Given the choice, would you opt for short-term success in a cause which is doomed to fail or hardship in a cause that will one day bring great success?
That was the choice Henry and his friends faced. Henry lived in a small colonial home in Eastern Virginia—apparently alone. But late one night, when friends came to visit, they heard a scratching sound beneath the floor—faint at first, then louder. His guests made lighthearted remarks about ghosts, but Henry pretended not to notice until his guests had gone. Then, with lantern in hand, he opened the door and made his way into the cellar below. There in the corner, the light fell on a face which snarled at him one moment and wept the next.
It was the face of Henry’s wife. Henry couldn’t recall exactly when her madness began. But for days and months he’d descended those stairs to feed and care for her. The alternative was the asylum at Williamsburg which was more of a prison than a hospital. So he kept her at home making the cellar as comfortable as possible. But now as he watched his love tug against her straitjacket restraints which were there to keep her from hurting herself, his heart sank with despair. These were the visions that haunted his thoughts and that he carried with him that momentous day as governor when he spoke these famous words:
“Shall we try argument? Shall we resort to entreaty? What terms shall we find which have not been exhausted? We have petitioned, we have remonstrated, and we have been spurned with contempt. There is no longer any room for hope. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!” That was Patrick Henry, the great patriot. And Paul Harvey concludes: “Now you know the rest of the story.”
Sometimes we imagine that those who have attained true greatness in life—like our founding fathers or the great saints of God—were special characters impervious to life’s hardships and carried to greatness on beds of ease. But that’s never been the case! Search the Scriptures or pages of history and you’ll find that those who have accomplished the greatest things for God and man are those who have pressed on in spite of suffering and won the victory against all odds.
Spurgeon the great preacher warned: “God’s people must never expect to escape troubles; if they do, they will be disappointed, for none of their predecessors have been without them.” John Newton, writer of Amazing Grace, asked: “Can we expect to walk a path strewn with flowers when His was strewn with thorns?” The truth is that life is hard especially for those who choose to follow Christ because by that decision alone, we have chosen to go to war with the three greatest enemies anyone can ever face: the world, the flesh, and the devil. And yet, it’s a fight worth waging. As the martyred missionary, Jim Elliot, put it, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” That’s the subject before us this morning—how to gain a reward that we can never lose!
In 1 John chapter 5, we come to not just the hope of every Christian but the certainty of the every believer. For here John assures us that we’re not just survivors of this wicked world, but overcomers, champions, and victors. 7 times he uses that word in this letter—the first two times in chapter 2 where he says, “I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one” and then he tells us why: “because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” Then in chapter 4 he says it one more time warning of false teachers and the evil spirits behind them. He says, “You are of God, little children and have overcome them because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” But in chapter 5 he uses the word four times in the space of two verses, emphasizing our victory in Christ.
John says in 4 and 5. Then we’ll come back and look at the rest of the verses. He says: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world: our faith.” And then, to make sure we understand what he means by faith, he adds in verse 5: “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
The word “overcome” is the word Nike. Have you heard of that? That’s the name of the Fortune 500 company in Oregon that makes running shoes and takes its name from the Greek goddess of victory known for her speed and strength. This fallen angel, because that’s what the Greek gods were—fallen angels masquerading as gods and compelling people to worship them—this was the false spirit that winged its way over the ancient battlefields energizing the Greek armies against their enemies. Only here John corrects that false teaching and gives credit where credit is due, to the One True Overcomer and Victor, the Lord Jesus Christ who empowers us and gives us victory in all of our trials.
He was the first one to use this word of Himself when He encouraged us in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” And now that He’s overcome the world, He shares His victory with us through 3 divine resources that are available to every believer. Each one begins with the letter “B”—Birth, Belief, and Blood. Let’s see what’s involved in each one. The first resource and requirement is—
1. It Requires a Birth.
Read verse 4 again, this time from the New International Version. John says, “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” This verse makes two things clear. The first thing that’s clear is that each of us needs a new birth. That is to say, we need to be born of God. And the second thing it reveals is the channel through which that new birth takes place. It comes through our faith, because that’s what gives us the victory that overcomes the world. So let’s talk about that for a moment. First of all, let’s talk about our need for a new birth and ask the question: Why is that necessary? And some of you may not like the answer because it isn’t at all flattering. The reason we need it is because we’re evil.
