We are going to resume our meditations in the First Letter of John, and, although there is such a large mass of valuable instruction in this letter which we cannot touch on at this time, we shall seek to take out just one more fragment which we trust the Lord will use. Those of you who were here at the beginning of our meditation in this letter will recall that we indicated that in it John reiterates one fragment ten times. Ten times over he says, "This is", and then he appends some particular point in the spiritual teaching which he has set out to give. "This is the message" is the first statement, and then in ten different connections he uses that phrase "This is", pinpointing these things which he so strongly felt the Lord's people needed to recover and to take careful note of. We, of course, have not attempted to go through all ten of these pinpointings. We did take the first one "This is the message". Now we are going to take another of these.
"For whatsoever is begotten of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith" (1 John 5:4).
"Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them; because greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4).
"This is the victory that has overcome the world".
Now these statements clearly point to two things which are going to engage us in this chapter. The first thing is the battle in which the Lord's people are involved, and the second is the secret of victory in that battle.
That there is such a thing needs no emphasising or proving. No true Christian is without the knowledge that he or she is, in union with Christ, involved in a spiritual conflict. There is something wrong with your Christianity if that is not true. That is the normal Christian life, and you will not have an easy time if you are really bound up with the Lord Jesus and His purpose in this world. The battle is a fact. We are not going to dwell upon the fact of the battle, because I am sure that is quite unnecessary.
But the why, the wherefore, of the battle is another thing. What
does this spiritual conflict relate to? And it is very important
for us to know that. We know something about there being a fight
on in the Christian life, but we are not always intelligent as to
why it is, what it is all about, what it all means and what it all
relates to. And it will therefore, I trust, be of real value to us
if we spend some time answering that question as to the why and
wherefore of this spiritual battle. And I think we can focus it
down to this. It is because of the tremendous potentiality of
Life in Christ.
We have received this Life, of which John has written so much, both in his Gospel and in these letters, this eternal Life which God has given to us. Have you noticed that one of these pinpointings comes right to that: "And the witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has the life; he that has not the Son of God has not the life" (1 John 5:11,12). Now God has given unto us this Life which is in His Son if we are truly born again children of God.
But that is not the end of it; it is only the beginning. That Life has within it an immense potentiality. If it results in all that it is intended to result in, leads to all that it is intended to lead to, realises all the potentiality that is in it, it will bring us to full growth in Christ; what Paul calls "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). It is all there in that Life. It is tremendous what a bit of life, even in nature, can result in. Some of you who are gardeners know all about that. You have only to get one little vegetable organism into your plot of land, and you know quite well that it will not take very long for that one thing to fill the whole. And you have to cope with this tremendous potentiality of a bit of life. It will go on and on, and it is a real battle to cope with this life. There is so much in a small bit of life.
Now, if that is true in natural life, how much more true it is in spiritual Life! To deposit this Life, this eternal, Divine Life, this Life which was in Christ, in any person by new birth, is to deposit something that has immeasurable possibilities and potentialities. The Book of the Revelation, written by this same man, John, gives us pictures of the potentiality of this Life. Oh, that we only had the time just to dip into it! You know that that book of the Revelation circles round and focuses upon this whole question of Life. We pointed that out earlier. The key to that book is Life. Then we see the result of that Life. John says: "I saw, and behold, a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation and of all tribes and peoples and tongues" (Rev. 7:9). 'Thousands' he says! "Ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands" (Rev. 5:11). Language is beggared to describe it. He is struggling for words to express this thing which altogether outbounds any language. The vastness of it... and it is all the result of a Life being planted in these lives. How tremendous is the potentiality of the Life that you and I have received to bring to full growth!
But is full growth the end? You say surely it must be! But it is not. What is the full growth for? Why does the Lord want us, as His people, to come to full growth? Not just to remain babes in Christ, little children in Christ, but to "grow up in all things into Him, who is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4:15), to come "unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). There must be a purpose in that!
