“For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.”
1 John 5:4 (ESV)
Ok, admittedly this blog’s title is click-bait (but aren’t all titles?). In any case, I also admit these kinds of titles appeal to something in me that wants five easy steps. I like principles and techniques, especially when they are condensed to catchy phrases in a bulleted list.
When John says that we overcome the world, like Pavlov’s dog, I salivate for a to-do list.
Tell me how to overcome! Boil it down for me. Give it to me in scannable, bite-size pieces. I don’t have time to read a whole blog post, especially because I need to scan another blog post on 7 ways to write a better blog post.
Look, tips and principles are not wrong. In fact, there are biblical principles that are good and true. However, blogs, books, and sermons that primarily “principalize” the bible miss the message of the bible.
So, since I like lists (especially lists with bullets), here’s a list on how we miss the message of the bible if we principalize 1 John 5:4:
8 things we miss if we “principalize” overcoming the world:
- We miss that it’s not even us that does the overcoming in the first place. Jesus is the one who overcomes the world.
- We miss that we contributed nothing to this victory. Just like a baby contributes nothing to its birth, we contribute nothing to our birth into God’s family. And because we are God’s children, all that belongs to the Son belongs to us, including Jesus’ victory.
- We miss that it’s not our muscular, robust faith that got us this victory. It’s our faith in Christ’s perfect obedience and death that gets us this victory. Now, his victory is our victory.
- We miss that life in Christ is a posture of rest because Christ accomplished the to-do list, not us. It is finished.
- We miss that overcoming the world means we are saved from a worldliness that believes and behaves that this world is all that there is.
- We miss seeing the beautiful hope we have that the day is coming when we overcome the world finally and completely as citizens of the new heaven/new earth.
- We miss that in spite of the world’s attempts to kill, criminalize, and/or marginalize Christianity, the Church will survive. All countries and kingdoms will fall, but God’s people will be the ones to remain. And it has nothing to do with our adherence to tips and principles, and it has everything to do with God’s grace, power, and faithfulness to help his people persevere to the end.
- We miss that God’s commands to love him and to love our neighbor is God’s invitation to enjoy our victory in Christ right now, at this very moment.
Reducing the bible to tips and principals boils out the amazing acts of God to rescue and redeem his people from slavery to sin, and to graciously and faithfully care for and sustain his people in this life as he leads them to their final resting place in the new heaven/new earth.
At its core, principalizing the bible makes the bible all about us and what we’re supposed to do rather than the bible being all about God and what he has done.
And while these lists are catchy and increase blog traffic, they ultimately drop our gaze onto ourselves and subtly appeal to our inner Pharisee to trust in our ability to implement tips and techniques.
Of course, there are instructions and commands given to us in the bible. But these are not principles and keys that unlock a more victorious life. Instead, God’s commands are how he graciously guides us to live in the victory that we already have.
So, when we read that we have overcome the world, we shouldn’t be looking for how-to’s, we should be believing and declaring that it is done! In Christ, the how has been done. You are unhitched from the anchor of principalized to-do lists. It is finished.
Lists produce exhaustion.
The gospel gives you rest.
This is Good News.