Overcomer or Overcome? Incentive for Maturity
Revelation 3:4-6:"You have a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy. He who overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches."
This is really the incentive clause in this evaluation report. This is the challenge to the church to straighten out their problems. What we are reminded of in these overcomer passages is that the decisions that we make today will determine who we are tomorrow, not also in time but also in eternity. The decisions that we make today regarding the priority of the Word of God in our life and our ongoing relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ not only affects our capacity to enjoy life today but it will also affect our role and responsibilities in the coming kingdom when the Lord Jesus Christ returns to establish His kingdom. Scripture clearly states that when He returns those who are believers in this age return with Him and will reign as priests and kings in that future Millennial kingdom. Our training ground is during this age, this life. This is why we go through tests, why we get the opportunity to trust God in different pressure situations, the whole test of making our relationship with God and His Word the highest priority in our life. It is all related to this preparation for the future kingdom.
We recognize that there are basically two crucial decisions that every one of us has to make. The first is really a one-time decision, and that has to do with our relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ and determining our eternal destiny, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins. So the issue for every human being is what you are going to do about that. Secondly, we as believers have been adopted into God's family and there is a code of conduct established that dictates how members of the family will live. We don't always live that way. Sometimes we violate that code of conduct and when we do that we have a way of recovery, and that is simply to admit or acknowledge our sin to God the Father and we recover, and that relationship within the family is restored. While we are in that family we sometimes get a little upset that we are in that family. Sometimes there are those who decide they are going to live the way they want to live, and these are rebellious believers who are out of fellowship, disobedient to God, and they live like they are part of another family—even though we know that the Scripture says that there are only two families and we are either a member of the royal family of God or a member of Satan's family. So there are two families and each families has its own separate and distinct code of conduct. There are a lot of believers who act like they are still in the family they were born into and they continue to act that way. There is no obvious distinction between them and those who are in God's royal family. These are folks who renounce their family responsibilities and end up coming under divine discipline, because God says He is going to discipline any member of the family who is disobedient—Hebrews 12:7. That is what we see going on in Revelation 3:2-3. It is a reprimand with the solution included in the reprimand.
"…and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life." What does this mean? We have to understand it in terms of an understanding of what the book of life is, but we also have to understand it as part of a sentence: "I won't blot out his name but I will confess." We will take those two phrases together to understand the import of what is said. It is not just the individual words that are important, it is how the whole thing comes together in a contextual sentence.
Revelation 20:12 is describing the last judgment is history, the great white throne judgment where God is on a great white throne and all the unbelievers of human history are brought before that throne for their final evaluation. "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works." So there is one set of books which is a recording of all of the production of every human being—good works and bad works, it doesn't distinguish here between good and bad works. Then there is another book which is the book of life. The dead are judged according to their works. God evaluates all their works, stacks them all up, and asks whether it equals the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ, because no one can go into heaven without perfect righteousness. The sins are paid for, Christ did that on the cross, but unless you receive the imputation of righteousness and eternal life where you are regenerated, you don't have salvation. It is not enough to simply have your sins paid for. Three things have to happen in order to be saved. First, the sin has to be paid for; second, your negative righteousness has to be turned to perfect righteousness. Third, your spiritually dead position has to be resolved by receiving a new spirit and being born again, which includes the reception of God's life, eternal life. Christ paid the penalty for our sins, and that takes care of the first part of the problem. He did that for everyone, but the reason it is not a universal salvation, the reason not everyone is saved who sins are paid for, is because the other two problems have to be dealt with. That only comes as a result of the individual's volition. He has to trust Christ, and then He receives the imputation of Christ's righteousness and is declared justified. In trusting Christ, God then regenerates him and gives him eternal life. That resolves the debate that has gone on for over 500 years now over whether Christ died only for the elect or for everybody. He died for everybody but we are not saved unless we trust Him and get the other two problems resolved. So these dead unbelievers are evaluated according to all their works and when it is all added up it doesn't come close to the perfect standard that God has established. The book of life indicates those who are saved, those who have trusted in Christ as savior.
Revelation 20:15: "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." It doesn't matter how good your works are, if your name isn't in the book of life—and you only get there by trusting Christ as savior—then you don't have eternal life.
Revelation 21:27: "But there shall by no means enter into it any thing that defiles, or causes an abomination, or a lie: but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life." This is talking about the new Jerusalem. So once again the Lamb's book of life refers to everyone who is a born-again believer and has received the eternal life of God.
