All That Is In the World

By: Dr. Steven C. Riser; ©2008
The world is not the physical earth or other people. God loves these things and we should too. Neither is the world entertainment like playing cards, drinking, dancing and movies. You can play cards, drink, dance and watch movies and not be corrupted by the world; or you can abstain from all four of these things and yet be deeply enmeshed in the world. There’s something much deeper: it’s a matter of the heart.

 

Hedonism, Materialism and Egotism

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world: the cravings of sinful man [hedonism], the lust of his eyes [materialism] and the boasting of what he has and does [egotism] – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17)

 

What Is The “World?”

The world is not the physical earth or other people. God loves these things and we should too. Neither is the world entertainment like playing cards, drinking, dancing and movies. You can play cards, drink, dance and watch movies and not be corrupted by the world; or you can abstain from all four of these things and yet be deeply enmeshed in the world. There’s something much deeper: it’s a matter of the heart.

Kosmos means “orderly arrangement” or “system” (thus “cosmetic”). Here as elsewhere in the Bible it means the counterfeit system of values, goals and affections which is designed to seduce us from a loving and trusting relationship with God. In other words, the kosmos is “a highly sophisticated idol.” In Revelations, it’s pictured as a harlot who seductively seduces people and destroys their very souls.

What are some of the underlying qualities that animate the world?

  1. The spirit of the world – 1 Corinthians 2:12
  2. The wisdom of the world – 1 Corinthians 3:19
  3. The way of the world – 1 Corinthians 7:31
  4. The evil desires of the world – Titus 2:12
  5. The corruption that is in the world – 2 Peter 1:4
  6. The defilement of the world – 2 Peter 2:20

What about the hostility of the world system toward God?

  1. The world knew not God – 1 Corinthians 1:21
  2. The world’s works are evil – John 7:7
  3. The world can’t receive the Spirit – John 14:17
  4. The world hated Christ – John 15:18
  5. The world will also hate us – John 15:18

What does Christ says about the world – the Kosmos?

  1. My Kingdom is not of this world – John 18:36
  2. I have overcome the world – John 16:33
  3. Now is the judgment of this world – John 12:31
  4. Now the prince of this world will be driven out – John 12:31

What about the Christian’s relationship to the world?

  1. Friendship with the world is enmity with God – James 4:4
  2. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him – 1 John 2:15
  3. Our faith in Christ is what overcomes the world – 1 John 5:4-5
  4. Believers are not to withdrawal from the world system – John 16:33; 17:15; 1 Corinthians 5:9, 10; Philippians 2:15; Matthew 5:13-16

What is the person or demonic spirit behind the world?

  1. The ruler of this world – John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11
  2. The god of this world – 2 Corinthians 4:4
  3. The prince of the power of the air – Ephesians 2:2
  4. The demons are the rulers of this world – 1 Corinthians 2:8; Ephesians 6:12
  5. The whole world lies under the power of the evil one – 1 John 5:19

In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle John tells us that the kosmos is composed of three primary components “things”: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” These things are the essence of the world. Like most effective temptations, each one is a perversion of something that is essentially good.

1. Hedonism – The Worship of Pleasure

The “lust of the flesh” refers to the inordinate desire for sensual gratification (hedonism).

James 4:3-4: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

God gave us the capacity for sensual pleasure and there’s no intrinsic value in experiencing pain. But to live our lives around the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is to live as an animal. Our secular culture tells us that we’re nothing more than animals and therefore “If it feels good, do it!” And so God becomes, if anything, a means to providing me with pleasure and escaping pain (James 4:3), rather than an end in Himself – one to love and serve and, yes, even sacrifice for.

This isn’t just the drug addict or the sexual pervert. Hedonism includes all forms of substance abuse or dependence, all sexual involvement outside marriage (including pornography), gluttony, sloth. Why do you think that advertising uses sex so much? Because marketing and advertising professionals are not stupid, they’re trying to link their products to the very strong known sensual or sexual desires.

Hedonism – pursuing pleasure through drugs, alcohol or sex – may seem or appear to be an enjoyable lifestyle, but appearances are deceptive. Hedonists tend to die sooner and in often unpleasant ways. When the pursuit of pleasure becomes paramount, it becomes a false idol leading to a destructive lifestyle.

2. Materialism – The Worship of Things

The “lust of the eyes” refers to the inordinate desire to acquire, accumulate and enjoy material things (materialism). God is the creator of all material things; He supplies us richly with all things to enjoy. But when you define: 1) your identity in terms of how much you make; and 2) your happiness in terms of your next acquisition; and 3) your security in terms of how much you have, this is idolatry because you’re living for things instead of for God. The lust of the eye has nothing to do with how much you actually have; but with how much “wanting things” crowds out your desire to know, love and serve the living/true God.

