Word Magazine June 1989 Page 10


by Guthrie E. Janssen

Have you ever thought you would like to conquer the world? Alexander the Great did, but he didn’t quite bring it off. Neither did Napoleon. You and I can, however, because we live in Jesus Christ and he in us, and he said, “I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33). Our conquest is in and through him. At once someone says, “Jesus did not say conquer, he said overcome.” On the contrary, the Greek original is nikao for both words. Philips translates it in John 16:33 as conquer. In Rev. 6:2 it is conquer in nearly all translations (the identity of the rider of the white horse is not relevant here). The fact is that Jesus conquered the world. If he did not, we have no hope.

“But I have no desire to conquer the world!” says another voice. No? You have never desired to manage in any way aspects of the life of another? You have never desired to control intrusions into your life? You have never railed against anyone? Never desired them to meet such and such a fate? Never desired to gain some advantage for yourself? Never thought how much good you could do for the world if only you could set a few people straight? Then you are no part of the human race, for such desires are common to fallen humanity, and all of them, however small, however seemingly inconsequential, are in some measure desires to manage, to possess, to conquer a bit of the world. We differ from Alexander and Napoleon only in degree.

So we do have the desire to conquer the world. Let us consider now how to go about it. It is a matter of identifying what is to be done and the techniques for doing it. You will need to pay close attention here, for you will not like what is coming. Neither would Alexander or Napoleon.

The first thing is to decide to die. That does not mean we are to walk out in front of a truck or a train, though unavoidable death at the hands of someone bent on our destruction is not ruled out. The important thing is our acceptance of death. This is what Jesus did at the bidding of his Father. Why? Because by his willingness to die he conquered death. If you do not see this just now, you will one day, if you remain a Christian. The “ruler of this world” had no power over Jesus (John 14:30), for (in Orthodox understanding) the power of Satan is exerted largely through our fear of death, and Jesus had no such fear, being ready to lay down his life voluntarily of his own power (John 10:18) in loving obedience to his Father (John 14:31). Loving, obedient, surrender to death is the key. The earliest Christians longed for death in that manner. They yearned for martyrdom, so that they might thereby demonstrate their obedient love for their Lord and their utter contempt for a renunciation of the self-love of this world. We are not so fortunate. We have to die to self-love every day, and even many times a day. This precisely is the meaning of taking up our cross every day and bearing it, as Jesus commanded us in Mark 8:34.

As in everything, the matter requires technique, as we said. Try this, and be very serious about it: For one day, starting when you get up in the morning, take note of and write down (this is important, for the devil is full of tricks to delude us) every self-indulgence you engage in, whether in thought, in word, or in deed. I’m not speaking of normal, healthful recreational activities; I’m speaking of gratuitous self-indulgences. Here is a starter: You wake up to the noise of your neighbor running his lawn mower, and think, “blast him!” After your first cup of coffee you have another, though you don’t really need or want it. You pass to your spouse a tasty bit of gossip. Driving to work, you cut in on some “stupid” driver, not because it gets you along faster but it makes you feel good. You eat some pieces of candy you don’t need because “I owe myself something!” You ogle the sexily attractive person, getting your kicks where you can. You daydream of a dozen pleasures you can’t in reality afford. You talk a blue streak to please yourself and dominate the conversation. You grump at all that’s wrong with the world. You take out petty resentments with snide little remarks to others. And so on. You get the picture. If you are faithful in writing your list you will be astounded at how much of the day you have spent simply pleasing yourself.

All these are indulgence of passions, which are the Christian’s deadliest enemy. What are passions? Lust, greed, envy, sloth, hatred, gluttony, ambition — the list can run to a hundred or more. The world (note this) invites us to indulge them. Passions are the world in us. Indulging them is the exact opposite of conquering the world. How many times do we see an ad saying, “Pamper yourself!” And we say, “Why not?” Soon “why not?” becomes for us a whole way of life. But Jesus said, “Deny yourself” Shall we obey the ads, or Jesus?

“All right,” says the penitent, “I’m ready to change. Who will conduct the execution?” The answer is that we are accorded no personal Pilate or Roman soldier to carry it out. There is a sense in which our lot is more difficult than that of the martyrs. We are our own executioners. Every time we deny ourselves we die a bit, and it is good, very good. Jesus will then give us the resurrection. A note of caution here. Satan is very subtle, and as soon as we recognize our self-indulgence he will tempt us in one of two ways: either we will feel we have done something virtuous by our self-denial, or he will tempt us into a fit of pique with ourselves for having “fallen” at all. Both are further indulgences of self-love. We must have humility and patience, even with ourselves.

“Janssen, you tricked me,” says an objector. “You lured us in with that stuff about Alexander and Napoleon, and it turns out you’re feeding us the same old gospel story.”

Of course. Did you want the truth, or a lie? As long as there remains on earth anyone who cares about you, you will continue to hear the “same old story” until you are convinced of it. As for tricking you, no. Jesus shows us the way to conquer the world. There is no other. Even Alexander and Napoleon, wherever they may be, have learned that by now. Let us also learn it while there’s time to repent.

Jesus shows us the way to conquer the world.

There is no other.

Guthrie E. Janssen has written for THE WORD on several occasions, from his home in Sherwood, Oregon. He is the author of a new book, just published by Holy Cross Seminary Press, entitled To Love Is To Obey: Living the Commands of Jesus.