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1 John 5:4-5 & Revelation 3:21-22 by Robert Dean

Note that Dr. Dean has done a more in-depth study of “Overcomers” in his Philippians series, lessons #11–16.

Series:Revelation (2004)
Duration:48 mins 20 secs

Born Again and Overcoming
1 John 5:4-5; Revelation 3:21-22
Revelation Lesson #089
November 12, 2006

Revelation 3:21, 22 NASB "He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

1 John 5:4, 5 NASB "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

A first glance interpretation of this passage makes it look as if believing that Jesus is the Son of God is equivalent to overcoming. In order to understand this we have to understand the phrase "overcoming the world." We have seen that predominantly throughout Scripture when we have this concept of overcoming mentioned it is not related to sin, it is related to the world. There are three enemies of the believer in Scripture—the devil, the sin nature in the believer, and the world system. The Lord Jesus Christ uses this same phrase in John 16:33: "I have overcome the world." The grammar construction is very important because it shows us that before He went to the cross, before the issue with sin, He had already had victory over and conquered the cosmic system, the world. It was completed before He went to the cross. That tells us that overcoming, whatever it is related to, is not related to the sin/salvation/justification issue, it is related to the spiritual life issue.

Definition of worldliness: It describes a collection of ideas, philosophies, religions, standards and values which characterize a culture or sub-culture, as well as the goals and methods to achieve those ends. Its purpose is to suppress truth in unrighteousness. All worldly thinking is designed to counter the truth of God's Word in some way. (They include a lot of things that are true, but that is because living in God's creation you have to assume certain things are true. It is the way it is put together, its orientation.) Its purpose is to redefine reality and avoid the righteous demands of God. As such this worldview incorporates and is expressed in every aspect of a culture's view of the individual and social relationships. Nothing escapes a cosmic worldview. There is not detail too great or too small to come into this kind of system. It involves individual relationships, social relationships, marriage, family, politics, law, theories of knowledge and learning, expressions of reality in visual and performing arts, aesthetics, science, technology, literature. Nothing is completely neutral.

Our culture sort of programs into us as we grow up a preloaded bias that is antagonistic to the Word and fits with our sin nature. It assimilates to our sin nature so that the cosmic system provides a rationale for the activities of our sin nature, whether it is toward human good or whether it is towards personal sin. This affects expression and how we express what we see and how we view reality and how it comes out in arts, literature and law, etc. When the Christian operates within this thought structure, even though it may overlap in many ways with a biblical worldview, it is still classified as worldliness. This is why it is so difficult to nail down. The thing that gives us the victory is knowing the Word of God. That is why the very first thing Jesus referenced when He was tempted in the wilderness was from Deuteronomy chapter eight, that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. Bible study and learning the Word of God isn't really optional in the Christian life. It is not something that is just there, it is designed to teach us how to think within the culture of divine viewpoint which is going to be counter to the culture of human viewpoint.

As we look at 1 John 5:4 we read: "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world." This phrase "born of God" is a perfect tense participle in the Greek indicating completed action. It is used as a noun to refer to the believer. We could paraphrase it as "For whoever is a believer overcomes the world." At faith alone in Christ alone is when we realized the payment of the sin penalty at the cross. That is where sin was dealt with. But here we are dealing with something subsequent to that. "…and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith." A first glance at this verse would indicate that the word "faith" there suggested belief in Christ, but the word "faith" often indicates not faith in Christ but that body of belief or doctrine that we have. So what is it that overcomes the world? Not faith in Christ, that is what got us saved; but it is that body of belief in the Scriptures, that body of doctrine that we have in our souls. When we apply that to the issues of life as Jesus did in the wilderness, then we overcome the world. The emphasis here is on the post-salvation life of the believer.

In 1 John the phrase "the one who is born of God" is used in three other passages. At first glance it would indicate that what is being said about the person born of God is somewhat characteristic of being a believer. We will look at why that won't work.

1 John2:29 NASB "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him."

1 John 3:9 NASB "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God."

1 John 4:7 NASB "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

We have here three different verses (a fourth if we add in 1 John 5:4) that indicate a characteristic about somebody who is born again. The temptation is to say that if you are born again this is what you do; if you are not doing this then you are not born again. So we try to apply that reverse logic to the passage, that if you are not overcoming the world then you were not born again, if you are not practicing righteousness then you weren't born again, if you sin then you weren't born again, if you don't love or know God or don't love one another then you weren't born again. That is fallacious reasoning because you can go from one to the other but you can't go back. What these passages are basically saying is that God is saying, "If you are in my family, you don't act like this." It doesn't mean that you can't act like this, it means you are not supposed to act like this.

There are really only two options for interpreting these passages: a) What these passages are saying is that genuine born again believers practice righteousness, don't sin, and they love one another; b) That only born again believers can practice righteousness, not sin, and love one another; but no all who are born again will necessarily practice righteousness, avoid sin, and love their brethren. Many who are born again will not do that.

The point in each of these verses is really that only a born again believer can practice righteousness. An unbeliever can't practice righteousness. Only believers can overcome the world; unbelievers can't overcome the world. It is saying that only believers who are born again can't sin and it is also saying that only born again believers can love one another. It is not saying that these attributes are always there for everyone who is born again. We can go from the fact that every believer can do this but not every believer is going to.

