Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

1 John 5: 5 

There are forces all around us in this life that not only can harm us but that are actively seeking to overcome us. I am not thinking about situations and circumstances that are overwhelmingly difficult; although, they are quite real, I mean that there are spirits and powers that have evil as their core intent. They are set on a coarse of assault, entrapment, and disablement that is placed into every one’s daily path of travel. 

However, everything that is in opposition to God has already been defeated by Jesus; so, every human failing, each flawed thought, and all of our unloved and unloving images have become traps with their springs removed by the power of Christ’s love for each of us. We need to accept this reality and believe from the center of our hearts that it is true and that it is my own, personal and absolute truth. 

Jesus is the victor in my life and over all that seeks to harm me and to lessen my ability to demonstrate the life changing and transformational love of God in a lost world. Belief leads to faith, which takes us to a place of trust; then, trust allows us to walk with bold confidence through the mine field that is this world while knowing that we are safe in every way that matters. Since I believe in Christ, who has given me the promise of His victory, I can face all of the situations, people, and decisions that will come to me today with the strength and the boldness of the knowledge that the Lord will use it all for His glory.   

Therefore, we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

Romans 6: 4 

This is one of those times when I feel the need to share one of my secrets, reveal a truth about the way that my mind works that is not one that I let out very often. You see, there are far too many ways that I forget the basic and vital fact that I am not the same as I was. In some ways this is the inevitable result of time and age; for, I have less hair, more wrinkles, and my knees creak more than before. Still, in many other ways the changes are much more important and are absolutely progressive and gloriously positive. 

When I start thinking about the negative and the impossible in my life, when these become my mind’s focal point, I have forgotten who I am. On the days when I doubt that God could possibly have anything useful for me to do, I have stopped listening to His voice. When I stop forgiving and start dwelling on the wrong that I think has been done to me, I have closed my heart to Christ’s love. Sadly, the list can keep going, for I do waste far too much of my life living in the past. In addition to this tendency to reside in the dusty halls of history, I also act and react to situations and to people in ways that are triggered and inspired by my old heart and mind.  

The old, earth bound, sin buried person was placed in a lead-lined box and stuck six feet under when I allowed Jesus into my life. A new, Spirit-filled me was reborn and freed to soar. There are still hard aspects to this life, bad decisions by me and evil intent by others will come my way, but I am free to react to it all from the perspective of God’s grand view and with His strength. As aspects of my dead and buried old being surface, and they will, I need to stop and look upon the face of glory that is the Spirit of Christ living in me. I need to speak my fears and confess my weakness to God; then, He always refocuses my eyes and redirects my mind onto the image of Christ that I am now becoming.   

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Colossians 1: 13, 14

In Christ we are redeemed! That means that we were purchased out of a life-ending existence wherein sin ruled our days and ravaged our nights, and we have been transported into the opposite form of reality in which true living exists today and eternity is our promise and our hope. This purchase that God the Father brought about was costly. Each and every life that comes into being in this world has great value and immeasurable worth, and this is true for us from that moment of conception onward. God so values being in a relationship with people that He paid the sacrificial price of giving His son, Jesus the Christ, as that ultimate and perfect payment.

Now, in Christ, we dwell in light! This is a place that is unobtainable by any other means. Jesus is the singular source of access to God’s absolute truth, wisdom, love, grace, and justice. He is the one that reconciles all of creation to its Creator, and He is the author of all that is truly good in this world. Without Christ, even the best of intentions will fall short and the best of people will fail to fully depart from the darkness of their souls. On our own we will not enter into the glorious light of God’s kingdom, for when we rely upon our own efforts and inherent goodness to do this, we will always fall short of that eternal glory.

So, through Christ we are forgiven! Our sins and failures and the ways and times of wandering away from God’s truth are set aside. Christ’s sacrificial act upon the cross has granted our escape from that life-long jail into which we were each born, and it has given freedom to all who recognize Christ as Savior and Lord. Our lives are set right with God, and we are granted the gift of new purpose for life and renewed vitality for living it. In this new life we dwell with the great King, and we are fed from His banquet table of grace, love, and truth so that we too are filled to overflowing with these Godly qualities. Thus, we can grant the gift of God’s presence to a darkened world as we bring the light of Christ’s love with us wherever our redeemed life might take our steps.   