In recent years, esp. since 9/11, there’s been a greater willingness to talk about evil in the world but what few are willing to admit is where it comes from. But the Bible is clear. It comes from the evil heart of man. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” How did they get this way? Is it because of the evil others have done to us? No! That’d be shifting the blame whereas David says we’ve been this way since birth. Psa. 51:5, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.”
That doesn’t sit well with many folks. Oh, they’re willing to admit that they’ve done evil at times, but to acknowledge that they themselves are evil? That’s a different story. In fact, some of you this morning may find it difficult to believe that. You may agree to it with your mind, but to feel it in your heart, that’s difficult. Because some of you have known the Lord since you were children, while others of you by nature are very nice people. But you can’t take credit for those things any more than I can take credit for being able to teach the Bible or Usain Bolt can take credit for being a fast runner. Oh, we can take credit for these things, but that’s just another indication that there’s something unholy in us wanting to steal the glory from God. The truth is: Any good thing in you or me is the result of God’s grace at work in us giving us pleasant personalities, not because we were born with a good heart.
For those who like a theological label for things, this is the Semi-Pelagian heresy that teaches that man is morally sick rather than dead in his sins and needs help rather than a new birth. But that isn’t what the Bible says. God didn’t say to Adam and Eve, “In the day you eat of it, you’ll get sick.” He said, “In the day you eat of it, you will die,” not physically right away. The life expectancy of an American woman is 81 years today; 76 for a man which means it takes an average of 78 years for us to die. But spiritually they were dead the moment they ate it, for their fellowship with God was instantly broken; they hid from Him in the Garden and lied about their sin. So it is today. The Bible says we were born dead in our sins and in need of the new life that only Jesus can give us.
Think of Lazarus lying dead in the tomb when Jesus came to him. What did he need at that point? A shot of epinephrine to get his heart going again? No! He was dead 4 days by that time! And the Bible says we’ve been spiritually dead all our lives until we open our hearts to Christ. So if you’ve never done so before, open your heart to Him today and let Him give you life. We need a new birth and how does that come about? That’s the second thing John emphasizes. Being an overcomer requires a birth and—
2. It Requires a Belief.
In two senses: first, we need to believe the right things about God, so it’s the real God we’re believing in and not a god of our own imagination; second, we need to have faith in this God who wants to give us new life. Here’s how John puts it in verses 4 and 5. He says, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” And then he adds, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
I’ve said this before, so I don’t want to belabor it here, but believing in Jesus as the Son of God means far more than when we say that we’re children of God. It means recognizing that Jesus is unlike any other human who’s ever been born for He isn’t a creation of God; He is the only begotten Son of God who has always shared the same eternal Spirit with the Father. For when we say Jesus is the Son of God, what we mean is that He and the Father are One God sharing the same divine essence forever! Believing the right things about Jesus is imperative. Otherwise you’re believing in a god of your own making. Yet even that isn’t enough to make you an overcomer because not only do you need belief; you also need faith. For “this is the victory that overcomes the world—our faith!”
And what is faith? Belief is something we do with our heads, whereas faith is what we do with our hearts. Did you see, for example, the amazing feat Nik Wallenda performed two weeks ago when he crossed the Little Colorado River Gorge on a tightrope 2 inches thick without a harness and 1500 feet above the canyon below? It took him 22 minutes to do it because he had to pause and crouch several times to maintain his balance as 30 mph winds whipped around him. Wallenda is a believer and you could heard him the whole time praying, “Jesus, please help me and keep this cable steady.”
(Watch the YouTube video clip by clicking here – Nik Wallenda.)
That brought to mind a story some of you may have heard before about Charles Blondin who was probably the greatest tightrope walker of all. He was famous for walking across Niagra Falls on a tightrope. That’s something Nik Wallenda did last year, but Blondin was the first one to do it and he did it several times. First, he walked across it. Next he pushed a wheelbarrow across it. Finally, he carried his manager across it on his back, at the end of which he turned to one of the boys in the crowd and asked him, “Do you believe I can carry you across on my back?” “Well, sure, I do!” the boy said. “I just saw you do it!” “Then hop on,” Blondin invited him. “No way!” the boy answered. “Why no,” Blondin wanted to know. “Because I believe,” the boy said. “But I don’t trust you.”
