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We Prove Our Love with Obedient Faith
The true Christian overcomes the world by his faith and demonstrates his salvation by obeying God’s commands—and they are not burdensome.
1 John 5:4–5 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 because everyone who has been born from God conquers the world. And this is the conquest that has conquered the world, our faith. 5 Who is the one who conquers the world, but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
Some Christians see their weakness regarding temptation and sin and decide their victory over the world is incomplete. They conclude that since they have not “overcome the world,” they must not be truly Christian. This is not an accurate understanding of this verse.
As F. F. Bruce observed, the term world may mean (1) the false teachings of the antichrists who suggest that Jesus is not the Son of God and did not come in the flesh, or (2) the lure of the world (lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life), or (c) the threat of open hostility that the world breathes toward those who follow Christ (The Epistles of John, 117). Regardless, John has already encouraged his readers that they are from God and have overcome … because [he] who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (4:4). The victory is already won. We won it (past tense) with our union in Christ, and we win it (present tense) by our refusal to deny him.
As Simon Kistenmaker observes, “All who have their birth in God have overcome the world and therefore we can claim victory already” (I–III John, 350). Jesus said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus’ victory has overcome the evil one and has set his people free from the power of Satan.
Faith is the basis of our victory. When we place our faith in Jesus, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:37–39; 1 Cor. 15:57). No forces of evil can conquer the person who trusts in Jesus. Instead, the believer is victorious over the world because of his faith in Christ.
Seen this way, this verse is not a matter of discouragement or fear that because we struggle with sin in our lives, we may not be Christians. Rather, it should be a matter of encouragement because in spite of our struggle with sin in our daily lives, the victory is already won. Our salvation is secure in Jesus.
James Boice supports this understanding: “Indeed, in the broadest view the faithfulness was not theirs, but rather his who … led them to faith in Christ, a pursuit of righteousness, and love for other Christians” (The Epistles of John, 158).
By David Walls and Max Anders