Life in God is not a matter of being knowledgeable enough or obedient enough. It’s a matter of being born of God, completely remade by God. The whole self, the entire existence brought into reality by our creator and made perfectly in his image. If you ask John, that’s what it means to be alive. “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child.” (1 John 5:10)
Throughout his letter, John is telling us that our love for God is most visible when our love for each other is most visible. Now he’s giving us the inverse of that. “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.” (5:2) Our love for each other is most visible when our love for God is most visible. This is love in 1 John – it’s all one big thing. The love to and from God and neighbor and brother and sister and spouse and parent and child – it’s all one thing. Love is the beginning and end of our whole existence. John joins the rest of the New Testament in affirming that every commandment God ever gave us humans is perfectly summed up in love. “For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” (5:3) Some of us probably need to hear that God’s commandments for us are not burdensome. We may hear the word “commandment” and think God has some hoops for us to jump through, ready to condemn us the moment we fail. But John believes in no such god. A burden is something that conquers us, that controls us and suppresses us. But love is no burden because what love conquers instead of us is the world. “Whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith.” (5:4)
What does it mean to conquer the world? It doesn’t have anything to do with weapons or armies. Conquest looks completely different when Jesus is the one leading it. When his love abides in us and produces faith in us, to conquer the world looks like falling out of love with the world. It looks like depriving the world of all its power to determine what and how we think and feel and behave and worship. Faith is victory because faith means we’re putting our trust in the love of God to provide for us, sustain us, and protect us. We can trust money and strength if we want to, but that would mean being conquered by the world. The world doesn’t conquer us by killing us, but by compromising us, getting us to trust in things that are not born of the love of God. But faith, by nature of what it is, places us in the hands of one whose existence begins and ends with love. There are days that this faith will scare us. But the truth is, there’s actually no other way to live.
To conquer the world is to give ourselves completely to Jesus and to nothing else. To be born of God into eternal life is to give ourselves completely to Jesus and to nothing else. As we awaken to the love of God and fullness of Christ dwelling within us, everything else disappears. Everything else is conquered.