Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)
Overcoming. What or who is it that needs to be overcome? What does it look like to overcome evil with good? The context for this verse gives a lot of detail.
Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." (Romans 12:9-20)
Where else can we find references about overcoming? Look at Jesus' messages to the seven churches.
To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.
He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.
To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.
He who overcomes, and he who keeps My deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations; and he shall rule them with a rod of iron, as the vessels of the potter are broken to pieces, as I also have received authority from My Father; and I will give him the morning star.
He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.
He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he will not go out from it anymore; and 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 My new name.
He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (from the messages to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3)
Ponder for a few minutes on which of these promises resonate most deeply with your heart.
It is often assumed that it is bad behavior we are supposed to overcome. But I have come to realize that our malfunctions we usually call sins are not the real problems in our lives; they are merely symptoms that cause pain and trouble and keep us enslaved to a deeper hidden power. Working on trying to stop sinning can actually be a diversion from salvation rather than a cure for our condition just as overcoming physical symptoms is generally ineffective when dealing with a serious disease if the root cause is not dealt with effectively. It may be helpful to find relief from painful symptoms, but unless the underlying reason for sickness is discovered and diagnosed properly and then dealt with, treating only symptoms can become like a drug addiction that can itself become a cause of death.
Yet how easy it is to remain obsessed with overcoming or suppressing symptoms of sin that we remain deceived believing this is where our work of overcoming is supposed to take place.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, "Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. "And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Revelation 12:10-11)
Here we find that in the end those who overcome successfully do so in the context of continual accusations. There is an accuser who accuses us incessantly, both directly as well as before our God. This should give us a huge clue as to where our focus needs to be regarding what is to be overcome.
Notice too that the methods overcomers rely on are described in three ways:
because of the blood of the Lamb,
because of the word of their testimony,
they did not love their life more than God even in the face of threats of death.
This dramatically shifts the focus away from our typically egocentric view of salvation to our need to see that the much more important issue involved in overcoming relates to God's reputation.
The blood of the Lamb refers to the evidence provided by the blood of Jesus concerning the truth about God's heart and His feelings toward sinners as well as a better appreciation of the true nature of sin. The only mention of literal blood related to the death of Jesus are two references that both provide compelling evidence that it was internal emotional anguish that brought about the death of God's Son, not the physical torture He endured at the hands of sinners. Once this is better understood it makes more sense how the blood of the Lamb becomes a means of overcoming the accusations of the enemy.
The word of the testimony of God's followers here on earth likewise also shifts our focus away from remaining obsessed over our behavior toward God's dilemma involving His reputation. God is the one on trial and He has repeatedly called on His people throughout history to be His witnesses. Obsessing over trying to be good or right instead of focusing our attention on how good God is has long been a very effective decoy used by the great accuser to perpetuate the effectiveness of his accusations.
May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, "That You may be justified in Your words, and prevail when You are judged." (Romans 3:4 NAS95)
They did not love their life even in the face of death. How does this fit into overcoming? I believe the answer to this can better be appreciated by first involving the next question. How does God intend to overcome when He is judged, and what methods does He rely on to overcome?
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. (Mark 8:34-35)
In fact this is what you were called to do, because Christ suffered for you and gave you an example, so you should follow in his footsteps. Christ never committed any sin. He never spoke deceitfully. Although he was abused, he never tried to get even, when he suffered, he threatened no retaliation, but left everything to the one who judges fairly. (1 Peter 2:21-23 combined versions)
Jesus came to this earth for one main purpose – to accomplish the salvation of God's reputation. Yes, doing so also involves salvation for sinners as a vital component in that venture. But we must come to see that until God's reputation has been fully vindicated in the mind of every intelligent being throughout the entire universe, it will be impossible for Him to usher in fully His kind of kingdom that is based entirely on love alone, where complete freedom, joy, peace and vulnerability composes the atmosphere that makes the universe forever safe from a recurrence of rebellion.
Our salvation is simply part of the testimony needed to vindicate God's reputation, for it is a lie of Satan that agape love does not really exist in God's heart. This is the core lie that must be refuted and overcome. So as God demonstrates His unconditional love and forgiveness in saving rebellious and wicked sinners, transforming them into reflections of His own character through exposure to His love, He proves irrefutably the truth about His own heart of love and the power that love has over evil.
Love however, cannot be commanded, and God can never awaken love in us by demanding it. Yet love is what we must experience to overcome evil. The root of the problem of sin that must be overcome in our life are the lies about God that have so long infected and distorted how we feel about Him that we cannot trust Him readily. Only as these hidden lies we retain about God's trustworthiness are exposed and dispelled by the real truth about Him can we find the overcoming power provided by the Lamb.
God has to overcome all the slander and lies and accusations circulating about Him that have taken root in minds and hearts everywhere. The subtle ripple effects of these lies have even affected unfallen beings throughout the universe so that all of them must also be fully convinced in order to recover the full level of trust and confidence and love needed by sinners and unfallen beings alike.
The only effective way to overcome lies is through demonstration of truth, not just asserting it with words. Claiming that God is love carries little weight in the face of the many overwhelming accusations against Him. The only way God can prove that He really is selfless love is to both demonstrate it and describe it more and more clearly. This is the core essence of what effective overcoming is all about. And this is the same method that all His witnesses must use as well.
