Every one who believes that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God, and every one who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:1-5)
In the 1600s, Thomas Loe preached a sermon on the 1 John 5:1-5 text stating, “There is a faith that overcomes the world and there is a faith that is overcome by the world. Which is yours?” The 1 John 5 text also suggests the same comparison for belief, i.e. there is a belief that overcomes the world and a belief that is overcome by the world.
So what is the distinction between these two “beliefs?”
One might say that the belief overcome by the world is shallow. But the distinction is not in “depth”. Perhaps we could say that the belief overcome by the world does not result in the appropriate action. After all the book of James goes into how we demonstrate our faith by our actions. But again the distinction is more than works.
The tell-tale distinction between these two beliefs is that the belief that overcomes the world rises from a living, covenantal relationship between you and Jesus.
When you look in the New Testament Scriptures, you find a lot of iterations of the word, “belief” or “believe.” But the meaning of the Greek words can vary considerably. For example the King James Version of John 3:36 contains “believeth” [believes] twice, each of which has a very different meaning. It reads,
He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
The meaning of the Greek word we translate as “believe” in the first instance of John 3:36, (also in John 3:16, in 1 John 5:5, and in many other places in the New Testament Scriptures) has a greater meaning than the usual “believe.” That Greek word imparts the sense of “to put in trust with.” The second iteration of “believeth” in John 3:36 means disobey. When you take out a Certificate of Deposit with a bank, you have put your money in trust with the bank. You have entered into an agreement to entrust to them the handling of your money according to certain, negotiated stipulations. When you put your life in trust with Jesus, i.e. believe, you must enter a covenantal relationship with Him wherein you entrust the running of your life to His guidance, direction, and power.
This now would make the John 3:36 text read:
He that puts his life into a trust account with the Son has everlasting life: and he that disobeys the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abides on him.
This understanding of the word “believe” drastically enriches the meaning of the Scriptures. John 3:16 would now read:
For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever puts his life into a trust account with Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
And the 1 John 5 text now comes across as:
You, who have put your life into a trust account with Jesus, because he is the Christ, are a child of God…Who is he that overcomes the world, but he that puts his life into a trust account with Jesus, whom we know to be the son of God
Contrast the above meaning with the common use of “believe” as illustrated by the Apostles Creed, a document used by much of Christendom:
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
Which belief is yours?
I believe in God, the Father…I believe in Jesus Christ…I believe in the Holy Spirit…
OK, but what does that do to overcome the world, to produce righteousness, to free you from the power of death? What does this “believe” mean in the life of the individual and in the life of the church? James 2:19 proclaims that the devils “believe” and tremble. What good does their belief do them?
The field marks of the belief that overcomes the world are:
- Those who place their life into a trust agreement with Jesus are not trapped behind the gates of hell. Death and darkness no longer control them.
- True righteousness, or a life pleasing to God, is only obtainable by living in the power of Jesus’ life. Man can make rules and religions to live by, but they cannot infuse themselves with the life of God to become living beings.
- Those who come into this living, covenantal relationship with Jesus are drawn into the community of the righteous.
- The “belief that overcomes the world” is sustained by living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. This is as true for the individual as for the body of the church.
- For those who have placed their life into this living trust, Jesus not only reveals the Father’s will but also supplies the power to accomplish that will. Temptations have no power when our eyes are fixed on Jesus, our present guide.
- Humans were not created to be autonomous beings. Our attempts to be what we aren’t will always result in failure. Only by entering this covenantal relationship with Jesus can we gain power to live a life of moral perfection.
- Jesus directed attention to the fruit of the tree as the means of identifying it as a good tree or a bad tree. He also spoke about a unity between the leaf and the fruit. Only in this covenantal relationship with Jesus can there be unity between leaf and fruit; between profession and works.
If the belief that overcomes the world is not to be gained by the recitations of “we believe…,” then how do we acquire it?
George Fox stated in his Journal,
For the true belief stands in the light that condemns all evil; and the devil, who is the prince of darkness, and would draw out of the light into condemnation. They that walk in this light, come to the mountain of the house of God, established above all mountains, and to God’s teaching, who will teach them his ways.(Works of Fox, Vol. I, p.76)
and in the first volume of his Doctrinals,
And now is the time come of Isaiah’s prophecy, that the teacher shall be no more removed into a corner…but thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, this is the way, walk ye in it; now all people being strangers from the covenant of light, their faces toward Egypt, which is darkness, the word calls behind, and all people are walking toward the first priesthood that is changeable, and the first covenant that is changeable, and doth decay, and to the synagogue and temple, and the ordinances that Christ blotted out, and maintaining the priesthood with tythes, which were of the first priesthood, but the covenant is changed that made them, and the command disannulled; now this word is behind all these, for that is not the way, and the word saith this is the way from all those ways, the word saith Christ is the way, who saith learn of me, and saith God, this is my beloved Son, hear ye him, him that Moses said God would raise up, this is the word, here is the voice behind, and who heareth this voice, and hath heard this word, hears the Son… (Works of Fox, Vol. IV, p. 148)
As we experience Jesus leading us, feeding us, teaching us, and protecting us, faith grows within us–evidence and assurance that our investment is well placed. This is the “belief that overcomes the world.”