The victory that overcomes the world is faith (1 John 5:4). You can focus on this or that all you want, but if it doesn't lead to faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, all your focusing will accomplish nothing.
Back before God showed me the victory we have in the cross, I would hear messages about keeping your eyes on the cross, and I attempted to do that. However, I equated "keep your eyes on the cross" with "think about the cross." It sounds silly now, but I thought the idea was that if I spent enough time thinking about what a cruel death my Savior suffered for me, that would provide me with the necessary motivation to stop sinning. I was focusing on the cross, but I had no understanding or faith in what Jesus accomplished on the cross as it pertained to my freedom from sin.
A popular concept in the false doctrine I followed back then was that living in freedom from sin was all about winning the battle in your mind. It's true, in a certain sense, that their is a battle going on in our minds, but not in the way many preachers preach it and not in the way I believed it. I thought the idea was that if I would spend less time thinking about worldly things and more time thinking about godly things, that would enable me to resist temptation. I did my very best to focus on the things the Bible says, but I had no real understanding of the meaning of what I was reading in the Bible. Because I had no understanding, I had no faith in what the Bible was telling me, which was that the fight against sin was already finished at the cross. Again, all my focusing was useless because I had no faith.
Another popular concept in the word of faith circles, as well as in the grace revolution circles, is that if we will focus on Jesus instead of focusing on our sin problem, that will give us victory. The idea they present is that if we would have a God-consciousness instead of a sin-consciousness, we would not be ruled by sin. The truth is that you can think about Jesus more than you think about your sin all you want and it will accomplish nothing if you stop there. It's not about controlling what we are thinking about. It's about what we BELIEVE.
The fight we are in is the fight of FAITH. It's not a fight to control our thoughts. It's a fight to hang on to what we believe. Faith is something that resides in the heart. The mind is certainly a gateway to the heart, and our thoughts have the potential of becoming beliefs, but until we come to understand that the fight is about faith (what we believe), and not about focus (what we're thinking about), we will remain bound by sin.
Everyone, even atheists, has faith. Some people have faith in there own opinion, the opinions of others, what they physically see, some entity they call "God," and so forth. What separates Christians from other people of faith is that our faith rests in something very specific. We do not just simply have "faith in God." Our faith is in JESUS CHRIST and HIM CRUCIFIED. We believe that Jesus is our Savior, and we believe that He provided Salvation for us by dying on the cross for us. So the faith that overcomes the world isn't just any faith. It's faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
Once we first place our faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we become victorious over the world, the flesh, and the devil. What we need to know now, to walk in that victory, is that when we became born again, we were baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and thereby delivered from bondage to the sin nature (Rom 6:3-11). The work of the cross was and is a double cure. It saves from wrath and make us pure. In other words, it delivers us not only from the penalty of sin, but also delivers us from bondage to the sin nature.
When we hear that our being crucified with Christ delivered us from sin, and believe it, we are now in position to live out that freedom. Once we believe it, we need to continue to trust in it, glorying in nothing else, simply because the cross is enough. We don't add to the cross because the cross doesn't need added to. It's a finished work. If we think something needs added, we are showing that we don't believe it's a finished work, which means we don’t have faith in the finished work of the cross. But once we come to know that it is finished, and we are free, we will glory in nothing else. When we submit to God's Redemption plan in such fashion, trusting exclusively in the finished work of the cross, His Redemption plan begins to affect our walk. The power of the cross is applied to our lives. We become increasingly conformed unto His death, and the fruits of His Life in us show forth to an ever-increasing degree. The power of the cross, manifest in the Holy Spirit, who is Christ in us, causes us to walk in righteousness and true holiness (Ezk 36:27). He fights our battles for us and mortifies the deeds of the bodies we live in. He keeps us from yielding to temptation and slays the giant within that once ruled us.
Our only part in this whole matter is to continue to trust in the finished work of the cross, believing that we were set free the moment we died with Christ. Dying is not something we do. It's something that the Holy Spirit does to us when we trust in the death of Christ (Rom 6:3, 1 Cor 12:13). We don't now die daily. Because we were in Christ when He died unto sin once, we are to reckon ourselves, like Him, to be dead indeed unto sin once (Rom 6:8-11), knowing that because we are dead to sin through Him, we are free from sin (Rom 6:7). It is this reckoning that we are to do daily, which really means continually. When we reckon ourselves to be dead indeed unto sin according to Romans 6:11, we will lay down all our self-effort and self-sufficiency, simply because we know that our victory resides only in the cross, rather than anything that we do. The cross we take up daily is not really a daily death. It’s a daily faith in the death that has already occurred: His death, which is now our death. There is only one cross to take up, and it's the one upon which Christ died. God forbid that we glory in anything else (Gal 6:14), especially some cross we invent for ourselves. His cross is my cross. I am crucified with Him, on one cross (Gal 2:20). It is finished. I am dead with Christ and that death has set me free (Rom 6:7, 11). I don’t re-finish it daily. It is finished! I take up my cross (His cross) daily by trusting daily in what my Savior already accomplished for me on that cross. I don’t re-accomplish it every day. I re-embrace it every day.
The fight of faith we are to engage in every day concerns what I just shared. Will we believe every day, every moment, and during every temptation that the cross is enough, and we are already free, or will be believe something else? I have found that the enemy has a thousand subtle ways of corrupting the simplicity of the message of the cross, and none of us are above falling prey to one of them. Multiple times in my own walk, even after my revelation of the finished work of the cross, God has used pastors and other people to make course corrections at times when the enemy has subtly corrupted my faith. Even when my faith has remained steady as it pertained to certain areas of my walk, God has used pastors and others to show me some other area of my walk where I was not depending on the cross. The fight we're in is a fight to hold fast to the cross, bringing every area of our lives under subjection to it.