 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

1 Peter 1: 20, 21

If you or I think that God is caught off-guard or unawares by the struggles that we have in life, then we have missed comprehending the heart of the Father. Should we ever face the issues that lie before us and see no opportunity for redemption in them, we lack a fuller appreciation of God’s commitment to His people. When we feel as if the challenges that those we care about most deeply are insurmountable, whether they are caused by willful disobedience or by situations and actions outside of their control, we need to open our eyes and truly see Christ’s love, grace, and power in their fullness. This world is a harsh and a difficult place to live. There are many traps and pitfalls that we can stumble into, and the landscape is littered with the debris that is the product of broken lives and failed dreams. Yet, God knew all of this before He did anything.

The Father sent His Son as our redeemer. Christ came into the world as a baby, and He left it as a fully formed man, whose life portrayed the intent, will, and power that God continues to pour out into the lives of people that accept His gifts. Christ now leads us into seeking after what has been promised to us from those times before the creation of the world. That is, we are to recognize that all goodness and mercy in our world come from God, and these unworldly qualities are granted to us in full measure through our faith in Christ and by the working of His Spirit in us and in our world. When we face trials, we are to call upon Christ in that faith and expectantly wait upon His understanding and wisdom to provide clarity and direction for any actions that we are to take. These times of prayer and contemplation can seem long when all that we desire is resolution or relief; yet, they serve the purpose of focusing our hearts and minds upon the Lord and taking them out of the naturally self-oriented place where people tend to go in challenging times.

Turning our deepest fears, concerns, and apprehensions over to God can be hard to do. People are generally formed up and function in a manner that is self-reliant and that utilizes our own resources to provide answers to all of the challenges that we face. There is nothing wrong with any of this; however, if we enter into the storms of life with our own skill and capacity as the complete and full set of resources that we have at our disposal, we are missing out on the greatest of all sources for gaining wisdom that overcomes all adversity and for the endurance that we will need to continue a hard journey to its conclusion. Christ can grant us the vision to see beyond the moment and into the glory of God’s redemption and restoration of all that is holy, good, and just in this world. As we place out faith and trust in Christ, He grants us a form of hope that is greater than all adversity, and He fills our weary hearts with a form of peace that id based upon His unfailing and eternal love. 

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.

1 John 3: 18

The language of love is a complex and a very interesting thing. Most of us go through our lives trying to learn how to speak it while also trying to learn how to understand the words that others are saying to us. It can be a bit like trying to learn two complex foreign languages at the same time, for the meaning of the words can get confused and the messages can be confusing or at least perplexing. Still, we have such a strong drive to learn how to communicate at this deep level that we are willing to put an enormous amount of work into making this strange tongue our own.

God has made the acquisition of His love language a lot simpler; however, there is a catch. That catch is the nature of the acquisition of this new vocabulary, for it is best learned and has to be applied as we go about living our lives. It seems that the Lord is true inventor of the immersion concept of learning, for He wants us to go into our world and engage with the lives of others with our goal being to bring a living picture of Christ’s love to them. God also makes it very clear that we are to show our growing mastery of His speech by demonstrating genuine love for each other within the family of God. Christ leaves us with no legitimate means to express superiority, exclusion, separating differences, and inequality. So, when we do or say anything that leads to these sorts of divisive words or actions, we are using a vocabulary that comes to us from our former, fallen flesh.

Christ calls us and He leads us to live in a higher place where His righteousness demands that we take the risks and perform the sacrifices of self that allow us to embrace all people with ready openness and with willing acceptance. However, there is one more aspect to this form of love expression, and that is truth. When we love others completely and when we are able to extend the grace of God to them, we are also required to be honest with them. Yet, as Christ demonstrated, God’s truth is a compelling part of the vocabulary of His love, and giving His love to others requires us to share His truth as well. Thus mastery of this complex language of eternal love is gained as we live life in the presence of Christ, and it is granted full expression as we love others without hesitation, reservation, or exclusion.

In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet, do it with gentleness and respect.

1 Peter 3: 15 

There is an interesting proposition made by Peter here; for, as we embrace Christ’s holiness at this deep and personal level, we are doing the same for ourselves; since, if Christ is in me, then His holiness is mine. That is why it becomes so very important to focus on the Lord’s attributes as a means of gaining a clearer understanding of our own new nature as a transformed person. The same holds true for focusing more clearly on our own anticipation and objectives for personal spiritual growth. 

As I consider the ways that I still don’t function as I should, based upon what God has established as the model for living in His holiness, the steps that I need to take and the personal sacrifices that I need to make in order to move in that direction become more clearly defined. There is always an element of surrender, a yielding of my will to the Lord, that is involved in this growth process, for this is a something that is begun by continually allowing Christ to be the center and the focus of my heart. 