Well, you have to go back to the beginning; why God made man and what He intended. And we are told in the Psalm which is quoted in Hebrews chapter 2 just why: "Thou madest him to have dominion... Thou hast put all things under his feet" (Psalm 8:6). This full purpose of God is going to issue in those who have come to it being the ruling instrument with God in His universe. The spiritual dominion is going to be vested in a people who come to full growth, to full manhood in Christ, to reign with Him, to rule with Him, to govern with Him, and - to use a symbolism which must not be taken literally - to sit with Him in His throne. That is not possible literally, for there will be a "multitude which no man could number", it is a spiritual state. To be with Him in His government in the ages to come... this is the meaning, the purpose, the object of growing up to full growth, spiritual maturity, and the outcome of this life which is put into us as babes and which has been allowed and co-operated with to reach its end. We only have it in the babe form, as the Lord Jesus had at Bethlehem. But look now! What has happened through these many centuries, and today? What has come? Multitudes upon multitudes in all the nations as the fruit of that little bit of Life deposited in the babe at Bethlehem! What there was in that babe! We see it today somewhat as we read the whole story of what has happened during the centuries through the Gospel. We say: 'Well, that was a mighty babe!' or 'That was a mighty bit of Life which was planted by God in this world!' Now this is not fiction. It is fact.
Now, because this ultimate purpose of God for dominion in this universe is all vested in that very Life that is given to us, and because there is another antagonistic system to that dominion which knows quite well that if that Life gets its way and remains unchecked, unhindered, and unarrested then their kingdom is finished and their dominion is at an end, so they must fight for their very life. That is the nature of the battle. It is a very real thing that the whole kingdom of Satan is keenly and terribly alive to this fact that a bit of divine Life deposited within some human spirit is the portent of that evil kingdom's undoing.
So "Thou madest him to have dominion", and man lost it in himself. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews, taking up that word of the Psalm, puts it this way: "Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet... But we behold Him who has been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour" (Heb. 2:8,9). Here is the one Representative who had the Life and has gone through; the Representative of that reigning company, the forerunner of a reigning company, and He is, as the writer says, "Bringing many sons unto glory" (Heb. 2:10). That is the same principle; the principle of His own Life.
Now you see the battle rages against this Life, and against the tremendous potentialities that are in the Life that you and I have received as born again children of God.
But when we have said that, we have to say more. You see, the battle is related to the going on of Christians from the very beginnings, through all the stages of spiritual development, to final fulness. And spiritual progress is always fraught with a great deal of conflict and resistance. Anything that is going to minister to the increase of the spiritual Life will become a battleground. Make no mistake about it! All sorts of things, anything that can be used to keep the Lord's people who have received this Life in spiritual limitation will be used. Do be on your guard, dear friends, about this.
One of the most subtle ways of the enemy to defeat this progress in spiritual Life is to make Christians content with the beginnings. And that is just evangelism, evangelisation, to draw a circle round that, and make that the beginning and the end. Whereas with God it is only the beginning, and all Christians ought to recognise that that is but the beginning. Of course, it is important, it is vital, it is essential, but it is not by any means everything. It is but the first stage. And you must be alive to this: that God would make provision for your spiritual growth, and you must be very watchful that you take advantage of anything that will minister to your spiritual growth, to your building up in Christ.
There is a battle, of course, at the beginning of the Christian life. It is always so from the beginning, the first sort of difficulty that arises for the youngest Christians who have their own forms of spiritual battle, but the real battle comes when you want to go on with the Lord, when you want to go further. Then things really do become difficult! But you have your great illustration in the Bible. God has written this spiritual history in the temple history of the Old Testament. Look at Israel! They are out from Egypt, they are redeemed with the blood of the Passover lamb, they are the Lord's people, they are in the wilderness. Well, they have certain battles in the wilderness. It is not just all free from all kinds of conflict and difficulty. No, there are occasionally battles in the wilderness, but, mark you, when it is a matter of going over the Jordan into the land, to possess all the fulness of their salvation, then you have this terrific battle under Joshua: nation after nation, kingdom after kingdom withstanding, and in battle from beginning to end. There is no comparison between the two stages of the wilderness and the land, for conflict.
