I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. – 1 John 2:14 ESV
Life can be filled with setbacks and disappointments – even for those who believe in Christ and have a relationship with Him. in fact, difficulties can and are a regular part of the average Christian’s life. Which should come as no surprise to us, because Jesus Himself told us it would be that way. “In the world you will have tribulation.…” (John 16:33 ESV). But He also went on to say, “But take heart; I have overcome the world.” The Greek word for overcome is nikaō and it means “to conquer, to carry off the victory.” Jesus has overcome or conquered this world order, the domain that lies under the influence of Satan. Paul describes Satan very plainly and simply. “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4 ESV). But the darkness has been penetrated by the light of Christ. And John would remind us that “the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining” (1 John 2:8 ESV). The light of God, in the form of Christ’s righteousness, made available to those who have accepted His offer of salvation, shines in our lives. As a result, the light dwells in us, not just around us. God inhabits us, in the form of His Holy Spirit. And the reality is that we have already overcome the evil one, because Christ has defeated him. Our victory is assured because Christ’s death conquered sin and death once and for all time. Which is why Paul could so boldly declare, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-58 ESV). As believers, we don’t have to fear death. It is not terminal. It does not lead to a dead end. The writer of Hebrews reminds us, “Because God’s children are human beings – made of flesh and blood – the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death” (Hebrews 2:14 NLT). There was a day when death would have brought us judgment and an eternity separated from God as a punishment for our sins. But because of Christ’s death on the cross, our sins have been paid for, our judgment reversed, our condemnation eliminated, and our death sentence has not only been commuted, but completely eradicated.
Twice in his epistle, John refers to young men who have overcome the evil one. They are young, but they are victorious. He does not address this statement to grey-haired saints who have lived long and battle-hardened lives. He confidently calls these young men overcomers. Why? Because their victory was achieved through Christ – on their behalf. Therefore, they can love unconditionally, as Christ loved. They can “walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6 ESV). They can live in obedience, humility, selflessness and sacrifice. Their lives, regardless of their young age, can exhibit strength that comes from the Lord. And as a result, they can model what it means to live in victory even in the midst of a world under the control and influence of the evil one. One of the greatest evidences of this victory is their willingness to do the will of God, rather than fulfill the desires of their own flesh. A love affair with the world no longer marks their lives. The things this world offers – “a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions” (1 John 2:16 NLT) – no longer holds them captive. Doing God’s will means more to them than succumbing to the world’s ways. God’s love shows up in a love for others rather than in a love for the world. Life becomes other-focused rather than self-centered. Sacrifice becomes the norm, not self-satisfaction. Humility becomes more attractive than hubris or pride. These kinds of people live with an eternal perspective that reminds them that “the world is passing away along with its desires” (1 John 2:17 ESV), but they will live forever. The darkness is passing because the true light is already shining. The world is passing away as well, because its days are numbered. And yet we underestimate the reality that we have overcome. Our victory is not only sure, it has already been accomplished. So we can live victorious, confident, and radically different lives. “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:1-6 ESV).