Then, as the presence of His holiness takes over more of my being, my own ability to live in a manner that is reflective of Christ’s love increases, and I gain an ever greater understanding of the marvelous hopefulness that He brings into my life. This is a hope that is too large and much too important to keep buried inside. It needs to be expressed, and it will gain expression through the way that I live as well as through the words that I speak. The final element that Peter speaks to here is one that I suspect was a serious challenge for him; he again tells us to consider how Jesus went about connecting and communicating with people, for true holiness is also gentle, respectful, and always loving.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 4-7

God did not save anyone, ever, because of our goodness or as a result of the work that we have done. Accomplishment in this world is of no value to the Lord. He is interested in one thing, and that is our willing acceptance of Him as Lord over our existence, Savior of our souls, and Perfecter of our hearts. When Paul says that the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he does not mean that these Godly characteristics were previously missing; rather, he is indicating that, in Christ, they became present in this world in human form and in His death and resurrection they were made tangible to all of the world in a way that had never been true before. God’s goodness and loving kindness were demonstrated in Christ’s willingness to endure the worst of human violence in order to permanently eradicate sin and death’s true power over people’s lives.

All of this is done because God feels great pain when people reject Him. He desires to be in relationship with all of us, and the Lord seeks after everyone even knowing that many of us will not accept that invitation and realizing that there will be a number of us that will openly and actively reject His love, grace, and offer of mercy. When Jesus taught about the shepherd that seeks after the one percent of the flock that had wandered away and into danger, He was speaking God’s heart for the relentless pursuit of any and all who are, in fact, lost in this world. He will go anywhere and endure everything that the evil of this planet can throw at Him in order to redeem one of us. So, too, should we be open to following Christ’s call and His leading into loving others, caring about and for them, and for going where it is needful in order to bring the love of Christ and the truth of His gospel to them.

This willingness to serve the Lord is a sign that we are true heirs of the great spiritual wealth that comes to people who enter into adoption by God into His family of faith. We are made into people that are able and willing to lay down our lives in service to God because of the work of regeneration that the Holy Spirit does in us and the related renewing of our minds from ones that are focused primarily upon our own desires and wants into ones that follow God’s heart and that seek to live in the full expression of love, righteousness, and justice. In all of this there is freedom, for we are no longer required to do good works in order to appear to be worthwhile people in the world. Instead, Christ’s blood has washed us clean and we are proclaimed to be righteous and holy by Christ so that all that we think, say, and do is oriented by the Spirit toward serving God’s will and all constraints upon our capacity to love others are removed by the presence of Godly grace and mercy in and with us through each hour of every day.    

Jesus therefore said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”

John 20: 21

The presence of the living Christ in our world can be highly disturbing. He asks for a lot, and He isn’t really willing to compromise on the things that He wants from people, ether. So, it almost seems like a paradox that these were the first words He said to His disciples after He left the tomb and appeared among them. Now Christ was certainly wishing for them to be at ease and to realize and understand that the person who stood among them was the same Jesus that they had known and loved and who had loved them over the last few years, but I think that Christ had much more in mind than just that reassurance. He wanted them to embrace the fact that they were called to continue His work of bringing the reconciling love and grace of God to and into the world. So, the disciples were to go out and to bring the essential message of peace between people and God and, thus, that of peace among people in our world.

Jesus knew that bringing peace was never going to be an easy task, for it requires hard work and dedication to the purpose at hand. It is a relentless process, for there is an enormous amount of energy in our world that is dedicated to creating turmoil, separation, and animosity. People tend toward self-protection and fear of others, and these are emotions that run so deep within us as to be almost fundamental to who and to what we are. Our own natures tend toward the troubled, self-protective, and fearful sides of behavior. Still, Christ wants His deep-seated peace to rule our hearts and minds so that we will interact with others with the clear headed inner calm of Christ. When we do this, we can make a difference in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities, and that difference will be a tangible expression of Christ’s love.

With this eternal peace well settled on us, we can speak the hard truths of God’s Word and still be heard as compassionate. When we interact with others, the peace in our hearts will help to filter out our human defenses and it will allow a true dialogue to begin. The peace of Christ is something to accept and it is something to diligently seek after, for as humans, we just don’t naturally settle in peaceful places. Yet, in response to our tendency Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” True peace is not something that is created by treaties, by force, or by governments. True peace is the result of individual people who choose to believe Christ and who are willing to set aside their worldly human responses and thinking in order to allow the Holy Spirit the opportunityto transform our hearts and minds into ones that more accurately reflect God’s intent in creation; thus, Christ sends us into our world as committed peace makers. 