The mind comes into play because the mind is the avenue by which the enemy attempts to corrupt our faith. For me, my big hang up for the longest time was pornography. In moments of temptation, I would try to dismiss the lustful thoughts I was having and instead try to focus on Bible verses. I would try to quote and think about Scriptures that teach sexual purity as a means of getting rid of the lustful thoughts. I would even try to think about what the Bible says in Romans 6 about us being free from sin. The problem was, not thinking about sin, and thinking about Jesus or the Bible instead, is not enough because it's not faith. I would do my best to control my thoughts, but those lustful thoughts would just never stop pulling on me. Eventually, I would give in for the simple reason that I thought giving up was the only way to make them stop. The fact of it was, I would've never said it, but I thought those thoughts owned me. I did not believe that I was free through Christ. I thought I still needed to do something else to attain freedom. The list of "somethings" I had my faith in was long and various. If a book, website, or pastor said to do it, I tried it. Ultimately, whatever it was, I always knew I wasn't doing it well enough for it to work, or for it to merit God's help.
Ultimately, I was fighting a battle in my mind, but it was the wrong battle. Instead of trying to dismiss the lustful thoughts, I should have been fighting to know and understand the Word of God and then fighting to reject thoughts that were contrary to it. Not because thinking thoughts contrary to the Word of God will cause defeat, but because thoughts contrary to the Word of God have the potential of becoming beliefs contrary to the Word of God, and when my beliefs are against the Word, I cannot walk in the Truth, which means I cannot experience freedom. Again, my focus and what I think about plays a role, but when the rubber meets the road, what I believe will determine whether I experience victory. Faith, not focus, is the victory that overcomes the world.
The fight of faith is even more specific than just trusting in the Bible though. For example, the Bible says that it's adultery for a man to lust after a woman in his heart. If a lustful thought presents itself to me, I can know that verse, quote it, believe it, and shout it, and it will accomplish nothing. Why? Because the Word of God I must stand on is not just any verse of the Bible. The Word of God is the Gospel. Just read the New Testament and see how many times the Gospel is referred to as the Word of God. Another name for the Gospel is the Message of the Cross, or more literally, the Word of the Cross. According to 1 Corinthians 1:18, the Message (Greek - Logos) of the Cross is the power of God. The Greek word logos is most often translated in the Bible as "word." In 1 Cor 1:18, most translations translate it as as "message." The point I'm getting at is that the Logos of God (the Word of God) means “The Message of God.” They are synonyms.
The faith that overcomes the world is not faith in just one piece of that message extracted from the whole. Our faith must be in the message itself. Jesus Christ, also known as the Word of God, is the Message of God, and our faith must rest in Him. However, for our faith to be in Him, our faith must necessarily be in what He's done to save, deliver, heal, and redeem us (i.e. the cross). If we claim to have faith in Jesus, but we don't believe His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient to set us free, our faith is really in a false jesus. The True Savior is forever worshipped in Heaven as the Lamb that was slain. “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” is who He is. You cannot say you have faith in Jesus if your faith is not in the Lamb that was slain (i.e. the cross). That's why the Bible says our faith should stand in the power of God, which the Bible says is Christ crucified (1 Cor 2:5, 1:24). So the victory that overcomes the world is faith in Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Who He is (the slain Lamb) and what He did to set us free (sacrificed Himself for us on the cross).
When a temptation comes, you can start shouting "I believe this and I believe that and the Bible says this" all you want. If what you believe isn't anchored exclusively to Jesus Christ and Him crucified, it will accomplish nothing. It was the cross that defeated sin and it's the cross that defeats temptation. We must have faith in what Christ accomplished at the cross! It’s just that simple! If you believe that the power of the cross was sufficient to break the bondage, and refuse to be moved away from that Truth, that faith will give you access to the power of the Holy Spirit, who enables you to live a holy life, free from sinful addictions.
The reason so many do not experience freedom, is that even though we trust in the cross for forgiveness of sins, we do not trust in it as the means by which we have been set free from the dominion of the sin nature. The reason we don’t trust in it for freedom from sin is either because we just don’t know, or because we’re too prideful to believe freedom comes only from the cross, and not from anything we do. Due to this ignorance, we look for freedom in our routines, the words we speak, our willpower, our ability to control our thoughts, the number of days we fasted, an accountability relationship, a 12-step program, a church program, and everything else under the sun that’s not the finished work of Christ. The result is all that all our religion (everything that’s not faith in the cross), gives us nothing but a form of godliness, and we are without the power to be truly free, simply because we do not trust in it.
For some, they hear a message like this, and they refuse to submit to it out of pride. Submitting to it would mean everything they’ve believed and taught for years was wrong. It would even mean that it was not really God doing the things they had boasted about Him doing in their lives. They would seem like a fool and a liar to admit that they’ve been wrong for so long. They may have even built their whole life around a lie. They may attend a church built on nothing but lies and dead religion. The question for you today, my friend, is will you, like Paul, count all these things you thought were gain as loss? Will you abandon your dead religion and everything you’ve ever trusted in outside of Christ, counting all those things as dung, that you may win Christ, and be found in Him, not having your own righteousness from all things things you’ve done, but having only the Righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith? It’s time to stop fighting the battle by doing this and saying that and thinking this. Such tactics only lead to failure. The victory that overcomes the world is faith in the blood of the Lamb. Stop fighting a battle that’s already been won and start fighting to believe that the battle was already won 2000 years ago at the cross when Jesus was crucified for you and you were crucified with Him. It is finished!
“For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” 1 John 5:4