In trying to solve this problem of blotting out of the book of life there are those who say that what happened in eternity past is that God wrote everybody's name in the book of life, and then if you don't believe your name gets blotted out. But that doesn't fit the other usage in the book of Revelation. Revelation 13:8, talking about the unbelievers in the Tribulation period, says, "And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him [the Antichrist], whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." The phrase "all that dwell on the earth" is one that is used frequently and consistently in the book of Revelation to describe the unbelievers during the Tribulation period. Notice: these are those "whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." These people are still alive and they have the potential for being saved, but their names were never written in the book of life and they are worshipping the Antichrist.
Revelation 17:8: "The beast [Antichrist] that you saw was, and is not; and will ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and those who dwell on the earth will marvel [the unbelievers who succumb to his deception], whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is." So again this indicates that their names weren't written in the book of life. A name only gets written in the book of life when one trusts in Christ as their savior. So we can't come back to Revelation 3:5 and say that the blotting out of the book of life refers to those who just didn't accept God's plan of salvation. So to what does it refer?
Revelation 3:5: "He who overcomes, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." "He who overcomes" is the participial form of the Greek NIKAO [nikaw], the verb related to the noun NIKE [nikh], the Greek goddess of victory. The word means victory or success. The verb means to overpower, to gain victory, to win in a contest, to overcome challenges. So it has the idea of victorious ones, those who are victorious in a contest. We are to be victorious in the Christian life, but the very fact that we can be victorious does imply the fact that we may fail. Even Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9, said that he beat his body daily into submission to make sure that he would not be disqualified; not that he would lose salvation but in clear recognition that in running the race and entering the contest he could fail. It is not that he would lose his salvation but he would lose the blessing, the rewards that would be his for being a victorious contestant in the spiritual life race.
We have to remember when we study things like this that there are three phases to salvation. The first phase is justification, when we are freed from the penalty of sin. Justification passage has to do with getting saved, and the solution there is not to "remember how you received and heard," the solution there is to believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins. Phase two is the spiritual life which is lived by applying the Word of God and we become free from the power of sin. Then phase three, we are glorified, we are freed from he presence of sin.
When we come to this question of identifying the overcomer we have to recognize that there are these two views: a) that every believer is an overcomer; b) that only believers who are advancing in the Christian life are overcomer believers. So there are two classes of believers, and we see this in 1 Corinthians chapter three which describes the judgment seat of Christ: those who receive gold, silver and precious stones, and those who receive wood hay and straw which is all burned up. The latter loses rewards and they enter heaven, yet as through fire. So there is one group which is rewarded for their works because they are done in the power of the Holy Spirit, and there is another group that loses rewards but they don't lose their salvation.
The verse that people go to that causes some problem has to do with a statement made in 1 John 5:4: "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and The first thing to point out here is that this passage is talking about overcoming the world. That is not salvation; it is not what occurs at salvation, it isn't an overcoming of the world, it is an acceptance of Christ's payment for our sins. That is different. Overcoming the world is a phase two issue, a spiritual life issue; not a phase one issue. That is clear from such passages as Romans 12:2. This is the issue after salvation, not for salvation. In 1 John 5:4 we have to recognize that overcoming here deals with the object of the world, not overcoming sin, not overcoming spiritual death, but overcoming the world. The problem is that there is that phraseology at the beginning of the verse which says, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world," and "this is the victory that has overcome the world, our faith." The faith that he is talking about there is not the faith in Christ for salvation, but it is post-salvation faith-rest drill. That is how you overcome the world.
The term "born of God" is a perfect tense of the Greek verb GINAO [ginaw] which indicates a completed action in past time. The emphasis in this verse is on the present result of a past action, being saved. John makes a number of similar statements as this in the Gospel of John that make it sound as if he is talking about salvation. But what he is talking about from his perspective is that he doesn't conceive of a Christian who is living a disobedient life. He is thinking only in terms of a Christian who is operating on those divine assets. Cf. 1 John 2:29; 3:9. A lot of people see that as if you have been regenerated you can't sin. We can either conclude as some do that genuine born again believers practice righteousness, don't sin, love everybody, and can't sin, or, what John is saying is that only a regenerate person can practice righteousness, not sin, love their brothers, but not all who are born again will practice righteousness, avoid sin, love their brother. What he is saying is that only a born again believer can do these things. They might not, but they are the only ones who can. That is the only logical conclusion we can come to. In that, he is saying that only the regenerate can overcome the world. That is what 1 John 5:4 says. But not all regenerate people overcome the world. If all regenerate people automatically overcome the world as part of positional truth, or even experiential truth, then 1 John 2:15 would not make sense. "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." That is a prohibition levelled at every born again believer, and he is saying don't love the world. Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love for the Father is not in him. If you are already saved and therefore you have overcome the world,
why would John come back and say don't love the world? Overcoming the world is a post-salvation issue. That is what Romans 12:2 is about. Don't love the world nor the things in the world. In other words, when you are out of fellowship you are loving the world; when you are in fellowship walking by the Spirit you are loving the Father. It is either one or the other. The contrast is between one who loves the world and one who loves the Father. They are mutually exclusive.
