The Victorious Christian Life

A Lesson Series for the Earnest Christian

© 2002 by Thomas W. Finley, 2013 Revised Edition

Lesson Twenty-Two: Challenges to the Overcomer

The victorious Christian in the Bible is called one who “overcomes.” The root verb for many of the passages using variations of the words victory, conquering or overcoming is the Greek word nikao (Strong’s #3528).

In this lesson and the next one we will examine a number of challenges to the overcomer. These are arenas where God wants His children to have victory. Commonly, Christians just think in terms of being victorious over sin. The Bible, however, presents a number of things for us to overcome. I fear that today many believers are not even aware of their failures in some of these areas. Therefore, it behooves us to seek the Lord about these matters that He may enlighten us as to His standards, showing us where He wants us to grow in His grace.

Overcoming the world

The Christian is to be victorious over the world (1 Jn. 5:4-5). The world, as used in First John, is a huge topic. The Greek word for world here is kosmos (Strong’s #2889), which has as its basic meaning order or arrangement. In reference to the believer, the word means the entire organized system of society in the present age with its influence upon men. The world system has many features to it, such as education, art, entertainment, commerce, fashion, “success,” family life and tradition, religion, and charitable enterprises.

The devil uses this system to deceitfully usurp people from loving God and doing His will (Eph. 2:2; Jas. 4:3-4; 1 Jn. 2:15-17; 5:19). The Old Testament pictures the world system by Egypt, where God’s people were held in bondage by Pharaoh (a type of the devil). Just as Pharaoh ruled over all Egypt, so Satan rules over this world system. “We know that we are of God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19).

You may recall that as long as the Israelites were in Egypt they were held back from worshipping and serving God (Ex. 4:22-23; 5:1-3). The Bible describes how mankind is ensnared by the world system, living their lives under its influence. In the following passage from Ephesians, we see how this system is outfitted to attract men to it by means of their lusts. These verses also reveal the working of Satanic forces, which both shape the world system and work in men to seduce them to fall into line with that system.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince [Satan] of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. (Eph. 2:1-3)

Although this passage is portraying the lives of unbelievers, we should not think that believers are automatically delivered from the world and its influences. Any orthodox Bible teacher will tell you that the Christian has three enemies that he must deal with: the world, the flesh and the devil. To underscore the fact that Christians are still engaged in a battle with the world and its influence, we only need to look at two passages. When the apostle John wrote to believers, he admonished them: “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world” (1 Jn. 2:15). In the Greek, the sense of this command would more accurately be rendered as “Stop loving the world.”

In Romans, Paul commands us: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Actually, the word translated as “world” in this verse is aion, for age. The Bible reveals that the world presents itself according to the fashion of the present age. Thus, Ephesians 2:2 speaks of the “course [aion] of this world [kosmos].” The passage cited in Romans indicates that believers must undergo a process of transformation so as to eliminate conformation to the present form of the world system.

The world entraps us with its allurements that appeal to the interests and desires of our natural life (the old man), our flesh. Just as a smorgasbord tempts the diner to pile his plate high with what seems appetizing to him, so the world presents an array of attractions suited for the different tastes of people. Satan does not just use the obviously sinful things of life to accomplish his purpose of keeping man from God and His will. He also uses the seemingly innocent, fun, or interesting things of this world system to attract and usurp both the believer and unbeliever alike.

If you like sports, the world has a highly developed “sports department” to interest and occupy you, so that you don’t have much motivation to seek God or meditate on His word. If you have an interest in a healthy lifestyle, there are countless books, magazines, videos, health food stores and Internet sites to occupy your heart and time. If you enjoy the arts, there are all kinds of books and activities to please you so that your service to God is short-circuited. Modern American society has been especially “super developed” in the matters of entertainment and recreation, with everything from theme parks to jet skis.

It seems that in America today the great majority of believers are entangled by the world system. Many want to enjoy all the pleasures that the unbelievers enjoy, except perhaps the immoral pleasures. As a result, many Christians are seeking to be rich, trying to build their stock portfolios in order to have a life of leisure now, or in retirement. They seek vacation homes, golf outings, sporting events, entertainment of all sorts, a larger home, a prestigious car, etc., in order to please themselves. But believers should beware. The devil has a subtle system designed to rob them of the full potential of their relationship with God, and their usefulness to Him.

The book of James teaches that trying to fulfill our lusts for things and pleasures turns us, God’s people, into God’s enemy:

What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God (Jas. 4:1-4).

