1 John 5:4
For whatever is born of God overcomes the world: and this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith.
I. THE CHRISTIAN'S LIFE IS A LENGTHENED CONTEST WITH THE THREE ENEMIES — "sin, the world, the devil." What is the "world," and what is "worldliness"? Can we find in the Scriptures any full lists of acts which are worldly? No. It is the genius of Christianity to give us principles, and not precise rules.
II. Is THIS WRY LIBERTY CONSISTS THE STRICTNESS OF THE LAW. And owing to this, too, there is a difficulty in obeying it, far beyond that of obeying a law, To escape this difficulty various attempts have been made to lay down precise rules, and to define exactly what is and what is not "the world" and "worldly." The most common of these tests is, as is well known, that of presence at social reunions and amusements of a particular class. It seems uncharitable to pronounce as necessarily irreligious those who, with every other token of sincere piety, are found nevertheless sometimes in places where others of us are never to be seen. If a person whose whole life and walk is that of a Christian says that he really before God has come to the conclusion that his spiritual growth is in no wise retarded by the enjoyment of some pleasure — not in itself sinful — and that his example is not likely to be injurious to others, it does seem monstrous to say to him, "That is one of the things I have set down as belonging to the world; and as you see no harm in it, you are outside the covenant." To our own Master we each of us stand or fall. Moreover, the test is insufficient, and therefore deceptive. It is quite possible to bear it without a particle of religion, or without even any profession of religion. Another evil arising from this arbitrary and most inadequate test of worldliness is, that the persons who apply it are very liable to be deceived by it themselves. From habitually speaking of one kind of worldliness they lapse into the practical belief that there is none other; and, having clearly overcome that — sometimes after a long trial of physical rather than spiritual strength — they imagine that they have given up the world, and that their contest with that enemy, at all events, is at an end. If we do strip off our ornaments of gold and cast them into the fire, we must take heed lest we worship the calf into which they are molten. Another, and not a trifling danger of these false tests arises from the fact that very many of those who use them are among the best, the most pious, and the most truly unworldly persons on earth. Now, when such persons use as tests of victory over the world the forsaking of those two or three courses or habits, the impression conveyed to the thoughtless votary of dissipation is this — "These amusements, then, are what I have to give up; on the subject of these is the main difference, between myself and those about whose piety there can be no doubt. Well, I shall give them up assuredly at some time, as many have done before me, and then I shall stand in their position." And, as time and change of circumstances will in many cases bring about this resemblance, they leave it to time to bring about, and make no effort to overcome a "world" which, as they have been accustomed to hear it described, will in all probability one day fly away of its own accord.
III. PRECISE RULES UPON MATTERS INTRINSICALLY INDIFFERENT, BUT CAPABLE OF BEING MADE OCCASIONS OF FOSTERING A WORLDLY SPIRIT, ARE TO BE AVOIDED, BECAUSE THEY GIVE TO THOSE WHO AT PRESENT WANT TO BE GUIDED NEITHER BY THE LETTER NOR THE SPIRIT A FALSE IMPRESSION AS TO WHAT THAT WORLD IS BY THE SUBJUGATION OF WHICH WE ARE TOLD THE CHILD OF GOD IS CHARACTERISED. Before you come to be Christians you must bear far stricter tests than these. Especially in these cravings for excitement and gaiety, which are by your own admissions the forms in which the world is most alluring, and because they are so, you must be completely changed. But the contest does not end there or then. To you and all of us it ends on earth, and while we live, nowhere and never, For "the world" is not a time, or a place, or a class of persons, or a definable course of acts, or a definite set of amusements; it is a system pervading every, place, extending from age to age, tempting us in all our occupations, mixing itself with all our thoughts, insinuating itself under forms the most unsuspected, lurking in pursuits the most harmless — yea, in pursuits, without it, the most holy — checking aspirations the most noble, sullying affections the most pure.
(J. C. Coghlan, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.
WEB: For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith.