” . . . I have overcome the world.”
Sometime recently a thought struck me that I’ve never had before regarding Jesus’ words, “I have overcome the world.” It struck me that Jesus’ words applied to more than just his physical, literal conquering of the world’s powers. His words were true on another level, a mystical level. And, his words are not only his description of his victory, but also too capture our call as disciples of Christ. Let me explain.
Jesus is fully God. Jesus called the 1oo billion galaxies into existence. He knows all the 200+ billion stars in each of those 100 billion galaxies by name. In Him, all creation lives, moves, and has its’ being.
At the same time, Jesus is fully human. Jesus empathizes “with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.” (Heb. 4:15) Jesus was “like His brothers in every way.” (Heb. 2:17) Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Jesus felt the pull of the world, the flesh, and the devil. When Jesus was led by Satan to the wilderness, Jesus was tempted completely as we are. Yet, he abstained from all temptations preferring instead perfect submission to the will of the Father.
When Jesus proclaimed in John 16 that he had overcome the world, he was speaking on multiple levels (in my opinion). Before he could could conquer the entire external world, he first had to conquer the internal world of the human condition, which he did perfectly. Jesus never sinned, and was perfectly submission to the divine will of the Father. His passions were aligned perfectly to the orientation of the Kingdom. Jesus didn’t just teach “seek first the Kingdom” with his words, his entire life, every breath and every beat, was a demonstration of a life which sought first the kingdom. We can’t claim the same.
In James 4, James gives the reason why fights, quarrels, and conflicts occur between individuals. James 4:1-2 says, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight.” Paul also describes an internal struggle in Romans 7. I believe the external conflict doesn’t exist on its’ own. External conflict is more like evil than good, meaning external conflict does not have an existence entirely on its’ own. Like evil, which only exists as the absence of good and is without objective meaning by itself, external conflicts need a host upon which to leech itself. And, what is the host? Internal turmoil.
We fight and argue ultimately because we are at enmity with ourselves. We are not at peace with God or with ourselves. Why would we ever expect to be at peace with our neighbor? How could we ever conquer the world around us when we are incapable of conquering the world within us, the “passions that battle within us”?
Jesus’ declaration of his victory is not only a statement of what he has accomplished. I believe this is also a call to Jesus’ disciples to do the same, namely strive to conquer the world within. He’s already conquered the world without, and by his Holy Spirit indwelling in us and empowering us, we must strive to retake our own soul. Jesus tells his followers to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
This is no easy task. Jesus was completely abandoned to Divine Providence (the title of a book by Jean Pierre de Caussade). While we cannot do the same as sinners, beings inherently broken by our own willful rebellion. We can live a life of perpetual repentance. In doing so, we being seeking to overcome the world.
May God give us grace by filling us with his Holy Spirit to conform us into the image of Jesus Christ.