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One of the timeless appeals of the Bible is that it is good news for underdogs.

What could be more inspiring than true stories about Davids in a world of Goliaths?

That’s not ignoring the fact that the same book can also bring us to the end of ourselves. Some chapters sound like bad news for “long shots.”

I’ve often been bothered, for instance, by Jesus’ seven “promises to overcomers” (Revelation 2–3). In a series of seven letters to seven churches at the end of the first century, the resurrected Lord offers reassurance only to those who overcome the challenges facing them.

In His first letter, Christ warns those in Ephesus that, because they have lost their first love, they are in danger of losing access to the tree of life (Revelation 2:4-7). In the next letter, he urges citizens of Smyrna to overcome their fear of suffering and death so they can avoid being hurt by the second death (2:11).

What If We Don’t Overcome?

It’s bad enough to hear Jesus acknowledge that first-century churches were already in decline. It’s worse to hear what sounds like a promise of eternal life only to those who overcome the spiritual challenges of their lives.

The warnings of these letters make it sound like our eternal life and happiness depends on whether we renew our first love, overcome our fears, remain spiritually alert, resist temptation, remove error from our churches, strengthen our weaknesses, and avoid the mistake of thinking we are so blessed that we have no needs.

The warnings are real. The challenges are needed. But like everything else in life, their meaning is found in the story that precedes and follows them.

What Do We Need to See?

The rest of the Bible describes and illustrates a salvation that does not depend on our own merits (John 3:16; Romans 4:5). The apostle John’s introduction to Revelation is one of many examples. He doesn’t begin as if he’s writing to a group of people who are in danger of losing everything they ever hoped for. Instead, he starts with a tribute to the conquering Christ when he writes, “To Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and has made us kings and priests to His God and Father; to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever” (Revelation 1:5-6).

These words give us an early clue that when Christ makes promises to “those who overcome,” He is not changing the rules of the most important contest of our lives.

Who Did John See as Overcomers?

Before Christ’s appearance to him on Patmos (Revelation 1:9-11), John understood what it meant to be an “overcomer.” In his first New Testament letter, he explained that to be an “overcomer” in God’s eyes, we don’t have to qualify on our own accomplishments. John writes, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5).

How Is This Like David and Goliath?

John sees our underdog status in the same way the Old Testament describes David before Goliath. When David took a slingshot and five stones against a 9-foot-tall Philistine, his confidence was not in himself. He said, “You come to me with a sword, with a spear, and with a javelin. But I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you and take your head from you . . . that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel” (1 Samuel 17:45-46).

John the apostle knew the story of David and Goliath. But even more important, he knew Jesus. He had been among the disciples when Jesus said, “The hour is coming, yes, has now come, that you will be scattered, each to his own, and will leave Me alone. . . . These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33).

What Is Our Hope?

No one loves an underdog as much as Christ does. Just as important, no one is in a better position to enable the Davids of the world to overcome the Goliaths in the name of the one true God.

This overcoming involves at least two kinds of obstacles. The first includes all of our reasons for not wanting to believe in an undeserved, unearned salvation that comes to us as a gift of God—received by grace through faith in the rescue of Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). The second group of obstacles includes all of our reasons for not wanting to pursue the kind of spiritual growth that also comes to us as a gift of God—received by grace through faith in the Spirit of Christ (Galatians 3:3; 5:22-25).

Just as we can’t save ourselves, neither can we overcome the challenges to our love and service to Christ. To defeat the Goliaths that come against us, we must combine whatever weakness and strength God has given us with complete reliance on the unseen power and presence of Christ in us (Philippians 2:12-13).

All of the overcoming that matters must be done by Christ—first for us, and then through us.

Without Christ, we cannot change our underdog status. Without ongoing reliance on Him, we will inevitably fail to overcome the forces of the world, the flesh, and the devil. Yet, as we trust in Him, He uses our weakness to show what God can do in a life given to Him.

Father in heaven, thank You for doing for us what we could never do for ourselves. Help us not to forget that, if You are for us, no one can ultimately win against us. We don’t want to forfeit any of the challenges that will ultimately reflect on You. Please work through our weakness to show Your strength today. —Mart De Haan

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