What Overcomes Must Know
II. The first step of becoming an overcomer
‘The calling of overcomers’ is a special message at the end time. Since many churches do not have this hope after salvation from sin, there is no method for church growth. The Scriptures tell us that after we believed, there should be faith, hope and love. Yet, some churches do not even have 'faith' because they do not know how to really believe in Christ. However, thank God, there are churches that know the truth. They know that the method to believe in Jesus is to receive Him into one's heart. But because they do not have true hope after they believed in Jesus, they have no method for loving God deeper. Even if they have hope, it is just going to heaven. If that is all in believing in Jesus, then how is it different from other religions? Therefore, many brothers and sisters cannot love God more nor are joyfully serving Him. Let me give you an example: There is an American-born Chinese pastor and he marred a wife who did not grow up in a Christian family. Since she married him, she also believed in the Lord. He loves the Lord very much and when he was studying in the seminary, he was often serving the church. In the beginning, she tolerated it. But one day, her patience ran out. So, she asked him, “My dear, have we not both believed in the Lord Jesus?” He responded, “Yes, by God's grace, we have both received the Lord to be our Savior.” She asked again, “Then, are we able to go to heaven?” He answered, “Certainly, by God's grace, we are now His children. Heaven is our home and going there is no problem.” Then, she showed her true self in her third question. She roared like a lioness and said, “Why do you serve and serve day and night? You serve the Lord, you go to heaven; you don’t serve the Lord, you also go to heaven. So, why are you so dumb!” So, he came to the church to tell me his tough time. I counseled him and told him, “Brother, don’t feel bad. Your wife is quite good in verbalizing it. There are so many people in the church today that think exactly like her but do not speak up.” They think like this: “We have accepted Jesus and truly have the experience of being born again. So, it can said be that we have the ticket to enter heaven. So, why not be a little smarter! Let me be the rich man in this world. And be a Lazarus in the world to come. Then I can have the cake and eat it too. Why not?” There was a preacher in Shanghai, China who was a starlet in the movies before his conversion. Once, he was in a village and preached on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. He asked, "Brothers and sisters, would you be willing to be the rich man or Lazarus?” No one said a word. Later on, an elderly sister; stood up and said, “Sir, my desire is to be the rich man here and now and be Lazarus in the world to come.” Dear brothers and sisters, unfortunately, there is no prosperity theology in the Lord!
The Lord saved us because He has a very great expectation upon us. But since we do not know what that great expectation is, there is no driving force inside us. No driving force to move us to believe more in the Lord and love God deeper. Hopefully, by God's grace, we will be able to see through this message. Because of what we saw, we would have hope. Since we have hope, we will overcome all and accomplish God's will.
A. Enter into the Kingdom of God.
1. The need for repentance!
In order to be an overcomer, the first step is certainly on knowing how to enter into the kingdom of preparation. Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Many brothers and sisters do not understand what is repentance. Sometimes, they thought that a person regrets or has remorse and it is repentance. After Judas betrayed Jesus, the Scripture tells us that he felt ‘remorse’ but he did not ‘repent’. So, he went out and hung himself. Although Peter denied the Lord three times, he was able to remember the word which Jesus said. He went out and 'wept bitterly' and repented (Matt. 27:3-5; 26:75). He was able to receive God's grace. So, ‘repent’ and ‘remorse’ are different ways. As to the real meaning of ‘repent’, one can reference Ezekiel 36:25-26. These verses tell us how sins are forgiven. Verse 26 tells us what is called ‘repent’. Normally, we only know the passive side of salvation - the forgiveness of sins. We do not know the active side - a reformation of heart and mind. It is certainly important to have our sins forgiven. But what use is it in just to have our past sins forgiven but our hearts are not reformed? Because we will sin tomorrow and the day after!
