Becoming an Overcomer
1 John 5:1-10
November 20, 2011 | Brian Bill
Two weeks ago our family was standing outside saying goodbye to our daughter as she headed back to Iowa. I’m not sure if anyone else had shoes on or not, but I was just wearing my socks. There was a lot of commotion as dogs were running around and tears were running down some faces. It was then that I realized that I was pretty uncomfortable standing on some rocks so I decided to jump on to the grass. Everything would have gone smoothly had I remembered that there was a wooden sign stuck in our lawn. My big toe hit the jagged wood; I yelped and rolled on to the ground, writhing in pain. I looked around for some sympathy but all I heard was some snickering.
Some of you have already heard this story and you’ve enjoyed the fact that the sign says, “Welcome to Packer Country.” I’ve been telling people that I took one for the team. Someone else told me that I’ve fallen for the Packers. Guilty as charged. It’s pretty difficult to spin this any other way, especially after finding out that my toe is broken. I’m still not convinced that a Bear fan wasn’t behind this somehow…
Do you ever doubt that you’re a Christian? Every wonder if someone you know who claims to be a Christian is a true Christ-follower? These signs will help us see what salvation is all about.
Signs of our Salvation
The first sign is belief. Notice the beginning of 1 John 5:1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ…” And now drop down to the last part of verse 4 and verse 5: “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.”
Faith itself without an object is empty.
The word “believes” means “to commit and trust; to place reliance in” and is in the present tense, meaning we need to keep believing. It’s more than just intellectual assent or emotional excitement; it must involve the will. Have you heard people say, “You just have to have faith”? Faith itself without an object is empty. Our faith must be in Christ. Notice that there are two truths about Christ that we must commit ourselves to:
- Jesus is the Savior. We see this in verse 1: “Jesus is the Christ.” This is the word “Messiah” and refers to Jesus being the anointed one, the Savior of the world.
- Jesus is the Son of God. This is found in verse 5.
Both of these elements are found in Peter’s confession in Matthew 16:16: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
The second sign that flows right out of the first one is the new birth. Let’s look again at verse 1: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God…” And at the first part of verse 4: “For everyone born of God overcomes the world…” John uses the phrase “born of God” seven different times in this brief book.
Here’s the bottom line. If you are not born of God, you are not a believer. Jesus put it bluntly in John 3:3: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” The phrase “born again” is not just a buzzword. Nor is it some special class of Christians, commonly referred to as “born-again Christians.” A true Christian is born again. There is no other kind of true believer than one who has been born again. Unfortunately, we’ve had to use the qualifier “born-again” to distinguish ourselves from others who may call themselves Christians but have never been born of God.
And the only way to become born again is by believing and receiving Jesus the Christ, the Son of God as your substitute sacrifice. To say it another way, the only way to become a member of God’s family is through faith; the only way to be adopted is through accepting Christ; the only way to be redeemed is through receiving the Redeemer. Listen carefully to John 1:12-13: “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”
Here’s a question. Have you been born again? If not, why not? If you can’t remember when, why not now?
Belief leads to birth which manifests itself in behavior. We’ve seen this many times in 1 John.
- We will love other believers. Check out the last part of verse 1 and the first part of verse 2: “…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…” It stands to reason that if we claim to love the Father we should love His children as well. In the previous chapters we’ve learned that we can know we love God by how much we love others. Here we discover that the way we know we love God’s children is by loving God. It’s the very nature of a child of God to love other children of God. And let’s remember that this love is more about action, than emotion. John is so locked into love because he heard Jesus speak about it three different times in the Upper Room and to him it’s a non-negotiable sign of one’s salvation.
- We will live out the Bible. We will love like He loves and we will live like He lives by doing what He says we should do. We see this in verses 2-3: “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.” The word “commands” is used three times here. Again we see John echoing the very words of Jesus as found in John 14:15: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Let’s not say that we love God unless we’re serious about living out what God says.