A major problem is that the believer’s love for the things of the world competes with his love for God. If we seek satisfaction in the things this world system has to offer us, then our love for God will dissipate and our desire for fellowship with God and fellow believers will wane. Unfortunately, we see this very thing happening to believers around us today. Many have no strong desire for God, or the things of God, because they have sought their satisfaction in the things of this world. The admonishment of the apostle John is so appropriate in this matter:

Do not love the world, nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

How can we, as believers, tell when we are being usurped by the world, or when our participation in legitimate things like education, career, clothing, material possessions, and “clean” (not immoral) entertainment is in excess? We certainly cannot live by rules, which some congregations establish as boundaries for “holy” living. That is legalism. We need to rely upon the individual guidance of the Holy Spirit, who resides in each believer. If the believer is willing to die to the world, then he or she should be open to the inner warnings of the Holy Spirit. Please refer to the quote from James 4 just three paragraphs above. That passage tells us that those believers who are “friends with the world” are committing spiritual “adultery” in their relationship with God. The verse immediately following tells us how the Holy Spirit is in us and yearns for us jealously in such a relationship with God. Thus, we can be sure that if we are truly sensitive to the Spirit who dwells within us, we should be able to tell when He is warning us that we are being unfaithful to God because of worldly lusts. Note how this verse shows us this jealous working of the Holy Spirit within: “Or do you not think that the Scripture says in vain, ‘The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously’?” (Jas. 4:5, NKJV).

The world not only tries to distract and occupy believers by enticing them to pursue riches and an overabundance of goods and pleasure, but it also tries to preoccupy us through the common, everyday affairs of life. This is why Jesus warned us of the grip that human relationships and common (not necessarily excessive) possessions may exercise upon us, keeping us from loving and following Him fully. Note the following passages, and consider them carefully.

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” (Matt. 10:37)

“Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’” (Mk. 10:29-30)

We must be willing to leave, in terms of heart attachment, and perhaps in actuality, the ordinary possessions and relationships of this life. I do not mean by this that one should abandon his family or his responsibilities. There may be times, however, when the Lord calls one into service that will require him to leave his job, his house, or perhaps even his loved ones for a while. Only by being willing to leave these potential entanglements can we fully follow the Lord and receive the reward (not eternal salvation) of abundant eternal life in “the age to come” – the coming Kingdom age of 1,000 years. Also, when the Lord speaks of the hundred-fold increase in the present age, he is speaking of the increased enjoyment of these things in our Christian family here on earth.

Religion as a part of the world system

There is one category of Satan’s world system that I have reserved for discussion until now. It is a category that holds particular peril for the believer, because of his desire for the things of God. That category is religion. We must see that the devil, in his subtlety, has had his hand very much at work in the field of religion, even Christianity. As always, his purpose is to keep men from experiencing their full potential in Christ, including their genuine usefulness to the Master. I can only highlight some elements of his tactics here, as the discussion of his crafty manipulation in this field throughout history would require a long discourse. I will only focus on how he distorts Christianity.

One of the tactics that Satan uses is ritualism and legalism. Note the passages below.

“But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:9-11).

Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day – things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels...If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if your were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using) – in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Col. 2:16-18a; 20-23).

For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh. But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation (Gal. 6:13-15).

These passages show us that the world system includes “elementary principles,” which focus on rituals, such as circumcision, the observance of certain days and dietary rules. These outward regulations oppose the reality of Christ in our experience (Gal. 5:2; 6:15; Col. 2:8, 16-17). Often, such outward regulations are touted by religious leaders who base their teaching on Old Testament law. (See Lesson Six on freedom from the law).

Another tactic of Satan’s activity within the church is to warp Christian living by appealing to the fleshly desires of immature believers. Note the following passages.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies . . . for speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error” (2 Pet. 2:1a, 18).

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:3-4).

Obviously, these passages could easily apply to any “prosperity gospel.” Yet, of additional concern, is the entertainment factor that seems to have influenced many Christian activities in America today. Is the Christian work or event based upon an appeal to the flesh in order to gain an audience? We must be very careful in our work not to use “ends” to justify the means. Our teaching and practice should emphasize the need for spiritual (not ascetic) self-denial. We should not utilize the desires and ways of the flesh to accomplish God’s work.

A very pervasive method of Satan is to introduce ideas or ways into God’s church or work that are not from God, thus producing a religious mixture. The church, ministry or activity having this mixture will have some elements that seem to belong to God, but other elements that do not.

The undiscerning and less mature Christian will accept the entire mixture because he sees something seemingly of God in it. He will not be bothered about the things that are not of God, unless they are overtly offensive.

The overcoming Christian, who has the mind and heart of God, realizes that any mixture is an offense to God’s holiness. Anything that is not purely of God will bother such a Christian. Such a believer will want to root out any ungodly or purely human elements, or not be willing to participate in any mixture. You can see how the Lord views such a mixture by reviewing His assessments of the seven churches in Asia in Revelation chapters two and three. Paul too wanted to root out the mixture of law and man’s ways in the churches. Unfortunately, today, in western Christianity, there is mostly an acceptance of mixture. Jesus prophesied that Christendom, as a whole, would become such an unholy mixture.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three pecks of meal, until it was all leavened” (Matt. 13:33).

