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“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world.

And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” ‭‭I John‬ ‭5‬:‭4‬-‭5

In a debate I had with another person, they suggested “overcome the world” had to do with overcoming sin, but sin isn’t mentioned in this context.

Q: Is John saying those who are born of God overcome the world by inheriting it through Jesus, overcoming the world by conquering sin, or what?

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  • 3
    Up-voted +1. Perhaps consider Revelation 15:2 And I saw as it were a sea of glass mingled with fire: and them that had gotten the victory over the beast, and over his image, and over his mark, and over the number of his name, stand on the sea of glass, having the harps of God.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 4:26
  • @NigelJ That’s a possible interpretation, +1.
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 5:01

5 Answers 5

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Given that this present world is a sinful world, then the overcomers in the context of verse 4 have overcome sin and they have overcome the world. One cannot be done without the other, really. They are the warp and the woof of the one cloth.

Now, John does not mention sin, as such, until verse 16 when he has moved on to the subject of individual believers sinning. He adds that "All unrighteousness is sin" (vs. 17). We learn elsewhere that "there is no-one righteous, not one", for "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10 & 23). The verses following go on to explain how the righteousness of God is revealed in the way he justifies sinners freely, by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

John agrees with Paul, for sinners who have been freely justified by God no longer lie in the world's wickedness; they are not even touched by the wicked one, because they are now "born of God", and "kept of God", and are found "in his Son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 5:18-21). This is the experience of deliverance from a satanic world, and from sin, that all born-again believers in Christ have confidence in. It is Christ who has overcome the world, and they are now found "in Christ".

"I have overcome the world" stated Jesus (John 16:33).

"And they overcame him [the accuser of Christ's brethren] by the blood of the Lamb [Christ], and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death" (Revelation 12:11).

"These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for he is Lord of lords, and King of kings: and they that are with him are called, and chosen, and faithful" (Revelation 17:14).

See how this all links together? Because Jesus has overcome the world, all those who are found "in him" are likewise overcomers. This sinful world no longer has a grip on those who "have the Son". They now have life, in Christ, and whatever this sinful world tries to do to stifle or kill them matters not (as those quotes from Revelation show) - they have overcome the world because Jesus did that, and they are found "in Christ".

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  • Based on your logic, (One cannot be done without the other) Jesus also then overcame sin. Which makes no sense.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 7:09
  • @Finster Not only is it logical that the sinless one overcame sin on behalf of sinners, ONLY a sinless one could do that! The righteousness of God was demonstrated at Golgotha and the empty tomb, so now the accuser of the brethren has been silenced. Those who have saving faith in Christ have no case to answer, for it is Christ who overcame sin in their stead, and they are now found to be "in him" (not 'in the world').
    – Anne
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 16:06
  • How could he overcome something he did not do? Overcoming sin requires that he battled with sin. No, he battled with temptation - which may lead to sin. Perhaps you need to back up your assertion with scripture rather than just your opinion. You are interpreting 'world' without any evidence.
    – Steve
    Commented Feb 18, 2023 at 8:51
  • @Finster In the UFC, Thai boxing overcame Brazilian jiu-jitsu without ever using Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Water can overcome fire without acting like fire. "Overcoming sin" can be done as an internal struggle with temptation, or it can mean what Jesus did by atoning for all sin for all time on the Cross. I hope this thread is useful reading, but anything further is theological and belongs on C.SE.
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 3:18
  • I absolutely adore how you did a brief verse search on "overcome" as the verb of the "sin/world" object to help understand the object of the verb. It is brilliant, both hermeneutically in Bible and grammatically in English. In both subjects, I always teach "circle the verb", and this is a prime example of why.
    – Jesse
    Commented Feb 19, 2023 at 3:23
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This is one of those cases where context is immensely helpful.

The chapter begins with the statement that "everyone who believs that Jesus is the Christ is a child of God" (v1).

Then in vv2-3, John moves on to the importance of showing that by keeping God's commmandments. Then he is answering the unspoken objection "but his commandments are burdensome".

And we may remember here how Jesus urges those under "heavy" burdens to accept instead his own light burden and easy yoke (Matthew ch11 vv29-30).

So in the structure of the chapter, the first line of v4 is explaining the previous words; "His commandments are not burdensome". Having overcome the world is the reason why the commandments are not burdensome. "The world" would have impeded our obedience.

Then "the world" appears to mean "a source of temptation", as in the old expression "the world, the flesh, and the devil". The first half of v4 tells us that we overcome it by being born of God. The second half tells us that we get through it by our faith, which is another way of saying the same thing.

Perhaps partly because faith gives us greater powers of resistance, and partly (as Paul would have said) because faith takes us away from the Law and gives us a more general understanding of what God wants from us, which is easier to obey.

As a result, we show our love to God by keepng his commandments.

