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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Who is the One who Overcomes the World?
Text:1 John 5:5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 46:1,5                                                                                     

Ps 40:3,4

Reading – 1 John 5

Ps 18:1,9

Sermon – 1 John 5:5

Hy 35:1,4 

Hy 64:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, what we do this morning isn’t very exciting. For we’re just a small church in a big world. We’re reading an old book, and we’re talking about an old story. Yet a Christian has been given different eyes, and we look at things in a different way. Beneath the surface, God helps us to see things as they really are. So we look at what we’re doing today, worshiping God, hearing his Word, and professing faith, and we say: this is momentous. It’s something incredible!

That’s not over-hyping what happens today. Just listen to what John asks in his first letter, “Who is he who overcomes the world?” (5:5). Now, you’re supposed to think when you hear that question. About whom could that be said? “He overcame the world. She conquered all. They had the greatest ever triumph.” That’s not said of powerful presidents. It is not said of those savvy people who market their products to the four corners of the world. It is not said of the celebrities who are the great influencers, who make or break people with a single tweet.

Who overcomes the world? This is said of us. It’s said about all who humbly put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God. This is our theme from God’s Word in 1 John 5:5,

Who is the one who overcomes the world? 

  1. the one who believes in Christ
  2. is the one who overcomes


1) the one who believes in Christ: First John is one of those ancient documents that make up our Bible. It’s a bit of private correspondence that we’ve been allowed to read. The letter was written by John, an apostle of the Lord, and sent to some Christians in the first century, probably a group of believers in and around Ephesus.

Keep in mind that when this letter was first put in the mailbox, the New Testament church was very young. It was so young that a number of Jesus’s first followers—the twelve apostles—were still alive. The apostle John was busy, like Paul and Peter were, founding churches here and there, then keeping in contact by letters.

Now, when they did this work, John and the others came to a sobering conclusion. They realized that not everyone has faith. The message of God’s grace goes out far and wide, and some people happily receive it, but others don’t.

Any Christian missionary soon learns the same lesson today. It’s probably the reality that is faced by any of us if we get up the courage to talk about the gospel with our neighbour next door, or with a colleague at work. You might bring the message of God’s love, reach out with sincerity, yet the only response is a shrug of the shoulders: “Not right now. Not interested.”

I recently read a good book about why there is so much apathy toward the gospel these days. Sometimes even in the church there is apathy, a sense of not really caring about the Lord and his Word. The author pointed out a few factors. Our immense prosperity is one reason for apathy: if you are relatively rich, then money seems to provide all we need. We just don’t feel like God provides us with anything we don’t already have.

Distraction is another factor: if you are always busy, and often bingeing your entertainment, you simply don’t have time to think about the big questions like who God is. And then a lot of people don’t care about God because He’s kind of outdated. Science has given all the answers to life’s biggest questions, like where we’re from and where we’re going.

And so in countries like ours—in the world that we’re growing up in and studying and working—there’s a pandemic of apathy. God is irrelevant. People don’t have a reason or the time to care about him. So it has always been true: not everyone has faith in Jesus as Lord! It doesn’t just happen.

When he went around preaching, John found out something else too: that even when people do believe in Christ, they might believe the wrong things about him. A quick scan of this letter shows that. Some people’s faith was badly confused. For example, some were claiming that Jesus wasn’t a true man, and that it wasn’t necessary that He be a human like us. They preferred to think of Jesus as more of a spirit, a bodyless soul.

These same false teachers were saying that a Christian could live however he wants. You could head over to the pagan temple for an orgy or go to a drinking party, then stop in at church on the way home. This is how John describes them, “They are still walking in the darkness.” Some people were claiming that the sins we do in the body don’t really matter, since God is only worried about saving our souls. Sounds attractive.

This too, is something we see today, the confusion about Christian teaching. For example, there are still some who deny that Jesus was man. Others deny that He was God (think of Jehovah’s Witnesses). Some Christians scorn the idea that God created everything in six days, in light of everything that we know about evolution. And so we have to say it again that a true faith in Jesus—a Biblical faith—isn’t something to take for granted! It doesn’t just happen.

So what is the difference? Why do some people believe in Christ, but so many others do not? Why do some believe right things about Jesus and God and walk in obedience to him, but others are led astray? We might say that we were at the right place, at the right time: we grew up in Christian homes, we had Christian parents, and we enjoyed positive spiritual influences on our lives. But true faith takes more than all this.

True faith means a personal acquaintance with Christ, when you’ve experienced his grace, and entered the new life that only He can give. And apart from God’s choice, not one of us would know the Lord. So this is the critical difference, says John. This is the miracle: “Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (5:1).

You can tell John is getting dramatic, because he talks about being born. Think of what your birth was. You probably don’t remember much of it, but it was an incredible beginning. You had already been alive for months, but being born was something radically new. Suddenly you’re out in the great wide world, and your lungs take their first breath and your eyes open. From that moment, nothing is ever the same again.

