Understanding the Destructive Power of the World - 1 John 2:15-17
(I gave this message at The Lighthouse Chapel (C&MA) in Port St.. Lucie FL on June 23, 2019. You may view the PowerPoint slides of this message HERE)
A number of years ago, Pastor Samuel Rodriquez posted the following on Facebook."Around or IN Jesus?...This is the difference between a religion and a relationship. We have too many people around him, too many people next to HIM but what we need are people that abide IN HIM...In Him we are new people. 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV Therefore, if anyone is IN Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! In Him we live, in Him we move, in Him we have our being! Acts 17:28 In Him, No Condemnation! Romans 8:1 therefore, There is now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus. (NASB)"
Let me ask you this morning. Are you in Christ or just hanging around Christ? John's purpose in writing 1 John is found in chapter five, verse 13, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (NIV)
The question of Christian assurance or assurance of salvation is what John addresses in this book. He gives three tests we can use to judge whether we have eternal life. Or conversely know that we do not have eternal. As John R. W. Stott has written,
"His purpose is to destroy the false assurance of the counterfeit as well as the right assurance of the genuine. He is conscious throughout the Epistles of these to companies, 'you' and 'they'...The same two groups exist today. Some...boast of what they may well not possess; others are conventional churchgoers who have no assurance of salvation, and even say it is presumptuous to claim any. But there is a true Christian assurance, which is neither arrogant nor presumptuous, but is on the contrary...the plainly revealed will of God for His people."
(The Epistles of John, page 64)
What are the three tests we can use to examine ourselves? There is the moral test. Are you practicing righteousness, living a life of obedience to God. Chapter 2:4, "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (NIV)
There is the social test. Do you love our brother? Chapter 2:9, "Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in darkness." (NIV)
Thirdly, there is the doctrinal or theological test. Do you acknowledge that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh? Chapter 2:23, "No one who denies the Son has the Father." (NIV) Chapter 4:15, If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God." (NIV)
Dr. Stott summarizes, "The true Christian, born from above, believes in the Son of God, loves God and the children of God, and keeps the commandments of God. Each involves the other. Belief, love and obedience are marks of the new birth. The new birth brings us...into a certain relation to Christ, to God, to the Church and to the world which we cannot repudiate and which marks us out as Christians."
What is he relationship of the Christian to the world? Jesus Himself acknowledged that his followers were to be in the world but not of the world. He prayed these words to the Father on our behalf. "My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of this world, even as I am not of it."
How does a Christian live "in" the world but not be "of" the world? How is he to be "unworldly" without being "other worldly"? John helps us live in a right relationship to the world by exposing the destructive power of the world. 1 John 2:15-17,
"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 desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever." (ESV)
Here John has defined what it means to be a part of the world, what it means to be "worldly" and how that presents a danger to the believer. What exactly does the word "world" refer to here? Let's define it. The world defined. The word translated "world" in our English Bibles is used three ways in the Scriptures. It can refer to the physical earth, our planet earth. Acts 17:24, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth…" (ESV).
Secondly, it can refer to the people that inhabit the earth. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world [the people of the earth] that he gave his only begotten Son…" (ESV)
Thirdly, It can refer to the spiritual reality in which the people of the earth live as it does in our text this morning, "Do not love the world". (2:15) We use the term "world" in this way. We say the world of "finance", the "world of entertainment", the "world of fashion", the "world of sports" and so forth. This is similar to how the Bible uses it here in 1 John 2:15-17.
Pastor Warren Wiersbe defines the word "world" used by John as "…an invisible spiritual system opposed to God and Christ." (Be Real, Warren W. Wiersbe, page 66) In other words, as someone has said, "Satan's system for opposing the work of Christ on earth." or the system that is opposed to God, satisfies self and serves Satan.
