By Dr. Robert R. Seyda


CHAPTER FIVE (Lesson XXV) 11/16/22

5:4 because everyone who is a child of God has the power to win against the world.

As a monarch in the pulpit, Alexander Maclaren (1826-1910) finds that no Final Covenant writer frequently uses the metaphors of combat and victory as this gentle Apostle, John. Few conceived the Christian life as a daily conflict, and none of their writings makes the clear note of triumph in the word “overcomes” ring out so constantly as it does in those of the Apostle of Love. The prominence John gives to the contemplation of abiding in the Anointed One is equally characteristic of his writings. These two conceptions of the Christian life appear to be conflicting but are harmonious. But as to the words in verse four, they appear in a very remarkable context here.

If you read a verse or two before, you will get the distinctiveness of their introduction. “This is the love of God,” says John, “that we keep His commandments: for His commandments are not burdensome.” They are awkward and challenging in themselves; it is difficult to do right, walk in the ways of God, and please Him all the time. Yes, His mandates are hard to carry out – but let’s read on; – “Does it say they are not grievous for those born of God to keep His commandments?” No! “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” For John, that is the same as obeying God’s commandments. First, notice, what is the true notion of conquering the world? Secondly, how that victory may be ours through faith.[1]

For instance, Henry A. Sawtelle (1832-1913) sees the Apostle John introduce why the love-command is not grievous. Because after our new birth, we come into a state of victory, actually begun and ideally completed by our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. We can assume that worldly influence causes any difficulty in obedience –feelings inwardly or outwardly. The desire for worldly pleasures and personal pride imparts a burdensome aspect to our Lord’s commands. Also, we must sometimes deal with worldly temptation and persecution. These are foes of spiritual obedience. But whoever is born of God learns to cope successfully with these distractions. Obedience contains a conquering principle and will help sweep such difficulties out of the way.

The conflict will be great sometimes, and the desire for worldly things is not subdued all at once; nevertheless, our new nature goes on to victory and overcomes it in the end. For it is like God. “Whomever God births” covers all believers, whether man, woman, or anything else.[2] The world’s philosophy and immorality, on the other hand, compete with God’s Spirit. So, the depravity of human nature is a part of the world. Therefore, faith is the victory that overcomes what the world throws at us.[3]

The Abarim Bible Dictionary explains that the Greek verb nikaō is in the aorist present tense (which indicates that the action was started and is ongoing). It also specifies that whoever is born of God performs the action instead of receiving it. In addition, its mood is indicative (which describes a current situation) as opposed to a condition that might be, is wished for, or commanded to be.[4] In other words, the believer’s overcoming is not in the past; it is a daily process. Furthermore, it is not done at the beginning or end of the day but in each instance. That’s why our sanctification at the new birth is continuous throughout life.

Greek word expert Marvin R. Vincent (1834-1921) sees it somewhat differently. For Vincent, the aorist tense of “overcame” started and is an ongoing expression of the victory that overcame.[5] The victory over the world was potential, it was won when we believed in Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. We overcome the world by being brought into union with the Anointed One. On becoming as He is,[6] we become partakers of His victory.[7]Greater is He that is in you than He that is in the world.”[8] [9]

Noting doctrinal implications, John James Lias (1834-1923) clarifies that the neuter Greek adjective pas here is not equivalent to all humanity as some have thought. Instead, it refers to the natural power in them.[10] It is not we who conquer but the power that dwells in us. If we overcome, it is not credited to any human ability apart from God. Instead, His divine gift working in each of us unites us into one body in the Anointed One. It means that whoever has been born from God overcomes, that is, has permanent possession of the power to overcome worldliness. When the Apostle John says, “this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith,” it literally implies that this is the victory that overcame or (has been overcoming) the world. It does not suggest that our faith overcame the world. However, John links faith with the past fact that defeating it draws its power. Without connection with that past fact, our faith could have no such ability.[11]

Here are some homiletical insights for verses three and four: 1) Keeping God’s commandments produces peace of mind. 2) It produces an approving conscience; 3) It promotes unity and peace among mankind, and 4) It grows easier by practicing and forming holy habits. Thus, our new life is sparked into operation by faith that helps in conquering worldliness. Because it is the life of God manifested in Jesus the Anointed One and imparted to us by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, spiritual life must be a victorious life. It cannot be otherwise.[12] By this, the fulfillment of God’s commands is not grievous. By ourselves, says Lias, we are utterly incapable of rising to the level of their requirements.[13] But in His strength, we are always able to conquer.