The salvation of Jesus Christ is complete. The passive side is the forgiveness of our sins. The active side is a change of our heart and mind. This is called ‘repentance’. The original Greek word for repent consists of two words ‘μετα and νοια’. The former is a preposition meaning ‘change’ and the latter is a noun meaning 'heart' and 'mind'. There is a similar English word 'metamorphosis'. The first part of the word ‘meta’ means ‘change’ and ‘morphisis’ means ‘shape’. So metamorphosis means ‘change of shape’. Repent is metanoia but it means a ‘change of heart and mind’. Who can enter into the kingdom of preparation? They are those whose ‘hearts and minds have been changed. I don't know if the readers are aware of the method of salvation in the various religions? All religions desire to reform one's heart and mind. Buddhism uses penitence. Islam asks people to do good deeds. Confucius teaches that one needs to analyze and research to know in order to reach a sincere heart. But in reality, all religion and education cannot change people's heart! That is why Jesus had to come to earth. People have a conscience. We know what we cannot do it. We also know well that our heart must be changed. But its like a tiger cub trying to devour an ox - we don't know where to begin! So, our gracious Lord came to help out. He personally came to this world and told us, “You must repent”. The meaning is that your heart and mind ought to change. But you cannot do it on your own! So what are you going to do? Come to me and I have the solution. I can change you. This is exactly what the Scriptures said, “God asked him to be King and Savior, to grant repentance to people and the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:30-3 1) The Scriptures tell us that repentance of the heart comes first and the grace of forgiveness comes later. I don’t know why the church often pays attention to the latter and neglects the former. Anyway, to believe in Jesus is not just for going to heaven. Rather, it is because His life can change our heart and mind. How we handle things and treat people are just as the Scriptures say ”from our heart flows the spring of life.” (Prov. 4:23) If the heart and mind is not changed, it would be like a person talking in his sleep saying that his words, deeds and behavior have changed externally! Thank God, He can change our hearts and minds. We are unable to renew ourselves but He can! So, brothers and sisters, you know yourself if you have truly believed in Jesus! If your heart and mind have not been renewed, even you have been in church for many years and were baptized; you are still not a Christian. I know that these words are not easy to accept but I love you and I have to forthright. The advantage of believing in Jesus is that He can change our hearts and minds. Thank God. Many people turn 180 degree the moment they believe in Jesus. What a blessed life that is! You yourself will notice your changed life and the people around you will also notice it. When there is perfume, there is a sweet fragrance. This is an eternal truth. The Christians today cannot change the world because many say that they believe in Jesus but their hearts and minds were not renewed. Not only they cannot be the light and the salt of this world, they don't even know who they themselves are! When they listen to a sermon, nothing is heard! When they pray, it is only beating air! There is no power to live righteously and the conscience is constantly accusing! To live the life of a Christian impostor is just like what the Scriptures said, “Wretched man that I am!” (Rome. 7:24)
2. How to change?
Some may ask, “I am willing to change, but how?” Our Lord is so good, the salvation He gave us is perfect and complete. He tells us not only the 'what' but He also tells us the ‘how’. So, how do we ‘repent’? We need to ‘believe in the gospel’. What is the ‘gospel’? Chapter fifteen of the First epistle to the Corinthians tells us that the gospel is all that Jesus has accomplish for us. To believe in the gospel is to believe in Jesus. This is still a puzzle to many churches today! If you have an opportunity to ask brothers or sisters the question, “What is to believe in Jesus?” Many would say, “I was baptized” or “I have been coming to church for a long time.” “I have heard all the famous preachers” or “My father is a preacher.” These answers have nothing to do with the question. Some would even say, “I am not very clear, why don’t you ask my pastor!” Brothers and sisters, if you have believed in the Jesus, but you cannot tell people what is it to believe in Jesus, how can you grow in the Lord? There is only one method to believe in Jesus. It is what John 1:12 says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” Here the Holy Spirit tells us that to believe in Jesus is extremely simple. To believe in Him is to receive Him. If you did not receive Him, then you have not believed in Him. There is not any way. What is to ‘receive?’ The meaning is to accept and host. Let us say that your good friend or relative called you and told you that he will be in town. Would it be all right for him to stay with you for a few days? You say, “Great! Welcome. Welcome.” So, what would you do? You might mobilize the children to clean the house, move the furniture around so that your relative can have a pleasant stay. This is called ‘receive’. If not, when he shows up, you would, “ Oh, you are here. I am sorry but we have been so busy lately that nothing is ready. Maybe we will get things ready by this afternoon if we are not busy. If your friend knows better, he would probably say, “Thank you, there are many hotels nearby. So, don’t bother!” This is not ‘receive’ but ‘rudeness’. So, some people receive Jesus in this same manner. Dear brothers and sisters, to believe in Jesus is not preceded by the amount of bible knowledge you have, or how many verses you can recite and how much you understand before you can 'believe'. As long as you are willing to receive Jesus into your heart, He will be more than happy to live in you.
