1 John 5:4
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
There is a sound of war in this saying. John, apostle of love though he be, has not that solvent charity which, under an affection of breadth, falls in rectitude, and comes at length to accept things, morally the most opposite, as equally good.
I. THE WORLD, WHAT IS IT? And here a dozen voices are ready with a definition, which commonly is an abstract of personal experience or opinion. The most opposite things have been described as worldly; curiously, men have agreed to condemn worldliness, but they have not agreed what the thing condemned really is. One man, having no sacred reserves, gives himself wholly to the pursuits of this life; by diligence and energy he succeeds, and he has his reward. Another mingles his daily work with some other pursuit; he is fond of pictures, of music, of science, or what not; and yet a third, as he thinks favoured by his circumstances, gives himself largely to the enjoyments of life: work is but the fringe, the web of existence is made up of pleasure. After the lapse of years let these men compare notes; ask each his opinion of the others, and what do you find? You find probably that they have a sort of good natured contempt for one another as having lived in a vain and worldly way. Yes, and you may find a fourth man, who has lived a more austere and closely ordered life than any of the rest, equally ready to condemn them all for their worldly spirit. Of these several men each had some thing of truth in his opinion, but not the whole truth, nor that which goes to the root of the matter. Worldliness is a principle, a spirit, which can take this shape or that: it can be found in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day, or in the rags and self-denials of the anchorite. The world, then, may lie in the predominance of things seen and temporal. The Bible is full of examples of this, set out for our learning by a Divine hand. There was the sunny haired Samson, with a high commission and a noble energy, forgetting the great work he had to do in the indulgence of the passion of the moment; there was Esau, who, to satisfy the hunger of the hour, flung away his birthright for a mess of pottage. When Satan said to our blessed Lord, "All these things will I give Thee if thou wilt fall down and worship me," he pitched the temptation upon the same principle; its force lay in the power of the seen and temporal to obscure the unseen and eternal. Worldliness lies in the predominance of self, that inseparable foe, that idol of the heart which men carry with them wherever they go. The world, too, is found in the predominance of the world of men, that care for human opinion, for the judgment of our fellows which brings with it unreality, eye service, and a disregard to the supreme will of God. This spirit makes men at once cowardly and audacious, filling them with the fear of man and yet making them regardless of the fear of God. We have it exemplified in Saul, king of Israel, that strange sad union of strength and weakness, magnanimity and folly, he had sinned by directly disobeying the Divine command; but when he hears his sentence from the lips of Samuel he grieves over the dishonour which might accrue to himself far more than over his sin against the Most High: "I have sinned, yet honour me now, I pray thee, before the elders of Israel." "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?" that is, "has Christ become respectable? have the fashionable party — the men in power — accepted Him? If they have, then will we, but not otherwise." This drew from our Lord the strong exclamation, "How can ye believe which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour which cometh from God only?" This form of worldliness is one of the deadliest enemies of the truth. Everywhere it is potent to keep men from Christ.
II. HOW IS IT TO BE OVERCOME? This is a pressing question for everyone who thinks seriously. How is it to be kept out of my heart, how shall I be kept in the world and yet not of it? "This is the victory, even our faith." This meets the world, not in any particular form of it, but in the heart where its real root is. Take this principle, faith the world's victor, in the lower sphere, and it is true. Faith, a strong over-mastering conviction, even though a poor one, has a wonderful power to lift men above the world, above themselves. But it is not of faith in a general way that John speaks. It is of "our faith," a faith born of God, a faith that lays hold of Jesus Christ, a faith that works by love; it is faith in a person, that is, trust in Jesus Christ. This is the Divine remedy for the power of worldliness. It meets the love of the world with another love, a mightier, higher, nobler love — the love of Jesus Christ. How wonderfully this great principle of faith, fixed on the Saviour, can meet each of the three great forms of worldliness which have been delineated! We are in danger of being absorbed in the present, in the things which we taste and touch and handle; but if we receive Christ into our hearts what do we get with Him? Eternal life, the opening prospect of glory, honour, immortality. He enables us to "die daily," because of the eternity with Christ beyond the veil. See, too, how faith in Christ helps a man to conquer himself as nothing else can. The ascetic, who proclaims upon the housetops his self-abnegation, yet worships himself; but when a man can say, "I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me," then Christ has become the inmate of that heart and the centre of that life. Again, that sensitiveness to human opinion, that love of praise, can be put under by faith in Jesus Christ, because in Him we have brought close to us the pure atmosphere of heaven, where the one aim and desire is to obtain the approval of God. Thus everything is moved up into a higher sphere, and the objects of life are seen in a true perspective. But this is not all, for us in our weakness and guilt and cowardice, there is another side to this truth, a side higher than that which lies in the natural action of faith. For the poorest, weakest, darkest souls that with much trembling lay hold of Jesus Christ, His strength is pledged. His might becomes their might. A man who soberly measures the forces of the world about him, who has any experience of the fickle shifting nature of his own heart, may well feel how helpless he is to overcome the world. Yes, but you are not alone. The great Captain of Salvation will fight for you, with you, in you. Finally, it is only those who overcome the world by faith who know rightly how to use it. Look at the Lord Himself. "I," said He, "have overcome the world." He gives the pattern of an absolutely unworldly life, and what sort of life was His? The lilies pleased Him, the birds sang sweetly to Him, the social gathering welcomed Him, the children climbed fearlessly upon His knee, sorrowful faces broke into sunshine when He came. He used the world as not abusing it. Depend upon it we must either conquer or be conquered — we must be the slaves of the world or its masters. Which shall it be?
Parallel VersesKJV: For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.