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We are beginning a short series of sermons in 1 John, but of a topical nature. Although the messages will revolve around particular topics, I believe that when we are done, we will have apprehended the larger message of the book via a somewhat different route. So over the next few weeks I would like to ask you to read and reread this short letter, and with the following words in mind. As it happened, they all begin with the letter L, but thatwas more or less an accident. The words we will be considering are lust, liar, life, light, and love.
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love 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 pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2:15–17).
Summary of the Text
We are sometimes tempted to think that certain verbs are inherently virtuous. But the virtue or vice in any transitive verb is found first in the direct object, and secondly in the adverb. Take the verb love, for instance. Whatdo you love, and howare you loving? In our text here, we are directly commanded notto love the world. Not only so, but the verb is that world-famous Greek verb, agapao. Do not love the world, John say, or the things in the world (v. 15). This kind of prohibited love is exclusionary. If a man has it, then he does not have the love of the Father in him (v. 15). No man can serve two masters—one will expel the other. John then gives us a list of the things that are in the world, the things that he had in mind with his earlier prohibition. First is the lust of the flesh (v. 16), then the lust of the eyes (v. 16), and then third, the pride of life (v. 16). These are not of the Father, but rather of the world (v. 16). This is why the one excludes the other. The world is transient, it passes away. The lusts within the world are also transient, and they too pass away (v. 17). But the one who does the will of God abides forever (v. 17).
The Heart of Worldliness
So these three things are what characterize the world, in the sense John is using it here, and taken together, they are the very definition of worldliness. So in order to have worldliness, you do not need Times Square bedecked in neon, or downtown Babylon, or Vanity Fair. All you need is one prohibited tree. Please note the italics.
“For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).
“And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Gen. 3:6).
When we use the word lust, we usually mean desire in the sexual sense. And while John would include that sense, he is not limiting it that way here.
The World We Are Not to Love
Now of course, we know from the most famous verse in the Bible that God loves the world (John 3:16). We see the same thing repeated in 1 John (1 John 2:2; 4:9). Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.
But there is a world system, still sunk in sin, and that system of worldliness has certain characteristics. First, it passes away (1 John 2:17). The world does not recognize us as the sons of God, and they fail at this because they did not recognize the Lord for who He was (1 John 3:1; 4:17). The world hates genuine believers (1 John 3:13). The world is filled up with lying prophets (1 John 4:1). The world has the spirit of antichrist, which denies the Incarnation (1 John 4:3). The world listens to its own (1 John 4:5).
The world is overmastered by believers, who have the great God within them (1 John 4:4). And the world is overcome or conquered by us, using the instrumentality of faith (1 John 5:4).
The Great Sin of Worldliness
When it comes to moral theology, it is a commonplace to say that the cardinal sin is the sin of pride. And considered from a certain vantage point, I believe that this is certainly true. But if we zoom out, and consider our lot as interconnected individuals, I would want to say that the cardinal sin is that of worldliness. Worldliness is our mortal enemy because it pits one rule against another—the rule of God in Christ over against the rule of whatever is in fashion according to the regnant non-Christs. The biblical view of our view here is binary. There are two roads you can walk, and only two. There are two tables you may eat from, and only two. There are two houses where you may live, and only two. They are Christ and the world. And if you get to know Christ well, you will recognize the world in an instant, whatever get-up she put on this time.
“Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (James 4:4).
When John writes to us about turning away from lust, he is talking about a lust for respectability—and it is a respectability that always make room for a little sin on the side. Sin is included in the annual budget. Some of it is out in the open, some of it is tolerated with a wink and a nod.
The alternative is Christ. Always Christ, and only Christ.