Politically Incorrect Christianity: Living the Truth—We Shall Overcome

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Those of you who grew up in the 1960s remember that the most important social crusade of that era was the Civil Rights Movement. "We Shall Overcome" was a protest song that became the key anthem of that movement. All over America Black-Americans joined hands as they marched and sang that song. They challenged our culture to live up to its basic creed: “That all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.”

The title and structure of the song are derived from an early gospel song, "I'll Overcome Someday", by African-American composer Charles Albert Tindley who also wrote, “We’ll Understand It By and By”. The song was published in 1947 as "We Will Overcome". The first stanza reads simply:

We shall overcome

We shall overcome

We shall overcome some day.

And the chorus replies:

Oh, deep in my heart

I do believe

We shall overcome some day.

This melody can also be the theme song of every Christian, but with a slight twist. We already have overcome!

This morning we come to the last chapter of the Apostle John’s letter to his beloved congregation at Ephesus. In it, the aged Apostle has a very clear-cut purpose—how can we authenticate our faith? In other words: How can you know you're a Christian? 1 John 5:13 is the key verse of the whole epistle. "These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God in order that you may know that you have eternal life."

And, as we've discovered, the Apostle John’s message cycles back through the same themes again and again and each time John cycles back through he broadens and widens our understanding of those themes.

As we arrive at chapter 5, however, there's a special word here that appears only in this opening section of this chapter. The Apostle proclaims that believer’s are Overcomers.

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, 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 and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 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.” (1 John 5:1–5, NIV84)


            1. what does the Apostle mean when he says that we are overcomers?
                1. it’s a wonderful word, but it needs some explaining
                2. it’s a word that has important implications for our spiritual lives


            1. the title Christian is the most frequent name applied to those who have chosen to follow Jesus who is the Christ of God
                1. the name means little Christs and was given to the early believers by their pagan neighbors as an epitaph of derision
                    1. “Oh, so you’re one of those Christ followers, are you? You, you ‘Christ-ian’—you ‘little Christ, you.”
            2. but there are so many other great descriptors of who and what we are
                1. in the Scriptures we are also called ...
                    1. Children, Children of God, Children of Light, Children of the Day, and Children of Obedience
                2. we are called ...
                    1. Believers, and the Faithful, Friends of Jesus Christ, Brothers and Sisters, Sheep, Saints, and Holy Ones
                3. we are called ...
                    1. Soldiers, Witnesses, Stewards, Fellow-citizens, Salt, and Light
                4. we are called ...
                    1. the Elect of God, the Chosen of God, Ministers of God, Servants of God, Disciples of God, Heirs of God, and Joint-heirs with Christ
                5. we are called ...
                    1. Branches in the Vine, Members of the Body of Christ, Living Stones, and the Temple of God, Living Letters, the Beloved, and Followers of Christ
            3. each of those terms give us the definition of who we are
                1. and when you take them all together they express the fullness of what it means to belong to God through faith in Christ
            4. but there's one other title that isn't generally a part of the short list of descriptors that most of us would refer to, and that is this term that is used a number of times in 1 John 5:1-5
                1. we are overcomers
                    1. it’s a word that means we are victors—or we are winners


            1. the word that the Apostle John uses three times in vv. 1-5 is nikaō (nik - ah - o), and it means to conquer, it means to win, it means to defeat, it means to gain victory
                1. it comes from the Greek nikē (nik - ee) and was the name of their Goddess of Victory and Triumph
                2. the Greeks actually believed that only the gods were ultimately unconquerable
                    1. true, ultimate, final, permanent and a lasting sort of eternal victory only belonged to the gods
                3. it was denied to mere mortals
                    1. for men, there might be a triumph here and a triumph there, but there would be mostly defeat and failure
                    2. only the gods could reach the level of victory implied by the word nikē
            2. playing against the background of that kind of thinking in the ancient world, it was a pretty stunning for the Apostle John to assure believers that they had the kind of unconquerability that belonged only to the gods of that culture
              • ILLUS. We like that word even in English. The United States Air Force, for twenty years, called their anti-aircraft missiles Nikē Missiles. And then of course we have Nikē shoes that are supposed to lead you to triumph in whatever athletic endeavor you're engaged in.
            3. the word is used by our Lord Jesus Himself in John 16:33, when He says, "In this world you shall have tribulation, be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
                1. Jesus is telling His disciples, “I have won out in conflict with the world. I have defeated the world. I have conquered the world. I am the victor over the world.”
            4. the Apostle Paul uses a form of the word in one of my favorite passages of Scripture
              • “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37, NIV84)
                1. the Apostle refers to the unconquerable position of Christians in Christ
                2. but the Apostle adds a twist—we're not just overcomers—we're not merely nikē
                    1. we are huper nikē, meaning, we're super-conquerors—we are the ultimate conquerors
            5. through faith in Christ we unconquerable
                1. the Apostle Paul goes on to describe this unconquerableness this way:
                  • “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39, NIV84)
                2. there is nothing that can conquer us, not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword
                    1. we are super-conquerors
                    2. we are the unconquerable
                    3. we are the overcomers
                      • ILLUS. In 1798, when Lord Nelson came back and reported to the British Admiralty, his great victory over the French in the Battle of the Nile, he said this, and it's a great quote, "Victory is not a large enough word to describe what took place."
                3. this is certainly true of our salvation in Christ Jesus
                    1. victory is not a large enough word to describe what takes place when a sinner is justified by faith


