To him who overcomes… (Rev. 2:7b)
Jesus makes a promise connected with overcoming at the end of each of his letters. This promise leads us to wonder, how do I overcome? And what happens if I don’t? Is Jesus saying I can lose my salvation if I fail the overcoming test?
Some define overcoming as a list of things you must do. You have to prevail in life’s trials, disarm spiritual enemies, and conquer every sin. You have to resist temptation, walk in daily victory, and defeat the devil. Do these things to your dying breath and you will earn the right to eat from the Tree of Life, but drop the ball and you’ll be toast. This sort of thinking leads to stressed-out, overworked Christianity such as the Ephesians practiced, and it is not good news.
The word overcomes is a verb that means to conquer, prevail, or get the victory. Look up the word in the dictionary and you will find a picture of Jesus who is the Overcomer. “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus has overcome—past tense. The devil couldn’t tempt him, the law lovers couldn’t silence him, Pilate couldn’t fault him, death couldn’t keep him, and the grave couldn’t hold him. Jesus conquered death and he now sits at the right hand of God, bearing a name above every name.
Who is an overcomer?
You are, because Jesus is an overcomer and “as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). You cannot be one with the Lord and not be an overcomer any more than you can be one with the ocean and not be wet.
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4)
This is not a promise of a future reality but a statement of present fact. You have overcome because Christ the Overcomer lives in you. It makes no difference whether you are an old saint or a brand new believer, you are an overcomer because Jesus makes you so.
You may say, “But I don’t feel like an overcomer.”
In Christ, you are an overcomer nonetheless. When you came to the Lord he made you a new creation. He gave you his overcoming DNA and his overcoming Spirit. You are now an overcomer by nature. It’s in your genes.
It is important to let this truth take root in your heart lest you be tempted into the sort of dead works that seduced the Ephesians. If you don’t see yourself as an overcomer in Christ, you will think there are two classes of Christians: There are the super Christians who overcome and are rewarded with special crowns, and then there are the Christian riffraff who frankly don’t deserve to be in the kingdom. This is a false dichotomy. We are all undeserving riffraff, and we are all qualified by grace. Because of Jesus every believer is a crown-wearing tree-of-life-munching overcomer.
But wait, there’s more…
Yet the Bible goes even further than this. “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). The word for conqueror is the same word for overcomer. In Christ you are more than an overcomer, but what does that mean? A conqueror has to fight to get the victory, but we are more than conquerors because Christ has won the war. Because of Jesus, we don’t have to fight. We simply stand on the victory that Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Jesus the Overcomer has done the hard work; our part is to receive the benefits and say, “Thank you, Lord!”
The identity of a conqueror comes from a conquered enemy, but we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Our identity comes from our first love who loved us, and it is a better identity by far. You may say, “I’m a cancer survivor,” or “I’m a recovering alcoholic.” Perhaps you’ve battled with abuse, addiction, or anxiety, and by the grace of God you have conquered or are conquering those enemies. But those enemies don’t define you because you are more than a conqueror. You are not a rape victim; you are a daughter of the Most High. You are not a struggling porn addict; you’re a son of the King. You need to see yourself as God sees you, for it is only with a proper sense of identity—one grounded in God’s love for us—that you can begin to overcome in life’s trials.
How do we overcome?
Through faith in Jesus the Overcomer. In union with Christ, you are an overcomer by nature. You have nothing to prove. To see Christ’s victory in your daily struggles means working out by faith that which the Lord has already accomplished.
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? (1 John 5:4–5)
Spiritual warfare for the Christian is less about shouting at the devil and more about believing that Jesus is Lord over whatever situation we face. Unbelief says we must engage the enemy and fight for the victory, but faith declares that Jesus has already won. Unbelief cowers before the name of the adversary, whether it’s disease, debt, or depression. But faith exalts the Name that is above every name.
Extracted from Paul’s new book, Letters from Jesus: Finding Good News in Christ’s Letters to the Churches.