1 John 2:3: "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments." A lot of people thing that knowing Him is being saved. We are so sloppy as evangelicals, we take biblical phrases and invest them with different meanings. The phrase "knowing Jesus" is never used as a statement of salvific relationship in thew Bible. Example: 1 John 2:4: "The one who says, I have come to know him [perfect tense], and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." The problem with interpreting this as referring to someone who is not saved is that in John 14:9 we have the same terminology: "Jesus saith to him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet you have not known me, Philip?" This is the perfect tense of the same verb. So Philip is saved but he doesn't know Jesus. He recognized Him but he doesn't have that mature relationship. That is what knowing God is all about in these verses. In John 13 Jesus has made it clear that all the disciples were saved, except one—Judas, not Philip. "By this we know that we have come to know him" is referring to that post-salvation process of spiritual life—not entry into the life but the ongoing experience of the life. How do you know that you are growing and maturing as a believer? Because you keep His commandments; you are obedient. Our love for God matures as we grow. Overcoming the world in the context of John's usage can only refer to what happens after salvation: learning to conform our thinking to divine viewpoint and not human viewpoint, and the modus operandi, the mechanic, the skill, is what? Faith: trusting God, not salvation promises but the other promises that God gives in Scripture, and as we learn to walk by faith, walking by means of the Holy Spirit, we advance to maturity. That is an overcomer.
But there's a problem. People point out that the word "overcomer" refers to all believers in Revelation chapter 21:7, 8: "He who overcomes shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." See, you have one group who ends up in the lake of fire, people say, and the other group has to end up in heaven. So overcomers here refer to those who are saved? Not if you understand the Greek. This passage isn't talking about getting eternal life, it is talking about inheritance: "He who overcomes shall inherit." The overcomer gets and inheritance. The non-overcomer loses his reward at the judgment seat of Christ. He doesn't get an inheritance. "…shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone." In English we think of the word "part" as a role. E.g. Did you get that part in the play? But that is not what the underlying Greek word means. The Greek word is MEROS [meroj], a word which is a technical legal term in Greek legal literature in wills, a last will and testament. It has to do with inheritance rites. The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, shall have their inheritance in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone…" In other words, their inheritance, their rewards that they lost in 1 Corinthians 3 end up in the lake of fire. It is not that they, the individual ends up in the lake of fire, it is that their rewards end up in the lake of fire.
Inheritance is not entry into the kingdom, it is ownership in the kingdom. This is the same issue with Israel. Inheritance in the land wasn't entry into the land because not all who entered the land had an inheritance in the land. So there will be believers who enter heaven but will not have a possession or inheritance in the kingdom. They lose rewards, they didn't go through the training process, and they didn't overcome so they are not qualified, they don't have the capacity to take on the responsibilities of ruling and reigning as kings and priests. Are they going to be in heaven? Yes. The incentive clause is that the victorious believer will be clothed in white garments. He is going to have a special uniform that marks him out as a believer who has been rewarded. It is the same word used of that garment that the Lord Jesus Christ wore in that vision in Revelation chapter one. It is a priestly garment.
Then the Lord says, "I will not blot out his name from the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father." This is a figure of speech where you understate something, the negative, or state the opposite in order to emphasize a positive. It is not saying that there was a possibility that their name would be blotted out. It is simply stating in a very positive way that these overcomers are going to get white garments and they won't blotted out of the book of life. They are going to be in the book of life for sure and they are going to receive rewards. The contrast to this isn't loss of salvation but adds on to it, saying, "but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels."
There is a cultural analogy to this in that in the ancient world every citizen that was born into a city had their name on the city roll. Those who contributed in a special way, those whom through some sort of meritorious endeavour that had benefited the city, would have their name inscribed in gold. That is the idea that is going on behind this. Not only is the name not going to be blotted out but it is going to be confessed before God. So it is not a statement indicating that a name could be blotted out, it is simply understating the issue to highlight the positive, that their name is not blotted out but is indeed confessed and praised before everybody.
The conclusion is, "He who has an ear, let him hear." Don't just hear, but respond.