It’s interesting that John refers to God’s commands as “not burdensome.” This word means “heavy, severe, strict, stern, cruel and oppressive.” Let’s face it. Sometimes God’s commands do feel constrictive but here’s the deal. Because they are given in the context of love, they are for our benefit.
The Pharisees were all about forcing man-made rules and regulations on people according to Matthew 23:4: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Jesus came to lift our load and through the new birth, His law is now written on our hearts, so that out of relationship, we will want to do what He wants us to do. Listen. If you labor under God’s commands it might be because you don’t love Him as you ought.
- We will leave the bad behind. We see this in verses 4-5: “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 he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” Notice that “overcomes” is used twice and is in the present tense, meaning that it is ongoing. And the word “overcome” is in the past tense, meaning that the victory has already been won as Jesus stated in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
come to church with the smell of battle on us
“Overcome” comes from the Greek word nike, which means “victory, conquest, and to prevail.” It carries with it the idea of struggle. We should come to church with the smell of battle on us. To grow in faith, there is always a fight involved, for we are in an unseen battle…all the time, everywhere we go, with whatever we are doing. The Christian life is not easy. Too many of us settle for surviving, when we’re called to be thriving. We’re overwhelmed, not overcoming. Friends, please don’t just try harder; the only way to overcome is by trusting in the victory that Jesus has already won. That’s what we read in Revelation 12:11: “They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.”
Understand your identity as a born one of God and exercise your faith to overcome the world. And remember this, it’s not automatic. We must remain vigilant against the world, the flesh and the devil. Don’t be like a guy named Demas who bailed on Paul as seen in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me.”
We could say it like this: Instead of always being overwhelmed, God wants us to be overcomers. And we are overcomers because of what Jesus has already done. We don’t work for victory; we have the victory. Faith is not the means to the goal of victory; faith is the victory because our faith is centered in Jesus, who is the Victor!
Signs of the Savior
We’ve looked at three signs that give us certainty about our salvation. Now let’s see three signs that show that the Savior is who He said He was. These signs make for a triple trustworthy testimony.
These next verses are very difficult to understand at first blush, but when properly interpreted, they give us great confidence in our faith. Let’s read 1 John 5:6-8: “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. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.”
Before diving in, it’s important to know that in the Jewish mind, testimony was only accepted if two or three witnesses could agree on the facts. This is most clearly seen in Deuteronomy 19:15: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” Here John is calling on three witnesses – the water, the blood and the Spirit.
Some have understood the water and the blood to refer to John 19:34: “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” Others see allusions to the Old Testament concept of purification represented by water and pardon represented by blood. Still others think that this refers to the ordinances of baptism and communion.
While there is certainly some rationale for these possibilities, John is clearly combating the Gnostic heresy that mistakenly taught that divinity descended on Jesus at his baptism and then left him before He died on the cross. Thus, they claimed that the “Christ” did not experience death. John calls on the witness of the water at Jesus’ baptism and the testimony of His blood as proof of His death on the cross.
People today still reject the idea that God became a man to give His life as a payment for our sin. Listen to what the Believer’s Bible Commentary says: “It seems that the human heart is perpetually trying to rid itself of the doctrine of the atonement. Men would like to have the Lord Jesus as a perfect Man, the ideal Example, who has given us a marvelous code of morals. But John here insists that the Lord Jesus is not only Perfect Man, but Perfect God also…Men say to Christ, ‘Come down from the cross and we will believe in You.’ If they can just eliminate the cross from their thinking, they will be happy. But John says, ‘No. You cannot have the Lord Jesus Christ apart from His perfect redemptive work at Calvary.”
At the baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove when the Father declared in Luke 3:22: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was God’s Son before His baptism and became God in human flesh when he was born in Bethlehem. Jesus did not become the Son of God at His baptism but through His baptism, it was revealed who He was. This event launched his public ministry on earth. By the way, if you’re born again but have not been baptized, this is the next step for you.
