FAQ's on Overcomer Teaching

These FAQs are taken from posts by Tom Maddux on the Assembly bulletin board. Since his Assembly days, Tom has completed an M.A. in apologetics at Talbot Theological Seminary. It should be said that 'overcomer' teaching originated with Wwatchman Nee.

What is an "Overcomer," what are the rewards for "overcoming," and are they the same thing as the "inheritance"?

The "Overcomer Teaching" is familiar to all who have a certain Plymouth Brethren, Keswick or Assembly background. IMHO, it suffers from several problems.

1. The Plymouth Brethren teachers who teach it hold a low view of the forensic theory of justification. (I know they would deny this, but that is what I see in their position.)

The forensic view explains justification in legal terms. We are guilty of sin. A holy God must punish sin. Christ bore the full punishment for our sins on the cross. The forgiveness purchased by Christ is applied to us when we believe, resulting in our "justification by faith alone."

Some of these teachers attempt to maintain both salvation by faith alone and also the conditional inheritance teaching by saying, "All your sins before salvation are forgiven when you are justified, but then you must confess all your sins and serve God zealously in order to receive a full reward." In other words, Jesus made the down payment but you must make all the other payments.

This leads them to believe that when a Christian dies and goes to be with the Lord, his sins are both forgiven and not forgiven. Some of them throw the "undercomer" into the lake of fire for a thousand years as a sort of "Protestant purgatory". All of them exclude the "undercomer" from the Kingdom, consigned to "outer darkness" forever.

Then some leave the "undercomer" on the earth while the Overcomers enjoy heaven with Christ. For them, the blessed promise of "absent from the body, present with the Lord," is nothing but a warning of being judged, with a definite possibility of being booted out!!

It reminds me of an insurance policy that "gives it to you in the large print, and takes it away from you in the fine print."

This is very similar to Roman Catholic teaching on confession. Martin Luther used to drive his confessors nuts with his constant anxiety attempting to confess every possible sin so that he would escape the Catholic purgatory. Same idea. The great Reformation proclamation of Sola Fide (Faith Alone) was his response to this.

2. These men also hold a low view of the High Priestly Ministry of Jesus. The purpose of his ministry in heaven is to "bring many sons to glory", which, by the way, is part of salvation, (Hebrews 2:10-11). This is what Paul was speaking of when he wrote:

"For those God foreknew he also predestined to by conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called; those he called he also justified; those he justified he also glorified," (Romans 8:29-30).

To deny that this is the destiny of all the saved is to deny the efficacy of Christ's ministry in heaven! It is tantamount to saying that he regularly fails in what he attempts to do. Or worse, you must actually enable him to complete his ministry by your own success at obeying the rules, i.e., by your own works.

However, the apostle Paul told us that, "He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also, along with him graciously give us all things," (Romans 8:32). It is all in Christ, and it is all by grace.

When does a believer become an Overcomer? Is it at the moment he believes on Jesus Christ for his salvation?

In light of the first question about becoming an "Overcomer," my answer would be that the Bible never calls anyone an Overcomer. The word simply does not occur in scripture. More importantly, I have never found the concept either. It doesn’t show up in the places that one would expect to find it.

An example would be Matthew 25:31-46. The sheep are called “the righteous”, (v.37), they inherit the kingdom, (v.34), and obtain eternal life, (v.46). The goats, (those on the left), are cursed, expelled from God’s presence, sent to eternal fire with the Devil and his angels, (v.41).

But where are the Shoats and Geep? Those who are righteous like the sheep, but behaved like the goats? No mention. In addition, where is the place where they will spend eternity? No mention. Instead, the issues are being in God’s presence or expulsion from it, inheritance of the kingdom or entry into the lake of fire, possession of eternal life or receiving eternal punishment. Two classes of people, not three.

In addition, this observation is in harmony with the Biblical doctrine of justification. Justification is a legal declaration of righteousness by God himself. We do not obtain justification by works, we obtain it through faith. There are two aspects to justification. Forgiveness of sin and imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

In the OT David said, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him," (Rom. 4:7-8).

This is in keeping with the New Covenant that God has made, and that includes us, (Eph. 3:2-6). A key provision of this covenant is that, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more,” (Heb. 8:12). In his high priestly ministry in heaven, Christ himself is the “mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance”, (Heb. 8:15). Right now, Jesus himself is covering your sins with his blood.

This makes us forgiven. As blessed as that is, there is more. God sees us as righteous! That is pure grace. The scriptures give abundant testimony to this.

1. Rom. 4:3, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

2. Rom. 4:6, “David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works.”

3. Isa 61:10, “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.”

4. Rom. 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man, the many will be made righteous.”

5. Phil 3:9, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.”

And so on, and on, and on…There are many other scriptures that express this truth. And remember, the sheep that inherit the kingdom….are the righteous! Remember, they have no consciousness of having served Christ…they just lived like true disciples.

What happens when they sin? Are they still Overcomers? What about all the "warning" passages?

If you will notice, I called it the "Overcomer teaching", not the "Overcoming teaching". Since the teaching is about a purported class of "Overcomers," that seems to me an appropriate name to call it.

Regarding George Geftaky's ideas on the matter, when I checked this out many years ago, he was teaching exactly what G.H. Lang taught. He preached through Lang's books, claiming it came from his own study. It has been many years since I read those, so I wouldn't try to repeat it today.

