John wrote to a group of believers who had lived through the difficulties of Claudius, the insanity of Nero, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the trials of Emperor Domitian. They had the privilege of sitting at the feet of the last living connection to the original disciples of Jesus.
At the time of John’s writings, he has become an aged man. Common sense dictated that John would not stay on this earth forever. How can a man who is nearing the end of his journey encourage the next generation to live as overcomers? For John, he pointed them to the walk of faith. Our next principle is found in 1 John 5:4-5:
4 For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. 5 Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?
The third principle we must endeavor to practice is:
Victory Continues with a Faith Walk
If you’ve been a believer for many years, and if you have spent significant time in the Scriptures, you already know God uses the weak to confound the mighty. His ways do not always seem the best options from a human standpoint. In fact, they often run counter-intuitive to what we believe should happen.
Consider, as an illustration, the biblical situation with Gideon. God has him send thousands of soldiers home so that He will provide the victory to a small group of three hundred warriors.
David’s battle plan for fighting Goliath didn’t seem logical. Noah’s building plan for a boat seemed foreign. A widow giving her last bit of money to the temple seemed needless. The prophet Elijah asking a widow for her last morsel of food seemed heartless. Five loaves and two fish seemed insignificant. Yet, consider the outcomes of each of these stories and you begin to understand the power of the faith walk.
John’s principle here became the inspiration to the hymn, Faith is the Victory. The song, written by Pastor John Yates, was put to music by Ira Sankey and used in Moody’s revival meetings.
The song grew out of the experiences of Yates’ life, as he nearly died on multiple occasions, lost his wife and children within one week of each other, and endured many other difficulties. Yet, he kept pressing on, believing that faith is the victory that overcomes it all.
What is Faith?
How we define faith is important for this discussion. To listen to some, faith sounds as though it’s the power of positive thinking – if you can conceive it, you can achieve it. Further, some view it as simply believing in yourself and pursuing your dreams. This is not the concept John had in mind when he sent these verses to those under his spiritual influence two thousand years ago!
A family of Greek words are used by John to describe faith: πιστις (pistis), πιστος (pistos), and πιστευω (pisteuo). The word πιστις (pistis) used in 1 John 5.4 is used rarely by John, occurring in Revelation 2.13, 19, 13.10, and 14.12.
When John uses this word, he generally means one’s trust in Jesus and belief in the gospel. In other words, this verse indicates that a trust in Jesus and a belief in His exclusive, and redemptive message brings victory.
Daniel Akin notes that, “It seems clear from the context that his use of “faith” differs slightly from the Pauline usage and stresses the idea of confession, the confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
What is it that unlocks victory for each believer? What is it that offers hope to struggling overcomers? Simply stated, our victory is grounded in our belief of what Jesus has already accomplished. Observe that even though Jesus tasted death for every man (Hebrews 2.9), victory is only accessible for the one that places trust in Christ.
This truth concerning faith is accentuated in the next verse. In 1 John 5.5, John asks, “Who is he that overcometh the world?” His answer is: The one that believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
Key Ingredients of Overcoming Faith
Overcoming faith can be described with three words: veritas, integritas, and humilitas (truth, integrity, and humility). Let’s take a quick survey of each.
Perhaps you’ve heard it stated, “Faith is only as good as its object.” Whether you’ve heard it or not, it’s a statement worthy of our attention.
In today’s world, people dogmatically state, “I have faith!” – but it’s not a saving faith. Some have faith in faith itself. Some have faith in a man-made Christ. Others trust religion. The point is, faith in and of itself cannot save us. Saving faith is rooted in a truthful context.
We cannot divorce saving faith from truth, or veritas. Our faith is grounded not in mysticism, but in reality. The reason truthfulness is so important to Christian faith is because our founder has stated, “I am the way, the truth, the life…” Any faith that is built upon falsehood or deception is an empty faith, thus providing no means of victory over the world.
Integrity deals with being whole, and our math term integer comes from this concept. O’Keefe defines spiritual integrity as “the state of being undivided together with the quality of brutal self-honesty.” Years ago, Wiersbe wrote an entire book entitled The Integrity Crisis, describing a problem he saw in some ministries.
The dictionary defines this concept as a “firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, or incorruptibility; incapable of being bribed or morally corrupted.”
For those with an overcoming faith, there is an intentional effort at aligning what Scripture commands and promises with how life is actually lived. This is the practical illustration of a life lived with integrity – no blemishes, whole, and showing a pattern of sound works.
No one feels qualified to write about humility. In some ways, we all feel inadequate – as though it were prideful to discuss this taboo topic. Yet, the Bible discusses it. So, it would benefit us to understand the Bible’s perspective on this important issue.
There are definitely misconceptions abounding humility. Some make the virtue synonymous with “being walked upon,” as though that were the ultimate goal in life. Others view it as a type of kill-joy, an attitude that chooses to live dejected and cast down because of our unworthiness before a holy God. Again, this isn’t the picture of humility in the Scriptures.
While humility could be the topic of an entire book, a few thoughts should at least help us grasp the concept here. First, humility is a willingness to do whatever is required to bring glory to God, rather than self. Secondly, it is a life lived in complete dependence upon the Spirit’s power, God’s grace, and His mercy. Thirdly, biblical humility is that attitude that takes God at His Word and lives out his faith in accordance with it.
No greater picture of humility exists in Scripture other than our own Saviour. Paul described his humility in Philippians 2. Jesus did not live for His own power or prestige – glory was always directed toward the Father. He willingly become “a little lower than the angels” to do His Father’s will (not His own).
Overcoming faith includes each of these elements. It is founded upon truth, it creates a whole life (integrates position and practice), and continually remembers that our help comes from the Lord – without Him, we can do nothing.
Making it Personal
You’ve seen it; perhaps you’ve even experienced it. A zealous believer who is ready to take on the forces of hell with the proverbial water gun is no longer in church today. The one who had a passionate desire to win others to Christ now questions his own salvation. The believer who once characterized her life by Romans 8 now admits it looks a lot more like Romans 7.
Why is it that the clear statements of victory (He that believes that Jesus is the Son of God conquers the world) are met with such jarring examples of failure? Why are believers sometimes pictured as struggling overcomers? Isn’t that title really an oxymoron?
Listen to how one Christian writer attempts to resolve the tension with this view:
The problem is that we have internalized messages from our upbringing, culture, past experiences, and our own rebellious ruminations that are not true but that continue to influence us, even after we’ve received our new identity in Christ. When we fail to view ourselves as though what God says about us in Christ is true, we often think and act according to what Paul called our “old self” (Eph 4:22).
The result is that our real identity – the one rooted in our position in Christ – is in continuous conflict with our experienced self-identity, grounded in all of the false narratives we have believed.
Paul describes this as tearing down strongholds, and bring every thought captive to the Word of God. When we act on untrue statements, we behave in ways that lack integrity. Reading the eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a good reminder of what God’s people are able to witness when they walk in faith.