Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Love not the World

Rock concert

by Dennis Pollock

There are times the Bible can be confusing, especially when we don't view it in its entirety. One case in point has to do with the Scriptures' use of the word "world." Jesus tells us that God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, yet John writes that we are not to love the world, and that if we do, the love of the Father is not in us. The Bible makes it clear that God loves all the people of the world, and yet the world is spoken of frequently as something that we must despise. What gives?

The answer to this dilemma is found in recognizing that the world is spoken of in two different perspectives. One use of the word world refers to our planet and the totality of the people who make up the planet. An example of this is found in Mark 16 where Jesus tells His disciples:  "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Here the world means what we normally think it to mean: the earth, the place where we eat, drink, work, and play. But sometimes the word means something different; it can also represent the sum of the ways, views, values, and attitudes of the people who inhabit the earth, Basically the mindset of all peoples of all races, nations, and cultures. This idea of the world is never spoken of positively, and believers in Christ are strictly commanded not to allow this mindset to dominate our thinking and values. Paul warns us not to be cheated "through philosophy and empty deceit… according to the basic principles of the world and not according to Christ" (Colossians 2:8). In this study we will consider the nature of the world (in this evil sense), the commands of God related to it, and the right and wrong way to avoid contamination by the world.

All that is in the world

Perhaps the quintessential Biblical passage about the nature of the world is found in the little book of first John, where the apostle writes:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world --- the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life --- is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.  (1 John 2:15-17)

We are commanded not to love the world. Why such a command? Because it is the natural tendency of men and women to love the world with its toys and pleasures, its godless and arrogant obsession with power, wealth, status, and position. In this Christians are to be radically distinct from common humanity. We cannot blindly follow the ways of this world.

John breaks the Biblical concept of the world into three components: "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life." It would seem that at the heart of this world lie lust and pride. The lust of the flesh refers to allowing the passions of our sin nature to rule and dominate our lives. Those who are Christ's must learn to say no to the lusts of their flesh. Jesus made the denial of self the first requirement for discipleship, saying: "If any man will come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me."

Secondly, John speaks of the lust of the eyes: allowing what we see to dictate our goals and passions. Billboards, TV commercials, magazine ads, and nearly all advertising make use of this "lust of the eyes." Make an object look pretty enough, show it close up, in high resolution and with vivid colors, and it will become irresistible. Whether it be a bowl of cereal, the latest phone, or a shiny new car, advertisers spend great amounts of money and effort to present the most enticing view of their product possible, as they appeal to the lust of the eyes.

The third component of the world that John describes is the pride of life. Pride and the quest to satisfy one's ego drive men and women throughout their lives. We find it in the inordinate attention we give to our looks, the money we spend on cosmetics, the bluster in the voice, and the lengths to which men and women go to outdo their neighbors, co-workers, and even their own family. C. S. Lewis wrote:

It is pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity; it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison - you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

Throughout the world there are many thousands of cultures. But in another sense there are really only two cultures on the earth: the culture the Bible refers to as "this world" and the culture of the people redeemed by Jesus Christ who are devoted to the word and will of God. Among those who highly value and honor the Scriptures, styles and tastes may vary, but values, morals, and life perspectives will be nearly identical. And while ungodly cultures may differ widely in dress, food, music, and language, where Jesus Christ is not revered, every culture in this world is going to be satiated with three major components: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. African pride may look a bit different than British pride, the lust of the Chinese eye may not precisely resemble the lust of the Mexican eye, but the roots are exactly the same.

drinking partyIn the book of Romans Paul warns us to resist the world, writing: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). To be conformed is to be made in the likeness of something. When you dip a t-shirt in dye, the shirt will eventually conform to the color of the dye. It will come out bearing the same color as the solution in which it was immersed. When you continually dip your mind and thinking into the values and ungodly culture of this world, you will soon begin to take on the very nature of the world. This is the normal case for most men and women who are not raised in families that give serious attention to God. It is not surprising that a man curses, lies, drinks, and cheats on his wife, when his father and his neighbors modeled that same behavior when he was young. He is what Jesus referred to as a "son of this world." The dye of this world has done its work well.

It is no accident that people born in Mexico end up speaking Spanish, and people born in France end up speaking French. From their earliest years they are surrounded by people who speak the native language. Their parents, their neighbors, their teachers, their friends, their siblings, their cousins, the policeman, and the town drunk all speak the same language. Of course they will speak the language of their community! On the other hand it would be a relatively easy thing to get a French child to speak English. Simply place him in a home in Davenport, Iowa for about five years, where every person around him speaks English. He will learn English well, and will probably even lose his accent, especially if you do this early in his life.

Since we will always be conformed to the culture in which we live, it is of the utmost importance that the people of God experience a "counter-culture" throughout their lives. If the only culture we know is this world, we are in trouble. John writes, "The whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one" (1 John 5:19). Atheists, Buddhists, Muslims, celebrities, doctors, plumbers, school teachers, tall people, short people, fat and skinny people, serial killers and philanthropists, elderly grannies who bake cookies for the neighborhood kids, and gang members who would as soon cut your throat as look at you… apart from those in Jesus Christ the whole world is under the sway of that malicious spirit known as Satan.

And they follow blindly after him. Paul writes, "you once walked according to the course of this world…" (Ephesians 2:2). Just as rivers have currents, this world has a course which is easy to follow. It takes no effort at all. To be born into this world is to be continually exposed to this course – you can hardly escape its presence, and it is continually attempting to drag you downstream – away from God, away from righteousness, away from healthy relationships, away from peace and joy and all that is pure and good. The only way to counteract the tendency to be conformed to this world, is to expose your mind and heart to another culture – the culture of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Paul, Peter, and John. And this is done through reading the Bible, hearing and reading Biblical sermons and teachings, and hanging out with like-minded people who value the opinions of Paul far more than those of the talk show hosts and pontificating celebrities who have never read a single chapter in the Bible.

Is this a serious business with God, or is it not such a big deal? James writes:

Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

James calls a love for the world spiritual adultery – about as negative a charge as can be leveled. You are being unfaithful to Jesus Christ. You have, to use the country music phrase, a cheating heart. To be the world's friend is to be God's enemy. To love the drinking and the partying, to indulge in the cursing and the dirty jokes, to feel more at home at the rock concert than in the church service, to spend hours soaking in Internet pornography, to laugh at and repeat the dirty jokes of your co-workers, and to have virtually no differences of opinion on any vital matters from your ungodly neighbors, is to make yourself an enemy of God, regardless of how many hallelujahs you shout on Sunday or how impressive your prayers may be at the family meal. God's word is simple and blunt: become a friend of the world and you are put on the list of God's enemies.

Christians have sometimes tried to escape the world through artificial means. The Amish withdraw from society altogether; monks sometimes live lonely lives where they light candles, chant, pray, and grow gardens. Jesus never calls us to escape the world by withdrawal. Certainly His life never reflected that. He lived in the midst of wickedness, and was accused of being a friend of sinners. Our Lord was no monk! He prays thus for His disciples, "I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15).

John writes, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world --- our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (1 John 5:4,5). It is the power of the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and our faith in Him that gives us the ability to overcome that terrible, surging torrent of wickedness which sweeps so many into the dark abyss. Christ alone is our strength. As we abide in Jesus and feed on Him in His word, there is a crucifixion that takes place in our lives: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14).

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