So, the first step in receiving Him is to clean house and dispose of all the garbage in your heart: all unclean words and behavior. Anything we remember and feel ashamed of should be handed over to Jesus. Chapter one of the gospel of John tells us, “Behold the Lamb of God which takes away all the sin of the world”. In verse 29, the original meaning of the word 'takes' is 'carries' or 'bears'. He will carry our sins to the wilderness, a solitary land (In Lev. 16:20-22, the meaning is that ‘they will never be seen again.’) This is the meaning of forgiveness. So, the word 'forgive' in the Old or New Testament has the meaning of ‘relocate’ and ‘moved away’. We must first allow the Lord to take the garbage away and then invite Him to come live in our heart to renew our heart and mind. This is known as ‘believing in Jesus’. It is also the ‘gospel’. So, you don't have to sit in the church pew for years, gradually reform and then you can believe in Jesus. The honest truth is that we are unable to renew ourselves. Only after Jesus has come into our hearts, then our hearts and minds will be renewed. We will then know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. This is eternal life (John 17:3).
B. Knowing the Kingdom of God.
“The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1: 15) This is the topic of the gospel Jesus preached. When our Lord was on earth, He preached many gospel messages. Unfortunately, most were not recorded. But in this case, the topic of the message He preached was recorded. That topic is: “The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe in the gospel.” This ‘repent’ and ‘believe in the gospel’ is the first step to enter the Kingdom of God. So, let us take a look and see. What is the Kingdom of God? How can one enter into the Kingdom of God? How to be an overcomer?
1. What is the Kingdom of God?
Perhaps you have heard people say that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of heaven are two different realms. Such words are not in accordance to the Bible! All one needs to read is the gospel of Mark 19:23-24 and one will know. Jesus told the disciples: “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." It is impossible to say that the Kingdom of Heaven in verse 23 is one realm and the Kingdom of God!” You cannot say that the Kingdom of Heaven in verse 23 is one realm and the Kingdom of God in verse 24 is another realm. The ‘Kingdom of God’ and the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ both point to the same thing. Then, why did the gospel of Matthew use the ‘Kingdom of God’ only four times and the rest as ‘Kingdom of heaven?’ The reason the gospel of Matthew uses the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ more frequently because it is written for the Jews. During the inter-testament period, the Jews started using the word ‘Heaven’ as a substitute ‘Jehovah’ and ‘God’ just like the Chinese. In the Prodigal Son story that Jesus told, when the prodigal son turned around, he prepared a confession speech. He said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight!” (Luke 15:21) Certainly, he was not talking about the blue ‘sky’ but ‘Jehovah’! On another occasion, Jesus asked the Jews, "The baptism of John was from what source, from heaven or from men?” The word heaven here certainly refers to God. The Jews cannot use God's name in vain because of the Ten Commandments. So, they first used the word LORD in place of God. Subsequently they used the word ‘Heaven’ in place of Jehovah. So, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven' in Matthew is the same ‘Kingdom of God’ in Mark and Luke. Since Mark is written for the Romans and Luke for the Greeks, the term ‘Heaven’ would be easily misunderstood as the blue sky. So, they have to use ‘Kingdom of God’ and not the ‘Kingdom of heaven’.
