What Christians Mean by “Overcome the World”

 

“Do not be afraid, I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).

 

True followers of Jesus would like to tell the world that biblical Christianity is not interested in “conquering” the world. In fact, that would prove futile, because if one believes the above words of Jesus, then he also realizes that the world already has been overcome by the death and resurrection of the Son of God. Therefore, whatever “overcome the world” means, it is primarily spiritual. [see World / Worldly] And, a spiritual Christian will tell you that when Christ overcame the world, he overcame the power of all evils. Believing (or, exercising faith in) this fact can be another matter entirely, especially amid all of the horrid circumstantial contradictions one sees in his life and news around him. But, Jesus expressly made the statement to comfort the doubts and fears of his disciples.

This being established, allow me to address 2 concerns:

  • Whereas some under the broad umbrella of Christendom have embraced poor theology about the Kingdom of Heaven which leads them to commit atrocities, those who accurately interpret Christ’s words also recognize Jesus rebukes both that poor understanding & its according actions (Matt. 26:52-53; John 18:11-12). As I have addressed this error in the previous link, I refer the reader to it.
  • Whereas some accurately recognize there is a struggle to keep believing in Christ’s victory over the “fallen” world without and the evil within each of us, and whereas they are correct that one’s rewards in the next age (Kingdom of Christ) are proportionate to their exercise of (or, active belief in) Christ’s victory; they erroneously focus on “their believing” instead of focusing on Christ’s having won the victory already. This error is acquired by poor interpretation of Scripture and by human tendency to focus on the problem more than the solution. Thus, they tire out themselves and others with trying to have “enough faith” to make spiritual things happen or manifest… when all that is really needed is resilience and growth in believing that the world already has been overcome. Simply put, “our believing” is not the victory which has overcome the world. Rather, the Christian faith is the victory that has overcome the world, because the Christian faith is the only faith that affirms Jesus already has overcome the world. As J. Hampton Keathly III writes, “Our victory is not a victory to be won, but one to be claimed by faith.” This is best evidenced by 1 John 5:4:
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world– our faith.

 

Again, our faith (the noun, “faith”), the Christian faith (which is centered on Christ, the Overcomer), is the only faith (noun) that presents an accurate description of reality–a fallen world that needs overcoming; and it is the only faith (noun) that provides the conquering of the fallen world and its fallen prince. Because we are “in Christ,” and because “in Christ” IS ” the Christian faith (noun),” we have part in his overcoming victory, and we overcome all things by counting on the fact (the verb, “faith”) of His already-won victory. Whatever is born of God can’t help but overcome the world; it is what a human that is born from God does (or, ought to do). That is John’s point, and his audience would have understood that. So, to be plain, and in the sense that I describe it above, yes… it is the Christian faith (that which is known as the collective body of the Apostles’ beliefs in Christ’s self-proclaimed victory) which is the only faith that has overcome the fallen world. The trouble is continuing to believing it.

“What about the overcomers as mentioned by the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3?” my opponents ask.

All born-again believers are made “overcomers” in Christ, but his victory in their lives is realized by degree… for which each will be proportionately rewarded (1 Cor. 3). Again, Christ, the Son of God has already overcome sin, the devil and the fallen world; this is a thrilling tenet of the Christian faith. But, the trouble is continuing to believe it and living like it amid contradictory circumstance, trial, persecution, ridicule (even from other “Christians”), etc. At the end of this age, those who are found personally victorious over their own flesh and the tribulations of this life will be labeled “overcomers.” The title is due to their tenacious exercise of trust in Christ’s all-encompassing victory. And, again, faith is not to be viewed as a work (Rom. 4:5).

Perhaps the greatest comforts of all come from the lives of Abraham and John the Baptist. Both of these men were pronounced by God to be great and to be friends of God. Yet, both of them greatly stumbled in their faith walk. Abraham made a child through Hagar. John the Baptist struggled to believe that Jesus was indeed the Christ. In the end, the Lord was patient with them both… restoring them and giving them what they needed for their confidence and obedience to be fulfilled. In the end, both overcame their doubts and stumbling. They prevailed, or “came through victoriously.”

Because regenerate (born-again) believers are “in Christ,” we have been fitted with the ability to partake in the Divine Nature, through which we escape all of the evil desires that are in the world. This is a cooperative, participatory thing–a relationship with God–whereby we become by grace what Jesus is by nature. This continued trusting response to His offer of strength and ability–this growth in grace–is true holiness and stands in opposition to legalism. The more one cooperates with His Master through exercising surrender to/access of Jesus’ nature and trust in His victory, the more one can expect rewards hereafter.

1 John 5:4 and Revelation 2-3 do not negate one another. They are complementary, not mutually exclusive.

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Further Exegetical Study:

Translation (employing usages)
Because everything [human] that has been born from God overcomes the [fallen] world; moreover, this is the victory which has overcome the world–our faith.

Please note:

  1. That “world” refers to what we normally call the “fallen world” (cosmos–the sum total of all things anti-God and the product of a fallen nature and promoted by Satan).
  2. That the tense of “overcomes” is not progressive present but gnomic present, as in a statement of timeless principle. It is just a fact.
  3. That the verb tense for “is” is an aoristic present for a present, general, timeless fact without reference to its beginning, end, progress, or result. With eimi as well as the first clause of the verse, one can only say this is a descriptive truth, not a prescriptive one… though the prescription to use our faith in Christ’s victory can be found elsewhere.
  4. That the tense of the participle forming “has overcome” is a culminative aorist tense, which emphasizes the past, completed action in its entirety and is translated with the auxiliary verb “has.” This indicates Christ’s completed victory over the world as He declares in John 16:33 and also found in Eph. 2:2.
  5. That “our faith” is the appositional nominative subject from the feminine singular article and noun PISTIS with the possessive genitive first person plural personal pronoun egw, meaning “our faith.” While this is a verbal noun, it is not showing any aspect of verb form here. It can only be understood as “our faith,” meaning that which the collective body of believers (John and John’s original audience) believe. It would be wrong to translate it, “our believing.” It is only accurately translated as “our faith” as in “the Christian faith” which stands in distinction from other faiths.
  6. “Moreover,” is the continuation form of kai, indicating that the author will reveal something more (but in the same vein) after kai than was revealed before the kai. This is to say that John draws attention to the fact that the world has been overcome by a victory, and that victory is namely, “our faith”–again, that which the collective body of believers (John and John’s original audience) believe.

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OTHER RESOURCE:

Revelation – Appendix 3: Who Are the Overcomers?

by Lamb & Lion Ministries:

The Government on His Shoulder

Dispensationalism and the Rapture

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