Do you ever get that defeated feeling? Like you are fighting a losing battle or are on the losing side? It might be your health or a relationship gone sour. It might be your parenting skills or your relationship with God. We try to be Christlike and loving, but there we go again with a rather unloving attitude, words, or actions. Or there we go again, being inpatient or lacking in gentleness or self-control. Or there we go again, another drink, another look. We are losing the battle, again.
We feel defeated, yet John says that we are conquerors!
Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?1 John 5:5 (NRSV)
Perhaps we think that John is thinking of the Christians in his day and wonder if only we could be like those earliest Christians, going from victory to victory in Jesus! But were they going from victory to victory in life and faith?
The earliest Christians would have have sometimes felt like they were fighting a losing battle.
We can think of Paul never being delivered from his “thorn in the flesh.” We can think of how the family of James, the brother of John, would have felt when their loved one was executed while Peter was miraculously rescued by an angel. You win some and you lose some. Some battles were indeed lost.
While there were very positive moments and very good things happening among the young Christian communities, there were reasons these earliest Jesus followers would have felt defeated collectively.
They would have felt like they were losing the battle for the hearts and minds of God’s people, the Jews, who had a great hope that God would come and intervene on behalf of His people. God did, through Jesus. But the good news largely fell on deaf ears.
They were also losing the battle for the hearts and minds of non-Jews in the Roman world. For example, why didn’t Paul and the other apostles ever speak out directly against slavery in their letters? Well, what would be the point? Who would have listened? Paul did tell the Christ followers that their relationships could and should be different, as we read, for example, in his letter to Philemon. The way of Jesus was working its way into all relationships, but mainly relationships within the community of Christians where there “is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NRSV). However, among those calling the shots in society, the Christians were just a small insignificant sect. They were like an insect the authorities would try to squash time and again. Like us, they experienced victories, and crushing defeats. The winds of change were indeed blowing, but at times the battle would have seemed to be lost. We are not alone if we sometimes feel like we are fighting a losing battle and not on the winning team.
Yet John calls us conquerors. John, who would have seen the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the wins and the losses, has the audacity to call us conquerors. How so?
And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.1 John 5:3-4 (NRSV)
Notice how that victory is described by John as “our faith.”
The one who conquers is not the one who figures out how to win every battle by their own efforts, but the one who trusts Jesus to win the war. And Jesus has won the war.
The one who claimed to be the Messiah, the rightful king, seemed to be dispatched easily by the craftiness of the Jewish authorities combined with the power of the occupying Roman authorities. The disciples would have felt the sting of defeat in that moment. But notice what Jesus said:
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.John 12:23-24 (NRSV)
Sure they killed Jesus, but he rose from the dead. This was no defeat, but victory.
Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.1 Corinthians 15:24-26 (NRSV)
We are conquerors, not through our abilities, but through faith in the ability of Jesus to win the war against sin, evil, and death.
Faith kept the earliest Christians going when they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Faith has kept Christians throughout the centuries going despite often losing battles. Faith keeps Christians around the world today going when they seem to be fighting a losing battle against persecution. Faith keeps us moving forward no matter what.
If we feel like we are fighting a losing a battle, perhaps we are. Not every battle will be won. But we have faith that Jesus has won the war.
There are battles ahead that will be lost. For some, that ends up not being the last drink, the last time watching pornography, or the last time losing one’s temper. Some, despite their belief in Jesus and the support of Christian friends, will lose the battle to stay alive. Battles are fought, and sadly, sometimes lost.
We see the struggle that prayer does not seem to touch. We see the disease that takes a life. Some battles will indeed be lost and we will feel defeated. The battle may indeed be lost, but the war is won. That makes us victors in Christ.
When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled:1 Corinthians 15:54-57 (NRSV)
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, 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.
Keep the faith!