Being born like that is entirely outside our control. It’s not our decision. And in the same way, being born is also how we get our start as Christians. We are born of God. Without our input, He gives new life, and a new beginning. Jesus once told Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3, NIV). Our life of faith has a dramatic start when we are born of God’s Spirit, and we believe.

This takes God’s mighty intervention. Without it, we wouldn’t be here. But God opened what was closed, and made alive what was dead. And now nothing will ever be the same, because you’ve got a new life: living, breathing, moving, and growing in Christ Jesus. So the Holy Spirit puts a question to all of us, whatever our age: Have you been born of God? Is your life very different now that you believe in the Son?

When we think about the first part of that question, one challenge is that you probably can’t put a finger on the exact occasion you came to faith. For many of us, it was probably a long process of the Spirit changing us. Because He does work in us through the teaching and example of our parents, and through the preaching on Sundays, and by the work of our teachers at school, and by the experiences of life. Slow but steady.

In the last few years, I have asked my older Catechism students to reflect on their journey of faith, to write a short paper on how they’ve seen the Lord working in them. It’s probably good for all of us to think about how it has gone for us. Then we can see more clearly the goodness and faithfulness of God in our life.

For you too, maybe you always knew God’s truth in the Bible: the gospel, the faith, the cross of Christ. But then you started to take these things more seriously. You begin to realize that God has given you something unspeakably precious in the gospel, something true and unchanging and more real than anything in this world. And now you want to hold onto it, and keep growing in your love for God. You can’t imagine life without knowing the Lord. Give thanks to God for his work in you!

Sometimes faith grows slow, and sometimes it’s sudden. Maybe there’s a day that you can remember clearly: there was a text that you read, a sermon that you heard, a prayer that you prayed from a dark place in your life and that God answered. But however and whenever, we have to see the results of being born of God. Do you see the life-changing miracle in yourself? Do you see on your life the fingerprints of the Father?

For when God works in us by his Spirit, we believe, says John—we believe “that Jesus is the Son of God” (5:5). That’s a really basic statement of faith, something no one would argue with. Surely we have to say more than that, like what we have in our Reformed confessions! But just remember that some don’t care about this truth. And some get it wrong. It remains essential. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God means He was sent by God the Father: He is the Saviour who was promised, prepared, and presented in the fullness of time.

Jesus is the Saviour who can handle our sins, because He’s the living God Himself. And He is also a man. He came “by water and blood,” John says in verse 6, which means Christ was and is fully human, like He needed to be. As man and God, Christ could make the one atoning sacrifice. He stood with us, He walked among us, and He even died in our place. This is the Christ we believe and confess. There is no hope and no help without him, but with him, salvation is sure. The person who believes in Christ is the person who overcomes the world!


2) the one who believes in Christ is the one who overcomes: In the church at any point in her history, there’s always a few hot topics for discussion. Right now, people are discussing things like submission to the government and the role of women in the church. Back in John’s day, there was a lot of discussion about the church’s appearance: Did there really have to be such a difference between the church and the world? Couldn’t Christians just mingle and blend in?

I mentioned that some people in John’s church were saying it didn’t matter how believers acted toward the world around them. Godliness (or ungodliness) didn’t matter, not as long as your heart was in the right place. John could not disagree more. True faith makes a difference, not just in our hearts, but in our lives and in everything that fills them.

So in this chapter John gives us three tests. They are tests for authenticity, like if you want to find out if a diamond is a real diamond, and you hold it up to the light and look for imperfections. If it’s imperfect, it’s real! John gives tests so that you can tell whether your faith is actually from God. These are good things for all of us to think about.

One test is the obedience test. Anyone can claim to have faith in the Lord Jesus, but this will always set apart a true faith from counterfeit: Do you follow the Word of God? When you have a choice to make, do you always seek out the will of God, and try put it into practice? Say it’s a choice about our entertainment, or spending money, or telling the truth—anything, really—who gets the last word? Do I do what I want to do? Whatever I feel like in the moment? If I have true faith, it is verified by my obedience: John says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” (v 3). Brothers and sisters, how are you doing in the obedience test?

Another test of true faith is the love test. Anyone can claim to love God and his Son, but this has always distinguished a real love for him: Do you also love other people? Are you kind that to the people you live with, or are you harsh? Will you serve the ones sitting in the pews around you? However difficult love can be, do you love your brothers and sisters in Christ? John says, “Everyone who loves him who begot [that is, God] also loves him who is begotten of him [that is, other believers]” (v 1). John says a lot about that in his letter: If you love God, you’ll love his people! Brothers and sisters, how are you doing in the love test?