G. Geftakys did teach that Christians can end up in the lake of fire. The reasoning that kicks believers out of the Kingdom seems to lead there.

When a Christian sins, it is covered by the blood of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. When God looks at the sinning Christian, he sees him as in Christ. Christ's righteousness has been imputed to the saved individual, and God sees him as righteous.

Legalism always tries to "dumb down" sin to a list of prohibited observable actions. Then the legalist can just keep the rules on his list and imagine he is okay, (and usually that everyone else is not okay).

But this is a delusion. God's standard is his holiness. So unless you know someone who walks in the holiness of God 24/7/365 for his entire Christian life, the "Overcomer" kingdom will be empty of inhabitants. The idea that we can recover our standing by confession of sin doesn't work. One little shred of forgetfulness.....and bye-bye Kingdom.

The appears to me to be exactly the same reasoning the Catholics use about being in a "state of grace" or a "state of sin".

But don't you have to confess your sins to be forgiven?

Yes, and no. No, for the believer in matters pertaining to justification, such as eternal life, inheriting the kingdom, and reigning with Christ. The reason for this is that God has already imputed to us the righteousness of Christ himself! In his ministry as the High Priest mediator of the New Covenant he continually cleanses us from sin, (Eph. 5:25-30), keeping us undefiled.

How else could Paul have promised the most problem ridden believers in the New Testament that, “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (I Cor. 1:8).

Yes, in matters pertaining to fellowship with God, and with others. We cannot come to God in prayer with a load of sin and rebellion on our consciences.

What about the problem of unconfessed sin? No one alive on earth today is free from unconfessed sin! People who think they can be free from unconfessed sin do not understand sin. Sin permeates fallen human nature. Sin dwells in our bodies.

Sometimes we do some unselfish act for others just as Jesus taught us….and then we are proud of it!! Selfishness, self-centeredness, lust, covetousness, pride, revenge, hatred, cruelty, unforgiveness…on and on. These things beset us constantly. Frequently we are not even aware of it! If unconfessed sin disqualifies us from #3-#6, no one will ever experience these things!

I would just ask a question of every reader, “Have you confessed every sin you have committed since becoming a Christian?” John answers the question for us:

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” (I John 1:8).

All of us have flat out forgotten about all sorts of sins. There is no hope for us in this kind of legalism. But there is in Christ. “But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for the sins of the whole world,” (I John 1:1-2).

Will the believer who dies before confessing his sins still inherit the kingdom and eternal life?

There are rewards for faithful service according to talents received. But the rewards do not include forgiveness, justification unto righteousness, inheriting, or entering into eternal life.

But what if someone refuses to repent?

I would reply, a repentant heart is a characteristic of being a true Christian.

What is full salvation?

A few Scriptures will shed some light on the subject. Full salvation includes:

1. Forgiveness of sins: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance of the riches of God’s grace…” (Eph.1:7).

2. Justification: Justification has two aspects, a. We are declared righteous by God. “However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness,” (Romans 4:5).

b. God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us: “It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God-that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption,” (I Cor.1:30).

3. Sanctification: “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God,” (I Cor.6:11). At salvation, this is our spiritual state. It is what we are “in Christ.” It is our true identity. Because this is true we are admonished to “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Phil.2:12). While in the body, we cooperate with God in a progressive realization and manifestation of that spiritual reality. And we can have confidence that the process will be completed. First of all, there is the promise of Eph.5:25-27. "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy….” Second, we are promised that we will be freed from the presence of the sinful tendencies that we struggle against, sin which dwells in our bodies, (Rom.7:23). “We wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies,” (Rom.8:23).

4. Glorification: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son…and those he predestined he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified,” (Rom.8:28-30). Glorification means…”so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven,” (I Cor.15:49).

5. Sharing in the inheritance of the saints: “…joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light,” (Col.1:12).

6. Reigning with Christ: “How much more will those receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ,” (Rom.5:17).

Some Plymouth Brethren teachers, including G. Geftakys, attempt to transfer all of #4, #5, and #6 into the category of rewards for faithful service. To accomplish this, they are forced to deny much of #1, #2, and #3!!!!

Does this mean they teach that full forgiveness is based on performance of religious duty?

The answer, of course, is yes. They do not believe in full forgiveness of sins by grace through faith at all. Here are some quotes from Joseph Dillow, Reign of the Servant Kings.

“The sacrifice of Christ gives sacrificial protection from the former [what he calls ‘eternal’ sin] on the basis of faith and the permanent gift of regeneration and justification. But it does not give sacrificial protection to unconfessed temporal sin.” (p.545)

“Paul speaks of our rewards and punishments within the family of God. The satisfaction of Christ unconditionally and irrevocably covers the former but only provisionally covers the latter. We must confess daily to obtain the benefits of having the atonement extended to forgive sin within the family of God.” (p.545).

The man is arguing that we cannot have full forgiveness of sin unless we perform our religious duty of confession every day. He most definitely bases full forgiveness of sin on performance of religious duty. He tells us exactly what the duty is.

Thomas Maddux

For a fuller treatment of sin and the inheritance see:

      Living as Heirs   »»
      Death and Unconfessed Sin   »»

For more on Keswick teaching see:

      Keswick Burnout   »»
      Keswick Theology   »»

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