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD,

   “return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

   and rend your hearts not your garments.”

Return to the LORD your God,

   for he is gracious and merciful,

slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love;

   and he relents over disaster.

Joel 2: 12, 13

When people have departed from a relationship with God, His greatest desire is for them to return to Him. In these situations, God is not motivated by a need for power or for control, for those are things that He holds in His hands as a part of the nature of His being. The Lord gains nothing from our obedience to Him except for our companionship, and that is the thing that matters most to Him. God was willing to give everything in order to bring people into close communion with Him; so, that is exactly what He did. Christ’s blood is more than sufficient to cover any of the sinfulness in which we are able to engage, and it is more powerful than all of the drive to roam and to wander that often seems to propel people away from God and out of fellowship with His church.

The Lord enters into thE troubled, painful, and damaged places in our hearts. He brings a form of healing that cannot be found in any other place or through other mediums of restoration. Christ speaks truth into the challenging realities of our lives, and He does so with a clarity that is born out of His intimate knowledge of each of us. God takes the time that is required to truly understand the intricacies of our hearts and the complex processes of our minds so that He can engage with each person in a manner that enters into our lives fully and with a form of love and care that is typically found only in the relationship of parent to child. This is true even when we have attempted to put as much distance between ourselves and the Lord as it is possible to travel. The Lord will continue to seek after people when anyone else would have long before given up the pursuit.

The grace and the mercy that are offered to these wandering souls is fueled by God’s love. This is a love that knows neither limits nor situations or circumstances that inhibit or that defeat it. Christ’s love for each person that would ever be born into life on this earth is so great that even the torturous nature of the cross and humanity’s most strident of attempts to crush it out with ridicule and death could not extinguish it. Christ is calling to all of us who are far apart from our God. He is asking that we open our hearts to His love so that we can accept the grace and the mercy that He is holding out to us as a gift. Redemption, restoration, love, peace, and fellowship are set before us as a banquet feast that has been prepared by the Lord to celebrate the joyous return of those who have been absent from His table. So, for any and all people who have wandered away from the Lord’s presence and have taken themselves out of relationship with Him, Christ is calling, and He speaks out with grace and with love as He says, “Return for you are precious to me.”       

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

Romans 15: 7

This verse brings up the question, who is it that I do welcome and who do I not? For the reality of it all is that there are people that I give warmth and acceptance to and there are others with whom I do not so readily do this. What makes the difference, and why is it that I even think that I have a right to so discriminate when God does not do this? Jesus was hammered onto that cross for everyone. This is an undiluted and non-differentiated fact. Jesus had demonstrated the nature of God’s grace and His heart for redemption many times; so, there was really no question left about the availability of welcome when it came to God and to admittance into His kingdom. All are welcomed in, Christ has paid for that right for each and every one who will accept His love gift, and God, the Host, desires that each of us would accept the invitation to join in this eternal feast.

So, when it comes to my own attitudes about people, God grants me very little latitude to determine who is acceptable to me. As it pertains to my discriminating mind, the Lord seeks to provide me with opportunities to grow and to expand the length and the depth of my understanding of others so that I can just begin to see them as He does. Additionally, when I encounter people that are troubling to me in any of the ways that my sensibilities are upset, the Spirit is speaking to me to remind me that the person there before me that is causing me such disgust or who is so marginalized in my sight as to not even be visible is, in fact, a living, a thinking, and a feeling person who has been created by God’s own hand in His divine image. Thus, I have no right to turn up my nose or to avert my eyes when I am in the presence of God’s beloved creation.

It seems to me that the most important thing that Paul says here is what he tells us about the purpose of possessing this welcoming heart. We are to view others in this manner for the glory of God. As sinful people who dwell in our shaken and shattered world, we are not ready and willing to welcome people who trouble us into our homes and up to our tables. Acts of hospitality such as this are supernatural in their instigation and in their implementation. So, acts of care for others and extending love to them is a form of worship that carries with it the presence of Christ. This sort of unnatural acceptance of people who would in the usual state of our hearts and minds be ones that we would avoid is the work of the Spirit within us. It comes out of our surrender to the Christ who knew no strangers and who welcomed the most heavily sin stained of all humanity to come and to dine at His grace-filled table of redemption. Thus, in light of these hard truths, my Lord says to me, “My child, go about this day with open arms and with welcome on your lips.”