And that is God's Old Testament parable of the spiritual life. You have your battles at the beginning, in the early stages, in the elementary forms of the Christian life. They are there. It is not all easy going. You meet opposition, but if you are set upon going right on into all God's fulness, you know then the meaning of the Book of Joshua. You will know that it is against that that the forces are arraigned, it is against that that the real battle is waged. It is because the thing for which they were brought out is now coming immediately into view: fulness of Life. When Jesus said: "I came that they might have life" (John 10:10). He also said: "and may have it abundantly". That is for something more than being born; that is for maturity.
Now look at the Lord Jesus. We have already pointed out that from
the time He came into this world to the moment when He went out,
He lived His life in an encompassing atmosphere of positive
hostility. When He was born, the devil, through Herod, made a plan
to kill Him. They slew all the male children in that area in order
to get hold of that One whom Satan knew. And you know what the
Lord Jesus had to say about Herod. He had no illusions about these
men; He knew the devil was behind this. The devil knew the
potentiality of that babe because of the Divine Life in Him. And
although we do not have a record of those years between, with only
one break, up to the time of His baptism, we can draw our own
conclusions. I am quite sure that He did not get through those
years without dangers and threatenings to His life. But we do know
that from the moment that He stepped out on the line that was
going to mean the imparting of that Life to others, the
distribution of the Life that was in Him to others, all hell was
He lived His life in an atmosphere of positive hostility. First, in the wilderness with a hand-to-hand encounter, not with demons, but with the very devil himself, in an attempt to frustrate the purpose for which He had come. And then onward. Oh, it is amazing! You will never fail to be impressed if you read through these Gospels, with this persistent, unrelenting antagonism to that dear Son of God. You are really amazed that it could be so, knowing who He is and knowing what He had come for and knowing what He was doing. This thing came from somewhere else. This bitter hatred of Him was not human; it was satanically supernatural.
He lived His life so that all the powers of evil and their head, Satan himself, knew where that Life was going to lead, and knew that in the end that Life would cast out the kingdom of Satan and take its place in the government of this world. It is what Paul calls "our wrestling... against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness" (Eph. 6:12). They are all going to be ejected from God's universe by this one Christ and all those who share this one Life with Him in fulness. His battle was because of the potentiality of that Life that was in Him.
And John is saying in this letter of his that it is exactly the
same for believers. What was true of Him is true of us. Just as
the world knows us not, it knew Him not. So much, then, for the
battle for the moment.
But what is the sphere and medium of the battle? I want you to
notice this, especially the young Christians - it is the world.
In his gospel John uses that term 'the world' seventy-eight times.
It is not a long book and it has a lot of things in it. But when
you see that in that quite brief narrative one thing is mentioned
seventy-eight times, you have to pause and say 'Well, there is
something here. This is not put in for nothing.' And then, in this
first letter which, as I have said, you can read through in ten
minutes, John reiterates this phrase 'the world' eighteen times.
And if you notice the context of that, it is tremendously
impressive. John looks upon this thing that he calls 'the world'
as a positive enemy of the spiritual Life of the people of God.
Something quite inimical, He says in this letter: "Love not the
world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love
the world, the love of the Father is not in him'' (1 John
2:15). That is a tremendous statement. He that is a friend of the
world is an enemy of God. You notice that it was something that
Christ Himself had to overcome. He said to His disciples: "In
the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have
overcome the world" (John 16:33). It was something that He,
Christ, had to overcome. It was an enemy to be subdued. It was
something that Christ feared for His disciples and for the church.
In His great final prayer in John 17, hear how He prays: "Holy Father, keep them in Thy name which Thou hast given Me... I pray not that Thou shouldest take them from the world, but that Thou shouldest keep them from the evil one" (John 17:11,15). He is praying out of a sense of the infinite peril to His own in this world because of the world. It is something that He feared for His own. It is something to which the apostle said he was crucified: "I (have been crucified) unto the world" (Gal. 6:14), he says. Think of crucifixion! My, that is a tremendous thing! And he said, 'The world made it necessary for me to be crucified. I have been crucified unto the world, put to death in this violent and humiliating way because of the world.'