This isn’t just “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” or kids killing each other for a pair of tennis shoes. This encompasses the American Dream with its kaleidoscopic array of things for every stage of your life. For some the local mall serves as a temple to worship: the false god of materialism and shopping is a form of therapy. It also includes the preoccupation with physical beauty over inner character.

What if we get caught up in the endless pursuit material goods rather than spiritual concerns? What if our entire life is taken up with our pursuit of material goods to the neglect of doing good things? What if our desire to make more money destroys our relationship with our family and friends? What if our pursuit of a more materialistic lifestyle leads us to neglect matters of justice and mercy?

That poses a huge problem for Christian discipleship. The problem is not in material things themselves but our attitude toward things. We need to avoid the sin of concupiscence: an inordinate love for things.

Jesus was clear in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 6:24 – “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
Matthew 6:33 – “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

3. Egotism – The Worship of Self

The “boastful pride of life” is the inordinate desire for self-determination and self-affirmation (egotism). God gave us free will, so it is good to exercise the power of choice. But when we use our freedom of choice to live autonomously instead of to serve and do God’s will, this is idolizing self. God also gave us a sense of self-worth and He wants us to feel good about who we are and what we do. But when we seek praise from other people more than God’s praise, we have idolized self and become corrupted by false worship.

This is not just obvious self-deification and self-glorification like Adolf Hitler or David Koresh. This is what runs arts and entertainment; corporate world; politics; religion! This isn’t just obvious autonomous self-determination like Ayn Rand. This secular mindset is, for many, the American way of life!

Commiseration with the kosmos is an issue of your secular values and the disaffections of the heart. The following questions may help you to assess the extent of your own involvement in the world system :

  1. What is your favorite fantasy? What would you do or be if you knew you couldn’t fail? (We may look forward to recreation or vacation, but is this all? What about intimacy with and serving God?)
  2. Who do you most admire? What do you admire most about this person? (Looks, money, position, etc., or character, love for God, faithfulness to God?) Who are your closest friends? What are the common interests around which these friendships are built? (Entertainment? Work? Or spiritual growth and service?)
  3. How do you habitually spend your spare time and money? (Entertainment, prudent savings are okay, but what about generous giving to God’s work, investment in your spiritual growth and your ministry?)
  4. What are your short-term and long-term goals? Where do you want to be five or ten years from now? What difference will these goals make 100 years from now? (Financial, educational goals are fine, but what about spiritual goals like character development, discipling, ministry equipping and deployment?)
  5. What do you want most for your children? (Only education, good job, etc., or godly character and impact for Christ most of all?) How do you view retirement? (As a time to really concentrate on enjoying yourself, or as a time of greater freedom to serve God?)

The Gospel

It should be evident by now that, because of its pervasiveness and subtlety, it’s very easy to spend your whole life enmeshed in the kosmos. Remember its purpose: to distract you from coming to know God so that instead you waste your life for a few moments of pleasure and glitter and the faint applause of men.

What does it profit a person if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?” (Mark 8:36) God is offering you an alternative to this: a personal love relationship with Him, a new purpose for this life, and the gift of eternal life with Him. All this is offered to you through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s why the first step in combating the kosmos is to receive Christ (cf. John 1:12 and Col. 1:13).

Christians

All of us struggle with attraction to the kosmos. Christians who say they don’t are either ignorant of what it is or very self-deceived. We all struggle with “all that is in the world (1 John 2:16a) – the false idols of hedonism, materialism and egotism. Many of us would have to admit at least we have been flirting with the kosmos – which is a very dangerous thing to do.

If you’ve embraced the values of hedonism, materialism and egotism you’ve committed spiritual adultery! Some of us have to admit that: 1) we’ve been sleeping with the enemy; 2) we’ve betrayed the One to whom we’re engaged, who really cares for us; and that 3) we’ve allowed ourselves to be seduced into spiritually fornicating with a spiritual harlot who is only using us and in no way benefiting us!

Conclusion

Worldliness is primarily an attitude, and we expel worldliness through cultivating a New Affection: What does it take to expel the love of the world from our self-deceived and sin sick hearts? Only the love of Christ can expel the love of this world from our hearts!

What is the basis of our love for Christ? Christ’s love for us is the basis of our love for Christ. It is the two-fold: It is the realization of: 1) the wickedness our sin and 2) of the great grace of Christ. As we learn of God’s love for us, love of the Father is born in us. We love Him because He first loved us. Jesus put it this way: “He who is forgiven much, loves much.

The way in which we maintain our love for Christ is the same way we discovered it in the first place: Only when grace is still amazing does it retain power – motivation and influence – over us. Only as we retain the realization of our own sinfulness and we retain the amazement of God’s grace.

The only way to expel the love of the world is to substitute it with a greater love for someone/thing else. The only way to expel the love of the world is for God to give us a greater love for Himself.

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