            1. all three uses of the word overcome in this passage are in the present tense
                1. the Apostle John tell us that, by our faith in the risen Christ, we are continually overcoming the world
                    1. our victory over the world, the flesh and the devil is habitual, it is permanent, it is ongoing
                    2. we are permanently triumphant, permanently conquerors, the victory can never be taken from us
                2. we may fail along the way
                    1. we may fall victim to the enticements of the world here and there
                    2. we may lose some skirmishes
                3. but the great war has been won, the victory is ours
                  • “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves,” (Colossians 1:13, NIV84)


            1. the Evil Trinity is the World, the Flesh, and the Devil
              • ILLUS. It’s hard to believe, but the original “Survivor” show aired twelve years ago. The premise of the show is this: A group of strangers is marooned in a desolate locale, where they must provide food, water, fire, and shelter for themselves, while competing in challenges to earn either a reward, or an immunity from expulsion from the game in successive votes for elimination. The sole survivor wins lots of money and temporary fame. Regardless of what you think of this Television series it is something of a Phenomenon. Over 50 million Americans have watched these broadcasts. I’m one of those who have never watched the show, but the title alone has always intrigued me: “What does it mean to be a Survivor?” In our world today we talk about all kinds of survivors: cancer survivors, abuse survivors, tornado survivors, earthquake survivors and the list goes on and on!
            2. it is great to be a survivor but I want to do more than just survive
            3. the Bible does not say that we are merely survivors but that we are huper nikē—we're super-conquerors


    • “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. 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.” (Revelation 12:10–11, NIV84)
            1. from the moment of our salvation and from then on we have become super conquerors of Satan
                1. notice three things about our overcoming of Satan
                    1. it’s by the blood of the Lamb—Christ is our the foundation of our power and victory of Satan
                      • “You, dear children, are from God and ... the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” (1 John 4:4, NIV84)
                        1. as soon as you embrace the power of God, Satan’s power over your life is neutralized
                    2. it’s by the word of our testimony—the expression of Christian faith and our witness extends God’s Kingdom and decrease Satan’s
                        1. as soon as you believe the truth, you defeat his lies
                        2. and when you testify to that truth, you counter his lies
                    3. neither necessarily protect us from martyrdom—the devil and his earthly servants may overcome our bodies, however, they cannot overcome our faith nor our hope in Christ
                      • ILLUS. In the fifteenth chapter of the book of Revelation, John sees a sign in heaven and in verse 2 he sees a sea of glass mixed with fire. He looks into heaven and he sees those who have been victorious over the beast and from his image. They are holding harps and singing songs of praise the Lamb. As John gets a glimpse of heaven, he sees the redeemed there who are super-conquerors who have triumphed over the worst that Satan could possibly administer, and they stand on the sea of glass in the presence of God.
            2. overcomes are not only triumphant over Satan, but that triumph results in an eternal heaven
                1. and all that heaven is becomes ours
                2. "He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” (Revelation 21:7, NIV84)
                3. we are the true victors


    • “for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4, NIV84)
            1. not only have we become overcomes of Satan, but we have become overcomers in the realm of life as well
                1. we have overcome death
                  • “I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:50–57, NIV84)
                2. by our faith in Christ, we triumph over what sin wants to do to us
                3. by our faith in Christ, we triumph over what the law wants to do to us
                    1. the perfect, holy, righteous Law of God crushes us because we break it
                    2. it sentences us to damnation for our sins
                    3. but in Christ we triumph over the Law, over sin, over death which is the penalty the Law imposes
            2. three times the Apostle says we overcome the world
                1. if you're still loving the world, if you're still attracted to the world, if you have not yet overcome the world, the love of the Father is not in you
                  • “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15–16, NIV84)
                2. but through our faith—our faith in the risen Christ and the change that wrought in us—our faith means we are overcomers of the culture and society we live in
                    1. the culture no longer overwhelm us
                    2. the culture no longer is the chief object of our attraction
                3. we're in the world, but no longer of the world—its allurements don't pull our hearts the way it use to
                    1. instead, we are drawn by the Holy Spirit to the things of God
                    2. we are drawn by the love of Christ to His Church and to His people
                    3. we are drawn by righteousness to do righteous things
                    4. we are drawn by the Kingdom of God, not the kingdom of this world
            3. and so, in the very real sense we who are in Christ have overcome the world
                1. and because of that, the culture will hate us
                  • “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.” (1 John 3:13, NIV84)
                    1. you are so much not a part of the world that you have become its enemy
                    2. if you love Jesus more than you love the world, the world will hate you for loving Jesus more
                2. if we live as the heathens, then the world will accept us
                3. the world will never accept, however, any Christian who honors God by obeying the Bible


