The Apostle John identifies the world as that which believers must resist and overcome. Persuasion is the instrument which leads to slavery to sin, but revelation leads to the obedience of faith. From the beginning sin was the result of Satan's persuasion, and faith was the result of believing God’s declarations. The world remains the face to face battleground. The dominant cultural systems are controlled by Satan (Ephesians 2:3; 1 John 2:15, 16; Matthew 4:8).
Faith can overcome temporal world influences through persuasive God-given influences (Romans 10:17; Ephesians 6:10-18a). Faith gets its power from God's revelations through both natural revelation (Psalms 19:1-6), the special revelation of the Bible (Psalms 19:7, 8; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17), and God's inward testimony within man of His reality and moral standards (John 1:9; Romans 1:18-20; 2:14, 15).
Since man is born into constant exposure to the world, so the influence for faith must be individualized (Romans 10:13-17) Psalm 2 describes the world’s cultural attitudes well: “Why are the nations in an up-roar, and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the LORD and against His Anointed saying, "Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!" (Verses 1-3) Individual faith that overcomes is the result of persuasive processes that encourage trust in God that is strong enough to be effective in combating these kinds of attitudes on a daily basis.
The Greek word for faith comes from the word to persuade. The classic scriptural illustration is the life of Abraham (Romans 4:11, 12). God persuaded Abraham with promises and challenging circumstances to actively demonstrate trust in God. When Isaac asks where the sacrifice on the mountain would be obtained, Abraham responds, “God will provide.” At the same time that Abraham is acting in obedience to the Lord’s request to sacrifice his most prized and promised possession, Isaac, he stands persuaded that God and his divine promises (e.g. great nations would come through him through his son Isaac) are totally trustworthy in all He does, asks, or requires.
How does God persuade human beings to develop this kind of overcoming faith and establish such spiritual trust in whom they cannot see? God provides successive influences which, when utilized, stimulates an overcoming faith. If neglected, faith is stymied. At whatever place that human beings stop using God's provisions, God is not obligated to give any more. Yet, because of his loving grace, God often uses godly people to stimulate many who have stopped accepting God's past persuasions.
Strange as it may seem, the first part our Bible does not talk explicitly about faith, but describes faith by the examples obedience that faith produces. These are simulations which show processes by which God persuades humans toward faith. The key verse for this study comes from 1 John 4:9b, which says, “God sent his only son into the world, so that we might live through him.” Therefore, it is logical to study how faith overcomes the world cultural system within the context of this Epistle. As some have said, “A text out of context is a pretext which is false reasoning used to hide the real reasoning.”
1 John 1:1-4 (ESV): “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”
While God created humans with an innate need to worship, the world's cultures, controlled by Satan, are ignorant of saving faith. Indeed, starting with self worship (Genesis 3:5, 6), the world cultures promote all sorts of idols and idolatrous worship systems. Many of world religions are tools in the hands of secular rulers to manipulate their people. Karl Marx was correct in describing these non-biblical religions as an “opiate” to give false hope and feelings of security which then allows them to be controlled and submissive to their leaders.
Some worldly cultures even promote the attitude of ambiguous worship of an “unknown god” like the Greek philosophers on Mars Hill or “the impersonal life force” of the New Age Movement. Many, even in America, have an “unknown god” often described as the “Man upstairs!” Sadly, many Americans think that their “man upstairs” is the Christian-biblical God. This displays ignorance for they are have not really sought God (Acts 17:27; Jeremiah 29:13).
As with many of the New Testament Epistles, John is writing to immature and largely ungrounded believers. They have been saturated by the ignorance promoted by the cultures in which they have existed until their first acknowledgement of God’s revelation of Himself. John’s purpose is to give them a foundational basis of faith to know for certain a full assurance of salvation (1 John 5:10-13). In a detailed way, he is repeating what he heard from John the Baptist: "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Biblical faith is the expression of worship of the Triune God revealed by revelation and centered in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Revelation-based faith overcomes “worship in ignorance” (Acts 17:23).
Related reading: Faith Facing Death; How Faith Overcomes, Part 1