After you read this Scriptural passage, have you wondered? Since Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand’, but the ‘Kingdom of God’ has not descended yet! Some may say, “It is correct, the ‘Kingdom of God’ refers to the present church. Brothers and sister, if the ‘Kingdom of God’ refers to the church today, then what is so special about the ‘Kingdom of Heaven'? Especially today when there are so many messed up churches. They are not worthy to be called the ‘Kingdom of Heaven.’ Others say that we should not be so critical. Didn't Jesus say, “The Kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!" or, 'There it is!” For behold, the Kingdom of God is in your midst." (Luke 17:20-21) “The Kingdom of God is in your midst” tell us very clearly that when Jesus was on earth, the Kingdom of God was there already. After Jesus left, the church took over. So, the church should be the ‘Kingdom of God’. But at the same time in the Lord's prayer, the Lord wants us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.” (Matt. 6: 10) If the Kingdom is already here, then those churches that pray the Lord's prayer in unison during the Lord's day worship service are even more confused! Not only that, the Scriptures tell us that the Kingdom of the Lord will come when the seventh angel blows the horn. “The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.” (Rev. 11: 15) Then, the Kingdom of the Lord will descend after the seventh angel sounded the horn. Also, there will a loud voice proclaiming that the Kingdom of the Lord is established. In this way, it seems that the Scripture is contradicting itself! On the one hand it tells us that the Kingdom of Heaven is here already. On the other hand, it tells us to pray for the coming of the Kingdom. So, has the Lord's Kingdom come? When we read the Bible and come across such a problem, never say, “The Bible is clearly contradicting itself.” We ought to say, “There must be truth there and we should find that truth!” If we have such an attitude in meditating God's word, we will frequently discover the truth and enlightenment in the Bible.
2. How to prepare for the Kingdom of God?
How do we answer this question? Please refer to Matthew 25:34, which clearly tells us that there are two periods of the Kingdom: the period of preparation and the period of inheritance. If we study history, before every new dynasty begins, there must be a time of preparation. In the same manner, the Kingdom needs a preparation period. Then, is the church today the Kingdom of Heaven? Yes, it is the preparation Kingdom of Heaven. We all know that in a construction project, before the building is complete, you will find bags of cement here, piles of wrought iron there. The place looks so messy and unorganized. But until the contractor starts using the various useful building materials and discards the inappropriate ones, according to the plan of the architect, then will a splendid building emerge. Since the church is the Kingdom of Preparation. Before the Lord returns, it is impossible for the church to be perfect. This is because the church is in the preparation period. Then, what should the church prepare?
There are three essential ingredients to establish a kingdom. They are citizens, land and autonomy. In the past, India had a large population and covers a lot of land. But because it did not have autonomy, it was not a country. Now, India is a country because it has autonomy. Then, do we need to prepare the autonomy of the Kingdom of Heaven? Thank God, we don't. The reason being that the Lord clearly told us, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.' (Matt. 28:18) What about the land required? Scripture tells us: “The heavens are Thine, the earth also is Thine; the world and all it contains, Thou hast founded them.” (Psalm 89:11) The land belonged to Him to begin with, so there is no need for us to prepare. Then what we need to prepare are the citizens - personnel of the Kingdom. In other words, the kingdom of preparation is for the preparation of overcomers.
Many believers are unclear about the church. The Chinese in particular, somehow they are influenced by their upbringing. They go to the temples at new moon and full moon in order to procure blessings and evade disasters. More than a few go to church for the same reason to procure blessings and evade disasters. Then, how can one be blessed if the church is treated as a temple? The church is not a temple. It is a school for making all nations to be the students of Christ. It is the training center for the Kingdom of Preparation. It is for the training of overcomers to be Kingdom personnel.
A major reason why the present day church does not grow is a lack of understanding in the true purpose of the church. If a church becomes God's school so that all those who enter will become good students, receive good teaching and have training; it would be impossible not to produce Kingdom personnel and for the church not to grow!