How would you, describe this "world" that opposes God and the Church? First,the world is ruled by Satan. Satan is the head of the world. In John 14:30; 16:11 Jesus refers to Satan as "the ruler [prince NIV] of this world", in other words the ruler of the world. In 1 John 5:19 John writes, "the whole world is under the control of the evil one." That is, the world geographically and spiritually is his territory, the sphere of his influence, his domain, his kingdom. The world is where Satan has his way.
Secondly, the world is in conflict with God and His Church. In His High Priestly prayer, Jesus said, "I have given them (Christians) your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world." (John 17:14) In the next chapter of this book, - 1 John 3:1, John writes, "The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him [God]." Then in verse 13 "Do not be surprised, my brothers, If the world hates you." (3:13)
The Apostle Paul says that unbelievers follow the ways of the world and are energized by the god of this world. Speaking of the Ephesians before they became Christians Paul wrote, "…when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient." (Ephesians 2:2b) Satan is the ruler of the world. The world is his kingdom. The world and the church are two distinct groups of people. Not only distinct but polarized opposed to one another.
J. R. W. Stott writes, "'The world', therefore, is an inclusive term for all those who are in the kingdom of darkness and have not been born of God." (The Epistles of John, page 101)
As A. W. Tozer has written, "Our warfare is not against mere worldly ways, but against the spirit of the world. For man, whether he is saved or lost, is essentially spirit. The world, in the New Testament meaning of the word, is simply unregenerate human nature wherever it is found, whether in a tavern or in a church." (The Pursuit of Man, page 124)
Do you see why John begins this section of his letter with this admonition, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Love of the Father is not in him?"
Secondly, note with me the, the nature of the world or worldliness verse 16, "For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and the pride of life--is not from the Father but is from the world. John breaks down the nature of worldliness into three parts in verse sixteen. He describes for us what constitutes worldliness in very personal terms. By that I mean, he describes how it is easy for you and I to be influenced and drawn into, the "world" of the world. He points out how we are vulnerable to the world. In other words how the "world" constitutes a threat or a danger to the believer.
Think it of in this way. It is as though there are three ways in which we can give the world access to our lives; three doors through which we can give the world entrance into our mind and heart; three ways that we are at risk to the threat of the world, that system that is opposed to God, ignores God, satisfies self and serves Satan.
First of all, verse 16, "the lust [desires] of the flesh" (NIV) (NASB). This is a one of the more literal translations. Let me give you some of the other translations to fill out the meaning as best I can. New Living Translation, "the lust for physical pleasure"; Moffat, "the things our physical nature…crave for." 20thCentury New Testament, "the gratification of the earthly nature." New English Bible, "all that panders to the appetites."
The flesh or sinful man is the sinful nature we are born with. It is the part of us that apart from regeneration, is blind and even hostile to God. It is that natural inclination to look out for self before others. It is that natural drive to satisfy our physical and emotional appetites. It is what drives a person to indulge in sexual sin because it satisfies their sexual desires regardless of the consequences to others.
It is what allows a person to be unkind to be resentful, live in anger, be hateful to be dishonest, manipulative for selfish and self-serving reasons. Simply put, it is the reason each of us need the Gospel! Jesus said, "The Spirit gives life the flesh counts for nothing." (Matthew 6:36 ESV) Paul said, "I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, my sinful nature [or flesh]." (Rom. 7:18 NLT) He admonishes the Romans, "…clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of your sinful nature [or flesh]." (Romans 13:14 NIV)
That is exactly what John says is part of the spirit or nature of the world. This is the hope of the Gospel. When we come to Christ in repentance and faith and are born again, regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we receive a new nature whereby we can overcome the desires of the flesh.
So Paul says to the Galatians, "live (or walk) in the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature [or flesh]." (Galatians 5:16 NIV) In other words Paul says by the power of the Holy Spirit you will overcome the spirit of this world that appeals to your sinful nature. And in Romans 6:6, "For we know that our old self was crucified with him [Christ] so that the body of sin [authority of sin] might be rendered powerless, that we should no longer be slaves to sin." (NIV)
That is God's antidote to the world! That is what Christ offers. Not only deliverance from the penalty of sin, our justification, but deliverance from the power of sin in our lives, our sanctification. The "world" is that system and worldview that Is opposed to God and fuels the cravings of man's sinful nature. It appeals and panders to the sinful inclinations of the human heart.
