does “greater is he that is in me” begin to play out in a personal way for believers today? Allow a few observations from the next post to help you start the process of applying this principle personally. Stay tuned for five steps that will enable you to practically live out this principle.