So how many of us enjoy a good struggle? You know, not just some inconvenience, but rather the kind of problem that taxes us to the point of exhaustion? The sort of thing which causes us to worry, question, and often lose sleep at night? Unfortunately many of us at one time or another have held the opinion, or considered the thought that as believers we should somehow be immune to struggles, but in reality the Bible is full of examples of believers who had their fair share of problems. Paul talked a lot about our struggles against our sinful nature, and his own personal struggle with sin prompted him to say this about himself;
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Romans 7:24 NKJV
Obviously if someone like Paul struggled to the point of calling himself “wretched'”, where am I? We all struggle to do what we know God expects from us, but speaking for myself, I fail a lot. So how can we cope with a life that seems at times to be a struggle rather than a worry free existence?
In the New Testament, the word overcome is used almost exclusively by only two people; Jesus and Paul. In fact, both use this word solely in the context of letters to the churches. Paul, when writing to the churches, is concerned with addressing the problems they are experiencing and giving practical advice for "overcoming". Jesus, when writing His letters to the churches in Revelation, is giving a warning concerning their performance and revealing the rewards that will be received only by those who "overcome". Obviously this concept is a very important one, so I want to explore it a little in our study to see what insights we might find concerning God's expectations from us.
First of all, the idea of overcoming something gives us a clue that it might be a struggle, or something not easily achieved. Paul tells us that as Christians, we do have a struggle to endure. In his letter to the Ephesians he tells us this;
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual [hosts] of wickedness in the heavenly [places].
Ephesians 6:12 NKJV
If you look at the context of this letter, we find Paul is comparing the difference between an immature and mature believer. Here he tells us that a mature Christian understands that the true nature of our struggles in this life are not from people, but the powers of darkness authored by Satan himself. How often in this life do we look at the troubles we face and personalize them? It's all because so and so did this to me, or said this about me. etc? The problem is the people I have to deal with! Paul says that is an immature view of life. We need to understand that these people and situations are authored by the forces of darkness that surround us. The mature Christian who has learned to overcome knows where the struggle is; in our minds! Our attitude towards our struggles determines our success or failure.
Understanding our fight is against this world, and the temptations we find in it is the key to achieving victory in our walk with God. So how do we overcome these temptations? Well, Paul also says this;
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.
Ephesians 6:10 NKJV
What does it mean to be "strong in the Lord"? It simply means that the mature Christian knows he cannot rely on his own power but must walk in the spirit of God through fellowship with Him. You see, many Christians today may appear to be mature because they go through the motions of going to church and getting involved in some aspect of service, but this is "spirituality", not maturity. You see, you can do these things without ever walking in fellowship with God and growing in your relationship with Him. In several of the letters to the churches in Revelation Jesus says that He knows what they are doing, but what they are doing is not enough. He specifically says in every letter that the rewards only go to those who "overcome".
So how do we become mature and overcome? Look at what we are told by John;
I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him [who is] from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him [who is] from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one. Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that [is] in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
1 John 2:13-17 NKJV
Simply put, the mature Christian who overcomes knows to turn his back to the things of this world. He knows that victory comes from making his focus growing in his relationship with God, rather than spending his time pursuing the "lusts" of this world. In a sermon about this struggle, Ray Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church had this to say;
The key to growth is fellowship with the Son of God, spiritual health. You want to be a mature Christian, able to take whatever comes, able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you? Then, give yourself to the conditions that make for health: Eat Christ, eat his Word, grow in the knowledge of him, think, talk, communicate with him. And sleep, i.e., rest in Christ. Learn how to rely on his strength, not yours, and live in constant expectation that he is working in you to do his good pleasure. And exercise! Serve him, obey him, move out, take on things to do, open your eyes and step out to meet the needs that call out all around you, the cries of suffering and anguished hearts, the lonely and discouraged. When you do, you will discover that you have overcome the evil one, he cannot get at you. And bit by bit you become like Christ, the most attractive, the most fascinating, the most compelling personality that ever lived.
Do you really want the victory you can have in Christ? Do you want to be an overcomer? Make your relationship with God the thing you work at most, and you will achieve the victory.