I probably don't need to explain how the world of 21thcentury America provides every conceivable opportunity to feed and promote the cravings of man's sinful nature. America's entertainment industry provides a steady stream of immorality, impurity, greed and ungodliness promoting and portraying values and lifestyles contrary to the will of God
A caution here to each of us. Be aware of the blatant assault by the world upon all that is wholesome and pure decent and godly and the danger that presents for each of us. It is easy to be de-sensitized by the relentless worldly mindset that permeates our culture. This is a tool of our enemy and his world. John is exposing our vulnerability to it when he identifies "The lusts of the flesh."
But there is a second way in which the world presents a danger to the believer. Notice John's second description of the nature of worldliness or the spirit of the world. Again, other translations,"the lust of the eyes" verse sixteen. New Living Testament, "the lust for everything we see"; Moffat - "the things…our eyes crave for"; IVP Commentary, "desire that comes from what we see"; English Standard Version, "The desires of the eyes".
Stop and think with me of the role the eye plays in our lives. Jesus identifies the relationship of the eye to the heart. "Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light. But when it is bad, your body is full of darkness." (Luke 11:34 ESV)
The eye is like a gate to the soul. The eye is like a doorway to our heart. John is saying that one of the dangers of the world is the access it has to our heart through our eyes. If you are anything but dead, you know what he is talking about.
Remember what the world represents. It is the system opposed to God, which satisfies self and our sinful nature and serves Satan. Think back over the last 24 hours and recall what your eyes have seen either inadvertently or intentionally on purpose. Do you recall being enticed or tempted by anything you saw with your eyes?
Did you allow yourself to lust after, to desire or crave something your eyes saw? Maybe it was enticement of a positive nature. You saw your wife standing in the kitchen and you were prompted to go over and give her a hug. Or you came home and upon seeing your children were prompted to embrace them affectionately. Or perhaps it was an advertisement that came on during the evening news featuring a scantily clothed woman trying to sell you on the idea that you needed a new car. But the ad had you wanting more than the car.
The world has mastered the art of stimulating and arousing unholy desires through the eyes. There is nothing new about this. Achan was drawn into sin by what he saw, the sight of a beautiful piece of Babylonian clothing some silver and gold, was enough to birth covetousness in his heart which led to his sin. (Judges 7) David was enticed by what he saw on the roof of his neighbor's house, a beautiful woman taking a bath. It resulted in adultery and murder.
How many times have we given in to our lust by what we have allowed our eyes not only to see, but to dwell on? Modern technology has created many means of transmitting visual mages that appeal to the lust of the eyes. Satellite and cable TV, videos, digital cameras, and movies, iPods, DVDs, personal computers, smart phones, laptops and play stations, and the list goes on. The technology is morally neutral, but the "world" has exploited these devices. Increasingly it has become a challenge to regulate the access and influence of these visual images to our eyes.
A number of years ago, I read an article entitled "The Pornographic pandemic – we are awash in porn" by Patrick Trueman, who wrote, "Pornography is now more popular than baseball. In fact, it has become America’s pastime, and we are awash in it. Porn is on our computers, our smartphones, and our cable or satellite TV. It’s common in our hotels and even in many retail stores and gas stations. For many men — and, increasingly, women — it is part of their daily lives."
He writes, "Addiction to pornography is now commonplace among adults and is even a growing problem for children and teenagers. Few who are addicted will get help, and the consequences can be lifelong and severe." (lifeSiteNews.com 11-18-11)
According to CovenantEyes.com, "64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month." And what is more shocking is that "1 in 5 youth pastors and 1 in 7 senior pastors use porn on a regular basis and currently struggling. That is more than 50,000 U.S. church leaders."
