I’m going to risk sounding like a grumpy old curmudgeon. 
A lot of popular worship music just irritates me. I’m an insider to this movement—I’ve led worship most Sundays for almost two decades now, so I’ve had plenty of experience with worship music. Lest you think I’m an unredeemable killjoy, let me admit that there are many theologically grounded well written praise and worship songs in the world. It’s the biblically naive songs that drive me crazy.
This is How We Overcome is one of those songs. If you’re an evangelical Christian, you’ve probably sang it. Songwriting powerhouse Reuben Morgan published this celebratory song (also known as “Morning Into Dancing”) in 1998 and it became a staple in celebration services. Singers cry out, “Your light broke through my night,” and “you have turned my sorrow into joy.” The bridge drives the message home ad infinitum: “This is how we overcome!” According to the song, Christians overcome by confessing that God makes them happy. You can listen to it by clicking here if you’d like.
Here’s my beef. Look up all the uses of “overcome” in the New Testament (or just click here) and read through the passages. All the talk about “morning into dancing” (which is a good biblical message in context—read Psalm 30) has nothing to do with overcoming. Overcoming is much more ominous in tone.
John repeats the phrase, “overcome(s) the world” three times in three consecutive sentences. It’s worth looking into what he’s really talking about.
The direct object of the verb “overcome” is “the world.” We know that God loved it (John 3:16), yet back in 1 John 2:15 we’re told explicitly not to love the world. Clearly the word “world” refers to more than one thing. In one sense, God created the world and called it “good.” Despite the corrupting influence of sin, Jesus still loved this world enough to give his life to see all creation reconciled to himself.
The “world” John is referring to here—that which we are not to love, that which we have overcome—is “worldly attitudes and values that are opposed to God” (Kruse 172). Just as the term “flesh” in scripture can refer to the skin on my body or human nature turned away from God, “world” can be viewed in a positive or negative light.
How, then, have we overcome the world? How do we continue to overcome?
This Is How We Overcome
In John’s gospel, he records chapters worth of teaching and prayer that Jesus gave to his disciples before he was betrayed in the garden. Among that teaching is a challenging yet comforting word:
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. (John 16:33 ESV)
The first thing we learn about overcoming is that it’s something Jesus did first. We get to overcome only because we are found in Christ, in the Overcomer himself! This is why John lists faith and rebirth as prerequisites for overcoming. We share in the victory of another. We are because Christ was and is.
This overcoming that we share in is one of the key concepts in Revelation. The seven churches are given promises to those who will overcome (Revelation 2-3). Those seven churches refer figuratively to the whole church—these promises our for us. Those who overcome (or “conquer” in some translations):
- will eat from the tree of life (Ephesus)
- will not be hurt by second death (Smyrna)
- will receive hidden manna and a white stone with a new name (Pergamum)
- will receive authority over nations and the morning star (Thyatira)
- will receive white garments, an entry in the book of life, and confession before the Father (Sardis)
- will become a pillar in God’s temple and receive a new name (Philadelphia)
- will sit with Jesus on his throne (Laodicea)
Let that sink in for a moment. Those are some incredible promises for those who overcome the world. Fortunately John the Revelator makes it glaringly clear how to overcome—how to receive these promises:
And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (Revelation 12:11 ESV)
The saints conquered the world because they held on to their testimony—their confession that Jesus died for them—until the point of their own death. Overcoming is less about celebration and more about endurance. Less dancing, more persevering.
To bring it back to 1 John 5, I find it beautiful the way the saint’s twofold overcoming in Revelation lines up with the tenses of the verb “overcome” in our text. In 1 John 5:4b, the verb “overcome” is an aorist participle. That typically refers to a completed action. Overcoming the world is something that Jesus has definitively accomplished. In the next verse, however, the verb is a present participle referring to an ongoing process. We overcome daily (by the word of our testimony) as we cling to the Overcomer (the blood of the lamb).
This is how we overcome!
1 John 5:6-8 | Spirit, Water, Blood >