Success or Failure; Revelation 2:7
In 1 Corinthians 3:11 the apostle Paul develops a metaphor of a building, any sort of edifice, and he starts with the foundation. This is very important to understand in the context of what he has been talking about. He has already laid into the Corinthians because many of them are carnal. In the first three verses he separates them into two groups: "spiritual," i.e. those who are filled with the Spirit and moving forward in the Christian life, and "carnal, fleshly," i.e. those who are operating on the sin nature. Then he adds a term, "as to babes in Christ." It is confusing in the English because it looks like he is equating carnality with being spiritually immature. But that is not the word he is using here. He is not using BREPHOS [brefoj], which would be the normal word for a baby, he is using the word NEPIOS [nhpioj] which was used in slang terminology to indicate someone who was older but was acting like a baby. This is a pejorative term. So what he is doing is basically saying they were carnal, but "You are just babies." This is not a complimentary term. He is really laying into them and calling them a bunch of arrogant, whiny, self-centered babies. This is clear because in verse 3 he comes back and says, "Are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?" What is he is saying there is that they are trying to live the Christian life simply in your humanity, simply in their own resources as a human being. That is always going to end up producing the works of the flesh, because unless you are walking by means of the Spirit all that is being produced is the works of the flesh.
Having established that there are two different categories of believers—those who are carnal and those who are spiritual—he then goes on to say that if they continue long term in either one of these positions then those distinctions will be mad available when they come to the judgment seat of Christ. In verse 11 he says there is a foundation which is in Christ alone: "For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
1 Corinthians 3:12, 13, "Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is." At the instant of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone the believer lays a foundation in his life which is his new position in Jesus Christ. But from that point on the issue is up to his volition as to how he is going to live his life and the production of his life. If all the things he does in life are work, play, recreation, everything that he does, is either going to be done in the power of the sin nature or it is going to be done in the power of the Holy Spirit. The issue is that we have to keep short accounts with confession to make sure that we are walking by the Spirit and that we recover from our sin when we do sin. But as we go through life and we get involved in all the activities of life we are building an edifice. We are constructing our life. At the end of our life we stand before the judgment seat of Christ and the Lord Jesus Christ is going to make evident what was from the Spirit; what had eternal value. When we are building it we are not always sure what is wood, hay and straw and what is gold silver and precious stones, so there has to be an evaluation mechanism. Paul says that we build on this foundation with all these various construction tools and says that each person's work will become clear because the day of judgment at the bema seat will reveal it. All of the human good produced in the believer's life is going to be destroyed. What is revealed is what survives the fire.
1 Corinthians 3:14, 15, If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Remember, "work" is a key word is Revelation 2 & 3. Each one of the seven churches is evaluated by their works, their production. "He shall suffer loss," is when the believer becomes a loser at the judgment seat of Christ. The concept of being a loser is that you lose something; you lose rewards because you have been a failure in the Christian life. This is not a matter of losing salvation, but rewards. Rewards and responsibilities in the Millennial kingdom are based on production; not Christian service but whether or not the believer has been walking by means of God the Holy Spirit, producing the character of Christ which, if he is, will ultimately work its way out in various areas of Christian service.
It is very clear that not only are their two classifications of believers on earth—those who are carnal and those who are spiritual—but if a believer spends a maximum amount of time in carnality then when he gets to the judgment seat of Christ all of his human good is going to burn up. If he spends maximum time in walking by means of the Spirit then he is going to produce divine good that will not burn up, and that will survive the evaluation test.
Revelation 2:7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God."
There are basically two views on this concept of being an overcomer. One is the view that every believer is an overcomer; the second view is that only believers who advance in the Christian life are overcomers. The latter is the view that we take. The word translated "overcomes" is a Greek participle based on the verb NIKAO [nikaw]. It is a present active participle with an article, which means it functions as a substantive; it is like a noun. This is simply a name for a person, the one who overcomes or the overcomer or the victorious one, the successful believer; any of those terms could fit. The verb NIKAO is related to two Greek nouns. The feminine noun is NIKE [nikh], the Greek goddess of victory (and where we get the name for the athletic equipment), and the masculine noun NIKOS [nikoj] which emphasizes the prize of the victory, which in 1 Corinthians 15:57 talks about "Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." The focus is on the ultimate victorious reception of that prize of a resurrection body when the Rapture occurs.