We need only to believe 1) that God is Lord of all; 2) He wills to make us partakers of His glory; 3) He is ready to impart to us the power we need to have victory over sin, and 4) this power to attain successful obedience is in His Son. Hence, this kind of perfect faith produces ideal obedience. But, on the other hand, if we are not yet victorious over sin, it proves our faith is imperfect. And according to the measure of our faith, so is our approach to Christian perfection. Let us then “reach forward towards the things that are before.[14] [15]

With his lexicon in mind, Augustus Hopkins Strong (1836-1921) illustrates that just as the accomplished organist demonstrates the unexpected capabilities of his instrument, likewise, the Anointed One brings into activity all the hidden powers of the human soul.[16] It goes against those who object to the Doctrine of Perseverance, says Hopkins. Such thinking leads to spiritual laziness. But this is only possible for the unregenerate. The certainty of success is the most substantial incentive to activity in the conflict with sin to regenerate. It is notoriously untrue that confidence in overcoming inspires reluctance or idleness. The only prayers God will answer are those we cannot answer. Therefore, the Apostle Paul urges, “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.”[17] [18] British scholar, preacher, and author Thomas Fuller (1608-1661) said, “Your salvation is His business; His service your business.”

To be clear, Robert Cameron (1839-1904) asks how can we know that we love God’s children? Only when we love God and observe His commandments. As the Apostle John tells us, loving God’s children proves the reality of love for God. In verse four, we learn that love for God is the test of love for fellow believers. We show the existence of love for our spiritual brothers and sisters by love and obedience to the commands of a universal heavenly Father. It is only possible because of the new life believers possess. If a person is born of God and provides the incentive to love, then it follows that we should love all who are born again. As a result, we exercise love toward fellow believers not merely because we find them pleasant and friendly companions but because they are part of God’s family. Those called “children” here are not those in whom the divine life may have the least possible development but in whom the life exists.

So, we may say we love the spiritual family members we see, and, therefore, love God whom we have not seen. Or contrariwise, we may say, we love God and keep His commandments and, therefore, we love all Christians. Thus, the existence of love for God is a rational reason for assuming the presence of love for others. And because of this inward experience of love and outward obedience to commandments, we come to know that we love God and love His children also. This is the victory, even our faith. No one has triumphed over the world until becoming united with the Anointed One and achieving success at this crucial point. They are set free by this truth received in their hearts; all others are slaves of an insane and savage world.[19]

Manifestly, Erich Haupt (1841-1910) believes that the reason the law of God became easy is evident here in verse four. Obeying the commandments becomes hard only by worldly opposition, which frustrates and hinders their fulfillment. It depends on the world’s power as the kingdom of darkness to contaminate worldly thinking with the evil influence of Satan.[20] As a result, the tendency to act in opposition to God’s will became part of its culture. Therefore, this inclination makes all obedience towards God a daily wrestle, so to speak, driven by the world’s continuous influence upon believers. But what power will secure enduring success in a war like this, which will permanently provide victory? What is the might that is equal to this?  Without exception, the divine energy, the power of Light, triumphs over the world as the seat of all darkness. Because this victory is necessary, the divine commandments that require and enforce this victory cannot become a burden.[21]

In his calculating mind, Alfred Plummer (1841-1926) is sure God’s commandments are not burdensome for two reasons: 1) He gives us strength to carry them.[22] 2) Because love makes them weightless. They are unlike the heavy legal rules, regulations, and requirements the Pharisees’ piled on people’s shoulders. Here again, we have an echo of the Master’s words; “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”[23] Another reason why even keeping the challenging commandment of loving others rather than oneself is not a dreadful burden. The world and its immoral ways make keeping the Divine commands so tough. But the new birth in faith gives us a unique, otherworldly nature with spiritual strength that conquers those temptations. It is the individual’s birth by God that brings triumph.

[1] Maclaren, Alexander: Sermons and Exposition on 1 John, Faith Conquering the World.

[2] Cf. John 3:6; 6:37, 39; 17:2

[3] Sawtelle, Henry A., Commentary on the Epistles of John, op. cit., pp. 55-56

[4] Abarim Publications Interlinear (Greek/English) New Testament.

[5] See 1 John 4:9

[6] John 3:17

[7] Ibid. 16:33

[8] 1 John 4:4

[9] Vincent, Marvin R., Word Studies in the New Testament, op. cit., p. 363

[10] See John 3:6; 6:37; 17:2

[11] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Exposition, op. cit., pp. 359-361

[12] See Luke 11:22

[13] Cf. Romans 3:9, 20, 28

[14] Philippians 3:13, 14; 2 Peter 1:5-7

[15] Lias, John James: The First Epistle of St. John with Homiletical Treatment, op. cit., pp. 358-361

[16] Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, op. cit., p. 57

[17] Philippians 2:12-13

[18] Strong, Augustus H., Systematic Theology, Vol. 3, op. cit., p. 197

[19] Cameron, Robert: The First Epistle of John, or, God Revealed in Light, Life, and Love, op. cit., pp. 209, 216, 247

[20] 1 John 2:15

[21] Haupt, Erich: The First Epistle of St. John: Clark’s Foreign Theological Library, Vol. LXIV, op. cit., pp. 292-293

[22] Philippians 4:13

[23] Matthew 11:30

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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