Question: "How is faith the victory that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4)?"
Answer: The idea that Christians are overcomers is a theme throughout the apostle John’s writings. He mentions believers overcoming the devil or the “the evil one” in 1 John 2:13–14. In the book of Revelation, John refers to believers as victorious conquerors multiple times (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). The apostle is not implying that only certain “super-Christians” are overcomers; rather, every true believer is an overcomer because he has been born of God: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4–5, ESV).
John states that “our faith” is the victory that overcomes the world. The original Greek terms translated as “our faith” in 1 John 5:4 refer to putting our trust in the saving work of Jesus Christ or believing in the gospel’s message. Anyone who believes in Jesus for salvation and trusts in Christ’s atoning work on the cross—His death and resurrection—shares in His victory over sin (Hebrews 2:18; 4:15), death (Acts 2:24), and the forces of evil at work in the world (1 John 3:8; Colossians 2:15; Hebrews 2:14). Through faith, we believe in Jesus Christ and are born of God (Galatians 2:16). Through faith, we surrender our wills to His. Our faith is the key to victory. The only way to overcome the world is through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
At salvation, Christians are “hidden with Christ in God” through the work of the Holy Spirit, who baptizes all believers into one body—the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12–13). We are “in Christ,” and He is “in us” (Colossians 1:27). John explains that we are overcomers because, as children of God, His Spirit lives in us: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We Christians will still battle with sin and darkness because we live in a fallen world. John makes it clear that life here on earth can be challenging: “For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16–17, ESV).
Jesus assures us that our salvation is secure (John 3:15–16; 10:28). The Holy Spirit guarantees that we belong to God and seals us for the “day of redemption” (Ephesians 4:30). But in the meantime, we must “live by faith in the Son of God” who loves us and gave His life for us (Galatians 2:20). Only then can we exclaim, like Paul, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).
We can draw strength and encouragement from Scripture, knowing that the ultimate, eternal victory has already been accomplished in Jesus. The victory is won—past tense—through our union with Christ and our identification with Him. But we continue to overcome this world in our daily life experiences by walking in faith in Jesus Christ, trusting in “the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” to be with us and carry us through all “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword. . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:35–37). We triumph in any and every situation, “facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need,” through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:12, ESV).
Our faith, explains Paul, is a protective piece of spiritual armor in this life: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16, ESV). No force of evil, no weapon of darkness can overcome the person who trusts in Christ. On the contrary, our faith in Jesus is the victory that overcomes the world.