God gains our trust by a demonstration of humility in selfless love and service without any strings attached. Gaining trust involves granting complete freedom to everyone to decide for themselves without any threat of recrimination or punishment if they choose not to agree. And for God's witnesses to increase trust of God in others requires paying more attention to God's reputation than our own – which is exactly what Jesus did the entire time He was here on earth. These are the only ways in which the lies of the accuser can be overcome, through clear demonstrations in spirit and power of the real truth about the goodness (righteousness) of our loving heavenly Father.
Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own. Those who speak on their own seek their own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and there is nothing false in him. (John 7:17-18)
Overcoming is directly related to 'the truth' about God, for it is lies and slander and insinuations about God that can be discovered at the core of every controversy. John more than anyone else, emphasized that the truth about what God is like is the central issue on which we must focus our keenest attention.
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32)
Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." (John 8:34-36)
Committing sin is merely a symptom resulting from lack of trust in God, and this distrust is always caused by lies we still believe about Him. Actions emanate from beliefs – gut-level beliefs. So when we sin it is simply an outward evidence of inward distrust and fear rooted in lies about God that still need to be exposed and dispelled before we can become fully free.
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. (John 8:44-45)
Everyone who commits sin is a child of the devil; for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The Son of God was revealed for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. (1 John 3:8)
There are two main contenders vying to gain our allegiance as well as two competing fundamental principles operating in our world. Satan has infected our very nature so that at least some of his lies come already embedded in the deepest levels our subconsciousness. But God has sent His Spirit as well as His Son to counteract and offer a cure for our infection of distrust of God. He is the only reliable demonstration of the real truth about God for He is the One who came to show us the real Father.
While here on earth Jesus, the only authoritative representative of God, faced off repeatedly with the accuser of God in a titanic contest between the truth about God and the lies of His enemy. All the universe watched with intense interest every event that transpired during entire time Jesus lived on earth as a human. In every confrontation Jesus exposed more clearly what was really hidden in the heart of God in contrast to the insinuations of His enemy. These two competing contenders faced off round after round seeking to overcome the other in their bid to convince the onlooking universe that their version of God was the accurate one. Note the words of Jesus concerning this:
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known. (John 1:18)
Yet Lucifer claims that he knows better the real truth about God because he too lived close to the Father's heart originally. He insists that while there he discovered long-hidden secrets about Him that God does not want others to find out. This is the origin of the conspiracy mentality and sadly is very much alive still today. This assertion that selfishness and dark motives are hidden somewhere deep in the mystery of God's mind became the original cause of rebellion throughout the universe and is where the sin problem originated in the first place. So it only makes sense that it is these insinuations about God's heart that must first be resolved before God can return the universe to peace and harmony. And this is also why Jesus came to this earth, to demonstrate at ground level to the universe the truth that agape love can defeat the power of all the enemy's lies.
When it was all over it became evident that Jesus had effectively overcome every one of Satan's insidious lies about God by demonstrating explicitly what is actually hidden deep within the heart of God. Only love and forgiveness was found there. Yet not everyone has made up their minds, so the war continues. Yet the history of that greatest showdown climaxing on the cross of Christ remains as irrefutable testimony in God's favor and will be the reliable witness that has the most power to secure the universe for eternity when all have chosen who's version of God they will embrace.
Right now we in a time of grace probation in which we may still determine our own destiny. That will be decided as a result of who's version of God we choose to embrace. The decisions we make every day are central to the formation of our character. Who's version of God we choose to believe is what shapes our character. If we cling to the kind of gods that make Him look at all like any of the enemy's accusations about Him, we become more and more like those kinds of gods ourselves. But if we are faithful to reject every counterfeit version of God in favor of embracing only a Jesus-looking God, His version of God has the inherent power to transform us into becoming and living very much like Jesus.
This is the only method by which we can overcome the lies of the enemy both in our own heart as well as helping to refute the credibility of those lies in other hearts. Our choices to agree with Jesus about God presents additional testimony in His defense as in our own lives the truth about God's righteousness is demonstrated. By allowing Christ to dwell in us and transform us through the powerful revelation about God's heart of real love, our testimony affirms the witness of His only true Son, thus swelling the chorus of all who have chosen to side with Jesus, the perfect representation of the Father.
[God's Son] is the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. (Hebrews 1:3)
What kind of purification is needed for sins? It is the cleansing of our minds of all the lies about God that poisons us and prevents us from being able to freely and totally trust the heart of God. We must be purified of everything that contaminates us with false notions about God's pure and passionate love for us so that we may be prepared to dwell in the intense presence of His love without any trace of fear.
For yet "in a very little while, the one who is coming will come and will not delay; but my righteous one will live by faith. My soul takes no pleasure in anyone who shrinks back." But we are not among those who shrink back and so are lost, but among those who have faith and so are saved. (Hebrews 10:37-39)
Faith is a natural response that synchronizes us with the faith of Jesus who never wavered in His unflinching passion to honor His Father's reputation in every word, thought and dealing. As we grow in our appreciation of the faith that Jesus has, both in His Father's love for Him and also their love for us, faith awakens within our own hearts and our lives then spontaneously begin overcoming the lies of the enemy that have kept us so long enslaved to fear resulting in sin.
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:17-19)
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)
He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. (Revelation 3:21 NAS95)