According to Second Glance Ministries, "The reality is we live in a society that is bombarding us with information that is sexual in nature. Everywhere we go, every place we turn, people of all ages are being inundated with sexually oriented information. The advent of the Internet and cell technology has made the worst of the worst pornographic material available to every man, woman, and child, regardless of age. The information we are receiving is becoming more graphic, violent, and disgusting every day."
The question I pose to each of us at the point is, are we giving the world access to our hearts through our eyes?
A third way John describes the nature of worldliness,"the pride of life". New American Standard Bible, "boastful pride of life"; Moffat – "the proud display of life"; English Standard Version – "pride in possessions". This pride is linked with our relationship to others. Simply put, we take pride in who we are and what we have.
We seek the recognition and attention of others. There are the "Jones" to keep up with. The word translated "pride" is literally "vainglory". It has the idea of being pretentious showy, conspicuous. In other words it takes satisfaction in being noticed by others, having more than others, having a higher position than others, notoriety, prominence, prestige and the power that comes with it. The focus here is our pride. Enjoyment derived not only from what we have but with who we have become. "Boasting of what you have and what you do." as someone has said. Why do so many Americans live in homes they cannot afford. Take vacations with money they do not have? Live lifestyles maintained by consumer debt?
One of the greatest tools of the "world" is the advertising industry. Advertising often appeals to this pride of life. We are told what we should have and why we need to have it. It often fosters discontentment and dissatisfaction with what we have. Its influence is often subtle and relentless.
We have defined what the world is. We have noted the three-fold nature of worldliness - "the desires of the flesh", "the desires of the eyes" and "the pride of life". Thirdly, John points out the danger of worldliness.In verse 15, John warns us not to love the world. "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." (ESV)
Notice first of all that love for the world compromises our fellowship with God. If you love the world, "the love of the Father is not in you." That's pretty straightforward! In other words we jeopardize out fellowship with God when we indulge the "the lust of the flesh", "the lust of the eyes" and "the pride of life". When we choose to play with the world. When we look to the world for our fulfillment. When we find our satisfaction in what the world has to offer, John says we turn our backs on God!
Does that sound radical to you? Listen the words of James. "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."(James 4:4 ESV)
When we befriend the world we commit spiritual adultery. James says there is something incompatible with loving the world - and loving God. The two cannot be reconciled. They are mutually exclusive.
There is a second reason John warns us not to love the world. Verse 17,
"The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever."
May I suggest to you that when we find our fulfillment in the world we live in deception. We are short sided, that is, we make decisions with no regard for the future. Notice the two parallel thoughts in verse 17. "The world and its desires pass away." That's the first thought. In other words, what the world has to offer that which appeals to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is temporary! Here to day – gone tomorrow. The self- gratifying, self-indulging pleasures that the world has to offer will some day come to an abrupt end.
In my neighborhood there are several streets you can turn into off of NW 94thAvenue that are dead end streets. And there are several neighborhoods you can turn into that have no outlet. You've seen the signs, DEAD END and NO OUTLET. That is what John is saying. The world and its desires lead you down a dead end street. The world and its desires lead you into a neighborhood that has no outlet. To disregard this reality is to be short sighted. To disregard this reality is to be deceived says John.
Notice the contrast what follows in the second part of verse 17, "but whoever does the will of God lives forever." John is making this an issue of obedience. It all comes down to two choices, choosing Jesus Christ and God's will or choosing to follow the world and its desires. Here's the bottom line. Living for the world leads to a dead end. It's short sighted. It's deceptive. In contrast, the one who does God's will lives in the presence of God now and forever. Paul writing the Galatians sounds the same warning. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sow to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will read eternal life." (Galatians 6:7-8 NIV)
You will never find fulfillment in the world. Anything the world offers is temporary. It is superficial and will pass away. You've heart the story of the frog that jumped into the hot frying pan. Immediately after his feet touched the hot surface of the pan he jumped right back out. But then, there was the frog who jumped into a pot of cold water on the stove. He didn't realize, however, that the fire have been turned on. The water gradually got warmer and warmer. Since frogs are cold blooded, their bodies adjust to the temperature of their environment. As the water heated up so did the temperature of the frog. You know the end of the story. The frog died in the boiling water without even knowing what was happening.