And there’s a third test of whether you have true faith or not. It’s what we can call the overcoming test. If you really have faith, you will not surrender to this sinful world. You will not be OK with fitting in with the world anymore, and you won’t easily give into its charms. Rather, “[Whoever] is born of God overcomes the world” (v 4). An overcomer is a fighter, and someone who fights with a measure of success, when you actually win!

If you look at verses 4-5, that word “overcome” really ties it all together. Three times in consecutive sentences, John talks about overcoming. Like in verse 4, “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” Faith is the key to victory! And our text, “Who is he who overcomes the world?” The one who believes! Are you still fighting, or are you mostly giving in?

When John refers to “the world” in our text, he’s speaking about the world that is in hostility to God. Consider 2:16, “All that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not from the Father but is of the world.”  This is how the Catechism speaks of it too, as one of our three sworn enemies in this life: devil, our own sinful flesh, and the world (Q&A 127).

There is a world that is standing in opposition to God. It’s the world where Satan is working overtime, and where he has his way. Like John says in 5:19, “We know… that the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one.”

And the bad news is that the world is our natural habitat. That presents a severe challenge, for it puts a constant pressure on us. The message that we hear everyday is that we’re entitled to be happy, and free, and we deserve to do whatever we want. The unbelieving world whispers to us there’s probably no God, so we should stop worrying and just enjoy our life.

Beloved, how is that for you? Do you still notice those places where the boundary between you and the world gets weakened, when it grows thin and gains a few holes? Maybe we start agreeing that there’s more than one truth, more than one way to God. Or maybe we agree that it’s better to be quiet about God’s Word, lest we get into trouble. Or we let the world determine our views on things like gender and sexuality.

Besides everything else, the world has set up this fantastic theme park where our eyes and ears and mouths can enjoy every pleasure, every day. We can sample every flavour. Its best entertainment streams directly into our home and into the palm of our hand. The world is never far away, and the Bible says that we can’t get out of this world—not while we have life.

So this is another test God wants us to take. If we are believers in the Lord Jesus, are we overcoming? Are we still resisting “the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does?”

Or maybe the world keeps us well occupied, and we let it have a big say in our decisions and priorities. Maybe we treat each other in worldly ways: quick to condemn, quick to be harsh, slow to forgive. Do we still try to overcome, or is it more like assimilation, conformity? Brothers and sisters, how are you doing in the overcoming test?

Sometimes we’re surprised about how aggressive the world is. It doesn’t relent, but it just keeps coming. We should realize that this pressure will only increase. Christ says that in these last days the love of many will grow cold, and wickedness will grow. So not a single one of us, by himself, by herself, can ever overcome. The hard times will only continue. Or maybe the hard times have barely even started.

But be encouraged. If you have faith in Christ, you already have every resource to be an overcomer! God doesn’t allow us to surrender or to hide ourselves away. But He says that in Christ we overcome, we conquer, and gain the victory. Who is it that overcomes, holds on and perseveres? Only the one who believes!

On our own, we’ll never make it safely through. We don’t have the strength to win the present battle against unbelief and ungodliness. It’s just too powerful. But you can overcome when you walk with Christ. I won’t be able to resist my sinful cravings, and the lust of my eyes, and the lies of the world, unless I am putting faith every day in Christ Jesus. When I delight in him, I learn that sin brings no true delight. When I pray through him, He sends me his Spirit. When I depend on the Lord and his Word, He sends his strength from heaven.

Here again is the miracle of faith, that we who are so weak can have the victory! Though cowardly, we’ll be preserved to the end. That’s because we’re united to God the Son. It was Christ who first overcame. He overcame the curse of sin, and He overcame the power of Satan, and He overcame the sting of death. Now He includes us in what He’s done. Like Romans 8 says, through Christ we have become “more than conquerors.” More than a conqueror—more than an overcomer—because in Christ our victory is sure.

Think of the confidence that Christ can give us. We all want to be confident people, those who aren’t afraid of failure or what other people think. Sometimes we try to create a confidence in ourselves: I can be confident because I am successful. Or good-looking. Or talented.

But true confidence arises only from knowing the Lord. True confidence comes from knowing that in Christ, you’re an overcomer. It sounds unbelievable, but when we face the devil’s temptations, or family trouble, or the mockery of this world, we can actually be confident—standing tall and confident in Christ.

Our faith can rest in him, for He’s also told us where it’s all going. We know, as John says, “The world is passing away, and the lust of it, but he who does the will of God abides forever” (2:17). This world—including all the evil we see around us (and still in us), and all who oppose themselves to God and all who persecute his church—this world will certainly not endure, but Christ will soon come to make all things new.

As believers this is our marvelous position, our miraculous power. We look small, we’re helpless, we seem ordinary. We have only simple words, and we have but a simple message to believe. Yet when we stand with Christ, we are overcomers.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2021, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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