The question needs to be asked: What do they overcome? Overcomers of what? In order to understand this we have to do some work on this word "overcomer." It is a word that is used about nine times in Revelation, about four or five times other than in the letters to the seven churches. Te word is used a number of times in 1 John, and that is really where we run into the problem of trying to understand what we are overcoming.
Before we get into this we need to remind ourselves of the three stages of salvation: phase one, phase two and phase three. At phase one we are justified; phase two is the spiritual life; phase three is glorification. The Bible used the word "saved" to refer to all three of these stages, and that confuses a lot of people. In fact, in some epistles such as Romans and Hebrews it is doubtful that the word "saved" [SOZO/swzw] ever refers to phase one. It is talking about phase two, which Paul refers to in Philippians chapter two as "working out your salvation with fear and trembling," i.e. saved from the power of sin. At phase one we are freed from the penalty of sin—spiritual death, Genesis 2:17. At phase two we are being saved from the power of sin. We still have a sin nature and are learning, as Paul says, to put to death the deeds of the flesh. We are to reckon ourselves dead to sin, Romans 6:11. The whole argument in Romans 6 flows out of the resurrection of Christ because at the instant of salvation, Paul argues, we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, and just as he rose to newness of life so we have a new life post-salvation. We have to learn to live as those who are identified with Christ and not as those who are spiritually dead. In phase three we are saved from the presence of sin.
When we talk about this concept of overcoming or having victory over something in phase two, we are having victory over the sin nature, and specifically in the epistle of John, you are overcoming the world system. We have to understand this in light of Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [renovation of your thinking], that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." Renovating of the thinking means taking in doctrine. You can't do it twice a week; you can barely do it seven days a week. Any believer who thinks he can renovate his thinking by coming to church once a week or twice a week is fooling himself. The cosmic system is so ever-present and so overpowering, and it has such receptivity with his sin nature that he has to constantly have our minds refreshed and renewed by listening to the Word of God and the teaching of the Word of God. It is a way of life. You are never going to make it in the Christian life until you realize that doctrine is your life. That is the only way you are truly going to make it as an overcomer, as a successful believer.
In Romans Paul says that we are not to be conformed to this world. It is the Greek word SUSCHEMATIZO [susxhmatizw] which has the idea of being pressed into a mold. Cosmic thinking or worldly thinking is a mold of thinking. The thinking of the culture around us is based on human viewpoint, and we are constantly being pressured to conform to that system. The word translated "world" here isn't the word KOSMOS [kosmoj], it is the word AIONOS [a)iwnoj] which has to do with the age. In other words, it would be the spirit of the age. We are not to be conformed or pressed into the mold of thinking like the world thinks. That means we have to deal with issues that constantly invade our thought based on naturalistic theories of origins, creation versus evolution. All of us are products of 20th century education and media and films and televisions shows. We have all been influenced by this; it is embedded in our terminology, in how we analyze different things. We just get sucked into the way the world thinks, so we have to overhaul the spirit of the age. We can't be conformed to it, and the solution is to be transformed: METAMORPHOO [metamorfow] which means to be totally transformed, to completely exchange one thing for something else. So we have to exchange the human viewpoint in our soul for divine viewpoint. This is the point that John is making in 1 John 5:4: "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith."
When we first look at this verse in 1 John out of context it looks like he is saying that whoever is regenerate overcomes the world. And that is how a lot of people take that. But that is not what John is saying. The term "born of God" as it is used here is a perfect passive participle of GENNAO [gennaw]. It is a participle that should be translated as a noun. It is the regenerate one, the believer. For John it is more than simply being a believer. You have to be regenerate to be an overcomer, but not all regenerate are overcomers. That is the way to understand this. So overcomers are a subset of those who are regenerate. Whoever is born of God overcomes the world, but not everyone who is born of God will overcome the world. That is what he is saying. He is not saying that everyone who is born of God overcomes the world, but he is stating regeneration as a precondition to being an overcomer.