In this parable the meal represents the purity of Christ, especially in His humanity (as pictured in the meal offering of the Old Testament – Lev. 2:1-2). In the Bible, leaven is always representative of something that is evil in God’s eyes (see the first mention of leaven in the Scriptures in Ex. 12:15 [unleavened, Gen. 19:3]).

In one New Testament example, immorality in the church in Corinth is viewed as leaven (1 Cor. 5:1-2, 6-8). Yet, God does not limit the evil of “leaven” to such obvious sins. The Lord Jesus warned His disciples about the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and Matthew records that this leaven was “the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:12b). Jesus also applied a quote from Isaiah to the Pharisees and scribes, accusing them of “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Matt. 15:9b).

We see then that teaching that is not according to God, but is just man’s concept, is at least one element of leaven in the religious mixture. There are other places in the New Testament where teachings according to man are condemned and seen as a danger to the church (Col. 2:21; 1 Tim. 1:3-9; Heb. 13:9). Some teaching in the church is clearly predicted by Timothy to have demons as its source (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

Another element of leaven in the religious mixture in Christendom is man’s traditions. Jesus plainly stated that religious traditions can exist that invalidate the word of God (Mk. 7:13). The Bible also points out that tradition can not only oppose God’s word, but it can even oppose Christ Himself, as seen in the following verse:

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Col. 2:8).

To build the church with man’s ideas, man’s teachings, man’s energy, man’s will, man’s tradition or man’s ways, is to introduce leaven into God’s building. This is serious, and it is in accordance with this very problem that the apostle Paul warned the church in Corinth that a judgment day is coming in which the work of each believer will be tested, to see if it is according to man or according to God (1 Cor. 3:1-15). We need to look at the source of things in the church - are they from man, or are they from God? You can be sure that the enemy’s working is behind what comes solely from man.

There are many unscriptural teachings and practices in the church today. What the Lord wants us to do is to clean out the leaven and not tolerate it. Christians are mostly complacent about the leaven, but the Lord definitely is not (see His word to the church in Thyatira, Rev. 2:20-23). To the church in Corinth, Paul wrote: “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the leaven, that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened” (1 Cor. 5:6-7).

This is not the place for expounding the unscriptural beliefs and practices of Christendom, but I do implore Christians to seek God about this matter and not tolerate any mixture in their lives or Christian practice. For a start, I urge you to search the Scriptures and pray about such matters as legalistic principles, the clergy-laity system, denominationalism, and “Christian” holidays. You may want to read my booklet entitled “Governing Principles for Building Up the Body of Christ”, where I delve into some of these matters (this booklet is available for download at www.seekersofchrist.org).

Overcoming the world in our daily life

The Bible presents two aspects of overcoming the world in 1 John 5:4-5. In verse four, we see that in one sense our victory is an accomplished fact: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 Jn. 5:4). The latter part of this verse shows us our positional victory over the world by our initial faith. This victory was accomplished for us at the cross. “But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14).

In a second aspect, we need to live in this victory daily: “And who is the one who overcomes [present participle, meaning “is overcoming”] the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 Jn. 5:5) This overcoming one is further defined in context by the previous verse, which states that “whatever is born of God overcomes [present tense] the world” (v. 4). What has been born of God is our human spirit, where the new birth takes place (Jn. 3:6; Heb. 12:9). We must live in our regenerated spirit by faith, where the living Christ dwells, in order to overcome all of the allurements and entrapments of this world that would keep us from fully loving the Father and doing His will.

Here are some considerations for a daily victory over the world. Most importantly, we must recognize that this matter is a serious issue for believers. We must be alert to the subtlety of the world and its pull on our lives. We must agree with God that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth” (Heb. 11:13), and that included in our identification with Christ in His death is our crucifixion to the world (Gal. 6:14). I often make this agreement with God in my time of morning meditation by confessing Galatians 6:14 to God. In such an agreement, we not only confirm the spiritual reality of our crucifixion to the world, but we also should open ourselves to God so that any entanglement or love of the world may be put to death.

Surely, we should not be entangled in the world system, or be usurped by it. Yet, we should not try to leave the system by withdrawing from it physically. The New Testament never calls us to live apart from society. Jesus prayed to the Father: “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (Jn. 17:15-16). This means that we should live within the world system, but not be “of the world.” In experience this means that our heart will not love this system, and we will not follow its cues to find fulfillment. Rather, our heart is ever seeking to live unto God in the midst of our daily activities.

As a result, our lifestyle will appear different to others. We should not have the same appetite as the worldly people do for riches, fame, possessions and entertainment. Our choices here will not be a matter of “rules” for us. They will be a matter of heart desire and sensitivity to the working of the Holy Spirit. As we are also sensitive to the ways of man in the church, our spirit will often direct us to follow a different path than that of other believers.

It is important to note that the word of God plays an especially important role in sanctifying us from the world (Jn. 17:15-19). If we are truly seeking the Lord and practicing the things covered in earlier lessons, this matter of being triumphant over the world’s pull should be our experience.

Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ Seekers of Christ

And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)