“Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” 2 Corinthians 5:9,10 NKJV
I’m sure that most of us, either by experience or observation, are familiar with the emotions a bride or groom feel when they first see each other as the bride walks down the aisle on her wedding day. So much time and effort has gone into getting ready for that moment and the result is evident in the eyes of the groom as he sees his bride dressed and made up for the wedding. The Church, as the bride of Christ, will soon be taken to heaven to be with Him forever and the question I cannot help but ask myself is just what will Jesus see when I appear before His judgment seat and He looks at me in light of what I have done for Him?
Fortunately for me, and anyone else who desires to please God, one way to know what is expected of us can be revealed by reading the letters to the seven churches of Revelation and what Jesus says He expects from those He calls “overcomers”.
“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” 1 John 5:4-5 NKJV
If we consider the extent to which many believers are beginning to feel persecuted, and combine that with the turbulence we see politically, economically, socially, as well as the ever increasing geological and astronomical events, is it any wonder many believe the word “overcome” is especially appropriate? As difficult as our circumstances may be, as frightening as events around us may seem, as tempting it might be to consider stepping back from our witness, is it not reassuring to know that not only are we encouraged to overcome but can take heart knowing we have the promise of God that we can overcome this world because He already has.
“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NKJV
The Greek word for overcome is nikaō, which means literally to conquer, or to be victorious. In other words, we as believers are encouraged by the knowledge that God has already conquered this world, and because He lives in us, we too have already achieved the victory. As funny as it may sound, we are running a race which, by God’s grace, we have already won. For believers, the outcome of the race before us is predetermined and this knowledge is the source of the strength we need to battle whatever this world may throw in our way as we approach the finish line.
“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.” 1 John 2:14 NKJV
All too often we as believers struggle with the feeling that we are failing in our attempts to live the life that God expects from us. When life presents us with problems or struggles or persecution and we fail to react or perform in the manner we feel would be acceptable to God we often despair that we will ever get it right. Those feelings come because we make the mistake of focusing on the problem facing us rather than the victory we already have by the grace given to us when we first believed. You see, we have already won because our faith is in Jesus, and He has already overcome the world.
Our final victory is already assured by the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and all who have accepted that gift are overcomers. The word overcome, used to describe those who have made this choice, is found throughout the New Testament but primarily in the letters to the seven churches found in the Book of Revelation. In these seven letters we find seven spiritual sins the churches are guilty of, and the overcomers are those who stay true to the gospel. It is here where Jesus reveals the rewards overcomers will receive when the race is finally over and we join our Father in Heaven.
The letters to the seven churches spell out seven things that believers are encouraged to overcome, and if you read them they seem to be incredibly appropriate to the world we live in today, especially as we see the finish line approaching.
“Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.
“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’Revelation 2:4,7 NKJV
To the church in Ephesus believers are warned not to forget their first love, which was sharing the Gospel with an unbelieving world. This church was caught up in doing works, which while good, is not the primary purpose for which the Church was created.
“Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’ Revelation 2:10-11 NKJV
The believers from the church in Smyrna were to be tested and suffer for their faith, many to the point of death. Although tempted to renounce their faith, they are told they have nothing to fear from death because overcomers who die in faith, receive eternal life.
“But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. “Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. “Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’ Revelation 2:14-17 NKJV
The overcomers in Pergamum were believers who stayed true to the Gospel and were not taken in by doctrines which taught practices which were unbiblical, and obviously pagan. The sword of his mouth Jesus speaks of is the Word of God, by which all teaching should be examined.
“Now to you I say, and to the rest in Thyatira, as many as do not have this doctrine, who have not known the depths of Satan, as they say, I will put on you no other burden. “But hold fast what you have till I come. “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations-“ Revelation 2:24-26 NKJV
Overcomers in Thyatira were believers who were not taken in by teaching which tried to add traditions or non-biblical practices or works as parts of the Gospel. Here believers are told to reject what some in the church might try to add as part of salvation, and live by faith alone.
“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. “Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. “Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. “You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” Revelation 3:1-5 NKJV
Satan’s plan for the Church has always been to weaken it by watering down the true Gospel. Just as he did in the Garden of Eden, he attacks the authority of God’s Word and soon the church is teaching there are no absolutes. Overcomers in Sardis are those who watch for false teachings and strengthen the true Gospel.
“I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. “Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Revelation 3:8-12 NKJV
The best promise of all is given to those overcomers of the church at Philadelphia. These are true believers who hold fast to the true Gospel of grace through faith by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Here those who have persevered are promised that they will be delivered from the tribulation period which will come to test the whole world.
“I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” Revelation 3:15,16 NKJV
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.” Revelation 3:20,21 NKJV
Finally we come to the apostate church. Rather than believers, they call themselves “Christ followers”. Rather than teaching the gospel of grace through faith, they teach good works and service. Unfortunately for them, Jesus tells them quite plainly that He is outside knocking to get in. Overcomers are those who hear His knock and invite Him in.
Seven letters to seven churches and the message is, for the most part, exactly the same. Although it is important to live our lives as a witness for Christ, and that our behavior reflects the attributes taught by His Word, overcomers are those who guard the true Gospel of Christ in a world that desperately wants to see it go away. Satan’s plan has always been to somehow introduce false doctrines and teachings which turn people away from the true gospel of grace through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ, and that has never been more evident than what we see today in the seeker friendly, Christ follower, service oriented, emergent church.
So prevalent has this apostate church become that those who choose to be overcomers and stand by the true Gospel of Christ will most certainly, in one way or another, suffer persecution for their faith. The reason we are called overcomers is that not only must we overcome the false teachings of the church; we must also overcome the abuse we will be subjected to because we choose not to conform. We can overcome because Jesus already has. When I stand before my Lord my prayer is that He will see me as an overcomer.
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown. “He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more.” I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.” Revelation 3:11,12 NKJV