1 John 2:29, "If you know that he is righteous, you know that every one that practices righteousness is born of him." Some people come along and look at this and they want to draw a connection, and they say, Look, you are born of Him, you are regenerate, you practice righteousness.
1 John 3:9, "Whoever has been born of God does not sin; for his seed remains in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." That verse makes it clear that when John uses the term "born of God" he is not simply talking about someone regenerate. The conclusion is that John is talking about someone who is living out the basis of his regeneration. When you are living as a regenerate believer you don't sin. It is the same thing Paul says in Galatians 5:16. Those who walk by means of the Spirit cannot [it is impossible] fulfill the lusts of the flesh." In other words, you can't sin. If you are walking by the Spirit you can't sin. What do you have to do to sin? You have to exercise negative volition and quit walking by means of the Spirit. Then you will end up sinning. John is saying the same thing.
1 John 4:7, "Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one who loves is born of God, and knows God." We can draw on of two conclusions. The first conclusion is that genuine born again believers practice righteousness and do not sin, and they love God. Or, we understand all these verses to say that only someone who is born again can practice righteousness, not sin, love their brothers, love God, but that not all who are born again practice righteousness, avoid sin, and love their brothers. In other words, if you take it at first sight then you are going to have to say that the people who are born again don't ever sin, they all love God, they all love one another, and they all practice righteousness. That just doesn't make sense. The only way to understand it is that John is saying that you have to be born again, and only born again ones can then fulfill what is going on in the subset, i.e. those believers who are overcomers are not sinning, are practicing righteousness, loving one another, and loving God. Those are the only two options.
Furthermore, another important observation to make in 1 John when he talks about loving God is to go to 1 John 2:15-17. "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of [for the Father; objective genitive] 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 pride of life, is not of the Father, but is from the world." If every believer automatically had victory over the world then why is John telling believers, Don't love the world? If you as a believer are automatically going to have victory over the world, why is it necessary to tell you not to love the world? Because John is addressing believers and saying not to love the world. Obviously believers can love the world and not have victory over the world. "And the world is passing away, and also its lust: but the one who does the will of God abides for ever."
In the 15th verse it emphasizes the fact that the believer is either loving the world or he is loving the Father. 1 John 2:3, "By this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. The one who says, I know him, and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth [doctrine; he is not applying doctrine] is not in him. But whosever keeps his word, in him the love for God has truly been perfected [mature]: by this we know that we are in him." John is saying this is a way we can know we have comer to know Him: we keep His commandments. A believer must come to know God as a part of spiritual growth. As he comes to know God he will keep His commandments and he will have love for God. Love for God = not loving the world. Coming to have love for God is a result of learning the mandates of Scripture and advancing in the spiritual life. Therefore you start of as a believer and as you learn the Word and as you apply the Word and come to know God you demonstrate your love for God. This is part of the spiritual advance, and it is not until it is finally applied consistently that the believer has learned to over come the world, the cosmic system. 1 John 5:4, "Whatever is born of God overcomes the world" – as the believer goes through the process of spiritual growth, and when he reaches certain levels of maturity then he is said to overcome the world – "this is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith [Doctrine in the soul]."
1 John 5:5, "Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" It is not just that believing it, but in the context of 1 John it is taking the implications of that belief and working them out in your day to day Christian life. Doctrine matters! You have to learn to think biblically before you can act biblically. It is called reeducation; getting rid of the cosmic thinking in your soul.
So the issue then in Revelation 2:7 is to a special category of believers. Those who are positive will respond to this. "He who has an ear to hear, let him hear." He will be an effectual applier of the Word. There is a special capacity for life that overcomers will enjoy in heaven and a special privilege they have to enter into a special garden or restricted area in heaven called the paradise of God. This is a serious warning.