Category: 1 John

5 Ways to Overcome the World

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“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.



God isn’t a Blackjack Dealer

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One of my favorite scenes in the movie Rain Man is when Ray (Rain Man) and his brother, Charlie, go to Vegas and win big at the blackjack table.  Ray’s mathematical genius, trapped in an autistic mind, is able to count a seven-deck chute and accurately calculate his odds of hitting 21, or busting.  In the movie, they hit often, and they hit big.

Without getting into the nuances of the game, blackjack is fairly simple: if your cards total 21 you win, if your cards exceed 21 you’re bust.  Of course, hitting 21 means you win money; busting means you lose money.

It occurred to me that Christians often see God as a blackjack dealer.  We see God as having a big stack of love and favor – like casino chips – that he distributes when we hit 21. For example, we hit 21 if we do certain things like have devotions, go to a small group, invite a friend to church, resist temptation, help someone in need, etc.  And like a casino dealer, God is compelled to give us his love and favor chips because that’s the rules of the game.

Now, I realize that we don’t view God’s love in a purely transactional way, i.e. we do, he gives. I think most would agree that God loves us unconditionally, at least in the beginning.  However, there is a sense that if we play our cards right, God bestows on us more love and favor.  In other words, we say, “of course God loves us, but there’s more to be had.”

But then if God is giving out love and favor chips when we hit 21, then the opposite must be true also.  When we bust and don’t do the things that get us to 21, then God takes back his chips.   It’s not that God now hates us, it’s just that God doesn’t love us as much as he could.  God is more so tolerating us like an annoying friend or co-worker.

The problem with “blackjack” theology is it confuses the means of God’s grace with the evidence of God’s grace.  “Blackjack” theology makes the evidence the means.

This leads us to believe that our obedience gets us God’s love, and keeps us in God’s love (we hit 21).  Therefore, the opposite must also be true: our disobedience causes us to lose God’s love (we go bust).  You see, we make the evidence (our obedience) the means, or the way, we get and keep God’s love.

“Blackjack” theology turns the gospel upside down, or puts the cart before the horse.  The gospel tells us that God loves us. Period.  Full stop.  The gospel tells us that there is nothing that we did to initiate God’s love for us, and that there is nothing we can do to remove God’s love from us.

To demonstrate this love, God the Father sends God the Son to die, not for repentant people, not for obedient people, not for sorrowful people, but for sinful people (Romans 5:8).  And since this was God’s rescue plan before time began, we have a deep assurance that God won’t back off of his plan as soon as we go bust.

It’s good news that God’s abiding love isn’t dependent on my obedience.  God’s love abides in me and is perfected in me, not because I obey, but because I am united by faith to the One who obeyed perfectly for me.

That God’s love is perfect in me means it is complete, 100% in effect.  It means there are no more chips to be won because they were won for me at the cross.

This also means we can live to the glory of God who loved us before time began.  We can love God and neighbor, not as a means for God’s love, but as evidence of God’s love.

Further, we can rest and abide in God’s love because his abiding love won’t pick up and go the moment we have a bad week.  No, the love of God that got you, is the same love that keeps you, and holds on to you, and is with you.  Right now. And forever.

Period.  Full stop.


How to test the spirits

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“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 (ESV)

At Grace City Church we are preaching through the book of 1 John.  Here are some thoughts from this past Sunday’s message on “Testing the spirits”:

  • False prophets and false teachers are not only an ancient problem; they exist today.
  • We test the spirits by examining what is being said, not how it’s being said.  Listen to the content of the message not the style of the message.  Humor, story-telling, voice inflection are part of oratory, but that’s not what is primary.