What Does it Mean to Overcome the World?

by Mike Ratliff

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, 10 but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher. 12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:8-12 (NASB) 

There are some who believe that Romans 7:7-25 was written by the Apostle Paul in reference to before his salvation in that he proclaims his frustration with his inability to keep the law by his own strength. However, the unregenerate are not able to see that only 100% obedience to the law is acceptable to God. In this, they do not have the same grief over their inconsistencies in obedience that a genuine believer has. On the other hand, there are some who teach a false doctrine of perfection for Christians. This doctrine teaches that it is possible for Christians to mature to the point that they no longer sin. This is why I hold that Romans 7:7-25 very clearly teaches us that if we attempt to keep the law through morality or legalism then we will experience that same frustration that Paul did. On the other hand, when we understand that it is not us who have overcome the world, but our Lord, then we will have a very different view of tribulation and peace in this life for Christians. 

We will endure in the fires of tribulation by our Lord’s strength, not ours. I believe Oswald Chambers had this nailed as we can see in the following devotional from My Utmost for His Highest.

33 These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 (NASB) 

An average view of the Christian life is that it means deliverance from trouble. It is deliverance in trouble, which is very different. “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High…there shall no evil befall thee” – no plague can come nigh the place where you are at one with God.

If you are a child of God, there certainly will be troubles to meet, but Jesus says do not be surprised when they come. “In the world yet shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world, there is nothing for you to fear.” Men who before they were saved would scorn to talk about troubles, often become “fushionless” after being born again because they have a wrong idea of a saint.

God does not give us overcoming life: He gives us life as we overcome. The strain is the strength. If there is no strain, there is no strength. Are you asking God to give you life and liberty and joy? He cannot, unless you will accept the strain. Immediately you face the strain, you will get the strength. Overcome your own timidity and take the step, and God will give you to eat of the tree of life and you will get nourishment. If you spend yourself out physically, you become exhausted; but spend yourself spiritually, and you get more strength. God never gives strength for to-morrow, or for the next hour, but only for the strain of the minute. The temptation is to face difficulties from a common-sense standpoint. The saint is hilarious when he is crushed with difficulties because the thing is so ludicrously impossible to anyone but God. – From ‘My Utmost for His Highest’, by Oswald Chambers for August 2.

In John 16:33 our Lord tells us plainly that we should take heart even in the midst of tribulation if we are indeed in Him. A good parallel to this statement is found in 2 Timothy 1:12.

12 For this reason I also suffer these things, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 2 Timothy 1:12 (NASB) 

We should see our struggles with obedience as well as persecution for our faith as “the strain” that God is using to give us the strength to live spiritually in total dependence to the grace of God for our all. As we do this, we will stop seeing our walk down this narrow path of obedience as our earning anything, but as what God is using to grow us unto Christlikeness for His glory. In this, we see clearly that no matter what is going on in this life, we are in Christ and He has overcome the world. We have overcome nothing.

Paul suffered and he was an Apostle. His suffering was not because of sin in his own life, but this is the inevitable part of the life of the Christian because he or she has the same mortal and corruptible body as unbelievers (Romans 6:12; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:53, 54; 2 Corinthians 4:11; 5:4). Receiving Christ does not change this. Our physical bodies do not become exempt from mortality or corruptibility. Our suffering may indeed be due to persecution from the world because we do not conform to its standards. However, Christ will ultimately overcome (John 16:33; Galatians 6:17; 2 Timothy 3:12). As Paul stated and, therefore, we need to emulate him in this, “..which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed…” My brethren, take your sorrow to the throne of grace. Do not “let go and let God,” but seek to obey Him in His strength as you stand firm in the fires of tribulation.

Soli Deo Gloria!