 1 John2:29 NASB "If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him." The translation there is misleading. It uses the verb POIEO, present active participle. POIEO has a broad meaning, like the English word "to do." It can mean to produce, to do, to act, to make, to manufacture something, to create, to cause to bring about, to accomplish, to perform. It can in some cases imply practice, but the stronger word for practice in the Greek is PRASSO, and practice means to perform an activity or skill regularly or habitually. There is a lot of difference between saying everyone who does righteousness is born of Him and everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him. So we have to make sure we have a correct translation here. But the idea is that if you see somebody and there is righteousness there, then since only a believer can perform righteousness they must be a believer. The reverse is not necessarily implied, that if you see someone and there is no righteousness there that that means they are not saved. You can't go in that direction. 1 John 2:9 says that no one can do genuine righteousness without having been born again. Unbelievers just can't do it, all their righteousnesses are as filthy rags.

1 John 3:9 NASB "No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God." This is the one everyone has trouble with. Not only is it saying that whoever is born again doesn't sin, it is saying he can't sin because he has been born of God. This verse is saying the same thing that Paul is saying in Galatians 5:16: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." When it says "His seed abides/remains in him" it is that idea of fellowship. But wait a minute. If I am walking by the Spirit and I can't sin, how do I ever sin? Paul is saying if we are walking by the Spirit it is impossible for us to sin. That is not any different from what John is saying, that the person who is born again doesn't sin. It is only people who are born again that can be in a temporal period where they don't sin. How does that happen? According to Galatians 5:16 it happens when we are walking by the Spirit. 

1 John 4:7 NASB "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." An observation: If this passage is saying that everyone who is truly regenerate loves one another, then why is he addressing regenerate believers to love one another? We have to grow and learn to love one another, and John relates that to two things: everyone who loves is born of God (if you are not born again you can't love God); and then the last phrase, "and knows God." What does it mean to know God? We have to ask two questions here: a) Is knowing God and loving God synonymous with salvation? In other words, every believer is going to automatically love one another, love God, and known God. Or, b) Is it the result of spiritual growth after salvation? To understand this we have to look at a couple of parallel passages:

1 John 2:15 NASB "Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love for the Father is not in him." So there the believer is admonished: Don't love the world. John is saying that if you love the world you are not loving God. When you are loving God you are not loving the world. These are mutually exclusive positions. You can't love them both at the same time.

What 1 John 2:14ff is telling us is that loving the world is mutually exclusive to loving God. If that has to do with salvation it means that before you can get saved, i.e. love God, you have to quit loving the world. That is works salvation! None of us can do that, it is impossible. 

1 John 2:3 NASB "By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments." All kinds of people will say, see, the way you know if you are saved is if you are obedient. If you are disobedient you weren't saved, because obedience to His commandments is evidence that you were truly saved. But that has a preloaded bias that knowing Him means to trust Christ as savior. So what do we have here? The phrase "come to know him" is a perfect active indicative of the verb GINOSKO, meaning to know, to learn, or to acquire knowledge. The perfect tense means that it is completed action, it is referring to something that happened in the past and the results continue. It is completed action. So John is saying here, "By this we know that we have come to know Him in the past with ongoing results, if we are [present tense] keeping His commandments." In John 14:7 Jesus is addressing Philip and the disciples and He says, "If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him." John chapter 13, right before this, is where He gathers all of His disciples and He says to all of these disciples, including Judas, "You are all clean, KATHARIZO," a noun indicating they are all saved, "except one of you [Judas]." Then He tells Judas to leave, which leaves eleven. Are those eleven all saved? Yes. Are they all clean? Yes. So then He starts telling the new commandment He was going to give them, "that you love one another." Is that addressed to unbelievers or to believers? They are believers, so at the end of John chapter 13 He is talking to believers. He tells them He is going to leave them. Peter tells Him they don't know where He is going or how to get there? The Lord's reply was John 14:1-3, "In my Father's house are many mansions…" Then in verse 7 He says "If you had come to know me." Are they saved? Yes. He is telling born again believers that they don't know Him.  They are saved and going to heaven but they don't know Him yet. In other words, there is not enough post-salvation growth to fit the category of really knowing Jesus. John 14:9 NASB "Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and {yet} you have not come to know Me, Philip?" Philip hasn't grown any after salvation. The point is that in 1 John 2:3 coming to know Him is spiritual growth after salvation. How do you know that you have reached spiritual maturity? You are obedient. 

Loving God and knowing Him are the result of growth because you are living by the Word of God day in and day out, and as a result of that there is growth to spiritual maturity, and as a result of that we are loving one another and are loving God.

1 John 2:4 NASB "The one who says, "I have come to know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." This is not saying he is not saved, he is just saying he is claiming to be a mature believer and is not, he is still an arrogant baby believer.

1 John 2:5 NASB "but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected [TELEIOO, to be mature]. By this we know that we are in Him." So what we are talking about here in terms of victory over the world is related to knowing God and to loving God, and all this has to do with reaching spiritual maturity, not to getting saved.

When we get back to 1 John 5:4, John is saying, whoever is born of God [and living like it] overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith [the body of doctrine that we have learned from the Word of God and we apply to the temptations related to the world]." 1 John 5:5 NASB "Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" The one who doesn't believe that Jesus is the Son of God can't overcome the world. Only the believer has the tools, the power, the Word of God and the Spirit of God to be able to overcome the world. The unbeliever can't.

The challenge from Revelation is that we all need to be overcomers. The incentive is that we can sit on the throne with Jesus, even as he overcame the world and sat on His Father's throne. The incentive is to rule and reign with the Lord Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom.