Do Not Love This World

15 o not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

As I grow older, I sometimes look back at my life and how God has directed my steps. You might call it a spiritual reminiscing. When Paul was coming to the end of his earthly life, he was also reminiscing as he reflected on his ministry. Paul had faithfully ministered and was eager to see his Savior and receive his eternal reward. However, Paul was also very concerned about those whom he had left behind. One such individual was Timothy, Paul’s close ministry companion and son in the faith. And while Paul was confident in Timothy’s spiritual integrity, he also knew that Timothy, as a young man, was vulnerable to certain temptations. That is why Paul exhorted him to remain strong and courageous. In 2 Timothy 1:6-8 and 13-14, Paul says: “I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline. Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God.… Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you.”

Paul continued by reminding Timothy of the astonishing and sobering reality that many had already deserted him: “You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” But perhaps the most notorious defector among Paul’s associates appears in 2 Timothy 4:10: “Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” We don’t know for sure, but Demas had likely been a coworker with Paul for many years. Based on numerous scriptures, it is likely that he had ministered with people like Titus, Luke, Mark, Tychicus (2 Tim. 10–12), Epaphras, and Aristarchus (Col. 4:12–14; Philemon 23–24).

Despite having spent time in the presence of such amazing men of God—preachers of the Word, authors of Scripture, church planters, faithful servants, men of prayer, and men who suffered for the gospel—Demas utterly abandoned Paul and others. 2 Timothy 4:10 plainly states the basis and underlying reason for Demas’s defection: he “loved this present world.” He loved the world system, with its sin, human wisdom, and satanic deceptions, more than he loved God’s kingdom. Demas’ life exhibited the characteristics of Jesus’ parable in Matthew 13:3-23. Demas’ life paralleled both the shallow, rocky soil, in which the seed of God’s Word flourished briefly, but withered and died in the face of tribulation and persecution, and the thorny soil, in which the seed was smothered under the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth.

Paul understood the cost of professing Christ and willingly served the Lord at great cost, Demas decided that he was unwilling to pay that price. So he forsook the Lord along with his co-laborers and went “to Thessalonica.” Remember, Thessalonica was a large, cosmopolitan city on the main east-west trade route of Asia Minor that offered all kinds of material, immoral, and philosophical temptations.

Demas was guilty of spiritual adultery with the world, the kind of sin against which James strongly warned in James 4:4: “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Demas made himself an enemy of God. He did so by returning to the life he had suppressed for a few years while traveling with Paul and the others. Demas proved he never really loved God nor the things of God. Demas provides us with a clear and tragic illustration of the love God hates. The perfect love of God is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. Yet because God loves perfectly, He also hates perfectly. As the Holy One, He loves all that is righteous, holy, and in line with His will and glorious purpose. In contrast, He simultaneously hates whatever opposes His will.

The absolute perfect love of God likewise demands that those who love Him share His hatred of all that is opposed to Him. The psalmist exhorted, “Hate evil, you who love the Lord” (Ps. 97:10) and, “From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104). Solomon provides us with a more specific list in Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things which the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who spreads strife among brothers.” God hates these because they are completely and absolutely inconsistent with His holy nature.

This short but familiar passage we will study today describes a major object of God’s hatred—the world and those who love it. This command not to love the world is another part of the moral test regarding assurance of our salvation. Not only does John provide this command, he also provides some reasons why a believer is not to love the world.

What does the term “world” mean? We need to examine its use in this particular context and properly compare Scripture with Scripture in order to understand the various meanings. Let’s start with what it doesn’t mean. It is clear what John is not referring to the physical world, or God’s created order. He is not talking about the physical earth where beautiful flowers, plants, and trees grow, where the majestic mountains reach to the sky and magnificent rivers flow through valleys. John would not command us to hate something that God pronounced as “very good” in Genesis. Even though creation is stained by the sin of man, nature’s physical beauties still reflect God’s glory. Secondly, John would not have commanded believers to hate the world of humanity. After all, God loves people in the world and sent His Son to die for their sins.

The world and the things in the world which John is warning us not to love are the invisible, spiritual systems of evil. It is the world system, “the course of this world” governed by Satan that Paul highlights in Ephesians 2:2, “You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.” Jesus also referred to this “world system” when He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

“The world” is under the dominion of Satan for He is “the prince of this world” (John 12:31), and “the whole world is under the control of the evil one” (John 5:19). Therefore, the world is his sphere of influence. “The world” is the wicked, corrupt, demonic thinking, philosophies, and values that motivate mankind. It would include pleasures, delights, and all those attractions by which people are so captivated that they are drawn away from God. This is a world that is filled with greed, selfish ambition, fleshly pleasures, deceit, lying, and all forms of sin. The world is a system of values and goals from which God is excluded.

The apostle Paul understood that Christians are in a spiritual war with this world. He says in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.” When Paul says “We are destroying speculations” he is referring to ideologies or belief systems, the world religions, philosophies, political theories, or any other unbiblical worldview.

The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God are explicitly and fundamentally incompatible and irreconcilable. They are mutually exclusive and opposed to one another, and as such cannot peacefully coexist. True Christians will not be characterized by a habitual love for the world, nor will worldly people demonstrate a genuine love for Jesus Christ (Col. 1:21-22).

Clearly, there is an unmistakable distinction between the things of God and the things of the world. The continual moral and ethical decline of contemporary culture makes this blatantly obvious. Think for a moment about all of the worldly agendas which are unapologetically hostile toward God: attacks on the traditional family, active promotion of sexual promiscuity and homosexuality, increasing acceptance and even numbness toward murder, emphasis on materialism, diminishing standards of personal integrity and ethics, blurring the lines between right and wrong, and so on.

After opening with the command to not love the world, John provides three general reasons Christians must not love the world: because of who they are, because of what the world does, and lastly because of where the world is going.

If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Because Christians have been forgiven (Col. 1:14), have a true knowledge of God (Eph. 4:13), have the Word of God abiding in them (Col. 3:16), have overcome Satan (1 John 4:4), and have an increasingly intimate relationship with the Father (1 John 2:12–14), we cannot love the world.

We know that we have been chosen “out of the world” in such a way that we no longer belong to it. Yet, we are still “in this world” although we are distinct from it. John says in his gospel: “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you” (Jn. 3:13).

Though the world hates the Christian, the Christian must not hate the world. However, we must “not love the world or anything in the world.” That sounds somewhat confusing. So let’s work through it. We are not to be conformed to it, nor contaminated by it. So what should our attitude be toward the world? John Stott says that the Christian “…is not to escape out of it; he is to remain in it. He is to be ‘unworldly’ without becoming ‘otherworldly’, living ‘in’ it without being ‘of’ it.” In other words, we are to resist the attraction of the world, as well as faithfully live for Christ.

However, the basic identity of believers as God’s children does not make us immune to the world’s allure. Even though we have been saved by grace, we are still fallen sinners. True followers of Christ are tempted through their weak, remaining flesh by the world’s allure (Matt. 26:41). Whether the temptation comes from worldly priorities, amusements, riches, or lusts, true believers must resist the world’s seduction.

There is no doubt that the world competes for the love of Christians. The world tempts us to seek its approval, to conform to its standard of ethics, to accept its philosophy, to gain its wealth, to seek its power, to question God’s Word, to be intellectually ashamed of Christ, and to regard trusting in God as foolishness.

Romans 1:32 describes people in the world’s system by saying that they not only do evil themselves but “give hearty approval” to others who do it. Some people love those who are more wicked than they because it makes them feel more righteous. But the bottom line is that we cannot love the world and the Father at the same time. 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 and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. (1 John 2:16)

The meaning of “all that is in the world” appears in the three distinct categories of sin. Before we look at each of these three areas, I think we need to take a few moments to look at sin, because it is the dominant reality in the world.

According to John, by definition sin is “lawlessness” (1 John 3:4); therefore, sin is any violation of God’s perfect and holy law. We know from Scripture that God’s law includes all that is righteous (Matt. 22:36–40; Acts 28:23; Rom. 3:21; James 1:25) and that sin includes all that is unrighteous (Matt. 15:19; 1 John 5:17). Certainly sin is manifested externally, but the roots of sin originate in the core of the depraved human heart. Sin permeates the person, defiling the sinner in every aspect. Sin is by its very nature both rebellious and ungrateful! Romans 1:21 says, “Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.” Sin is also humanly incurable. Sinners have no capacity to remedy their sin condition. Isaiah described Israel’s incurably sinful condition as follows…

Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him. Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick and the whole heart is faint. From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil. (Isaiah 1:4–6)

Sin is a hereditary condition. All mankind inherited sin because sin entered the world when man fell. All sin stems from mankind’s fallen nature, and that nature derives from Adam and Eve’s initial disobedience. Sin is a condition for which sinners can do nothing in their own strength.

Lastly, sin is universal. In Psalm 14:3, David wrote, “They have all turned aside, together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Thus all people, left to their own devices, choose to sin. John gives us clarity in John 3:19-20 where he says, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

Because people are by nature sinful, evil can overcome them. Sin so defeats unbelievers that they can only think and do sinful things. Sin so utterly dominates their minds, wills, and affections because they are under Satan’s control. Solomon reminds us of the emptiness and meaninglessness that sin causes in Ecclesiastes 1:14 where he says, “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind.”

It is critical for us to properly understand the nature of sin’s origin in human behavior. It is true that temptation comes from Satan’s system through the world, but we cannot ultimately blame external influences. Sinners are responsible for their sinful actions, which spring from our own wicked desires (James 1:13–16). Jesus clearly taught in Mark 7…

That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man. (Mark 7:20-23)

We are not sinful because we sin. We sin because we are sinful. We enter the world with a sinful nature and predisposition toward sin. The only remedy for this sin condition, which results in both physical and spiritual death, is to become a child of God through faith, and faith alone in Jesus Christ.

Now that we have a clearer understanding of just how serious sin is, let’s go back to our text where John summarizes three avenues the world uses to tempt, entice, and even provoke us to sin: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.

The phrase “lust of the flesh” refers to the corrupt, immoral cravings of wicked hearts. The word “flesh” represents humanness and its sinful essence; this is the physical aspect of our humanity. The original Greek word (epithumia) is a neutral term translated “lust” and means a strong desire, either positive or negative. But here it refers negatively to the sensual urges from the world that attract people toward sin. Therefore, the expression “lust of the flesh” brings to mind predominantly sexual sins, but it is definitely not limited to this narrow meaning.

The foundational desire of the human heart corrupts and twists all normal desires according to Jeremiah 17:9. This sends an unbeliever into a passionate pursuit of sinful desires that goes beyond the bounds of what is good, moral, and righteous. This would include any thoughts and actions that are contrary to God’s Word. To give us a better understanding Paul provides a list of some deeds of the flesh in Galatians 5…

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19–21)

These sinful thoughts and actions are some of the principal characteristics of the world system and are overwhelmingly tempting to an unbeliever.

As I mentioned earlier, John is not just referencing the sexual desires which drive people to excess, and which can have devastating consequences, he is referring to all types of desires. John would include anything and any way in which people improperly fulfill fleshly desires, i.e. gluttony, drunkenness, selfishness, greed, arrogance, deceit, lying, malice, anger, etc. There are so many things that appeal to the flesh that it is difficult to name them all.

John continues by giving us another example of how the world entices sinners to thoughts and actions contrary to God’s will. It is through the “lust of the eyes.” God created us with eyes to enable us to see the beauty of His creation and His excellent works. Unfortunately, as we take in the beauty and light from all that is good and right, we also open them for temptation to enter. Sin distorts the use of our eyes and drives people toward a lack of contentment, outright dissatisfaction, covetousness, and idolatry according to Scripture.

Let’s just look at a couple of examples of this truth. Lot’s wife chose to use her eyes to watch the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and her disobedience resulted in God turning her into a pillar of salt  (Gen. 19:17, 26). What about Achan who saw the gold and silver and coveted it even though Israel was to take none of the plunder? Israel stoned him because of his sin (Josh. 7:18–26; 22:20). Of course there was David who saw Bathsheba bathing and subsequently committed adultery with her and then became a murderer in an attempt to cover his sin. God judged David with great suffering the remainder of his life. Because of the magnitude of consequences, it is absolutely imperative that all believers guard their eyes.

The eyes in and of themselves cannot be said to be guilty of sinful desires because our eyes were created by God. They are, however, often the means by which sinful desires are introduced into the mind. In other words, eyes are windows into the soul. So be very cautious about what you watch on TV or at the movies and books or magazines you read.

The lust of the eyes is the inclination to be captivated by the outward appearance of things without evaluating its real value. This explanation focuses on the core issue in that all temptations of the world focus on the temporal pleasure without any assessment of the consequences or the future ramifications. Be cautious of glittering things.

The last area that John highlights regarding the way the world tempts the soul is the “boastful pride of life.” Such pride is the selfish, self-righteous arrogance that seems to motivate all other sin. Pride corrupts even the most honorable moral aspects of mankind created by God. Sinners exalt themselves and seek fulfillment in things that glorify the creature rather than the Creator. Paul says in Romans 1…

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 1:22-25)

The “boastful pride of life” is where individuals make idols of their livelihood, social standing, and any other status symbols that the world deems as important. Examples would include prestige, power, and position. But those are just a few examples of how our pride manifests itself because the list of examples goes on and on.

Let’s take a quick look at how all three of these temptational avenues are used by Satan. In “the flesh” individuals act according to the basic desires of animals. With “the eyes” individuals seek to have more than others. Through pride, individuals rebel against God and arrogantly attempt to overthrow Him as the almighty sovereign God of the universe. This demonic approach to temptation is more than just some abstract theory or hypothesis. In fact, this is the very same three-pronged attack used by Satan in two crucial events in human history. The first event is found in Genesis 3:1–7 where Satan targeted Adam and Eve. They yielded to these temptations, thrusting humanity into sin. Genesis 3:6 says, “When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate; and she gave also to her husband with her, and he ate.”

Through the “lust of the flesh” Satan appealed to Eve’s desire for food. Then through the “lust of the eyes” Satan appealed to her desire to have something attractive. And lastly, through the “boastful pride of life” Satan appealed to her desire to have wisdom. Eve was not alone in succumbing to these temptations, Adam accepted the same temptations without dispute or evaluation of the consequences.

The second event Satan used his three-pronged attack of temptation is found in Luke 4:1–13 where Satan schemed to completely destroy Jesus’ redemptive mission. Satan appealed to the Lord’s humanity in the very same way he had successfully plunged mankind into sin. He appealed to the flesh by offering bread. He appealed to the eyes by offering the beautiful domain of God’s creation. And then Satan appealed to Jesus’ “perceived” pride by telling Him to challenge God by jumping from the temple’s pinnacle. None of Satan’s evil and sinister temptations were successful because the Lord countered every single attack by quoting Scripture. We need to recognize Satan’s approach and use the Lord’s modeled counter-attack when Satan tempts us.

With these two significant events, it should be no surprise to us to see the world system, which is controlled by Satan, continuing this very same approach on individuals. Satan seeks to leverage the sinful and deceptive heart to maximize evil in the world. However, as believers and followers of Jesus Christ, we are no longer slaves to this corrupt world system. We have been redeemed, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we possess the ability to successfully resist the temptations of this world (Rom. 8:1–13).

The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

The third reason Christians are not to love the world is because it is passing away. When compared with a life lived in the will of God, the things this life has to offer are really empty imitations. The kingdom of this world represents spiritual death while God’s kingdom represents spiritual life. Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection has defeated the world that is opposed to God and has secured eternal life for those who believe. Therefore, the Father has given believers a living hope, an eternal life in Heaven with Him, while the spiritually dead, all who reject Jesus Christ, are destined for eternal death. The kingdom of God on earth was initiated in the death and resurrection of our Lord, and it will be established forever with His return.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5)

The phrase translated “is passing away” is actually a present tense form of the Greek word paragō which means “to disappear.” This indicates that the world is already in the process of self-destruction. The entire world system encompasses the very source of its own destruction. John is highlighting the destruction of the satanic world system and all those who cling to the lustful ideologies that oppose God. They are passionately and hastily running toward eternal damnation.

In 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 Paul wrote about the ungodly who were persecuting the believers. These ungodly, unrepentant followers of the world will not cease to exist, but they will live an everlasting punishment in Hell. The world’s self-destruction will only accelerate in the coming years as the Lord’s return gets closer. John Calvin said, “As everything in the world is fading and fleeting, John concludes that those who seek happiness from it make a wretched and miserable provision for themselves, especially when God calls us to the ineffable glory of eternal life. I take desires to mean what is desired or coveted, or what captivates us. The meaning is that what is most precious in the world and is deemed especially desirable is nothing but a shadowy phantom.”

The Apostle John draws the logical conclusion from this verse: unbelievers will pass away but believers who live in God’s will are going to live forever. The same choice between the lust of the world and the will of God still confronts Christians. However, we are daily reminded that we are not to love this world but instead, we are to do God’s will leading to eternal life.

Therefore, the “one who does the will of God,” those who trust and obey Him, have nothing to fear concerning the world’s destruction. It is God’s will that all believe, repent, and embrace Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. All true Christians will “live forever” with Him in paradise.

John charges us to love neither the world in general nor the things of the world in particular. Our faithfulness must be undivided. Our love must be singularly and totally focused on God. A total commitment to Him and Him alone. To pledge allegiance to the world is to declare our opposition to God.

Our response as Christians should be to confront and destroy the world’s spiritual lies and false worldviews with the truth of God’s Word. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is no longer a slave to the world system but instead has been “rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13).

God created the material things of the world for our enjoyment, but people have made these things into idols. The three things listed in these three verses should not be seen as a comprehensive list of vices. These are avenues by which mankind is especially prone to pervert the goodness of God’s creation.

Our contemporary culture and civilization is anti-God, and believers and followers of Jesus Christ should not love it. We are to be in the world, but we are not to be of the world. You are either going to obey the world system, live in it and enjoy its temporal pleasures, or you are going to obey God and enjoy the blessings He provides, including eternal life. Paul says in Galatians 6:14: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Paul is saying that the cross stands between the believer and this world system. The world system is tempting us to follow it and glory in the temporal, but rest assured the world is not glorying in the cross of Christ!

How are we going to apply this message? John MacArthur said, “God’s love and the love of His children is forgiving, unconditional, and self–sacrificing, but you can be sure Satan will try to pervert that. Worldly love is shallow, selfish, sensual, and sexual, and Satan has sold that definition of love to the world. The world’s love is unforgiving, conditional, and self–centered. It focuses on desire, self–pleasure, and lust—the very opposite of God’s perfect love. People often search for love, but it’s not true love; it is Satan’s perversion.” J. Vernon McGee said, “You may run with the Devil’s crowd all week long and then run with the Lord’s crowd on Sunday, but it is obvious that the love of the Father is not in you.”

Loving the world begins with thinking that God doesn’t know what’s best for you and is trying to cheat you out of something you deserve. That thought soon blossoms into a willingness to disregard God’s warnings altogether and take whatever Satan has to offer.

You can’t love the world and God at the same time, because love knows no rivals. Love gives its object first place. If you love God, He will have first place in your life. If you love the world, the love of the Father isn’t in you.

We need to be alert that there are so many things that appeal to the flesh. Remember that there is no sin in being tested, but the sin occurs when we yield to the temptation.

As believers we must persevere in sanctification and righteousness by “forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead … toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus,” just as Paul highlighted in Philippians 3:13-14. We must demonstrate that we love what God loves and hate what He hates. We must not be devoted to the unbelieving world system. We must reject the relentless appeal to sin which comes through the “lust of the flesh” and the “lust of the eyes” and the “boastful pride of life” and seek to follow after Jesus Christ and God’s will.

15 o not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 1 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 1 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)