    • “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” (1 John 5:2, NIV84)
            1. the third part of sin’s trinity is the flesh, but we have overcome that as well
                1. when the Bible refers to the flesh it’s not merely referring to our love of physical pleasure
                2. it is a reference to our desire to put ourselves above anyone and anything
                3. according to the Apostle John, it includes the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16)
                  • ILLUS. It’s the disciple’s refusal in the Upper Room to wash the other guy’s feet because they’re above such things. But by golly, he ought to be washing mine! It’s the disciples arguing over which of them is most important to Jesus and which of them will have the most prominent position in His Kingdom.
                  • “Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”” (Matthew 20:25–28, NIV84)
            2. how do we love God and carry out His commands?
                1. one of many ways is to put others first—it’s understanding that “It’s not all about me”
                    1. but that is alien to our society where every part of our culture screams “It is all about you. It’s about you and nobody else but you!”
            3. only Christ in you gives you the ability to act against the interests of the flesh
                1. the truest and purest part of us—the new nature—is the expression of the power of the Spirit of God in us
                2. that new nature drives us toward God and toward the Kingdom of God and the love of God and the love of His Word and a love for fellow believers that is manifested by loving service obedience


            1. I take comfort in the knowledge that one of the greatest Christians of all time struggled with the world, the flesh, and the devil even though he was an overcomer
                1. his name was Paul
                    1. listen to the honesty of his struggle with the power of the flesh
                      • “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am not spiritual since sin rules me as if I were its slave. I do not understand the things I do. I do not do what I want to do, and I do the things I hate. And if I do not want to do the hated things I do, that means I agree that the law is good. But I am not really the one who is doing these hated things; it is sin living in me that does them. Yes, I know that nothing good lives in me—I mean nothing good lives in the part of me that is earthly and sinful. I want to do the things that are good, but I do not do them. I do not do the good things I want to do, but I do the bad things I do not want to do. So if I do things I do not want to do, then I am not the one doing them. It is sin living in me that does those things. So I have learned this rule: When I want to do good, evil is there with me. In my mind, I am happy with God’s law. But I see another law working in my body, which makes war against the law that my mind accepts. That other law working in my body is the law of sin, and it makes me its prisoner. What a miserable man I am! Who will save me from this body that brings me death? I thank God for saving me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So in my mind I am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful self I am a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:14–25, NCV)
                2. does that confessional honesty resonate with you?
                    1. it does with me
                3. Paul also struggled with men who opposed his message and his ministry
                    1. he was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, whipped, assaulted, attacked, despised, hated, jailed, put in stocks, finally executed
            2. the Apostle Paul struggled though in this world
                1. but none of that took away his hope of final and complete victory because the worst that a lost world can ever do to Paul would be to kill him and usher him into the full honors of his eternal triumph
                    1. it's really an astounding thing when you think about it
                    2. the worst the world could ever do to us is the best thing that could ever happen to us
                2. if the world takes our lives, they free us from the debilitating lust of the flesh, the temptation of the wicked one, and a world that hates us any way!
                3. but in doing so, they can never ever take our salvation
                    1. nothing can ever separate us from the love of God in Christ


            1. if we still struggle with this evil trinity, where is our assurance that we are overcomers?
                1. if I still sin, and I still fail, where’s the proof that I am a super-conqueror as John claims that I am?
            2. my assurance lies in three tests
                1. Test #1—Acceptance of the Truth
                  • “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well.” (1 John 5:1, NIV84)
                    1. here is the most fundamental certainty in the history of the world—Jesus is the incarnate Son of God who came into the world to save sinners
                    2. acceptance of this truth give me certainty that I am an overcomer
                    3. overcomers are those who have been born of God because they believe that Jesus is God come in the flesh
                2. Test #2—Love of God and God’s People
                  • “This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” (1 John 5:2, NIV84)
                    1. if I love God, I will love the people of God and desire fellowship with them
                    2. if I love the people of God and spend time with them and seek to minister to them, it’s evidence that I love God
                3. Test #3—Obedience to God’s Commands
                  • “This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,” (1 John 5:3, NIV84)
                    1. do I take the Word of God and try to apply it to my life?
                    2. does your orthodoxy translate into orthopraxy?

And so, we are overcomers. We are victors. We are conquerors, by definition. And that's why, in a sense, Satan, the world, illness and even death itself are somehow not a threat to us. You can't find yourself too overwhelmed by them, too distressed by them, too overwrought with anxiety and concern. They are temporary enemies, temporary annoyances, and temporary fears. But the victory is won and some day we'll enter in to our eternal life and we will be given an inheritance. The Bible says, that is the very inheritance that Jesus receives because we will be joint heirs with Christ. Whatever failures come and go here, we conquer in Him.

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