And then when He died, His blood paid the penalty for our sins. His death was real. And God accepted His sacrifice as our substitute so that our sins can be forgiven. Jesus Himself declared in John 19:30: “It is finished.” That means the debt has been paid. John hammered this home earlier in 1:7: “…and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Do you ever hear people say that Jesus was just a good teacher but not the only way to God? Check this out. While there are many instances of Jesus’ incredible teaching and record of many miracles, the longest section of each of the gospels deals with the details surrounding His death on the Cross. He was forsaken by the Father so that we might be forgiven.
Think with me for a moment about the Old Testament requirements for the cleansing of the leper as found in Leviticus 14. As part of his healing, the leper had to wash his clothes and bathe himself with water. Another part of the ritual involved the applying of blood to the lobe of the right ear, to the thumb of the right hand and to the big toe of the right foot. Still another element was the use of oil. The water allowed him to walk among the people and the blood allowed him to stand before God. The oil represented the power of the Holy Spirit to change him from the inside.
3. Holy Spirit.
The water and blood are external and historical witnesses while the Holy Spirit is an internal and personal witness. Without His work in our lives, we would not believe or be born again or be able to change our behavior. The presence of the Holy Spirit is the proof of our salvation according to Romans 8:16: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.”
The Best Testimony
Picking up the theme of testimony, we see this word used five times in 1 John 5:9-10: “We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son.”
We accept the testimony of other people all the time, whether it’s a doctor giving us a diagnosis or a mechanic telling us our car’s a mess. We trust the pharmacist to put the right pills in the bottle and we believe witnesses in court. God says that if we believe people, then we can certainly believe His testimony. The Father declared who the Son was several times.
One of my favorites is when He spoke at the mount of transfiguration in Matthew 17:5: “…A bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’” God’s testimony is factual and it’s also something that one can feel “in his heart.” But remember this: you are not saved because of how you feel but by faith in the facts!
Are you stumbling over the fact that you’re a sinner? Are you in crisis because you don’t want to confess Christ as your Lord? Many stumble because the way of salvation is simple. Check out Romans 9:33: “As it is written: ‘See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’”
The little word “see” in Hebrew narrative means “look!” and is designed to call attention to something. Paul wants every one of us to look to the stone in Zion that causes some to stumble and also to the rock that will trip up those who are filled with pride. That phrase “makes them fall” was used of any entanglement around the foot. Those who are unwilling to fall on their own will be made to fall from the force of the rock. This same rock is the refuge for those who respond in repentance and faith.
Salvation is simple because Jesus did all the work. It’s free because He paid the price for your sins. And it’s a gift because all you need to do is receive it. Because we are sinners we can trust Him for our salvation and we can also trust Him with the stresses of our lives.
Jesus is either a Rock of Refuge or a Stumbling Stone. Are you standing on the rock or are you stumbling over being a sinner? Do you know recognize the signs of the Savior and will you exhibit simple trust in the One who died in your place? Those who trust in Him will never be put to shame. That means you’ll never be sorry that you gave your life to Jesus. Others who stumble over Him now will be ashamed that they have wasted their lives in their pursuit of possessions and other pleasures when they see Him face to face.
Which one is He for you? Will you trust the One who will never let you down or would you rather be crushed by Christ?
Living the Doxology
I came across Thomas Ken’s “Morning Hymn,” written in 1674. He wrote these words at a time when the church believed only Scripture should be sung as hymns, especially the Psalms. Some thought it was close to blasphemous to sing something that wasn’t Scripture so Thomas originally instructed people to sing this and other songs as part of their private devotions. Here’s the first stanza:
Awake, my Soul, and with the Sun,
Thy daily Stage of duty run,
Shake off dull Sloth, and joyful rise,
To pay thy Morning Sacrifice.
Ironically, the last stanza is probably the most frequently used piece of music used in public worship. These words make up the 14th and last verse…
Praise God from whom all Blessings flow,
Praise him all Creatures here below,
Praise him above, ye Heavenly Host.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.