I am afraid that's how many Christians are living. They are playing in the world's playground where they are indulging the desires of their flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, not even aware of what is happening to them. The world is subtly and slowly conforming them into its mold.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman at Jacob's well in the Samaritan village of Sychar. (John 4) She evidently was thirsty because she had come to Jacob's well to draw some water. Jesus asked her for drink of water, and in so doing engaged her in a conversation about another kind of thirst. You see, He knew the circumstances of her life. He knew that she was looking for answers in all the wrong places. She had turned to the world to find fulfillment. She was seeking satisfaction by fulfilling the desires of her sinful nature. And she had come away desperately empty.
Could that be where you are this morning? Jesus knew she had turned to the world. And in His conversation, He said to her, "The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband." But perhaps what was more significant was the fact that Jesus knew her heart. He knew that she was not finding what she was ultimately looking for in her relationships with men. She was looking for fulfillment down one those dead end streets. She was driving around one of those no outlet neighborhoods trying to find her way out. She was lost, seeking happiness and satisfaction in all the wrong places, and coming up empty over and over again. She was very thirsty, spiritually thirsty. Her heart was empty, and Jesus knew it.
Could that be where you are this morning? So, Jesus offered her something, something only He could give her. "Everyone who drinks of this water [of Jacob's well] will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14 ESV)
In John chapter seven, Jesus was teaching in the Temple courts where He said something very similar, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive……" (John 7:37- 39 ESV)
Have you received the Holy spirit? In other words, have you been born again? In his album, "Past the Edges", Chris Rice sings a song called simply "Thirsty". I think he might have had these words of Jesus in mind. He talks about a "River" with a capital "R". I believe he is speaking of Jesus as that River. Listen to the lyrics.
"I’m so thirsty, I can feel it
Burning through the deepest corners of my soul
Deep desire, can’t describe
this Nameless urge
that drives me somewhere
Though I don’t know where to go
Seems I’ve heard about a River
from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it,
oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River,
somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty
Other waters I’ve been drinkin’
But they always leave me empty like before
Satisfaction, all I’m askin’
Could I really feel this thirsty
if there weren’t something more?
And I’ve heard about a River from someone who’s been
And they tell me once you reach it,
oh, you’ll never thirst again
So I have to find the River,
somehow my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty
I’m on the shore now
of the wildest River
And I kneel and beg for mercy from the sky
But no one answers,
I’ve gotta take my chances
‘Cause something deep inside me’s cryin’
“This is why you are alive!”
So I plunge into the River
with all that I am
Praying this will be the River
where I’ll never thirst again
I’m abandoned to the River
And now my life depends on the River
Holy River, I’m so thirsty
(Copyright Clumsy Fly Music (ASCAP)
Perhaps this morning you are still "thirsty" like the Samaritan woman. Maybe in your thirst you identify with Chris Rice's words, "Could I really feel this thirsty If there weren't something more?" There is something more. Jesus is the River! Have you plunged into that River? He alone can satisfy the deepest longing of your soul.
When we turn to Jesus Christ and are born again and we walk in fellowship with Him, the world and what it offers becomes tasteless and empty. Friends, by God's design we have been created to have fellowship with Him through faith in Jesus Christ.
St. Augustine wrote, "You have created us for Yourself, and our heart is not quiet until it rests in You."
This morning, whether you have never come to Christ for salvation or as a believer you have been looking for fulfillment in the world and have come up empty, Jesus invites you, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink," and out of your heart "will flow rivers of living water."
© James P. McGarvey