That’s the difference, isn’t it? Belief is theoretical and safe, whereas faith is belief in action, taking a risk on the faithfulness of Christ—first, for salvation. “For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” No one has ever been saved or overcome the world by trying. Trying gets you nowhere spiritually speaking. What brings new life and salvation is turning away from yourself and trusting Jesus. So if you’re looking for victory, stop trying and start trusting Him—and not just for salvation, but for everything in life. The Bible is clear. “Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
So trust Him no matter what obstacles stand in your path. For that’s the very reason He’s allowed them to come your way—to test and strengthen your faith. So trust Him! You remember when the 12 spies returned from scouting out the Promised Land, 10 of them shouted out in fear, “There are giants in the land, and we were like grasshoppers in their sight!” But Joshua and Caleb said, “No! For we have seen God, and we know we can overcome them!” Giants represent the problems in our homes, our workplaces, and our communities. But like Joshua and Caleb, we can overcome them by faith in the Lord Jesus! We need a birth, a belief, and one more resource John emphasizes. We need—
3. It Requires the Blood.
John asks, “Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” And he continues in verse 6, “This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” 9 times in 6 verses John uses the word “testify” or “witness,” because under Jewish Law nothing was ever assumed. To establish a fact, two witnesses were needed, In fact, three were even better because one could be mistaken and two might collude. But three assured that a fact was true.
So there are three indisputable witnesses to the deity of Christ, John says. Two are external. One is internal. The first witness is the water referring to the baptism of Jesus where the Father spoke from heaven and said, “This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased,” and the Spirit confirmed it by descending on Him like a dove.
The blood, on the other hand, refers to His death for sinners evidenced by the spear thrust into His side, out of which came blood and water proving that His heart had been broken for you and for me. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was simply a prelude and preparation for His death, for the Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.” Our sin has incurred a debt, and that debt must be paid. But “the blood of bulls and goats could never satisfy the debt we owed. Something more was needed and was given to us in the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
The blood of Jesus is a witness to our helplessness and the impossibility of saving ourselves. So quit trying and start trusting in Jesus to save you, for as John promises in the first chapter of this letter, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” Revelation 12:11 agrees and adds this: “They overcame him (the devil) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and because they did not love their lives even when faced with death.” The water and the blood are the external witnesses to the deity of Christ.
But there’s also an internal witness, and that’s the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Verse 6 says: “It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.” That was the power behind all the miraculous words and works of Jesus. It was the invisible but very real Person of God’s Spirit empowering everything He did.
And it’s the same Holy Spirit who is testifying to you this very moment that there is something different about this man—that He is indeed the Son of the Living God! And you need to believe it if you want new life and victory over this present evil world. John says, “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son.” We need to believe in the Spirit and the water and the blood to have new life.
Many of you know that I grew up in a liberal church under a liberal minister who didn’t teach or believe the gospel. So when I read this story of another liberal minister like him, it warmed my heart. This minister was called out in the night by a boy who asked him to come pray with his mother who was dying. So because it was his job, he went and tried to comfort her. “You have nothing to fear! You’ve lived a good life, and remember that God is love” But nothing he said brought her any peace at all. Finally, racking his mind in desperation, he remembered a hymn his mother used to sing to him. So he sang it to her.
“There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
Suddenly her face brightened. So he went on to tell her what he’d learned in Sunday school as a boy, that Jesus died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins. So in those final moments of life that mother found peace by trusting in Jesus as her Savior. And that next Sunday morning the pastor went on to tell his congregation that he too found peace in Christ and that from that moment on he was going to preach the saving power of Jesus’ blood. What about you? Are you enjoying the victory that overcomes this world? If not, you can this moment by believing in Jesus and being born again through the power of His blood!
That won’t make your problems go away. I was talking to a younger brother in Christ about that this week. He was discouraged because his wife is terminally ill, his finances are in chaos, and his unbelieving friends have scoffed at him saying, “What good is it to believe in Christ?” So we talked about it and you know what conclusion we came to? We decided if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we’re of all men most pitiable. But if we’re going to live forever, then believing in Christ makes all the difference in the world and the next. Far better to suffer loss in a cause that ends in eternal joy than succeed in a cause that is doomed to fail! So we’re going to keep trusting and thanking God for all the blessings He’s given us in this life and the promise of everlasting joy to come. What about you? I finish by reading the words of Jesus again who said, “In the world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”