In short, vv1-5 provide a neat circular argument that being born of God gives us the power to demonstrate that we are born of God.

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  • Helpful answer, but what did you mean by: “In short, vv1-5 provide a neat circular argument…” did you mean circular as in “objective”?
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 7:07
  • 1
    No, I just meant that it ends in the same place where it began. As in the old song "we're here because we're here". Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 7:12
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Overcome the world: What does it mean?

After the last supper, John 16:

33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Jesus has overcome the world of tribulation.

Some years later, John expands this idea in 1 John 2:

14 I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. 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.

God in you enables you to overome Satan in the world.

1 John 4:

1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

the world of evil spirits and false prophets

4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them,

Because you are from God, you have overcome those who are from Satan.

for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.

God in you > Satan in the world

5They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.

Here comes the contrast:

6We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this, we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

The world (Satan) is contrasted with God.

This theme continues in the next chapter 5:

4 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. 5Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

We who have been born of God have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. In contrast, Satan is ruling the world by tribulations. The good news is that we have overcome the world of troubles and evil spirits by being born again. Love God and you overcome the world.

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  • So overcoming the world is by definition “multifaceted”?
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 16:56
  • 1
    Yes, and 1 John focused on the Satanic aspect.
    – user35953
    Commented Feb 16, 2023 at 17:01
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According to Jesus' closest disciple, John, "the world" has a "prince" and holds three major temptations.

Hereafter I will not talk much with you: for the prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me. (John 14:30, KJV)

For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (1 John 2:16, KJV)

Neither Jesus nor his disciples are said to be "of the world."

[Jesus speaking to the disciples]

If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. (John 15:19, KJV)

[Jesus speaking to his Father]

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. (John 17:16, KJV)

Yet Jesus speaks to "the world":

Jesus answered him, I spake openly to the world; I ever taught in the synagogue, and in the temple, whither the Jews always resort; and in secret have I said nothing. (John 18:20, KJV)

In this verse, interestingly, "the world" appears to include those Jews attending the synagogue and in the temple.

Because "the world" represents those who do not receive and follow God, it represents the powers of darkness and the temptations of the world--living in a life of sin, which leads to death, there are several truths about how Jesus overcame this "world."

  1. Jesus overcame the prince of the world, Satan, by never once succumbing to any of his wiles.

  2. Jesus overcame temptation to sin on all the points upon which we are also tempted--and was victorious over sin.

  3. Jesus overcame the world in the sense that, even though the world condemned and crucified him, he rose to life again, victor over the grave, having been in "the heart of the earth" (see Matthew 12:40) only a short time.

Conclusion

"The world" which Jesus overcame includes both sin and the unrighteous sinners in it who have rejected God. It includes all the powers, the temptations, even the death, of this world. Over all these things of the worldly realm, he was victorious--and his victory is our example.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5, KJV)

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What was the word "world" meant in the eyes of John the Apostle?

In 1 John 2:15-16, he wrote;

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. (NIV)

Was that all John had to the "world"? Not really, for in his gospel, he heard Jesus prayed, and he had this written in John 17:14-16

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.

15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.

16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. (NIV)

John learned from Jesus' prayer, the world has the evil one, who want to keep them in the world. John put the same in his letter, 1 John 4:12-14 read;

12 I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name.

13 I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.

14 I write to you, dear children, because you know the Father. I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one. (NIV)

Therefore in 1 John 5:4, "overcome the world" actually mean "overcome the evil". Then why not "overcome the sin"?

In Romans 5:12, Paul wrote sin entered the world when Adam ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 3). So evil existed before sin, and sin was the consequence of the evil.

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned— (NIV)

We should take awareness, Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin, not the forgiveness of our evil. And this was John written in 1 John 2:1

1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. (NIV)

He further wrote in 1 John 3:9

9 No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God. (NIV)

It emphasized "No one who is born of God will continue to sin". If one continued to sin, then he is not born of God, but the evil one. Jesus overcome the evil one as the firstborn, in Him, we can do the same, that is "overcome the evil".

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29 NIV)

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  • You said: "So evil existed before sin, and sin was the consequence of the evil." Sin and evil are synonymous. What did you mean by this? Evil didn't by necessity exist before sin, only the knowledge of it in the Tree and in God's mind, are you implying that Evil existed prior to sin within a different boundary than the 2 aforementioned aspects?
    – Cork88
    Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 6:17
  • Why would a tree be called "knowledge of good and evil"? It exists before Adam was created, and Adam brought to the world the first sin. In Gen 8, Noah built an altar to the Lord and the Lord said in His heart “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood." (8:21). So all humans have inclination to evil, but not necessary be sinned. John was telling us we can overcome the evil and not continue to sin, when we are born of God. Commented Feb 17, 2023 at 14:49

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