“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” (1 John 4:4, ESV).
In a world with ever-changing vocabularies being generated on social media with every meme, rap song, or YouTube video, it’s difficult to keep up with the latest slang.
But, there’s a recent idiom that has relevance for 1 John 4, especially as it relates to describing God Almighty, His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
G.O.A.T. is an acronym for the Greatest Of All Time. The acronym is usually used to describe an outstanding player in a particular sport.
So, G.O.A.T. is not a title that is easily bestowed. G.O.A.T. is not used to refer to those who are “kind of great” or “approaching greatness.” G.O.A.T. is a term reserved only for the truly GREATEST OF ALL TIME!
1 John 4:4 is one of the most well-known and often-quoted Bible verses among Christians . We quote it to remind and encourage Christians that they can overcome any difficulty or hardship in their lives.
In fact, I use it on myself in exactly the same way–to remind myself that the God I serve is greater than the devil that creates many of the problems I face in this world.
“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Romans 8:10-11, ESV).
Do you ever want to get past all the doctrine and opinions and traditions of Christianity and get to the basics of what it means to be a Christian?
Well, here it is! The bottom line. The who, what, how, and why of being a Christian rolled into a couple of verses!
Two verses that in just a few words and phrases provide such a profound and succinct explanation about Christianity.
“And he said to him, ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?’ And the Lord said to Moses, ‘This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name'” (Exodus 33:15-17, ESV).
The backstory of these verses is that while Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments and other instructions from God, at the base of the mountain the Israelites had fashioned a golden calf to worship as their god, thinking Moses had abandoned them.
When Moses came down from the mountain he was so enraged that he threw down the Ten Commandment tablets and smashed them. Futhermore, God was ready to rid Himself of the Israelites. He told Moses to go ahead and lead the people to the promised land but He would no longer accompany them with His presence. Instead, God would send an angel to lead Moses and the Israelites into the land.
Moses was not satisfied with that plan and in these verses Moses implored God not to abandon His people. Moses begged God to reconsider and to go with him and the people of Israel to the promised land.
Moses declares that it is only God’s abiding presence with the Israelites that makes them distinct from all other people on the earth!
“And I will take some of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them…” (Numbers 11:17, ESV).
During their wilderness wanderings God told Moses to select seventy elders to help him judge and lead the people of Israel. Moses gathered the elders and placed them around the circumference of the tabernacle. Then, God poured out His Spirit on them as they were gathered around the tabernacle and they prophesied.
Two of the elders were not present at the tabernacle when the Spirit was poured out. Yet, these two also received the Spirit and prophesied while they were still in the camp.
“At the command of the Lord they camped, and at the command of the Lord they set out” (Numbers 9:23, ESV).
After their escape from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites constructed a transportable tabernacle to worship God during their Sinai wilderness wanderings. God demonstrated His presence among them by covering the tabernacle with a cloud by day and the appearance of fire by night.
The cloud and appearance of fire indicated the presence of God’s Spirit with His chosen people.
Whenever the cloud lifted over the great tent, the Israelites would set out and continue on their journey and then encamp in the place where the cloud would settle. They might set up camp for for a few days, a month and even longer when the cloud settled over the tabernacle (Numbers 9:22). Undoubtedly, it was quite a feat to disassemble and reassemble the tabernacle when the cloud lifted (see Numbers 1:50–52; 3–4).
God leads His people by setting and revealing a path for each believer’s life. This verse indicates that there are two important aspects to God’s guidance: stopping and going. Stopping means remaining and waiting on God to lead and going means moving forward when He leads in a new direction.
“For I am the Lord your God. You must consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44, NLT).
A quick read through the book of Leviticus (which is generally the way I read it) may lead you to believe that the focus of the book is on obedience to God’s law–obedience to a set of moral laws that seems to establish a code of conduct practically impossible to follow.
Upon closer inspection you will see that the theme of the book is holiness: “You must distinguish between what is sacred and what is common” (Leviticus 10:10, NLT). What’s behind the laws, and is stated repeatedly throughout the book, is a description of God’s holiness.
So, if the Lord is holy, the people who worship Him must be holy because only holy can be in the presence of Holy. Yahweh is certainly not a god who can be worshiped from afar. He is the “I AM” who resides among and within His people.
“Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave the Lord’s message to the people: I am with you, says the Lord… be strong, all you people of the land, says the Lord… Work, for I am with you, says the Lord” (Haggai 1:13, 2:4, CEB).
The Lord told Haggai to encourage the people to get to work to rebuild the Temple. God encouraged them to get started and reminded them that they were able to do it because He was with them. God reminded them in both chapters of this two-chapter Old Testament book.
Now, God is with us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. And He has an assignment for each of us that accomplishes His purposes. So, we should be bold and get to work doing His will because “I am with you, says the Lord!”
Here’s the problem: Instead of being bold, we are reticent about doing God’s will. We hesitate because we don’t know what His assignment is for us.
Or we think we don’t know. Or we think we can’t accomplish His assignment for us because it’s so overwhelming.
“We aren’t like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the Israelites couldn’t watch the end of what was fading away… All of us are looking with unveiled faces at the glory of the Lord as if we were looking in a mirror. We are being transformed into that same image from one degree of glory to the next degree of glory. This comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:13,18,CEB).
The Old Testament story of Moses’ practice of veiling his face that the Apostle Paul is referencing in these verses is found in Exodus 34:33-35. The Old Testament story is one of my favorites because it’s theologically rich and yet, counter-intuitive.
Moses periodically entered into the presence of God at the Tent of Meeting. When he left the Tent of Meeting and returned to the people, he fastened a veil over his face. It seemed that Moses hid his face so as not to scare the already fearful Israelites with the shining glory of God that was reflected on his face.
But, that’s not really the case!
“Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles.” (Acts 2:43 NASB)
Our spiritual life can begin to drift when we neglect the practice of our Christianity, our relationship with Christ, our salvation! “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it… how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1,3; NASB).
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.” (Joel 2:28-29, ESV).
On the day of Pentecost when the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, Peter stood up and declared to all the Jews in Jerusalem who witnessed the event that this Spirit-filling was the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy (see Acts 2:16-21). So, the day of Pentecost was the beginning of the era that Joel was talking about–the last days–in which God pours out His Spirit on all His people.