It is this thing, this world, which has proved such a disastrous thing for the church during its history. If the church is in a state of weakness, a state of ineffectiveness, a state without a real impact here on this earth, if it is failing at all, you may trace it to this: that the world has been able to get in, and it has gone into the world. It is this link with this accursed world - for it is under a curse. It is under judgment. It is the link with that that is destructive of all spiritual Life and spiritual growth. You talk about a 'worldly Christian'. In reality there is no such thing. You are either worldly, or you are a Christian, from the New Testament standpoint. These are the differences between Light and darkness, between death and Life, and if you bridge that gap in any way in your life, if you are surrendering yourself to the purpose of the ruler of this world, you frustrate the purpose of the Life that is in you. We cannot be too strong about this.
What is the world? Well, that will take a long time to answer. But you know it is not the sphere, it is not the place. We are not talking about the earth. We are talking about a system and a mentality to begin with. The mentality of this world is altogether different from the mentality of Christ. Take its standard of values! What the world sets up as a value is a thing that the Lord thinks nothing of at all! The Lord's standard of values are spiritual values. The world's standard of values are material values. See what the world makes of man! It is all the time working to make man important, something of account. Oh, what the world will do with a man, if it can: inflate him, enlarge him, give him a great place. Yes, it will make man into something. God does not do that. Get yourself into the hands of the Holy Spirit and He will knock the bottom out of all your pride, conceit, self-importance, self-sufficiency, and everything that is you, and put other values in you which are not these earthly, worldly values in their vanity and emptiness. God's standard of values is of a different kind altogether. They are eternal; heaven's standard of values. Altogether different from this world's.
If you get into that world and you begin to take on its standard
of values, you will lose all your spiritual Life. When Paul said "I
(have been crucified) unto the world", the context is a
sidelight upon this very thing. What did he mean by being
crucified to the world? You will notice that the context is this.
He is speaking about those Judaisers who were pursuing him
wherever he went because he was preaching 'justification by faith
and not by works'. And he says "They desire to have you
circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh" (Gal. 6:13).
He means that they might be able to say: 'Look how many converts
to Israel we have made all over the world' and glory in the number
of converts that they have made. And Paul says: 'That is the
world. I have been crucified unto the world'. It is a worldly
thing to begin to count heads like that.
David committed the sin of his life when, even against the advice of such a carnal man as Joab, he numbered Israel. 'Oh', said Joab, 'No, my lord, don't do it. The Lord make the people of Israel a hundred times what they are, but don't you do this.' But David was caught at that time and he numbered Israel. The result was that God mowed down Israel with the pestilence and plague and reduced them. But David was held responsible. It is sheer worldliness to boast in numbers, and in material growth, and all that external side of things in which the flesh can boast and take pleasure. That is how the world behaves with display and statistics. Paul said "I (have been crucified) unto the world". If you get into that realm you will lose your spiritual Life.
Yes, that is the world, and I have only hinted at what the world is. It is a mentality, a standard of values, a way of looking at things. And it is the energy of the flesh.
And when you look behind all these things, and the many other things that the world is, you say: 'Where does it come from? What is its energy?' That energy is satanic. The ruler of this world is the energy of this whole system. This is the enemy of the spiritual Life: the world. Oh, may we see and understand, and be very sensitive to this whole matter of where we can touch this world. I don't mean coming out from this earth and leaving it. Paul said that we cannot do that. We have got to be here. Christ said: "These are in the world... they are not of the world" (John 17:11,16). It is a very important thing that the enemy does not destroy the destroyers of his kingdom, by making them make contact with his kingdom, or causing them to make contact with his kingdom.
Now, the second thing:-
The Secret of Victory.
"This is the victory that has overcome the world". What is it? Of course, it says here "our faith", but that is a related matter. Look at two fragments in this letter. The first is in chapter 4, verse 4: "Ye are of God, my little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world." And then in chapter 2, verse 20: "And ye have an anointing from the Holy One, and ye know all things". In verse 27: "And as for you, the anointing which ye received of Him abides in you."
"Ye have an anointing... the anointing... abides in you... greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world". So, then, the true child of God has resident within no one else, and nothing less than God the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit by which Jesus overcame the world. He had the anointing, as you know, at His baptism, and overcame because of the Spirit that was in Him. He overcame death because, it is declared, He was raised by the Spirit. He overcame everything because of the Spirit of God that was joined with Him.
Now here John is saying, as in His case, so in our case: "ye have an anointing". 'You have received the same Holy Spirit as was with Christ, and that Holy Spirit abides in you and "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world"'. Oh, that terrible, immense power and deep subtlety and ingenuity of the evil one, great as it is, however, "greater is He that is in you than he".
What a thing the Christian life must be if that is true! The enormity of the power of evil that is working in this world, in the nations and in mankind is really something that we cannot comprehend; certainly we cannot cope with it. And then to be told, 'Take the sum of it all - and greater is He that is in you than the totality of that that is in the world'! It must be a tremendous thing to be a Christian if that is true! It must be a tremendous thing to have eternal Life in us! It must be a tremendous thing to have the Holy Spirit in us. Oh, the Lord lift us on to a higher level of Christian life in a true apprehension of how great a thing it is!
Now notice what John says; "And you know all things". 'The anointing which abides in you teaches you all things'. The indwelling Holy Spirit creates and imparts an intelligence to those who really possess Him and who live in Him; an intelligence that this world has not got, an intelligence that the natural man does not possess. "Teaches you concerning all things" (1 John 2:27). Do you know something about that? The Holy Spirit indwelling, teaching, taking us into the Divine School and educating us, giving us spiritual intelligence which no one without the Holy Spirit can possess. That is the birthright of every child of God: spiritual intelligence of this kind, with the indwelling Holy Spirit 'teaching us concerning all things'. That is a wonderful world to live in, surely! The Holy Spirit continually teaching us, right through our lives.
Now, you see, that is something different from being religious.
This is something different from being an adherent of a Christian
system called a church. This is something different from going to
church whenever a church service is on, and hearing a preacher,
and all that. Those things may be all right and may be useful.
There might be grounds on which God could work. But what this says
is that you have got it inside yourself, if you are a Christian -
and God only knows how His people today, in the lands of
persecution, are discovering this thing! No more meetings or
services, no more interchange with fellow Christians, no more
sermons and addresses, no more public reading of the Bible, no
more of all that. Isolated and alone, shut up by themselves. They
are discovering what it means that they have got it all inside!
And if they have not, they have lost everything.
We must never be in a position that if we lose the externals of meetings and preachings, and so on, we have lost everything. We must be in a position whereby if at any time we find ourselves in a situation or in a place where none of these things are available, we have got the Lord, and we have the Holy Spirit who is teaching us, 'bringing to our remembrance' as Christ said, the things which He had spoken - the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit!
Now let no one think for a moment that I am saying that these other things are of no value and that you can give up meetings, give up having messages brought to you by the Lord's servants. No, that is not what John is saying. He is saying that whatever you have in that way, there is something deeper, something more than that. You have to know the Holy Spirit in your own heart as your teacher, as your inheritance, your instructor, showing you and guiding you into all the truth. That is not something extra to the Christian life. That is the normal Christian life. John is only seeking to bring these Christians back to what is normal. They have become subnormal in their spiritual life. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world"; and not only in the matter of intelligence, but in the matter of power, or energy, or strength.
And the wonderful thing about this greater power is that it works alongside weakness. Where is our power of endurance, of resistance, of overcoming, and taking ascendancy? We are weak creatures, and we are made so by God Himself. Weak and dependent in ourselves. We are counted as nothing in this world. And yet, my dear friends, when the story is fully told, it will be seen that our very survival - to say nothing of our ultimate victory - is the result of the working of the "exceeding greatness of His power" (Eph. 1:19), to get us through. It took nothing less than the almighty power of God to get us through because of the forces that were set against us.
Paul says: "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9). Alright! Weak, yes, poor creatures... but the vessels of a power and energy that is supernatural. "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world".
You and I have to be brought to that place where the Cross empties us of ourselves in order to make room for the greater One to be in us. The Cross has to weaken our strength of soul, mind and will in the things of God; our self-sufficiency, our self-assertiveness. The Cross must undercut all that and bring us to a state of brokenness, and dependence, where we know that, but for God, the situation is hopeless in us and we can do nothing. The Cross must bring us there. We must allow the Cross to do that, to provide all the room for the 'greater to be in us than is in the world'. In other words, the Holy Spirit takes over and becomes the source and energy of everything.
"This is the victory that has overcome the world".