Exactly what must we overcome to qualify for God's Kingdom?
Let's face this question! God promises, "He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son" (Rev. 21:7). But exactly what are we to overcome? We need to know — our eternal future in God's Family is at stake! The word overcome, according to Webster's dictionary, means "to conquer, to overpower or overwhelm, to render helpless." What are we to conquer or render helpless? Many of us have been taught, and correctly so, that our "old man" or the "old self' is to be destroyed (Rom. 6:6). Believing this "old man" to be our human nature, we have struggled for years to overcome our own nature, only to find that it is still with us. As a result we feel a deep sense of failure and discouragement. Is this what God meant? Are we put here on earth to overcome ourselves?
Human nature neutral
Human nature is neither good nor bad of itself. A human being, at birth, is not inherently evil. Human nature is neutral. It is variable — capable of adjusting to one form of behavior or another depending on those factors that influence it. In other words, our human nature is our tendency to follow the ways and customs of those around us. The Bible often compares humans to sheep who either follow the Good Shepherd in paths of righteousness or wrong shepherds into paths of evil (John 10:7-9, 14, Isa. 53:6). Our human nature allows us to follow the ways of this world and become evil simply because we grew up in a world cut off from God and influenced by Satan. It is not human nature (the sheep like tendency to follow) that needs to be overcome, but the worldly character that we have acquired. In order to overcome, we must disassociate ourselves from wrong guidance and wrong pulls and associate ourselves with God and those who follow God, in order to take on God's characteristics. God's Church is the congregation of people who follow God and God's laws, ways and instructions. In His message to the historical eras of God's Church since the Church was founded in A.D. 31 (Rev. 2-3), Christ showed each church era which of its works were righteous and which needed to be changed. If we study Christ's message carefully, we can learn what behavior pleases God and w hat behavior does not. Notice what God's Church had been doing right: They had not tolerated evil; had checked up on false apostles and proved them liars; had hated pagan deeds; had endured patiently; had labored in righteousness for Christ's name's sake; had not fainted or given up; had endured tribulation — including poverty, prison and martyrdom; had held fast God's name; had not denied the faith; had charity (love), faith and good works; had watched; and had kept God's Word. On the other hand, Christ listed the sins of which His Church needed to repent: One had left its first love (that first, tender love of God and concern for neighbor that an individual has upon conversion); one embraced false doctrines; another had allowed one called Jezebel to teach and seduce members to commit fornication and to eat things sacrificed to idols; still another was lukewarm, having dead works. Christ told the churches to repent of these dead and evil works. If they didn't, He would fight against them with the sword of His mouth and blot their names out of the book of life (2:16, 3:5). Repentance means to stop doing evil works and start doing right works, or righteousness. Let's understand what evil is, and what it has been from the beginning.
What is evil?
God has always existed. He is "Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life" (Heb. 7:3). God created the heavens and the earth — the whole universe (John 1:1-3). He created the angels and He created you and me. Look around and appreciate the enormity of this creation. If God could of His own power create all this — if He had the wisdom to put it all together, from its infinite size and scope down to its microscopic perfection — and make it function so intricately that generation after generation of intrigued scientists spend their lives just trying to figure it out, wouldn't God also know how His creation should live? God's way is the right way. But what makes the other ways wrong? When God created the world, perhaps billions of years ago, He set over the world — to administer God's government here — an archangel, one God had created and made perfect in all his ways. This archangel's name was Lucifer. Lucifer was beautiful; his name meant "light bringer." He enlightened with God's wisdom all that was then on the earth. But Lucifer rebelled, seeking to magnify his own glory instead of God's. He resisted God, fighting against the Creator, and enticed one third of all the angels to follow him in this rebellion (Ezek. 28:14-15, Isa. 14:12-14, Rev. 12:4). Lucifer was given a new name — Satan, meaning "adversary." Thus Satan introduced rebellion and deception into the world. That is the basis of evil. Evil is anything against God's perfect and righteous way. It is confusion, and it destroys the happiness and peace that come from right living. Evil is sin and sin is evil. The definition of sin is found in I John 3:4: "Sin is the transgression of the law." Which law? God's perfect law of love and outgoing concern, as outlined in the Ten Commandments (Matt. 22:36-39, Ex. 20:1-17). Sin is characterized by Satan himself. It is the way of rebellion against one's Creator. Adam and Eve chose to follow Satan — they pursued a way of life that they thought was best rather than following the one prescribed by God. All the world has followed suit, and it is out of this world and its systems, as influenced by Satan, that we must come.
Overcome the world
John instructs us to "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (I John 2:15). John later states that "whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (I John 5:4). To be born of God, into God's very Family, we must overcome the world! This is a big order, but Christ said, "In the world, ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). How did Christ overcome the world? By loving the Father and following the Father's instructions, even though Christ was tempted in all the ways we are (Heb. 4:15). By showing Satan, in a face-to-face confrontation, that He would not follow anyone else but God (Matt. 4:1-11). By overcoming the world, Christ qualified to replace Satan's rebellious rulership over the earth, and the Father resurrected Christ to eternal life. Christ conquered the pulls and corruption of this world, which end in death. We, as Christians, have been called to do something, too. There is work that needs to be done now. Aside from helping to get the Gospel out, we must follow Christ's example — follow the Good Shepherd — and overcome the world. Unlike Christ, however, we have been entangled in the world since birth, and have succumbed to Satan's temptations many times. Now we must come out of this world and overcome it by becoming free of its binding customs, its rewards and punishments and its will to have its own way apart from God. We must pursue, instead, God's way of love — giving — the way of God's law. Christ gave His life so we can be forgiven for our self-centered, rebellious living — our sins — when we repent of them. We must give up our lives — give up living after the flesh — and let Christ live His life in us, being led by God's Spirit (Gal. 2:20). In so doing we become an example to the world. We become like a beacon of light for the world to see, and though the world hate the light, it will witness the Kingdom of God at work in us (Matt. 5:14-16). We must live the Gospel! It is this process of turning away from evil and living by God's perfect way of love that is called overcoming.
The armor of God
Paul tells us, in Ephesians 6:11-13: "Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. "Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand." What is this armor Paul describes? We are to be clothed in truth (verse 14), so that we can't be deceived, wearing the breastplate of righteousness, which is the keeping of God's law (Ps. 119:172). Our feet are to be shod with the preparation of the Gospel of peace (Eph. 6:15) — we are to be actively making way for the Kingdom of God (Matt. 24:14.) The shield of faith (Eph. 6:16) helps us ward off attacks and enticements of the wicked, while wearing the helmet of salvation on our head (verse 17) keeps us properly oriented toward our goal. We are also to wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Love or outgoing concern, the most important component in our godly armor, is expressed in verse 18: "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints." This world, at Satan's inspiration, will continue to push its way into our lives if we let it. We will have a continuing fight on our hands. But the Word of God is our sword, and His armor is our protection. With these weapons we cannot fail, unless we fail to try.
Develop right character
Merely learning of these things and doing them occasionally is not enough. We must grow in the habit of doing right consistently, persevering in godly behavior throughout our lives. When we do so, a pattern of behavior is formed — habits that give us a new character. We must not only renounce Satan's ways and accept Jesus and His ways, but we must follow Christ's ways consistently in order to reflect godliness. We must completely put out the old character and not let it live in our lives again. Our continuous behavior, led by God's Holy Spirit, finally becomes our habit and characterizes us as one of God's people — as true Christians. That is what it means to overcome.