Everyone who is truly born of God overcomes the world because such a person believes in Jesus as the Son of God and seeks to obey him in all things. Faith, love, and obedience are tightly woven together to such an extent that to pull one of them out is to unravel the whole bunch. These three characteristics of the true Christian are vital and necessary to living the Christian life. They all must be present in order for the church to overcome the world (1 John 5:1-5).
God saves us from sin and grants us forgiveness; the action is on his part. We simply are recipients of his good grace toward us. Our actions are a result of God’s action to us. In other words, to put it simply: to be a person born from God means that the Christian will engage in the activities of faith, love, and obedience. Just as a newborn baby first breathes, then learns to eat, sleeps, grows-up, learns to walk, and over time develops into an adult just like his/her mother and father, so the Christian who is born again from God exhibits faith, learns to love, and grows up developing the skills of obeying Jesus and following him, learning to walk in his ways, becoming just like him.
In the same way that a child must learn and grow in order to have the skills to face the world in all its bigness, trials, and temptations, so the Christian must also develop the commensurate abilities necessary in order to take on the world and overcome it. The indispensable skills that Christians need are faith, love, and obedience. Without them we will not be able to deal with the world; but with them we experience a practical victory over the world.
The term “world” in the book of 1 John is used in the sense of the patterns, systems, and operations of the world in contrast to how God operates. The world engages in revenge and payback when wronged, whereas the Christian learns to believe that God will be the Judge, loves the person who has offended him through prayer for his enemy, and obeys God by engaging in good works that seeks the welfare of the other. The world uses other people as either objects of their pleasure or to get ahead in life, whereas the Christian believes God will take care of her needs, will seek to love the other person instead of use them, and would rather obey God by cutting off her right hand off than engage in selfish behavior. The world thinks nothing of lying, cheating, and stealing if they can get away with it, whereas the Christian believes that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, loves being a person of integrity, and obeys God even when it hurts.
The way to overcome the world with a practical victory is to be about the business of faith, love, and obedience. Where do we feel “the pull” in life from? Do we feel it from the world, or from God and his Word? Yes, it is true that our society is becoming more and more secular and worldly. We must learn to navigate the worldly elements of our society that upset us through faith, love, and obedience to God. We must also learn how to deal with the worldly elements of our society in which we feel a pull and a tug to go along with it and want to give in to it. This requires a community of Christians that engages the world through faith, love, and obedience in order to overcome.
Our task and our call as Christians cannot be reduced to just survive the world. If anyone could have had that kind of mentality, it was Helen Keller. Deaf, mute, and blind, she could have settled into just getting by and waiting for heaven. But she accepted her situation, coped with it, and even transcended her limitations. She did more than survive – she thrived. Helen Keller once said, “The marvelous richness of human experience would lose something of rewarding joy if there were not limitations to overcome. The mountaintop would not be half so wonderful if there were no dark valleys to traverse.”
Overcoming the world is a high calling from God. It means using faith to put aside fear and take the kind of risk God wants churches to take. It means using love means to forsake hate, even when it hurts. It means using obedience to cast off selfishness and choosing to do what is best for another person’s welfare. Being characterized by these three Christian virtues will have the effect of overcoming the world. It is not a burdensome or heavy way to live. It is not an isolated individual thing, but a communal way. It is the way of Jesus – a way every believer and every church must follow.